Interview: Antique Pony

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This piece was originally published on the 15th of July 2015 by The 405. It was the second piece I wrote for ‘Glasweek‘. All I’ll add here is that Antique Pony are fucking amazing, you should listen to them some time.

Captain Beefheart once said that “Rock and roll is a fixation on that bom-bom-bom mother heartbeat. I don’t want to hypnotise, I’m doing a non-hypnotic music to break up the catatonic state.” Taking Beefheart as a key influence, Antique Pony have unequivocally carried on this radical spirit over their three albums (Museum of Blood, Gay Ghosts, and Pony).

Their music refuses to conform to expectations forged by bourgeois aesthetics and society, is replete with irregular, staccato rhythms, incongruent sonic tangents, and diverse instrumentation. It’s music to invigorate, to challenge, to wake you the fuck up – the utopian ideal of rock music, I suppose. Because rock music isn’t dead, it just doesn’t sound like you want it to sound and is made by people you don’t want to acknowledge. It exists in the margins, in a DIY sphere that is far removed from the labels and the PR tendrils that gift-wrap music for so many. Catatonia wasn’t unique to Beefheart’s time, it’s pervasive in seemingly all spheres today – from something as vital as politics to something as comparatively trivial as music consumption and criticism – but what makes Antique Pony such a special band is that they defy this ubiquitous mediocrity, even if most people remain unaware that they’re even doing it. Although, after reading this conversation with Derek and Steven from the band (which also includes a Graham and a Daniel), perhaps more people will be.

Hey guys, how’s it going?

Derek: Good. Optimistic a little.

Steven: Hello, I am doing well, how are you?

I’m doing very well, thank you for asking! All the more excited for talking to you guys. You know, all the people we’ve talked to so far absolutely love Antique Pony, and there’s plenty to talk about. But to get the boring stuff out the way first: how did Antique Pony come about? Why are you making music?

D: Antique Pony existed as another band first where I wasn’t a member. Then gradually when I became more integrated the vibe changed, the members changed, then the name changed. I’m not entirely sure why I’m making music at this point but probably because it’s fun and I’ve lost all ambition to actually be a ‘successful’ musician so it feels more like a genuine attempt. I have nothing to lose anymore, pretty much. I hope to one day quit music and just focus on films but for now I’m pretty content on having a cool support network of friends who genuinely enjoy our music and get something out of us existing as a band.

S: Derek, Graham and I have been doing music together for a long time now. Since 2009 I believe. We used to have a band called Schoolgirl Implode before Graham could play drums, in which we used programmed drums. Graham started learning drums in 2011 and we both made a band which a year later (with Derek added to line-up) became Antique Pony. I suppose I live to create so that’s probably the primary reason I’m making music with the band.

Derek, you mentioned a support network for friends there, I’m assuming some, if not most of them are also in bands themselves? So would you say the Glasgow music scene functions as a big community, or is it a bit different than that?

D: To some extent, maybe. I don’t have a very positive opinion towards the Glasgow scene besides some of my friends’ bands. I don’t like the idea of there being a ‘scene’ because then you have people trying to fit into that instead of being independently minded and making something natural to their creative process. I don’t understand why there’s like Wavves influenced beach punk bands in Glasgow when we’re living in freezing temperatures most of the time. Maybe I’ve got it completely wrong but I don’t like the idea of forcing a trivial aesthetic like that, there’s something disingenuous to it. So maybe there is a healthy community or scene but I don’t particularly want to be a part of it, I’m much happier with the ‘right’ open minded segment of people enjoying us than being a name in a pool of other bands.

S: I want to see them surf on the river Clyde.

D: *East End Glasgow accent* Surf’s up, bro.

It’s interesting you bring that up, because something I’ve sort of observed about the good Glasgow-based bands I’ve heard is that they share a similar style to the music that comes out of Calgary in Canada. You know, like Women, Viet Cong, Chad VanGaalen, Un Blonde and the like. Basically weird guitar music that few other places seem to produce. It might be a weird association to make, but do you think the similar climates has something to do with that?

D: If there is an association then it must be very subconscious because I hadn’t heard any of those bands until a few months ago. I mean, our biggest influence when we started was Captain Beefheart and he lived in a desert.

S: Yeah I still don’t feel fully integrated into what’s going on in Glasgow. We’ve only really known of other people making cool music for like eight months or something.

D: Exactly, Antique Pony was done in a vacuum for our whole recorded output up to this point.

How did you come across other people making music?

D: They found us. They liked our music, reached out and friendships started eventually.

S: Yeah, they came across us I believe. I think Billy of The Cherry Wave messaged us initially asking if we had any shows coming up. Graham kind of pushed us to play more shows and I’m glad he did. We had only played two or three shows between August 2012 and March 2014.

D: And they all sucked, pretty much.

Do you prefer working in a vacuum, then? And has befriending other bands changed the way you write and record music?

