My favourite genre of music is actually not a real genre. It can be described loosely as Teen Movie Soundtrack Wave, and consists mostly of the kinds of girl-fronted rock bands you might expect to hear in the background of a scene in a movie like She’s All That or 10 Things I Hate About You, wherein the characters are doing one of the four teen movie activities (driving around in convertibles, prowling their school hallways, going to the mall, or getting ready for a school dance, Amen.) These bands make music that is bouncy and sunny, but which has bite too, providing a pitch-perfect sonic landscape for the internal angst that the protagonists of this kind of film go through.
Bands like Charly Bliss, Diet Cig, and Girlpool – with their poppy guitars and über-feminine narrative voices – characterise the sound I’m talking about. Now, there's another to add to their much-loved ranks. On their upcoming record The Make It All Show, Oklahoma’s Skating Polly embrace Teen Movie Soundtrack Wave (TMSW) (we’re just going with it, OK?) in a fascinating way that’ll knock your socks clean off, and into the nearest oncoming traffic. Luckily for you, we’re streaming it ahead of its official release this Friday (4 May), so go ahead and smash that play button at the bottom of the page (and if you’re wearing socks, make sure you’ve got reinforcements.)
If you need a primer, stepsisters Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse are pretty much the heroes of your favourite alt-comic book made flesh. They’ve been playing together as Skating Polly since they were nine and 14 years old respectively, and their music, informed by pop and punk in equal part, has been the subject of comparisons to iconic groups like L7 and The Breeders for years. The Make It All Show represents the most fully realised version of their band yet – it sees Mayo and Bighorse completing their lineup with the addition of their younger brother Kurtis, and in collaboration with producer Brad Wood (whose credits include records by Liz Phair and Sunny Day Real Estate, both of whom incidentally make great references for Skating Polly’s work), they’ve made an excellent document of their self-described “ugly pop.”
Of Wood’s input, Bighorse tells me over email that “Brad is so great at making things sound big and beautiful but keeping grit and life in the track,” and this seems to be one of the defining characteristics of The Make It All Show. Opener “Classless Act” is a great example, with its glossy guitar sound and chorus offset by a raw vocal that feels as though it could jump through the song and clasp its jaws at your neck.
This is a combination that feels specifically feminine, and Bighorse and Mayo cite musicians like Kat Bjelland, Kim Deal, and X’s Exene Cervenka (who appears on single “Queen for a Day”) as examples of those who have mastered the blend between sweet and sour. “We grew up listening to all kinds of music. We loved crazy, loud, punk music and vulnerable, pretty, melodic music. So of course anything that could combine the two so beautifully has always held a special place in our hearts," says Bighorse. “We always try not to base our music taste on the gender of the band, but seeing women in bands has inevitably had a major impact.”
Mayo agrees: “I think female voices work so so well with that blend, because female vocalists can be so sugary and pretty and poppy I suppose it makes the screams and the loud parts all the more exciting,” she tells me. “I love those dynamics in songs because they bring out the best in each other. The quiet parts make the loud parts exciting and vice versa. When it's done right it's so powerful because the drive and distortion just pumps you up and makes you feel unstoppable.”
Thankfully, Skating Polly get it exactly right on The Make It All Show. As a band they have a great instinct for when to let loose (“They’re Cheap” is a bonafide rockstar level thrash) and when to pull back – closer “Don’t Leave Me Gravity” is pretty, piano-led, and fairly subdued, while the delightfully slacker-ish “Hollywood Factory” (an album highlight) finds all its appeal in the tightness of its guitar playing, and its cool, easy hook.
“Hollywood Factory” in particular puts me in mind of the Teen Movie Soundtrack Wave bands I named earlier, and Mayo tells me of the influence of one of them in particular on The Make It All Show. “I listened to a lot of Charly Bliss when we were writing and recording this record. They were my top listened to band on Spotify last year. On "Free Will At Ease" I wanted to write a bassitar part that sounded like their lead guitar parts so I ducked back to my room, listened to a few of their songs a couple times and really honed in on the guitar, and then I came back out and put down my version of a Charly Bliss lead guitar part,” she explains. “I also looked to them for songs that have distorted guitars and loud big exciting choruses that don't have to be screamed over. I love their upbeat melodies paired with dark, sarcastic lyrics. We took inspiration from all of that.”
On their upcoming tour, they’ll be playing alongside Charly Bliss on a number of dates, which feels like a match made in guitar pop heaven, and they also promise new music videos in the near future (as Mayo tells me, “My brain is geared to think that every song we write could have a music video.”) In the meantime, however, you can join me in listening to the advance stream of The Make It All Show that I am convinced will be permanently soundtracking the prom scene that, somehow, is always playing in my heart, from now on.
Skating Polly tour dates:
May 2nd @ The Camel in Richmond, VA #
May 3rd @ Kings in Raleigh, NC #
May 4th @ Tin Roof in Charleston, SC ^
May 5th @ Jack Rabbits in Jacksonville, FL ^
May 6th @ Vinyl in Pensacola, FL #
May 8th @ Stubb’s Indoor in Austin, TX #
May 9th @ Three Links in Dallas, TX #
May 11th @ Marquis Theater in Denver, CO #
May 12th @ Black Sheep in Colorado Springs, CO #
May 14th @ RecordBar in Kansas City, MO #
May 15th @ Raccoon Motel in Davenport, IA #
May 17th @ Empty Bottle in Chicago, IL #
May 18th @ Loving Touch in Ferndale, MI #
May 19th @ Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, ON #
June 1st @ Opolis in Norman, OK *
June 2nd @ Replay Lounge in Lawrence, KS *
June 3rd @ Monocle in St. Louis, MO *
June 5th @ High Watt in Nashville, TN *
June 6th @ Milestone Club in Charlotte, NC *
June 7th @ DC9 in Washington, DC *
June 8th @ Mercury Lounge in New York, NY *
June 9th @ Kung Fu Necktie in Philadelphia, PA *
June 10th @ Once Lounge and Ballroom in Somerville, MA *
June 12th @ Funhouse at Mr. Small’s in Pittsburgh, PA *
June 13th @ Grog Shop in Cleveland, OH *
June 15th @ Lee’s Liquor Lounge in Minneapolis, MN *
June 16th @ Reverb in Omaha, NE *
July 21st - 22nd @ FYF Fest in Los Angeles, CA
August 31st - September 2nd @ Bumbershoot in Seattle, WA
^ - Headline | # - w/ Charly Bliss | * - Headline w/ Potty Mouth
Pre-order The Make It All Show here.
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