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Skating Polly gets honest on new double album, 'Chaos County Line'

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Skating Polly
Skating Polly

This is Songwriters & Tour Riders, a music podcast from KOSU hosted by Matthew Viriyapah.

Punk band Skating Polly has released a double LP titled Chaos County Line. The band is made up of siblings, Kelli and Kurtis Mayo and Peyton Bighorse. In their first album in five years, Kelli said that they wanted to "walk to the separate corner of the map on all of our influences." One of their big inspirations, David Yow, is even featured on a song.

In this episode, hear Kelli talk about their writing process, and how after years of being in a band with her siblings, they're getting more honest with their lyrics.

On making a double LP

For the first time ever, instead of it just being like, 'Oh, that's about 12, Let's go make an album' after I'd recovered from my vocal stuff, we set a specific timeframe. We were like, 'Let's let's get the cheapest Airbnb we can find for a month, and let's go finish these songs. And let's do a double album because it's been way too long.'

We need to have more than just a 12 track album.

That was one thing we were pretty sure about. So we had like 40 song ideas. But song ideas can be anywhere ranging from like a song with two verses, a chorus and a bridge, or just like a riff, or just me singing into my phone. But we listened to all of them. We wrote them all down, and we played them for each other. And we just fleshed out the ones we really connected with.

There's a song on it called "Party House," which was actually the last song to join the record because we only had 17 that we took to Brad's. But Brad was like, I'd have a much easier time fighting for a double record if it was a solid even 18, and 18 is the same amount of songs on [Liz Phair's 1993 album] Exile in Guyville.

And that's when it came to us to kind of revamp, rewrite "Party House," which is this song that we did when I was 11 years old. And we kept all the lyrics the same. I just had my whole family sing on it.

On working with Brad Wood and David Yow on Chaos County Line

I'm obsessed with Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville. It's one of the major reasons we wanted to work with Brad in the first place. But his whole approach to reporting is that he doesn't like music that's too clever. He doesn't like music that's too clean. Like, he definitely appreciates beauty and quality. Like, he wants good performances, and he loves pretty sounds and stuff, but he also really appreciates grit and ugliness and dirt. His kind of motto is keeping the perfect amount of mistakes and Easter eggs.

It's like as we go, the literal things that we're unplanned for, we before just throwing them out, we're shooting for some flawless robot tape. We listen back to it, and you know, it's like, Oh, wow, that was kind of a cool, unexpected thing. And we keep it. If it's interesting, if it's powerful.

The idea of Chaos County Line is like embracing these wild, frenetic, uncontrollable aspects of life. But also every song on the album is very heavy and either tonally or lyrically. But also every song on the record feels really different from one another. There's a really wide range of influences and I just kind of wanted to walk to the separate corner of the map on all of our influences for every track and see where all the songs could go.

I kind of just trusted that if I wanted to follow my inspiration from these bands to a further point than I usually do, that it would still sound like us at the end of the day. So there was nothing to be scared of. Like, let's just try new things, and let's just walk there. Let's just go there. Let's see what happens.

We referenced The Replacements a lot. LCD Soundsystem, Feelies, New Order. I mean, it's kind of all over the map. Babes in Toyland, Jesus Lizard. And then, of course, David Yow from Jesus Lizard sings on "Man Out There."

On writing more honest lyrics

I just think we're more comfortable as songwriters. I think we're more comfortable taking those risks and being inspired by things, doing things on seeing pop songs that we've never done like it felt comfortable. But then also like the lyrics— the lyrics were kind of uncomfortable and really hard to write. And we say that with every record.

Like, I think the lyrics get a little bit more to the surface where, where there's less metaphor and symbolism, and it's a little bit more literal and direct this record. Very much so. I mean, in the song "Girls Night," there's not a lot in that scene that I paint that didn't really happen. It's a very literal song.

And I think I used to feel like I had to kind of hide the direct inspiration of a song. I had to hide it under layers of symbolism or poetry or whatever, just because I didn't want anyone else's opinion on how I felt about things, because I was too specific about what thing happened to me and how that thing made me feel. I was scared it would open up for critique, and now I'm just like, 'No, this is who I am and this is the record we're making.'

We tackle heavy things on this record, but it's almost like the central theme of the record is that like me and Peyton and Curtis helped each other get through it all together.

We're just so used to, like, being each other's best friends, being siblings, and being each other's, like, coworkers, employees. It was weird how entangled our life was. So to have this break from each other and then come back to each other, it's just interesting how our relationship evolves and how that always does come out in the songwriting. I really think you can always kind of feel this bond we have for each other.

We talk about it in the lyrics. It's like something we write about — this kind of the safety net of each other and the safety net of music that we have. It's always been this huge blessing in my life.

Skating Polly's album 'Chaos County Line' is out now.

Music featured in this episode:

  1. Skating Polly - Baby
  2. Liz Phair - Never Said
  3. The Replacements - Bastards of Young
  4. Jesus Lizard - Monkey Trick
  5. Skating Polly - Man Out There
  6. Skating Polly - Party House
  7. Skating Polly - Sing Along
  8. Skating Polly - Girls Night
  9. Skating Polly - Tiger At The Drugstore
  10. Skating Polly - Masquerade
  11. Skating Polly - All the Choices
  12. Skating Polly - Hickey King

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Matthew Viriyapah is KOSU's production assistant and host of the music podcast Songwriters & Tour Riders.
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