Published on The Deli Philadelphia – Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010
– by Annamarya Scaccia
When you listen to South Philly’s Dangerous Ponies, it’s a splendid, joyous experience. Their sunbeamy brand of ‘60s pop-infused, gang vocals adorin’ circus masquerade rock is the type that morphs you into a high-octane gale on the dancefloor. And the vibrant collective – consisting of frontwoman Chrissy Tashijan (vox/guitar), her brother Mikey (drums), Evan Bernard (vox/guitar), Chris Baglivo (vox/bass), Kyle Pulley (guitar) and hype-women Sarah Green (keyboard/vox) and Brooks Banker (vox/tambourine)—only intensifies their music on stage, making it hard for your body to resist their high-energy prowess.
With an EP already under their belt, last year’s Dr. Ponie Medicine Ponie, the 7-piece troupe will release their first self-titled full-length on hometown label mainstay Punk Rock Payroll. To support its release, the Ponies will trek across the country for a 25-city tour over the course of October and November, kicking off the ride this Friday, October 15 at Philly AIDS Thrift for their official CD Release Party (they’ll also be doing a run with label mates The Extraordinaires from November 7 – 14). We recently caught up with Chrissy to talk shop about the new record, the Ponies’ colorful personality, and what it means to be a queer-identified troupe in Philly.
The Deli: Did your self-titled full-length turn out the way you expected it to?
Chrissy Tashijan: In some ways yes, in some ways no. I think everyone gets an idea in their head about exactly how something should sound, then there are all of these amazing organic elements that take place that surprise you in the best way. Overall, I think it went beyond my expectations in every way.
TD: How long did it take you to craft the record, from writing to recording to mixing to completion?
CT: Some of the songs we have been writing since before Dr. Ponie Medicine Ponie even came out. But when we got back from our SXSW tour this year, we buckled down, gave ourselves a month of writing, workshopping, and pre-production. We tracked the entire month of July…the WHOLE THING. Then a little bit in August. Editing and mixing happened in August and some of September, and mastering happened right before the records went off to press. We REALLY have Kyle, Chris, and Evan to thank for that. They really powered through, but were very attentive to details and an overall product.
TD: When you decided to embark on this project, did you go into it with a firm idea of its themes and what it was going to sound like or did that flesh out as you went along?
CT: Hmm…well…embarking on the songwriting, we knew we wanted to write a series of songs that lead into each other, with riffs and musical themes that quoted other riffs and musical themes throughout the record. The extent to which we did this ended up fleshing out as we got deeper and deeper into the project.
TD: How does your full-length differ from your EP Dr. Ponie Medicine Ponie, be it conceptually, musically and/or writing process?
CT: The writing process was ALOT more thorough. We were still writing parts when we recorded Dr. Ponie Medicine Ponie. Almost everything was written already when we went into the studio to work on our full-length, so that really gave us time to focus on sounds and tones. Overall, I think that our self-title is just a whole lot more mature, but still keeps the level of fun that we are always aiming for.
TD: Is there anything you wanted to achieve with the full-length that you might not have with the EP?
CT: There is SO much we were able to achieve. I think especially for Kyle, Chris, and Evan. Kyle Pulley runs Simple Machine Recordings (at Headroom Studio’s), Chris Baglivo just graduated from Drexel [University] with a concentration in Record Engineering, and Evan Bernard graduated in music industry, but has spent a lot of time engineering records with Chris and Kyle. I think, especially for them, they were able to go into the studio with songs that they were obviously very familiar with and just spend a whole lot of time making things sound beautiful. They did this in all sorts of ways from getting beautiful guitar tones, to getting well-executed takes, to taking their time to listen and re-listen to different mixes. For this recording, we were able to get all of our basics and most of the vocals on tape. And for me personally, I was really happy about the amount the songs were able to marinate and get everyone’s style and input.
TD: The new album’s packaging doubles as a CD case and a handmade, screen-printed, ready-to-use mobile. Who designed the artwork and what is the artwork of?
CT: The artwork was a product of Sarah Green and myself. But again, everyone had input and suggestions that helped make it what it is. The main themes of the design are drawings I made of Turritopsis Nutricula (immortal jellyfish). Sarah then turned the drawings into a really beautiful design that is on the front of the mobile. Inside is a really beautiful photograph of Sarah’s, [which] you’re just going to have to wait to see. You can usually check out a lot of our designs and photo’s on her blog (sarahgreenphoto.blogspot.com).
TD: How did you come up with the mobile concept? Does it tie into the sounds and subjects of the record?
CT: Frede [Zimmer, Punk Rock Payroll’s founder] came up with the idea of a mobile. We invited him to one of our last pre-production rehearsals. He got done listening to the new stuff and was like “I HAVE AN IDEA.” I would say it loosely ties into the sounds and subjects. His main inspiration for the idea was how much he thinks we are always changing and growing, hence the jellyfish, and the moveable packaging.
TD: Speaking of art, Dangerous Ponies is known for its brilliantly colored attire and fondness of glitter and choreographed dance moves. When you formed the band, were these aspects pre-planned or are they just natural reflections of everyone’s personalities?
