Baltimore art-rockers Ponytail might just be the most exquisite tantrum you’ll ever see. If bands were movies, they’d be the imaginary food fight scene in “Hook” – remember, the one where all the ragamuffin kids are throwing neon, play-doh-looking pies at each other? That’s Ponytail’s music in a nutshell: a hyperactive, technicolor rush of joy that sounds like a bunch of kids on a sugar high. There’s something distinctly Peter Pan (or, perhaps more accurately, Lost Boy) about their sound, a quality music critics from Tiny Mix Tapes to The New York Times have spent countless adjectives and comparisons trying to pin down. They’re a little Deerhoof, a little Boredoms, a little “kids at summer camp… on the wrong side of four pitchers of bug juice” (as one Pitchfork reviewer wrote), but mostly Ponytail’s music is simply and startlingly original. At first listen, their music – a reeling net of speedy, surf-infused guitar, punctuated by the yelps and trills of vocalist Molly Siegel – sounds like barely controlled chaos, ecstatic, freewheeling jam sessions that are able to strike their notes of frenzied perfection only through luck. Yet further listens reveal a surefooted complexity embedded within Ponytail’s bright sonic fizz.
This shouldn’t be too surprising, given the band’s origins. The quartet, which comprises Ken Seeno and Dustin Wong on guitars, Molly Siegel on vocals, and Jeremy Hyman on drums, came together almost four years ago through a class project at MICA, where they all studied visual art. Since then, they’ve released two albums, “Kamehameha” and “Ice Cream Spiritual,” made tons of music writers cream themselves, and toured internationally. Next Friday, April 24, Ponytail will be playing a free show at Eclectic along with Miracles of Modern Science. In anticipation of that, the Argus talked to guitarists Wong and Seeno via email about their musical influences, Dragonball Z and the imminent zombie apocalypse.
Argus: You’re about to go on tour. Where are you most excited to play?
Ken Seeno: Actually I’m pretty excited to see Wesleyan. I’ve heard a lot of good stuff about the place, especially the experimental music side of things. [I’m] also perpetually pumped about San Francisco and L.A. Duh!
Dustin Wong: I really love going to Montreal, I think its such a beautiful city. Also Birmingham, Alabama. Never been! I’ve heard a lot of great things about the bottle tree so I’m very excited about that.
Argus: Speaking of being away, do you guys have still have jobs outside of the band? If so, what do you do?
KS: Some of us do work part-time just to support ourselves a little. Molly’s been working at Port Discovery in Baltimore and doing art handling in D.C. I work for an artist in Baltimore. Dustin does design and animation for a company in Japan.
Argus: A lot of music writers have emphasized the ebullient, childlike elements of your music. How did that sound develop? Was it something you were actively going for, or something you kind of discovered in the process of playing together?
DW: It all came together very naturally but with a lot of effort. We all know what we like. It’s not really distinct sound or aesthetic goal but more of reaching a common ground. That common ground, I guess, is the childlike realm you are talking about.
Argus: There’s also been a lot of attention paid to Molly’s vocals. How did her style come about? Do you think there’ll ever be a time when the band moves to more conventional vocals with lyrics?
DW: I don’t know if we’ll move into that direction. If the music calls for words we might, but I think we only bring in elements if the music is asking for it. Molly’s vocals really came about organically through trial and error. It took Molly about halfway through the tour a few summers ago to actually figure out solid vocal parts for most of the songs in “Ice Cream Spiritual.” I remember her being like, “I finally figured it out!” So cute.
Argus: What artists, musical or otherwise, do you think have had the biggest impact on the way you guys make music?
KS: I think our friends in bands have the biggest influence on us. We meet so many good musicians on tour and I think we are always inspired by them.
DW: Aesthetically and energy wise I feel like The Who was huge for me. Every member of that band is so charming and awesome. I love it when every member looks different and has their own thing going. Bands that are not afraid to change, they’re the ones that I admire the most. Beatles, Boredoms…
Argus: What was your first show like?
DW: Really fun! Kids were dancing, we were hyper nervous, it was really great.
KS: It was at a warehouse called the Copycat in Baltimore. We “headlined” the show of all of the bands from a class we were in. It was pretty wild, very exciting. One member of our band peed their pants – no joke.
Argus: Do you guys still make visual art, or incorporate those skills into your music at all?
DW: We might incorporate it more in a way of finding meaning. We learned to find meaning in art at school and presently we try to find meaning in this band. But in my own time I try to make video poems.
Argus: From what Wikipedia tells me, “Kamehameha” was the first king of Hawaii. Why did you pick that as the name for your first album?
KS: Just like our band name, Kamehameha has a double meaning. It is a meaningful word to Hawaiians and to Japanese, but I can’t remember why…something about turtles. Mainly, we liked it because it’s a reference to a very powerful move in “Dragonball Z.”
DW: He united the Islands of Hawaii. For me it was like uniting all the songs in the album as one. There are some songs [that pick up on that theme] like “all together now,” “Island Z,” “dear god plz make my2eyes n2 1.” Also Dragon Ball. Kamehameha is an energy ball emitted by two hands in Dragon Ball. So unity and energy. For me it’s those two things.
Argus: Are you working on a new album? If so, what does it sound like, what’s it called, and when will it be out?
KS: Yes, sort of. We are working on things, but there are no details to disclose at this time!
Argus: What are some of your favorite bands right now?
KS: The Police, Life Without Buildings, Ecstatic Sunshine, Carsickness, Michael Rother, etc….
DW: That is really hard to say; it kind of changes day to day. We saw some great bands in the UK when we were over there last time so I’ll just list those bands. Gentle Friendly, Banjo or Freak out, Peepholes, Cold pumas. They are awesome!
Argus: What’s the most intense/fun/weird experience you’ve had while on tour?
KS: Last time we were in Europe we played an apartment show randomly in Besancon, France. It turned out it was a birthday party for their coworker, which was weird. We played at half volume while it was still light out. All the French Moms and Dads were really open minded out our music and it wasn’t so bad. After a little while we started to notice how much wine was being brought to the party. People were walking in with like three bottles a person! Everyone got trashed: they were tossing each other on the rug and dancing non-stop. Mario, the guy who booked us, brought out his special prune brew. We didn’t know anyone there and everyone was speaking French, but it was probably one of the most fun shows of all time.
Argus: And finally… are you guys prepared for the imminent zombie apocalypse?
DW: I think so, my dad definitely is. He got laser eye surgery and he pumps iron preparing for the apocalypse. No joke!