The similarities between Oklahma City trio Skating Polly and the riot grrrl bands of the '90s are pretty stark; vocally, the influence of the likes of Donita Sparks and Courtney Love is all over the four albums that they've released since the 2011 debut. But the music is very much rooted in the now, despite the fact that they've just released a record with members of Veruca Salt. You can hear all of this and more when they hit Tucson on Wednesday, so we chatted about the five albums that shaped that sound...
With Starcrawler at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 6, at Club Congress, 311 Congress St. 520-622-8848. $8-$10, 16+.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Of course, this record changed everyone's life. I think in a lot of ways, this is the record that made me think I could write lyrics. Their lyrics were so magical sounding and I could follow along with these colorful worlds they created. I didn't think much further than the vibrant stories that were painted on the surface. As a kid, I didn't think for a second that the songs could contain metaphors or even be that personal to the artists, but I still thought they were meaningful. This album made me think songs were about 90 percent melody. I believed (and still do) that if your melody has enough of yourself in it, then whatever you sing about can never be meaningless nonsense. As a kid, when someone would let me sing over them playing guitar, I would just riff on Paul's part in "A Day In The Life": "Woke up, got out of bed, dragged the comb across my head..." Then I'd riff on my own story. This record taught me how to get my melodies out and made me feel like my songs could be about anything.
I have to thank this record for inspiring every loud song I've ever written. This is my favorite example of punk rock because it's incredibly raw and passionate and insane, but it's also undeniably catchy. The pop tracks on it have a strangeness and darkness boiling under the surface to keep them from ever being full on pop. That's another thing: This album has so many dynamics and different sounding songs but it always sounds like Nirvana. That's what keeps me hooked and makes it impossible to overplay this. There will never be another vocalist like Cobain. There will never be another scream like Cobain's. He could make nonsense lyrics punch you right in the chest or make incredibly dark depressing lyrics sound uplifting or silly. You didn't even have to know the words because his vocals say so much on their own. I love everything about the production on this record too, but it's the vocals that I've learned the most from.
Neutral Milk Hotel
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
When I first heard "King of Carrot Flowers Pt. I," I made my mom play it over and over and over again. It was the only song I wanted to hear. And when that finally wore off, I listened to the whole record repeatedly. Every song is just so sincere that it hurts. It changed how I thought of music, especially my own. This album really helped shape my songwriting. I wanted people to be able to hear the sincerity in my songs that I heard in these. I wanted to make something as beautiful.
Exile in Guyville
The storytelling in Exile in Guyville is as good as it gets for me. When I'm listening to this record, even when a song seems to be about something I've never experienced, it feels like I've lived it. Liz Phair's stories never just convey one emotion or one idea. They travel along like you would in real life and to me that's what makes it so relatable. It makes it easy to connect with the characters in her songs. She doesn't have to tell you how she's feeling either. She just paints the picture and lets you figure everything out. And the production is so intimate sounding. I'm always finding new Easter eggs with every listen because they left in the imperfections. Imperfection like a cough before a vocal take, a weird noise their dog made, or an excited "YEAH!" bleeding through the drum track. It's just a very honest record and it's filled with songs that get better and better over time.
It's a brilliant, off-kilter, surprising, backwards, melodic, twisting and turning spectacle. Nothing comes in when you expect it to, nothing ends where you thought it would and it's one of the most satisfying records I've ever heard. This album can feel so completely random and loopy but yet you know every note is supposed to be exactly where it lands. It's not distracting chaos either—it's not trying to make up for lack of songs. Every track is incredibly catchy and full of hooks, but the hooks feel like they were built out of strange material. The Breeders are queens of back-up vocals and countermelody. And this is the record where they showcase that best. That's quite possibly my favorite thing about their music and, because of them, it's also one of my favorite parts of my own songwriting. And this album's raw. No frills. Everything you hear sounded like that in the room it was recorded. This album always recharges my creative batteries.