There’s a difficult to describe, yet timeless quality to certain songs that transcends genre or era. It’s something that you can’t fake or contrive and it’s what lies at the core of Skating Polly‘s music. The multi-instrumentalist duo of Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse started their band in Oklahoma in 2009. They recorded their debut album Taking Over The World in 2010 and achieved instant acclaim from underground music icons like X‘s Exene Cervenka (who produced 2013’s Lost Wonderfuls) and Beat Happening‘s Calvin Johnson (who produced 2014’s Fuzz Steliacoom). After the release of 2016’s The Big Fit, Veruca Salt‘s co-frontwomen Louise Post and Nina Gordon reached out and said they wanted to write with the band. What started as a writing session ultimately became 2017’s New Trick EP. Then, armed with a third member — Kelli’s brother Kurtis Mayo — the trio released their latest full length, The Make It All Show in 2018.
The band’s latest record, Chaos County Line, is out now.
Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse (along with drummer Kurtis Mayo) are the Tacoma, Washington-based rock band Skating Polly; Kate Nash is the UK-born, LA-based singer-songwriter and actress known for her music under her own name and her work on the Netflix series GLOW. Kate directed the music video for Skating Polly’s latest single, “Tiger At the Drugstore,” so to celebrate its release — and the release of their new record, Chaos County Line — the three sat down to catch up about its creation.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
Kelli Mayo: We have prepared some interview questions for you, for this lovely conversation with Talkhouse.
Kate Nash: That’s very professional of you.
Kelli: Yeah. [Laughs.] Thank you for making this awesome video with us. We love it. We’re obsessed with it.
Kelli: You’re one of my favorite people on earth — you already know that. You inspire me crazily, endlessly. Anyway, I’ll let Peyton ask the first question.
Peyton Bighorse: I thought we could just talk about our favorite parts of shooting the video, and favorite shots in the video — just favorites of the whole experience, I guess.
Kate: I have one that comes to mind straight away: My favorite bit when we were shooting is when you guys were head-to-head and spinning around, and then you bump heads. [Laughs.]
Peyton: [Laughs.] That’s exactly what I was gonna say.
Kelli: There’s two bumps!
Peyton: But there’s that really big obvious bump, that everyone I show that video to, that’s the part I’m waiting [for]. I don’t tell them about it, I just stare at them waiting for their reaction to that part.
Kate: The bit where Kelli falls — that’s amazing because that’s such a genuine look of shock when you go down. It’s true showmanship that you get straight back up and into the song, which is so funny. I love it.
Kelli: I really like the bit where I’m in the background, and you were like, “You should pretend to play horns to this song.” I was like, It’s gonna look like I’m giving a blow job! Why am I doing this on camera? She’s gonna use it! And then you used it. [Laughs.] But you can see my face go from this horn that doesn’t look like a horn to, Oh, fuck, why did I do this?
Kate: [Laughs.] I just love the way that you guys are cracking each other up the whole time. It’s so cute.
Peyton: I think at least one of them made it in — I loved all the dogs.
Kate: The one that didn’t make it is the one that rejected Peyton.
Peyton: That was pretty sad.
Kate: I love that shot as well of Kurtis dancing. When I was editing it, I put it in and then I was like, Oh, I just don’t want to interrupt this because it’s such a cool shot. And he also basically nearly puked for that, so I wanted him to feel like it was worth it. It was cool to do something a little bit unexpected with that first chorus, because it’s just kind of building up, and then you get to watch him just rock out, which I just love. There’s so much beautiful performance stuff of the two of you, and Kurtis is just kind of in the background, so I was like, I’m going to give him this moment. I was wondering what you guys were going to think of that.
Peyton: I think it looks great.
Kelli: Yeah, we definitely loved it. One thing I love about this video is it is very, like, the Skating Polly formula, because it’s this DIY video, we’re coming up with the shots as we go to a degree. But I like breaking the Skating Polly formula and giving that whole moment to Kurtis. Because this song feels like it’s about family, and it’s about us, so to kind of divvy up the shots and the focus was really important, and I think it made the video more loving.