S: Because we didn’t know anyone else making music we liked, we existed exclusively as a (home) studio band. We didn’t really like the idea of playing with bands who wouldn’t want to hear our music and vice-versa. But the internet was a cool place to exist and Derek did a good job getting our releases listened to. I suppose now it’s totally different because we actually play as a band and stuff and I’m excited to see how that affects our next release. Surrounding ourselves with creative people will no doubt act as a positive to our creative output.

D: There hasn’t been too much music written and recorded in the past year or so for various reasons so it’s too early to tell. I’d say it adds pressure in that there’s actually some people who would be disappointed now if we put out a less than stellar project but creatively it’s still all of our weird silly ideas and I don’t like the idea of a band morphing to suit their audience if it’s not comfortable for them. I wouldn’t make music to satisfy anyone other than myself so I hope people who like us can follow us into whatever mode of thinking we’re going through. If not though then that’s cool, not everyone is going to engage with every new idea.

So how have you found playing shows recently? I had no idea you had done so few shows before March 2014 as you seem to gig quite often now. Well, when compared to two or three gigs in two years anyway.

D: Very physically draining for me because I’m a horrible mess but it’s worth it because I like performing in general. It’s also very cathartic because I don’t like talking or being animated in person so it provides a vent for that. Mostly though, I like recording and doing projects and the shows are just bonus time where I have an excuse to hang out with people I maybe don’t get to hang out with as much as I want to.

S: Graham loves playing shows so he’ll always be on lookout. There are shows every other night in Glasgow and bands are always looking for other bands to play with, we usually find ourselves playing one or two per month. I love playing but I think to play like two shows a week would really lessen the experience.

D: Yep, and there’s only so many tricks you can pull before people can predict everything you’re going to do. I don’t want anyone to be bored by us because they know what to expect already.

So is playing fewer shows the main way you go about that, or have you developed other ways – not tricks, necessarily – of keeping things fresh on stage?

S: Sometimes we just play the songs and other times we get really pumped and go H.A.M.

D: I was going to give an elaborate answer but that says it better than what I was thinking.

It must be a great help that you have three albums worth of material to work with, plus new songs too. It’s certainly a lot more than the other bands/artists we’ve talked to for this. Apart from Passion Pusher, anyway. You could probably devote an entire shop to that guy’s discography. So yeah, are there any tracks that you tend to play more than others, or that you don’t play at all?

S: Jim Passion is as prolific as Lil B.

D: The Lil B of the lo-fi indie rock world! Over time certain songs have come out as people’s favourites and we’ve adjusted to that a bit. Then we’ll sub some songs out and put in ones we haven’t played as much just to give people who know our discography something new. Some songs are too complex for four people to play but occasionally we find a way to do them.

S: Totally, there are some songs we don’t play because live it would come across as a stripped down version.

You utilise a wide range of instruments beyond the simple band set up – saxophone, flute, clarinet, glockenspiel, piano etc. The first thing I’d like to know is how you guys came about learning all those instruments. Second, have you tried incorporating some of them into your live sets?

S: Some of the instruments are brought forth from the digital world, subtly. While others are played by Derek. I won’t say which is which. It would be really cool to play live with less of a straight instrumentation, we have used keyboards before but that’s as far as it’s went.

D: For all the unknown instruments that may or may not require someone blowing into them, it’s usually me who does that and I’m already playing guitar and singing most of the time. I took clarinet lessons when I was younger, learned to somewhat be a proper musician and all that then kind of forgot about it as I got into guitar. That’s the extent of my training though, I just mess around with instruments until something cool comes out. Maybe I have a natural talent for this or maybe it’s just luck, who knows.

S: I think ‘messing around until something cool comes out’ is often a suitable modus operandi for the band. In an organised fashion of course, with thought added to the equation.

D: I can’t speak for anyone else, but my song-writing is usually me with a weird concept in my mind and then filling in the blanks with instruments until I reach something that somewhat resembles that concept.

It’s funny that you mention “messing around until something cool comes out” while citing Captain Beefheart – who, to the best of my knowledge, worked on the total opposite side of the spectrum – as a primary influence. But going back to influences, who or what else has influenced your sound?

S: Beefheart’s processes are likely very different from ours. His sound is what really interests me, it audibly translates as unhinged at times and straight up mad. I like to make music which presents itself as sort of extra-terrestrial if that doesn’t sound too insane. Much like visual art, its intent is to present itself to the listener and ask ‘what do you think of this’. I’d say even internally in the band we all have our own interpretation of the music we’re making. The collaborative way we function as a band, with everyone’s creative thought process being combined when writing, massively influences our output.

D: That’s true but Beefheart also worked conceptually. He would throw an ashtray against the wall and tell the drummer to “play that”. Not to mention the famous story of, I think Bat Chain Puller, where he was inspired by his car’s window wipers and when you watch the drummer play it live he’s playing exactly like a pair of window wipers going back and forth. Sadly, none of us are as good at interpreting left field ideas as John French was but we make do.

