Sound of summer
Great songwriting puts The Ponys at the head of the pack
A friend once told me some songs sound like summer. She held that certain songs were simply made for long days of freedom, driving around aimlessly with windows down, the radio blaring. No place to be, no job to perform, just an endless, beautiful schedule of enjoying the moment. If one uses simply the seasons to classify music, Chicago’s The Ponys definitely reside only in the summer.
The passing sound of horse hooves surrendering to a ferocious squall of distortion and reverb that opens the band’s 2003 debut Laced With Romance is liberating. With the auspicious beginning of that leadoff track, “Let’s Kill Ourselves,” The Ponys unleash enough sweat and inspiration to shake up the Debbie Downers—jaded from a glut of less-inspired ‘70s and ‘80s punk rock rip-offs—and keep them from pissing in the Kool-Aid claiming it’s all been done before.
The Ponys formed in 2000 when guitarist/vocalist Jered Gummere and bassist Melissa Elias began playing in Chicago with drummer Nathan Jerde. Guitarist/ keyboardist Ian Adams soon joined (and has since left, replaced by 90 Day Men’s Brian Case) to record the critically lauded Laced With Romance for the well-regarded garage rock record label In the Red. Last April the band released its second album, Celebration Castle, recorded by Steve Albini (Pixies, PJ Harvey) at Electrical Audio in Chicago.
“I got them to agree to be on ITR after a very drunken night of karaoke,” said In the Red’s label head Larry Hardy, who was initially clued-in on The Ponys by a couple of bands on his label—The Piranhas and The Dirtbombs. “I personally didn’t participate in the karaoke but I did participate in the drinking. I think all your best business decisions are made when drunk,” Hardy concluded.
Few would argue Hardy’s decision to sign The Ponys. Certainly not Rolling Stone, Spin, NME, MOJO and Entertainment Weekly—all international magazines that have heaped innumerable accolades upon the band. Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore gets straight to the point in his Arthur magazine column by calling the band, “Hot as fucking tar!”
Much has been made of Gummere’s vocals recalling NYC’s ‘70s punk and CBGB’s heyday. Said Gummere, “Some bartender chick in Minneapolis said I sound like Debbie Harry. I don’t think I need to go into why that surprised me. We get Richard Hell and Television a lot, which really doesn’t bother me, but I wish it was because of our guitars and not my voice.” Listening to the pre-Television Neon Boys’ “Love Comes in Spurts” (with Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell) grants Gummere’s wish. Verlaine’s guitar is wonderfully primitive, jittery, nervous and cloaked in reverb, similar to the tuneful din the Ponys’ twin guitars muster.
Great songwriting can be taken for granted. Bands often use gimmicks and noise to obscure weak arrangements. With The Ponys, Hardy attributes success to “incredible songwriting that’s loaded with hooks, and good haircuts.”
Noting his love of The Gun Club, Bay Area band The Gris Gris and even rapper 50 Cent, Gummere agreed that great songs define a band’s worth. “To me it’s all about the sound and the songs. I don’t need some dude telling me to ‘c’mon now and dance,’ or some guitar dude mowing me down like a machine gun. A good song is just a good song to me.”
Last year The Ponys toured with The Dirtbombs, Hot Snakes and Bloc Party. Currently the band is headlining clubs, and will soon be opening fall dates for Sleater-Kinney. The Ponys’ potential is huge as Hardy sees it. “I think they can and will cross over to a larger audience—I think their songs are perfect for the radio.”
Asked what is most wonderful and difficult about the band’s increasing popularity, Gummere said, “I really enjoy a full club of people that are into our music. That has to be the best thing. … Also, when the club is full we get more free beer and shots. I really can’t say what is more difficult; don’t really have a lot of complaints.”