Peyton: Yeah, I love it too. It’s one of my favorites. I cry every single time I watch it. It wasn’t a one time thing — it’s every single time. [Laughs.]
Kate: Really?! Are you serious?
Peyton: I think like, Oh, I’m probably not going to cry this time because I’ve cried so much every time already. But every time, it happens.
Kate: [Laughs.] Oh, my god. I feel like that means I succeeded. That’s so nice.
Peyton: I’m even getting teary eyed right now just thinking about the video. It makes me so emotional.
Kate: That’s amazing. Do you think it’s because it just feels like you guys?
Peyton: It feels like a big hug between me and Kelly and Kurtis. I feel like it really shows how much we love each other and it makes me happy.
Kate: That’s what I was texting Kelli about before — I was like, “I want to do something that feels like your personalities and dynamic as a band.” That’s so unique, because you’re a family band and because you’ve been doing it so long, I think it creates this really specific dynamic. I have two sisters as well, two close siblings, and they’re not in my music life, but they have been close to my music life — they’ve both come on tour with me and have worked with me in different capacities. If you’re close to your siblings in age, and also [are close] emotionally and you’ve worked together, that is a special bond. It also can be a heated bond, and you can have the worst arguments and go to hell and back.
I feel like you guys just know each other so well and you’re still having fun together and are silly together and enjoying each other, and also navigating a really high intensity workplace from such a young age. You’re putting each other through it, probably having some of your worst moments with each other, but then also growing and learning. You’ve all gone through so much together, and I think it’s why your band is so special. You keep allowing each other to grow and you give each other time to go through stuff. I feel like that’s why you’re so powerful live. You let each other be yourselves, which is why it’s so fun to watch you guys. And then when I hear your records, I’m always like, Oh, that’s so Skating Polly. I just wanted to do something that was really fun and no pressure — because videos can be a pressure. Imagery can be stressful, and you guys were traveling. I remember saying, “We can do it, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t even want to use it.”
I’m thinking about one of the other questions I saw in your text — the red.
Peyton: It felt like the red was a big starting point. We didn’t have a lot going into it, but we knew that we wanted the bright reds. And it looks great. I guess the question was how you came to that, because that’s something that you put forward.
Kate: Well, because you guys were in London and you’re a band that loves so much music, I wanted it to look really iconic and look like London. So that’s why I wanted to go to Hampstead Heath because that park is so special and notorious. And red is just such a British punk color, I think. It just reminds me of the Beatles and music history in England, so I wanted to tie that into the video. I watched a lot of Beatles videos and they did a lot of quite simple videos in parks, or weird videos outdoors in England, so was like, “We need to go to a green park and you guys need to be wearing red.” And it just popped. It looks so striking, and we didn’t really do much. We just kind of color coordinated you and put you in a park.
Kelli: Yeah, I really liked the Beatles ties, because the first time I heard the horns on that song — or, when we heard Brad [Wood, their producer] wanted to have horns on the record at all, we were like, “What is that going to be like…” And then we heard it, and It’s like Beatles-y horns. I really liked that part where we’re standing in a triangle basically, and we’re just switching spots. That does feel very Beatles-y.
Kate: Oh, I love that shot. That was so good. And we kind of got that on the fly — we were walking past and I was like, “Please, guys, can we do one more?” Because Kurtis really needed to go to the loo. [Laughs.]
Peyton: [Laughs.] That shot reminds me of those little blow up men type of things that you see at car dealerships.
Kelli: The inflatable men? [Laughs.] I love that. I really liked starting with picking the outfits and knowing what we’re going to wear, because that’s one thing that I think can be underestimated sometimes. Clothes are really important to me. That’s a big part of storytelling for me, and also kind of the character and the energy that I’m bringing to the video.
Kate: And feeling comfortable, knowing what you’re gonna wear. Like once we put that red cardigan on you, Peyton, you were so cozy in it.
Peyton: I loved that.
Kelli: We went into that vintage store 10 minutes before it closed so we could get Kurtis that red coat.
Kate: Yeah, that coat was amazing.