CT: Well, originally when I started the band, the first practice was Evan, Chris, and myself and I said, “We need hype people.” The original idea was just to have someone to play extra percussion, and have an extra voice, and someone that could [be] able to interact with an audience more. Gretchen Simms was the first hype girl. She no longer plays with us. She is a really great friend and sometimes comes out to the shows to shake her honorary booty. At one point, we had Gretchen Simms, Brooks Banker, and Sarah Green, but now it’s just Brooks and Sarah. And I must say, they took the original idea and ran a marathon with it. They do such a great job of making the live show really what it is and just turning the fun levels to 11. Brooks and Sarah help put together the outfits, but it couldn’t be done without the amazing help of Philly AIDS Thrift too! They do an awesome job…we have a lot of surprises for the release party on the 15th.
TD: With that, you were in a number of local bands, most notably The Bee Team and The March Hare – two bands that are sonically worlds-apart from Dangerous Ponies’ funhouse pop-rock. In an interview, you’ve said that after playing with several bands, you’ve realized “what you like through the process of elimination”. Would you say Dangerous Ponies is the result of that process?
CT: I would. I think just like any musician; I’m always growing and learning. I loved playing with The Bee Team and The March Hare. I certainly helped write everything, but they weren’t my songs. It took a lot of digging and feeling out to figure out what I really like to write, and the Ponies is a great venue for that. I’m constantly being challenged by my mates, and I learn a lot helping to develop their songs they bring to the table.
TD: Out of all the types of music genres you’ve dabbled in, which is your favorite?
CT: Pop pop pop pop pop music. I’m like a junkie.
TD: Dangerous Ponies is one of four local acts on Punk Rock Payroll. What is it like to be on such a close-knit roster?
CT: It’s AMAZING. Sometimes, I think we drive Frede nuts[laughs]. But he is super incredible about helping us develop whatever we desire really. We have been so lucky to be able to play in and out of Philly on the good name of Punk Rock Payroll and good word of the bands on the label. It’s amazing how many ideas are born, developed, and produced in that house in South Philly.
TD: Do you think it’s important for a band to really cement itself in the local music community? Do you think you’ve achieved that with the Ponies?
CT: I think so, yes. I think with how DIY the music scene is that we are and want to be a part of, it’s really important to make and nurture those relationships you make with other bands, venues and artists. I think we all have our hands in different projects, and we are all good friends with other bands, and I think that can really be beneficial for every band. We got the honor of being on the 75:24 compilation tape that Ticklebutt [Records] put out that is just a complicated interweaving of bands that are friends, and a lot of which are our friends likeAlgernon Cadwallader, Bandname, Boyfriends…etc. and we have met a lot of new people through that. People have come out to shows in like Georgia because of that tape.
TD: With both queer and straight members in Dangerous Ponies, you’ve defined the group as “a band which happens to have queer members”, but also identify as a “queer and allied band” so, as you’ve said in an interview, “it’s clear that it is a safe space for kids who are queer, or who are trans, but who also like going to rock shows”. Does it ever bother you that you have to make that distinction – that, since there’s such a level of intolerance in the music community, you have to make it clear your shows are safe for queer community?
CT: Yeah, sometimes it does bother me. There are definitely shows that happen that I know some people don’t feel comfortable going to, so we at least try and say, “HEY IT’S COOL WE’RE HERE.” We really have never had any trouble. It’s just kind of a precursor to make people feel at home.
TD: Have you ever experienced opposition within the Philly music scene because the band is queer-identified?
CT: Not even a little bit. We love Philly. If anything, we have experienced sparkles and glitter where you think there isn’t any.
TD: Is there a divide between the queer/allied community and straight community within the local music scene that may be deeper than we can see or feel? Is it something that the Ponies are helping to change?
CT: I’m not sure. I’m sure there are in some places. There are so many scenes these days…I definitely wouldn’t say we are starting any sort of revolution. We just want to make sure everyone feels safe. There is a lot of intolerance in the world.
TD: You’ve said in the past that Ponies’ songs aren’t “‘issue songs, per se”. While you write about love and life as it is – a normal experience for everyone regardless of sexual identity – have you ever been moved to write songs that deal with political and social issues affecting the queer community and beyond?
CT: Sure I have, I just don’t think it comes out as a “political” song. I write a lot about social issues and being queer, it’s just about my personal experiences with these things, not really in any anthemic sort of way.
TD: Does the Ponies involve themselves in politics or do you try and separate your music from activism?
CT: Like I said, the stuff I write is pretty personal. For example, the songs for Mike I and for Mike II on the new record are about my brother going into the Marines, and my issues, I have surrounding young people who don’t know what else to do but that, but it still comes out as a song I am writing about my brother. As a group of people, I would say we are involved in politics in the way that we try and reach out our music to good causes and play a lot of radical queer and other events and fundraisers. But I wouldn’t say we are a band that necessarily uses our music for activism or politics like Billy Bragg or something. Although I respect that 200 percent, and it’s a part of what we do, I certainly wouldn’t say THAT’S what we do.
TD: You mentioned that you performed at SXSW this year. How was the experience?
CT: We have traveled to Austin two years in a row to play different things at SXSW. And the tours have always been a good time. There are SO MANY bands, and SO MANY people, it’s really pretty difficult to sift through everything, but also because it’s really amazing to be a part of.
TD: What’s your favorite thing to get at the deli?
CT: Egg salad!!! Boosh.