Tuesday, November 17, 2009
PONYTAIL guitarist Ken Seeno tells ANDY HAZEL that while being in a band of four artists is great for a having a surfeit of ideas, agreeing on an album cover can be ‘hideous as hell’.
Exploding onto the noise-rock scene last year with the critically lauded album Ice Cream Spiritual, effectively eight musical interpretations of a mouth crammed with hypercolour whizz-fizz, Baltimore’s Ponytail are the very epitome of the unkind yet accurate genre, spazz-rock. The words Deerhoof, sugar-high, Boredoms, child-like and ebullient have all been used to describe Ponytail, and they’re tags guitarist Ken Seeno is happy with. Caught midway to a pre-Australian tour rehearsal in a rare moment of downtime, he is tired but happy about their forthcoming shows. “We’ve been touring so much lately and just had to say no to some stuff,” he explains, sounding tired and distracted. “We had to get centred, take a little time to hang out and not play, we’re all excited about these Australian shows though.”
Seeno and co are no slouches when it comes to taking their message to the people, with around 300 shows in the year after the release of Ice Cream Spiritual there is a primal drive at work that, upon listening to their music, is written in everything they do. “Touring was definitely exhausting,” he says with a sigh. “It was a lot of work because a lot happened in a short period of time. For most of that time I didn’t even have an apartment; I was never home. I just had a storage unit, and it took a long time to get used to living like that, I don’t know if I am used to it really. We’re at the level of success here now where we sleep on floors when we’re on tour. A lot. We’ve been doing this thing for a long time now, five years, so we have a mode we go into even though touring is still an unpredictable thing.”
While back home, the band spent time in the local scene that spawned them, also home to Dan Deacon, Beach House, Aussie expats The Death Set and Animal Collective, another band who formed in school. Ponytail came together after being assigned to form a band and play a show by a particularly prescient art professor as part of a class experiment at Maryland Institute of Art. Their first album Kamehameha largely came from the set they performed.
“I think the next record will be more expansive, it will definitely use a bigger range of sounds, we can get more into that now,” Seeno explains. “The way we work is pretty organic, so there will be no drastic change, it won’t be a different genre or anything but there will be more electronic stuff. It’s like the band is being pulled in four different directions, I think that’s a good thing and that will definitely show through on the new record, I’m hoping in more stronger and more radiant ways, there is definitely an 80s influence going on. I love that a new song could go in any direction.”
That direction typically sounds sound simultaneously very tightly controlled but also immensely chaotic, a formulation that could only come from hard work, long jams and a successful capture of moments of inspiration. “Someone may come in with one idea and it might turn into a jam, or someone might play something that will make someone else laugh and we know we’re onto something. We kind of just work on our own and trust each other when we’re figuring stuff out,” says the guitarist of the bass-less four-piece.
With so much energy invested in rehearsal and recording, the act of realising songs live is where the songs come into their own, especially in smaller venues, Seeno confirms. “All of us love playing club shows, [singer...well, more wordless high-pitched yelper] Molly [Siegel] especially. We’ve been so floored by the reception we’ve got at some gigs. One of our advantages is that we’re a very ‘live’ band; our music is recorded as it is performed so the live show turns out pretty strong, especially when the crowd is fired up. Gigs both energise us and take a lot of energy,” which is just as well, as most readers would be exhausted after one Ponytail show let alone 300. “When we’re on tour we’re actually pretty conservative with our energy. We’re focussed; we don’t drink a lot before we play to make sure we can deliver. I’m a little nervous about the Australian shows because man, it’s a really long flight to Australia,” he says laughing.
A touring regime that heavy could only lead to particularly strong bonding with other band members and the band do get along particularly well, however Seeno mentions one point that brings out the ugly side in each other, a subject close to all of their hearts; art. “We are SO opinionated it takes us forever to decide on anything,” says Seeno, impassioned. “We’re often too busy to do some things so if we need to do a video we ask a friend and it turns out great, but for something like cover art…man, it is hideous as hell. There are so many different versions of the Ice Cream Spiritual cover art, each so drastically different...it is taxing. It ends up being really good but it’s a very argumentative process and it sucks, but everyone has different jobs. I trust [drummer] Jeremy [Hyman] to do awesome t-shirt designs. I think one of the cool thing about us is we have a lot of different aesthetics going on and whatever we do is a combination of the strongest ones at any given time.”
The subject of attaching a Ponytail’s music to a TV show brings a raucous bout of laughter. “Man, we always joked that we should be in a Huggies diaper commercial with babies running around to wild music,” he says, cracking up again. “That would be like a good hook up for us because we have NO need for diapers. For a while I fantasised about our stuff being in a skate video and then it happened and I was like, yeah, that is cool, but if David Lynch were to make Twin Peaks in Baltimore and get us to do the music, that would be really cool.”
When offered the chance to describe the band as an ice cream flavour, you can bet vanilla is furthest from his mind. “It would have to have a strange aftertaste or something, a disturbing consistency, a flavour with a very different aroma. Jeremy used to work in an ice cream store and there was this one kind of ice cream flavour called Cake Batter. It had the colour and consistency of cake batter but it was ice cream. That was cool.”