Also, I love, Peyton, your performance in it. I wanted it to feel like Peyton was — like how
I talked about in sibling relationships, there’s always this push and pull, and sometimes you have days where you’re just like, Agh, my siblings are so annoying. In the story of this video, Peyton was like, “I just don’t want to hang out. I don’t want to be around you guys, I just want to be moody.” And Kelli and Kurtis are talking to you and they’re like, “Come on, come on, we have to go and see the thing!” That’s sort of the story of the video a little bit, and that’s why it’s so cute that it ends up with you laughing together and clunking heads. That feels like the energy in the band sometimes, that there’s this push and pull. Because you’re working together, and touring is so difficult, and you kind of have to be there for each other. Sometimes someone’s going to wake up and be like, “Oh, my god, I don’t want to be on stage,” or “I really don’t want to be in a band today.” But you are and you’re in Chicago and it’s winter, and the other sibling has to take the balance and be the cheerleader.
Kelli: It really is constantly shifting. You can have a schedule and you can organize routines and stuff, but we all have our own mental health problems, so you never know when those are going to pop up and you gotta try as best as you can to stay on course.
Kate: Which is what you were saying the song is actually about.
Kelli: Yeah, absolutely. Peyton, when she first brought it to us, it was on guitar at first and that chorus where she said, “Faking it just doesn’t feel like how I remember it/faking it just doesn’t feel familiar at all” — that ended up more or less being the only part lyrically we kept. And then we had to make it not sound like “Closing Time” because the song—
Peyton: Originally it was just a straight rip off of “Closing Time,” by accident.
Kelli: Kurt was on piano, and on piano we de-“Closing Time”-ed it. We had to find lyrics to live up to that, so we ended up using a lot of entries from my journal. Like the “tiger at the drugstore line” — that was poems I’d written. Then we reached a point where there were no more poems, so we were just writing stuff. It really did feel like we were referencing all three of our negative coping mechanisms.
I feel like I didn’t even tell you what the song was about before — you just kind of felt it. You were like, “I feel like it should be about you guys all going through your own things and the push and pull.” I was like, “Oh, that’s kind of what the song’s about. That’s cool.”
Kate: It’s really cool.
Kelli: So one thing that I really admire about you is your work ethic, and just all the different things you’ve done in your life and the things you take on. Over the pandemic, you learned how to make your own music videos. You’re editing them, you’re doing the shots, you’re producing them yourself, you’re picking the locations, and that’s a lot of work. I love all those videos. I think you found creative, entertaining ways to do so much with so little. You’re doing it with your iPhone and with drones and you were just making the most out of the circumstance. It’s really rad. My question is: do you feel like music videos are just as vital to you and close to your heart as songwriting?
Kate: Probably not as vital, but I love music videos. It’s a really fun way to interpret something that you’ve written. “Horsie” and “Misery” — making them myself was really fun because I feel like the visual aspects helped me with the mood that I was in in 2020. I could use the landscapes to kind of extend the feeling of the song. I think going really DIY with it is also a reaction to [how] we have to make so much fucking content now. It’s so much pressure and it costs so much money — it’s photos and videos, and the time and money you have to put into that is too much, and everyone ends up kind of getting a bit screwed over. Because there is no musician that’s going like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve got a $15,000 budget for the music video.” They used to spend so much money on music videos, and now we don’t have those budgets. Even major, major artists, their budgets have been slashed. They’re still getting more funded than we are, but…
The reason for that is the viewership for music videos is so much less as well. As an artist who’s trying to budget, you’re constantly going, “Where’s the right place to spend the money?” And music videos — it’s this weird thing where they’re this important visual aspect, but people aren’t going to watch them as much as they used to. I get frustrated with that. But then at the end of the day, I really love making them, and it’s important to have visuals for your songs.
