Peyton Bighorse’s current favorite guitar is a Fender Duo-Sonic. She says her biggest challenge with the instrument is getting it to feed back more easily. Photo by Jason Sievers
What’s your songwriting process? Do you come up with ideas separately or do you spend a lot of time jamming and writing together?
Bighorse: For this record, we wrote a lot of it together. It usually starts out with something simple. We will have it recorded on our phones or show it to the others, and then it goes from there: from something simple, to something with more parts and layers to it—once we’re all working on it together.
Mayo: It is a lot of both. Some songs were complete. “Camelot” started as this really rough, spontaneous phone recording. I had all these different parts to this really discombobulated punk song. That one took me forever to write because there were so many random parts that I came up with on the spot. I really liked it, but also it didn’t flow together. A lot of times I do that: I come up with things … they don’t have words, and it sucks when you have to edit that because it is such a big chore. Other songs, I had a simple structure for that I kept adding layers to. Like with “Queen for a Day,” Exene [Cervenka] sent me lyrics and I quickly whipped out this simple chord progression. To balance out the simplicity of the song, it needed to have leads. I had this weird little melody in my head, and Peyton figured it out. Peyton can figure out anything. If I hum it to her, she can figure it out on guitar. On lots of songs, I have the phone recording and I whistle this thing that I think should be a lead guitar part.
Every time, she asks, “We’re not going to have whistles?” and I’m like, “No. That means the guitar part.” [Laughs.] Peyton obviously writes her own leads, too. Sometimes, something about a melody is not working for me. I will ask Peyton, “Sing it or play it back to me your way. Don’t get too hung up on how I’m doing it and just do what comes naturally to you.” In that small crossover, things can be so different… it wasn’t the note I had going, but it worked a lot better.
Your songs often have a very wide dynamic range. Where does that come from?
Bighorse: I think that’s from the music we listened to growing up. A lot of it was fairly dynamic like that, so it’s how we wrote naturally. We give ourselves little rules when we’re writing, too, like, “Write a completely loud song,” or “Write a completely quiet song.” But really, what is most natural to us is the complexity of the quiet and loud.
What are some other rules you use when writing?
Bighorse: We always try to do something that we’ve never done before in each song we write. That’s a pretty important rule to us for every song. We’ll have a theme we want to stick to or we’ll come up with a story to write to and write out a story in the lyrics.
Mayo: On our records, I used to want every single song to sound wildly different. I used to think that on an album, every song should live on a different planet. Like on a White Stripes record or the White Album by the Beatles. I had rules like: This will be the back-and-forth song, this is the song that is completely loud throughout, this is the piano song, this is the darker piano song… whatever. But on this record, I was okay with the songs living on the same planet, but just living in different countries. I still have rules though. It’s a Skating Polly record, so there has to be that one song that I step on the distortion pedal and I don’t take my foot off, which is “Camelot.” There has to be a piano song. We hadn’t played piano in a long time—we don’t tour with a keyboard or anything—and when Peyton brought me this pretty acoustic song [“Don’t Leave Me Gravity”], I wanted it to have a Prince piano song vibe.
But you’re not married to an idea and if a song evolves and becomes something else, you’re cool with that, too.
Mayo: Yeah, definitely. A friend of mine told me—and it might be a Neil Young quote, but I’m not sure—but someone once said, “Every time I play a song live, it is a new song.” It’s that moment. It’s not nailed down to a tempo, it’s not necessarily down to a lyric, it’s that moment. I still think that’s so fucking cool. I like the unpredictable. I love bands like X, where Exene will completely change her vocal melodies from night to night. It’s still the same song and people know it and love it, but it’s wildly different. It’s its own song in that moment. And that’s really cool.