I think very visually when I write music and it probably has to do with how inspired I get by the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Takeshi Kitano, Jean-Luc Godard, Mu Fei, Chantal Akerman, Yasujiro Ozu and so on. Oh and particular films like Out of the Blue, The Bed You Sleep In, Midori (you can hear a sample of that film’s soundtrack on ‘Beautiful Atlas’), School on Fire, The Lady from Shanghai, Branded to Kill, Morvern Callar, Lost Chapter of Snow, Vive L’amour and etc. Making a list is hard because I literally watch two films a day and I find it hard to hate much of it. I make films as well and the sound design is something I spend a lot of time on because merging image with sound somehow releases endorphins in my brain. You’ll see that when I release my feature length film later this year.

Musically I don’t listen to too much of stuff that remotely sounds like us anymore. I like Southern rap music and K-pop a lot but I don’t know if it really influences the band in a way you might think. A big influence and motivation for me is my spiritual muse Adam Cooley who has sadly passed on. I urge anyone who’s interested in mind-blowing creative art to listen to his music project Scissor Shock and to watch his film Currently Untitled which is easily available.

Derek, you mentioned you’re releasing a feature film, just to get the word out there a bit, what is it and when will we be able to see it?

D: It has a title but I’m thinking of changing it so I don’t want to reveal it in case it confuses anyone. It’s an hour long length film about two people who have the same problem but deal with it in different ways. It starts off as a drama but morphs into heavy “video art” introspection. It’s pretty much zero budget so I’m hoping just being creative and not being afraid of my ideas will suffice in making an interesting work that someone somewhere gets something out of. I feel like I have enough potential to work hard and refine my skills and creativity when making films so I’ll be spending a lot of blood, sweat and tears in doing that. I have no film school training or anything, it’s the exact same process as how I make music which I described earlier, just a different medium.

My main actor is Steven and he’s helped me so much since no one wants to act in a film for someone with no prior experience, so I’m happy he’s put some level of trust in me. He’s also someone to bounce ideas off of and that’s helped a whole lot. I’m not sure when people will see it as I plan on trying my luck and submitting to film festivals. I probably won’t get anywhere with that but I might as well try and wait with low expectations. After a while though, I’ll make sure it’s easily available for the few who would actually be interested in watching it.

To tie this ramble in with Antique Pony, my only currently available film is the ‘Equestrianism’ music video. We did that with a £20 digicam and a cracked copy of Adobe Premiere and I think it turned out good enough. Sometimes you just need good visual ideas and the enjoyment of messing around with the editing.

You’ve released a few things on tape already, and it seems to be something a lot of the artists we’ve covered here do also. What’s the appeal with releasing music on tapes?

S: Honestly I just liked the physical appeal of a tape, it seemed like it would be fun and it was. The day we painted all the tapes for our Gay Ghosts release was a fun day. It’s unlikely we’ll do tapes again though, due to the financial set back of getting them made.

D: The appeal initially was to have an artefact of the recordings but in a cheap way where we could do it ourselves. Unfortunately, I don’t think the new album will have a physical release unless someone else offers to put it out. I don’t mind that we were losing money really but there comes a point where the motivation to do them and also lose money was lost. Money that’s better suited to go into our new recordings and live shows. I don’t buy cassettes anymore and have no interest in putting them out anymore either. Times change, I guess. Physical media is a losing battle and MP3s are insanely convenient and are free enough to distribute. For the few who want a tape of the new album, ask Kieran from Dune Witch Trails and I’m sure he’ll make you a bootleg copy.

S: Yeah if anyone wants to do a 50 run vinyl for us, holla.

D: Oh I’d also like to mention that the tapes are still cool and Steven did a great job with the design of them.

S: I am fully qualified to work with j-card templates if anyone wants to hire me to do it.

To wrap everything up: whether there’s an actual scene or not, there’s definitely a lot of great music coming out of Glasgow right now that people seem to be unaware of but really should be listening to – yourselves included. Why do you think that is?

D: There’s not too much attention paid to good acts here because it’s not generally seen as a rich creative metropolis. Not to mention that the working classes (which Glasgow mainly consists of) aren’t seen as worth much, in music or in general. If there’s no hand up co-signs or a band doesn’t have enough money to buy their way onto websites and other media then no one cares. I wish music writing consisted more of people writing about acts they’re genuinely excited about and not just people looking for ‘firsties’ or ‘the next big thing’. Of course, it should be fans who should be outraged by this because they’re getting fed mediocrity in most cases but I don’t see this changing in the near future. People who care about music and art in general will always find something that truly resonates with them eventually, so there’s always the positive of people digging deeper into something they love.

S: There’s a lot of spirit amongst the creative people here. People talk about other bands or projects before their own and that definitely creates a sort of community. So I guess it’s a shame if that doesn’t spread far from the city. We didn’t even know what went on in Glasgow until recently, so I have no idea what other cities on the island are like from a creative consideration. The community seem big once you’re amongst it, but it’s easily missed from the outside.

This interview was conducted February 2015 via Facebook.

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