But being able to do them just on an iPhone — because an iPhone shoots in 4K, and you don’t even really need a video to be 4K; YouTube can’t even really process 4K. So when I was in the pandemic thinking, OK, how am I going to shoot music videos? I considered investing in a decent camera, but thought, Well, I don’t know how to use that. I’m really up for learning things, but I also know my strengths and weaknesses. I have always enjoyed editing stuff, even on iMovie — little tour diaries, videos for jokes or for friends and stuff — and I like obsessing over cuts and timing. I really like that, whereas I don’t like reading instruction manuals. I think trying to learn how to use a fancy video camera would just be probably a waste, and I’d be like, “How do I get the footage onto my fucking laptop?” What I love about doing it on iPhone is I can just transfer it to my laptop and then start editing and make something cool. That’s the cool thing about going, “Guys, I could shoot you a video and it’s not going to cost anything, because I’m just going to do it on my iPhone.” It’s no pressure on you and there’s no pressure on anyone, really, in that. Which is nice to have that option when we have to spend so much money on all these other facets all the time.
Kelli: That was really amazing — and also for my mental health and stuff, it was a really nice way to end that tour. We were gonna be stuck in London for a few days anyway, so it was really a lovely gift. I really appreciate it and I love what we got. I feel really similarly about music videos. I feel like they can kind of unfold the song more; I think it’s a chance to dive deeper. And I’m a ham so I like getting to show off — I fucking love lip synching and telling a story with my face as well.
Kate: You’re an actor, too, you know? You like being able to tell a story in that way, which is cool.
Kelli: Yeah. Which brings me to Kurtis’s question, which is directed at me and you: “Kelli and Kate, you guys have both done some acting and share a manager. Do you feel like the process of acting has changed how you approach songwriting at all?”
Kate: I thought he was going to say, “Do you feel competition with each other?” [Laughs.] I think it has. I think one thing I really like about having gotten to experience working as an actor is being a storyteller in a different way. It’s a different perspective, it’s a different channel of your brain. I think it also makes you think about other people, and I really like that. I think that in music so often we’re in a tunnel — and it makes sense that we are, because we’re just constantly treading water. We’re driving to a gig, we get to the gig, we get out of the car, we load in, find where to poo and shower, and find some food and how disgusting is it that day. You get through soundcheck and deal with your soundcheck issues and then play the show. And then for one hour and a half, everything makes sense. But it’s all about this one vision: This direct access to the fans. Which is really, really cool and really, really gratifying.
I think we’re really similar in that we’re driving the train. And what I really love about acting was, I was suddenly like, Oh, I’m not driving the train. I’m just a crew member on the train, and there’s a bunch of people making this train go. It gave me this wider perspective on how there’s so many more ways to tell a story. And I think when you try new things, it changes a little pathway in your brain. You’re going, Let me put myself in someone else’s shoes. I’ve loved songwriting because it’s so cathartic and I get to write about my emotions, my feelings, my problems, but why don’t I try writing about somebody else’s problems, or just a different story, or somebody made up? Which I think is quite freeing.
Kelli: I feel really similarly. Carlos Colunga — he’s an acting teacher, and I think you’ve also done lessons with him — one thing he said was, “Every person has the same things inside of them.” So you have the capacity to feel what anyone else has ever felt. I do write from these perspectives that aren’t truly mine, but then at the same time, I can access that perspective because I can access that feeling, because we all have the same feelings. There is a lot of creativity in acting. It surprised me how much — “Go deeper, think about this, this, and this.” All of that has greatly helped my writing, making these choices and filling in the blanks.
Kate: I know, Kelli, you like to write in notebooks and you have poetry and stuff. Peyton, how do you like to do it? And do you guys ever get nervous sharing stuff with each other? Or not really, because you’re sisters and you’ve been doing it so long?
Peyton: I also journal a lot. I don’t think I journal nearly as much as Kelli, but that’s how I keep track of my thoughts, lyrics, whatever. I still get nervous bringing any new song to Kelli and Kurtis. Maybe not as much as — a few years ago, I was dating this guy and I was writing all these songs, and I was really nervous bringing all the songs to Kelli and Kurtis because I knew that they didn’t like the guy. [Laughs.] So I’m not that nervous, but still, it’s hard being vulnerable even with them sometimes. I couldn’t imagine trying to do that with anyone else.
