The Iron Horse Entertainment Group, owners of the Iron Horse Music Hall, Pearl Street Night Club and the Calvin Theater, have set up a rather impressive string of summer shows in Northampton.
Pearl Street will host post-punk legends Mission of Burma July 10, Baltimore’s Yeasayer + Ponytail July 14, ghostly NYC beat heads Gang Gang Dance will play August 2 and St. Vincent (a.k.a. Annie Clark) will perform a few days later on August 6.
IHEG’s newest venue, Mountain Park (at Mt. Tom in Holyoke) , will feature the Decemberists at the Park’s only scheduled summer show August 16.
Ponytail performed this past April at the Iron Horse with the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and absolutely stunned, ripping through all the band’s best songs from their newest record, last year’s Ice Cream Spiritual (WE*ARE*FREE). Download the track “Celebrate the Body Electric (It Came From an Angel)” here (via Brooklyn Vegan).
I had the chance to speak with Ponytail guitarist Ken Seeno over the phone about the band’s most recent tour, their beginnings and their Baltimore hometown:
Ian Nelson: So your first headlining tour starts tonight. How’s that feel?
Ken Seeno: Well, we’re playing in D.C. so we can go home and sleep, so the tour actually starts tomorow.
IN: Who are you going to be playing with?
KS: We’re playing a lot of shows with this band Talk About Life. We were going to play with Marnie Stern but that changed.. we’re playing with the Vivian Girls in Kansas City.
IN: So this Pains of Being Pure at Heart show is a one-off thing?
KS: Yeah, I didn’t even know we were playing with them until recently. I’ve only heard small clips of their songs
IN: Are you hitting spots on the tour that you didn’t get to on previous tours?
KS: We’re going to Atlanta which we didn’t get to before, that’s going to be fun. It’s going to be good going back where people have seen us before and see people we know. I’m excited to go to Portland and San Francisco, you know, all those good west coast cities.
IN: I know in interviews a lot of bands will say they don’t listen to any new music when they’re asked what their favorite record of last year was, but living in Baltimore that must not be the case with all the bands coming out of there recently. What’s some of your favorite stuff to come out of Baltimore recently?
KS: Beach House, I really like them. They’re about to have the same management as us. Ecstatic Sunshine’s new record sounds awesome. This band Thank You is really good. We’ve been trying to set up shows with them but it’s not working. White Williams has been around Baltimore recording. A lot of bands haven’t been playing as many shows or are away a lot, like Dan Deacon.
IN: After all the exposure and talk about your first album (2006’s “Kamehameha”), how did you go into recording “Ice Cream Spiritual?”
KS: The first record we recorded at home in one day so our goal for the new one was to record a real record, actually go into the studio and have someone who’s experienced work with us. We had been recording everything live, and we wanted to keep that sound. We recorded at Jay Robbins’ studio in Baltimore. It was a really good experience – the product was more of a baby with all the work we put into it. We came in totally prepared and ready to go, blocked out everything, just went on a straight line for a week.
IN: Do you have plans after this tour to get back into the studio?
KS: This summer we’d like to work on our next record, or at least write new music. It’s really hard when you’re playing shows just to put everythig down and start from scratch.
IN: How do you write songs?
KS: It’s definitely a collaborative process. We’ve never written a whole song without everybody being there. We need everybody in a room, everybody’s input. We try not to tell each other what to do. It’s a lot to do with the four of us.
IN: Since you never write Ponytail songs individually do you guys have any solo projects or other material you work on?
KS: Dustin just finished his solo record, it’s out on vinyl. He’s been working on it for years. It’s a magical sort of record, not like Ponytail at all. Molly has been working on some stuff in New York. We like to explore ideas on our own, but we put all our energy into Ponytail. We’re focused on Ponytail.
IN: Your Myspace page says the band formed as a class project. Is this true?
KS: Yes, when I was a freshman at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in January 2005 we all took this “parapainting” class. The goal of the class was to have a band.. the professor put the bands together on first impressions, like “you guys sound grunge so you can be in a grunge band.””
IN: So you were all put together randomly. You didn’t know each other?
KS: Yeah, he just put us together. We didn’t know each other. I kind of knew Dustin – I remember seeing him and thinking he was real cool. He had these capris on, you know the pants. Three quarter length? I just remember thinking he had cool style. and he had this weird bowl cut. I actually convinced Dustin to join the class so I wasn’t the only freshman. And Molly was so weird.
IN: In reviews of your music I tend to see a lot of Yoko Ono references with regards to Molly’s singing. Is there any actual Ono influence there or is it just easy to make the comparisson?
KS: Yoko Ono’s and Molly’s interests are very different. What Molly’s done is very natural, not about sounding like other people. It was really about her. We studied fine art, Yoko did performance art, so we know her stuff. It’s really just about ideas. I’ve heard a lot of Pixies comparissons too.
IN: Pixies works. A female Black Francis. Some of your guitar work reminds me of another band I’ve seen associated with you, Abe Vigoda. You like those guys?
KS: We met Abe Vigoda when we played a show with them in New York. We have a lot of the same ideas, we’re similar somehow. They’re really cool. We have a similar vibe – I wish we could tour with them.
IN: Speaking of bands you’ve played with, who else have you opened for before thie headlining spot?
KS: We opened for Battles and the Death Set. Our last tour was with High Places. We did a tour with Don Caballero too.
IN: Who’s the best band you’ve opened for?
KS: We played with Battles right after “Mirrored” came out. That record is so killer. They were so tight and super engaging. I liked the High Places vibe too. They’re a real healthy band. Opening for bands is fun, but headlining is a whole other ballgame.
IN: You play in a laundromat in that A.D.D. video series on Pitchfork (pitchfork.com). Was that your choice to play in front of all those washing machines or was it the director’s?
KS: We try to keep as many of our own artistic visions as possible, but yeah the Pitchfork director chose the location. We had fun playing there in such a tight space. It was different than our practice space. He’s done some in bands’ practice spaces and I’m glad we did our location, our practice space is just a closet – a good closet. Have you seen the F***ed Up A.D.D.? Have you heard them?
IN: Yeah, I’ve caught them a couple times. Damian’s a really good guy.
KS: I had never listened to them until I saw that, but after I downloaded the record and listened to it every day. They’re my favorite band right now, I really want to meet them.
IN: Since you’re just starting this tour now, you must have had time to catch some bands. Have you seen anyone good lately?
KS: I saw Skeletons play in Europe. They were really cool and nice and weird. The guy asked the crowd “Who has fingerprints?” before launching into a song, I laughed so much. I saw Max Tundra, he was good. Ecstatic Sunshine and Many Mansions too.
IN: You mentioned the band being brought together in a painting class. I’ve seen a lot of press photos where you’ve got a lot of facepaint on and the album art for the new record is like fingerpaint. Does this aesthetic come from ideas from that class?
KS: Our album art was a collective work as a band. We wanted to make what we felt reflected our work. My personal artwork is way different. When you’ve got this many people thinking it all comes together. Making a record is like a snowball going down a hill. We had the vibe “Ice Cream Spiritual.” Part of the idea was from an old amp we used to bring around with primary color handprints painted on it. We thought the motif reflected the identity of the band.