Ragged Words are meeting Ponytail at the Lexington in North London where, tonight, the band will perform the penultimate leg of their European tour. Ponytail are Molly Seigel on what you might call vocals, she certainly fronts the band, with guitarists Ken Seeno and Dustin Wong either side of her, and Jeremy Hyman on drums. Ken is a little homesick:
‘We’re going home on Thursday and I think part of me is already on that plane. I’ve got one leg on the plane and the other is on the stage playing the show.’ Judging by the frenetic energy of Ponytail’s live performance, this image of Ken isn’t entirely discountable.
‘That’s an amazing image,’ adds Dustin.
‘I have long legs.’
Baltimore, Maryland is home to Ponytail, a city recently gaining notoriety in the light of breakthrough acts such as Dan Deacon and Beach House. Baltimore is also where Animal Collective grew up, though they spend their time elsewhere now. For Ponytail, how does Baltimore compare to a place like the Brooklyn, the capital of buzz?
‘It’s so different,’ says Molly, the angelic-looking spearhead of Ponytail. ‘The city is so small, just the fact that it’s so much cheaper. It’s just friends doing stuff together. I think that, personally, the scene in Baltimore is still really good for a small city, but it doesn’t have as much energy as it had a few years ago. Also, with the buzz of it, with Dan Deacon getting really popular, it kind of created a more, well, maybe people were trying to get famous a little bit. It’s just the fact that it got attention and changed.’
Popularity is something the band are curious about, particularly in an age where it’s difficult to tell who is more popular – the artist selling more music, or the artist with statistical proof on last.fm or myspace profiles:
‘The other day I was trying to work out if anyone actually listens to our music,’ says Jeremy Hyman, Ponytail’s curly-haired drummer.
‘Not if anyone listens to it,’ Molly adds. ‘But if people like it. That’s what I was thinking about.’
‘Yeah, I wonder that too,’ agrees Dustin. ‘We have no idea.’
‘When we were in college,’ Jeremy continues, ‘and starting this band, bands that I thought were huge we’d meet eventually. It’d be like, “Oh, no, you’re not.” It’s all relative.’
‘It’s just numbers,’ Ken concludes.
This genial young band gives an impression that belies the internet era they’re living in. They’re each grounded and focused, and though tired at this point of their tour, they remain philosophical.
‘The most depressing thing is – I haven’t been on the internet in a while, but today I went on – on myspace they’ve changed it: it now says ‘statistics’ for the band,’ Jeremy stresses the term with disbelief.
‘No way!’ proclaims Dustin.
‘What does that mean?’
‘I mean, is that it?’ Jeremy reclines into his seat, pondering.
For Ken, the solution to this modern dilemma is simple: ‘If I play a show and I feel kind of down about it, if I’m unsure that the sound was good or something, if at least one person comes up to me and says they enjoyed it or they want to shake my hand, I feel really good. Just one person coming up to me at the show and I feel really good.’
It could be the case that Ponytail’s style will alienate some listeners with the, at times, primitive nature of their sound. Molly’s work at the front of the stage borders on primal, she acts as a guide, shrieking and squalling through the maelstrom of energy conjured by Jeremy’s brilliant percussion work and the unrelenting melodies amassing between Ken and Dustin’s guitar-pedal wizardry. But how are people reacting to Ponytail, and how might that inform their development as a band?
‘Smiles,’ says Dustin. ‘I like smiles a lot, that helps.’
‘I think a lot of what we do is solidified live,’ Jeremy says. ‘If a song isn’t working well with the audience then it might change. It’s different for every song.’
Ken comes across (as do each member of Ponytail) as thoughtful, basing his opinions on experience: ‘A couple of times on this tour, after a show, people have been coming up to me and saying, “Thank you, thank you for coming.” And I’d say, “I was booked to come here anyway, thank you for coming.” It wouldn’t have been a good show without the audience, so it’s an equal part. The last time I had that was in Brighton. London’s awesome, people in London remind me of New York – they bring the mosh. And that’s fun once in a while, just to get punked and thrash around.’
What about negative reactions, are some people turned-off by the lack of familiar song structures? According to Dustin, they are: ‘I think some people are definitely upset about it,’ he says.
‘It’s a possibility’, Ken says. ‘But we don’t invite it, you know? It seems to me that people who are fans of our music are people who are just fans of music. Not necessarily fans of being ‘cool’. The feeling is what they’re after, and that’s what we’re after too. I think it’s kind of hard sometimes when you’re dealing with traditional elements of music that are kind of a dissonance, or sometimes you throw that word “art” around, and people start getting turned-off.’
‘Yeah, we don’t want to upset anyone or anything, that’s not our intention,’ declares Dustin.
If Ponytail were unsure about their popularity in London, tonight they need not worry. It’s a full-house upstairs at the Lexington, and the band manage to whip up a frenzy. The ‘mosh’ that Ken described earlier proves him right, they do bring it, but it’s completely innocent. It’s a varied clientele, perhaps the most energetic of the band’s followers is a man in his forties, re-living his teens, thrashing around amidst the seismic shift in ‘Late for School’. It’s an audience of minor celebrities also – Max Tundra can be seen defending himself with outstretched arms against the revelers that include support act Gentle Friendly.
The band will return home to rest for a little while before heading off to Austin for the annual SXSW festival. Molly hopes the band can find the time this summer, in Dustin’s basement, to finish writing new material and have it recorded in the winter. But the band aren’t sure about where they’ll practice this year. Jeremy likes the idea of Dustin’s basement, ‘it’s pretty cool in there’, he says. But Dustin disagrees: ‘Don’t you remember the summer practices? We were sweaty as hell, man!’ Wherever Ponytail find to write new material, they’ll have a doting audience waiting for them in North London when they’re done. Tonight, London and Ponytail brought the mosh.