Kelli: I get a little nervous. I think we’ve become a lot more candid about what the songs are about. “Yeah, this is about your friend that I used to date, and I wanna keep that because it’s actually a direct reference to this. I really like those discussions — we sit down and we kind of just quiz each other, “Well, what’s the significance of this? Is there a shorter way to say it, or is this going with the rest of the message of the song, and do we know what the message of the song is, and should we bring back this imagery?” Sometimes I’ll be like, “This isn’t good, it needs to be better.” And they’ll both just be like, “What’s wrong with it?” And if I can’t think of what’s wrong with it — “OK, fine, we’ll keep it.” [Laughs.]
Peyton: I love those discussions, too. I think they’re really helpful, even though it can be nerve wracking. I mean, I don’t think if it’ll ever not make me a little nervous, but it does get easier the more we do it.
Kate: And what keeps you going as a band? Doing it for so long, and from such a young age, and with all the crap in the music industry, why are you in a band?
Kelli: One of them for me is, I feel like we keep making better art. Not to be super dramatic, but there was a point before we recorded the record where I was just so low and I felt like I had nothing. We hadn’t played live in a long time — it was during the pandemic, and I had gone through voice surgery and I wasn’t sure how my voice was going to come back. There were times where I was just like, Do I have a point to do anything, to even be here? Like, am I a waste of space? Am I a waste of money for my parents to have to deal with? And then I thought, There are songs that I really wanna make sure we finish before I ever consider killing myself. [Laughs.] And that’s horrible, but I had these songs I these songs that I was like, No, I wanna finish those at the very least, before we keep going down this rabbit hole.
Peyton: [Laughs.] I don’t know if I’ve ever gone that far with it. But there have been a couple times where I’ve had these feelings like, I don’t know if I can do this, I don’t know if I want to do this, I think that a normal life would be better for me. But I just ask myself all these questions, Well, what would I do instead? What would I like to do more than this? And it’s nothing. There are things that I love to do — I love being home and walking my dog and reading and I love working with my mom. But nothing so far has inspired the same passion and desire. Nothing else that I’ve come across yet has sparked the same thing that making music has in me. It’s been 13 years now and nothing has come close.
Kelli: I’ve never imagined stopping making music. I have a really special team — I have two really creative people who I have my own dialogue with and we share so much music taste but we also expand each other’s horizons. I do not want to fuck that up. I want to work really hard to make that right. I mean, we’ve started going to band therapy.
Peyton: At this point, we’ve been doing this since Kelli was 9 and I was 14. That means that I’ll have been making music with Skating Polly, and just making music, for half of my life. That’s all I know how to do. What else would I do, even if I didn’t want to do this anymore?
Kelli: I’m down to work at a fried chicken shop, but I gotta keep making music too.
Kate: I feel the same. And I know what you mean too, Kelli. I’ve had those thoughts when I’ve been finishing an album — God, I need to finish this before I die. It’s an incentive to stay alive. Obviously, a lot of artists struggle with mental health and songwriting can be a really fulfilling thing that puts you in touch with yourself. It’s really simple too. You know that feeling when you’ve written a new song and you’ve just recorded it and you can’t wait to get in the car and to get in your earphones. And you just have it on repeat for the whole night because you’re just so into having a new song. How fun that feeling is — that is reason enough to keep trying, because the cool thing is, it’s never complete. It’s never like you’re going to be like, I’m putting the pen down, I did it. You never complete songwriting.
Kelli: There’s so many different things to try and things to be inspired by and things to write about. Or you could write about the same thing over and over again a thousand different ways. Sorry to be a kiss ass, but I’ve been listening to My Best Friend Is You on repeat and I’m obsessed with “Don’t You Want To Share The Guilt?” I love when you go, “I don’t know how more people haven’t got mental health issues/Thinking is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever come across.” [Laughs.] I just love it. I want to just send someone a postcard that says that.
Kate: That’s really cute. I want to ask you one more question. First of all, I wish that you guys in therapy was a documentary, because that would be so good. It’d be the greatest rock & roll documentary. [Laughs.]
