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Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Skating Polly

By Stephen Krcmar
XGames.com

Like humble pie? Skarf on Skating Polly, an Oklahoma City-based duet with a cumulative age of 30. Comprised of two stepsisters aged 13 and 17, Skating Polly has already shared the stage with punk legend Mike Watt and opened for indie heavy-hitters Deerhoof and Band Of Horses; their sophomore release, "Lost Wonderfuls," was produced by X's Exene Cervenka and mixed by Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock.

And it's good.

The record dropped on Tuesday and it's definitely not a kids' album. As far as sister acts go, they're already showing signs of the complexity of The Breeders, power-pop leanings of Tegan and Sara and a touch of the guitar-aggro of Heart. (Although their dad is their tour manager, they do not sound like The Shaggs.)

Give the record a whirl and Skating Polly's influences come through loud and clear: the heaviness of L7 of "In My Head," the Hole/Pixies/Nirvana trifecta in "Mr. Proper Englishman" and early Sleater-Kinney in "Blue Oblivion." But to hear them at their best, give the title track and first single, "Placer," a listen.

Sister act: Stepsisters Kelli Mayo (L) and Peyton Bighorse (R) carry on the proud, loud tradition of the riot-grrrl duo.

Some of the success of the new record can be attributed to the assistance of the rock-and-roll royalty who helped with it -- relationships that developed organically. The duo met Cervenka when the X frontwoman was out on a solo tour. They exchanged email addresses and they started building a friendship. Skating Polly was recording demos at the time and would email them to Cervenka for feedback. She liked the songs so much, she flew to Oklahoma to produce the new record.

"She's sweet; she's fun to work with because she's really honest, smart and creative," says Kelli Mayo, the younger of the sisters.

Cervenka's primary responsibility was enabling the pair to do their thing and delivering the hard truths when necessary. Part cheerleader and part tough-love czar, Cervenka listened to every track during the weeklong recording process, and if she thought the duet could do better, she would say so.

While their first record, "Taking Over The World," is a collection of songs that's raw and rough around the edges -- but not without promising glimmers like the Regina Spektor/Fiona Apple-like vocal flourishes on "Seeing The World" -- "Lost Wonderfuls" marks a monumental shift. Maintaining the same urgency, the songwriting, overall chops and production have graduated.

"Our music is still the same in some ways. We still have interesting lyrics, but our musicianship is getting better and better," explains Mayo. "When we first started, we had a lot of two- and three-chord songs. Now we're better at writing bridges and we're better at playing our instruments. We're tighter musicians. If you ask us to play a song, we can actually play it."

Less than four years old, the band was formed during an impromptu jam at a Halloween party in 2009. Although music and musical instruments were always around when they were growing up, the two were not wunderkinder.

"We weren't really good musicians," explains Mayo. "We taught ourselves and we would play with instruments instead of play instruments."

Now a high-school senior, older sister Peyton Bighorse has been seriously exploring music since middle school. She took lessons for a bit and stopped after she learned as much as she felt she needed. She picked up guitar as a freshman and now also plays ukulele, drums and piano.

Some of Mayo's earliest memories are directly related to music; she recalls listening to The White Stripes as a two year old. Mayo now plays a guitar/bass hybrid called a basitar as well as drums and piano and listens to a lot of different stuff. She attributes her diverse taste in music to her father's huge iTunes library. A quick look at songs they've covered offers a peep into how well-rounded their music collection is. Skating Polly has covered Kimya Dawson, the Dead Boys, Spacemen 3, The Left Banke, MIA and Ol' Dirty Bastard.

The stepsisters' strong relationship, plus their shared love of music, translates into an ideal situation for the band.

"Lost Wonderfuls": the sophomore release of a band whose younger member won't see that word again 'til high school.

"We're really close. I feel like most sisters don't get along, but we do," says Bighorse. "It's really cool being in a band with her because we practice whenever we need to since we live together. I wouldn't want to be in a band with anyone else."

Touring, however, is a family affair. When the stepsisters hit the road, the entire family often joins and the stepsisters optimize their travel time by making up songs on their ukulele, having secret conversations in sign language and, most recently, studying Mandarin in hopes of touring in China within the next year.

Bighorse graduates this spring and is off to Oklahoma University in the fall. With school being only 45 minutes from the girls' home in Oklahoma City, Bighorse plans on splitting time between the two locations so she can continue to concentrate on Skating Polly.

Mayo's maturity is also critical to the success of the band. Chat with her on the phone for a few minutes and she seems much older than 13. With a strong vocabulary and sophisticated mind, she could easily hold her own in any college survey course. Her only tell of not being deep into her teens is a nervous little laugh after she says "bastard" when ODB comes up in conversation.

Some press and even the band's label have been comparing Skating Polly to riot grrl, but Mayo disagrees:

"We appreciate riot grrl music. When people say we're riot grrrl, I think that's cool, but riot girl was a movement in the early to mid-'90s, and we're not involved in that. & We really respect it and that's a big part of our lives, but we aren't necessarily it -- riot grrrl."