Last year was a pretty big one for us fans of female-fronted music of a certain vintage: new albums from Veruca Salt and Sleater-Kinney topped certain end-of-year lists; while the latter also hit the road alongside the likes of Babes in Toyland and L7.
But as brilliant as that was, celebrating the music of your youth feels almost like the antithesis of everything that the original riot grrrls stood for. Riot grrrl was about doing it for yourself: to quote the original Riot Grrrl Manifesto, it was about “tak[ing] over the means of production in order to create our own moanings”.
Against that framework, along came Skating Polly.
Stepsisters Peyton Bighorse and Kelli Mayo already count Babes in Toyland and L7 among their fans – they actually toured the UK last year opening for the former and man, am I kicking myself right now for missing it. New album The Big Fit, which is out today, is the duo’s first to get a UK release and it’s a visceral introduction to a band that follow in the sonic footsteps of the godmothers of grunge. New single “Perfume for Now” is pure L7 in the chanted ferocity of its chorus, while elsewhere the album triggers images of Kim Gordon and Courtney Love in all her early-90s kinderwhore glory.
Having been making music together for six years – since they were nine and 14 respectively – it’s no wonder that Kelli and Peyton sound so bloody good together, juxtaposing ugly and sweet to create one of the most fresh, fun and vital-sounding albums I’ve heard in a good long while. The duo answer my questions below.
I normally like to ask bands how they got together, for that one moment when everything clicked – but in your case, it’s pretty obvious how you met. So tell me: what’s the first record the pair of you bonded over?
KELLI MAYO: I don’t remember the exact first but some of the ones Peyton and I first used to play all the time were Dig Me Out by Sleater-Kinney, Elephant by The White Stripes, Begin To Hope by Regina Spektor, Nevermind The Bollocks by The Sex Pistols, Fontanelle by Babes in Toyland and No Virginia by Dredsen Dolls. All these albums my dad kind of raised me on and when Peyton joined the family they were the ones we mutually obsessed over.
Three words to describe your sound…
KM: Ugly, Poppy, Dynamic
What influences you – both musically and otherwise?
PEYTON BIGHORSE: Well, obviously we have tons of musical influences. I get inspired every time I listen to Elliott Smith or Neutral Milk Hotel. Perfume Genius is amazing. We’ve been listening to Suzanne Vega a lot lately and she’s so, so good. I’m reading Bob Dylan’s autobiography and he has a lot of interesting stories and words that get me feeling antsy and eager to make something of my own. Dave Eggers is my favorite author and his books are written so beautifully. His books read like poems.
Tell me a bit about your writing process – do you write together, or does each of you bring bits of songs to be fleshed out as you play them?
KM: It’s a little of both. I guess the majority of the time one of us brings a sketch of a song to the other and they help tie off all the loose ends. “Picker Of His Words” was written completely 50/50. We took turns writing each line.
I’m really dependent on Peyton when it comes to my songs. A lot of times a billion ideas will come to me at once and I can’t play them all or hear if they work, so I have Peyton there to be another set of arms and another voice. That’s really great because she just builds on whatever thing I originally ask her to do and every part of the song becomes more thought out and can stand up on its own.
So last year was a big year on the reunion front for us fans of 90s grrrl rock bands, and somewhere in there you managed to play with L7 and tour the UK with Babes in Toyland. How did that come about, and what were those experiences like?
KM: A few years ago I wrote Lori from Babes in Toyland, just telling her what huge fans we were and how they impacted our lives and I thanked her for being the wonderful musician she is and sheepishly invited her to one of our shows and then… SHE ACTUALLY CAME! I couldn’t believe it. She was so humble and sweet and funny and it was one of the best experiences of my life (all my memories with them are). Then she kept coming to our shows and I started to realise she actually liked us and wasn’t just being a super sweetheart. Then the phone call came from Kat Bjelland asking if we’d like to join them on tour in the UK that summer. I was a huge weirdo on this phone call, I made some statement like “YES! Of course!! There’s nothing we would rather do this summer!! Even if my leg was rotting and needed to be amputated this summer or it would kill me, we would STILL COME PLAY THIS SUMMER!!” The Babes are amazing human beings. They all talk to me like I’m on their level. They don’t condescend or act the slightest bit snobby. Kat and Lori are like my God Mamas/Sisters.
The L7 thing was pretty surreal too. I was on a MAJOR L7 kick when I met Donita (at an X show) and I really wanted to talk to her and geek out but I just listened very carefully to her and watched her sing along to one of our favourite bands. Exene [Cervenka, of X] and [her son] Henry [Mortensen] had told Donita about us and a few months later when we were opening for Fleasheaters they talked her into coming to our show. She and her husband Robert were just super flattering and they told me how much they liked the show and I got to geek out on her and tell her how much that meant to me. Then again, a few months later we got an offer to open for L7 at The Fonda and it was fucking magical.
The Big Fit is your first album to get a UK release, but it’s something like your 4th album overall. Do you think the record is a good introduction to your band and what you stand for – and why?
PB: It’s definitely a good introduction for someone who hasn’t heard us before, but so are the last two. I wouldn’t suggest listening to the first one without hearing any of the others then coming to see us live because we sound drastically different from Taking Over the World. The Big Fit is definitely the best introduction for how we sound now, but I love all our albums. – Peyton
Given how long you’ve been making music together for, I’m wondering what the reception to your band behind the scenes has been like. Are people more likely to be arseholes to you because of your age, or because of your gender – or has your journey together been a positive experience?
PB: We’ve gotten really lucky with the people we’ve met and worked with. Most of them have been so sweet and humble and cool to us. We really haven’t had to deal with people being dicks to us. I mean, there have been rude comments online, but no one has ever come up to us and started being mean.
What have you got coming up in terms of touring, other releases etc.?
PB:We are going to be doing small tours throughout the year to promote the album. We are working on new songs, but we don’t have any solid plans to go back into the studio yet. We do have a 7” split we’re doing with our friends, Qui. They’re really cool, and we are psyched to be working with them. That’s coming out in May this year! I think for the most part we are going to be trying to promote this album and play as many shows as possible.
Is another UK trip on the horizon?
PB: We are wanting to make another trip to the UK and other parts of Europe and play some shows there and play some shows in Canada. We want to play all over the world for this album.
And what are you listening to at the moment?
PB: We’ve been listening to the Suzanne Vega album 99.9 F pretty much on repeat along with the Holly Golightly album The Good Things. I started listening to Simon and Garfunkel a lot again very recently. And obviously I’m always listening to Elliott Smith and Neutral Milk Hotel.
KM: I’ve been loving Rose Mountain by Screaming Females, Sutras by Donovan, and I have this playlist of lots of early rock n roll. There’s this artist Sparkle Moore that I recently found and I don’t know a lot of her music because she only has so many songs on Spotify but I looooove what I’ve heard of hers. She has the BEST voice. My other favourites are Elvis, Patsy Cline and The Chiffons.