Kelli: Well, there’s that Metallica documentary where they’re all in therapy. Our last therapy session was insane. Basically, because I’m such a fucking confrontational person, I picked a fight right before we went into therapy with Kurtis — not a good idea — and then we go and I’m just like, “I’m a piece of shit. Why did I pick this fight?” I couldn’t hear critiques about myself without just hating myself. It was so black and white. So I’m sitting there and I’m picking all the skin off and I’m just bleeding from all my cuticles, and they’re like, “Uh, Kelli, you want to stop?” And I’m like, “Yeah, how much time do we have left?” And I start cleaning out my purse. So I think it would be a good documentary.
Kate: [Laughs.] I’m just imagining it’s the therapist from The Sopranos. How do you cope, though, other than therapy, when you’re on the road and you’re doing each other’s heads in as siblings?
Peyton: I try to get as much time by myself as possible. Not even If there’s any sort of conflict — just in general, to prevent conflict, I try to get as much time by myself as possible. Which I’m not very good at, especially whenever we have someone on tour with us. Last time we had Kelli’s boyfriend and they would go somewhere and I’d be like, I need to spend the next morning all by myself and just get alone time. Then they’d be like, “We’re going fishing,” and I’d be like, “Oh, can I come?” [Laughs.]
Kelli: I’m so social, and I’ve grown up in a house with, like, 40 million people, so I’m used to doing everything with another person. I forget to do things alone. That is really helpful for me, whenever I just make that time for myself. But it’s weird, I have a really hard time excusing myself to do things by myself because then I’m scared people will think I’m sad. And sometimes maybe I am, but also sometimes I just need to feel my thoughts for me, and if I don’t give myself that time to feel my thoughts for me, I will end up being sad and confrontational and weird. But once a fight’s already started, it’s hard.
Peyton: Especially if we’re in the van.
Kelli: I think having a fourth person around helps, because you’re comfortable being mad at each other, but then when someone else is around, you’re kind of less comfortable being mad at each other.
Kate: Yeah, as siblings, you need someone that you’re not 100% comfortable with, someone that will rein it in. Because siblings don’t know how to rein it in, do they? You need someone you’re trying to impress a little bit.
Kelli: I’m usually always in the fight. It’s usually never between Peyton and Kurtis. There’s been a couple times where you guys have gotten snappy, but I’m usually in the fight. It’s not always my fault, but I’m usually in it. I like to have the other person’s feedback, someone to be like, “OK, let’s calm down.” Because that person’s always annoyed the other two are fighting, and kind of a good reminder that the solution is always, “Let’s just cool down and take a step back. We’re all on the same team.” But I feel like when you try to say that in the midst of a fight, it’s obnoxious because you’re being the therapist.
Peyton: It’s so awkward. I feel like I find myself asking a lot, “Do you guys want my opinion right now?” Because I don’t want to just get in the middle of it when I’m not wanted.
Kelli: No, I feel like that’s always wanted. I just can’t in the midst of a fight be like, “Let’s move past this.” Because then it’s like, “You don’t get to fucking choose when to move past it!”
Kate: I think also the gig usually kind of sorts it out. Like I really remember once being in Philadelphia and we did this soundcheck and it was so tense. Everyone was so fucked off with each other, and everyone has such different soundcheck needs, and you’re kind of arguing in soundcheck, and then getting back into the dressing room and being really tense. But then by the time you play the show — I’d be so impressed if someone could keep a fight going during a show.
Peyton: You just get it all out. I’m trying to think if there was like a show where we were fighting and then we kept the fight going past it.
Kelli: No, but there have been shows that have caused fights. [Laughs.] But usually the show either sorts it out or—
Peyton: Starts it.
Kelli: Well, thank you for adding to our cool freaking portfolio of videos. [Laughs.] I love the crap out of you. I really appreciate you doing this. I’m just so glad that you’re part of this record. I think you’re always just going to be such a big part of my heart that even if we’re not directly doing things together, just knowing you has changed so much of how I view shows and songs and music videos.
Kate: I love you guys.
Peyton: I’m going to stop record, but we don’t have to hang up yet.
(Photo Credit: left, Travis Trautt)