Way back in 2009, when Kelli Mayo was just 9 years old and her stepsister, Peyton Bighorse, was 14, they formed their spirited punky-pop band Skating Polly in Oklahoma City. Their parents took them to concerts frequently, so it makes perfect sense that music would rule their lives.
“My relationship with music is so closely intertwined with my family,” said Mayo in a phone interview ahead of the band’s April 18 tour stop in Ventura at the Tavern.
Now a decade in, Skating Polly has released five full-length albums, including 2018’s The Make It All Show, toured with bands like Babes in Toyland, Deerhoof and Kate Nash, and collaborated with members of seminal L.A. punk band X, Veruca Salt and the Flaming Lips, among many others.
In 2017, the sister duo added another sibling to the band: Kurtis Mayo. Now living together in Tacoma, Washington, the three musicians trade instruments on songs but the lineup now is typically Bighorse on guitar, Mayo on bass and lead vocals and Kurtis on drums.
Even though he only joined Skating Polly two years ago, Mayo said it feels like Kurtis has always been a part of it. “He has an encyclopedic brain for music so he’s always showing me new stuff and making me think about things in different ways,” she said.
When you live with your bandmates, you’re technically co-workers who have to be on 24/7, Mayo explained. You’re always working on new music, checking emails or answering calls from journalists.
“It’s funny because while I was waiting for your call today, I was writing lyrics,” said Mayo. “It’s been intimidating because I’m so happy with all the songs on The Make It All Show that I’m like, ah, I want this to be [even] better. But you always have that pressure. If you’re proud of what you’re making, you want the next thing to be better.”
The band describes its music as “ugly pop.”
“All the songs we write at their core are trying to be catchy, melodic tunes but we like them to have elements of weirdness and imperfection and dirtiness,” said Mayo. “Even our most punky songs, we want them to have pop elements. And even the most pretty songs, we want them to be a little bit different, a little bit dark.
“This is how I feel about myself and my sense of style, embracing imperfection and ugliness, so I do it in our music too. It’s necessary and freeing.”
While their music is powerful, freeing and bold, being young females in the music industry can still be exhausting. Skating Polly wrote the raw, emotional grunge track “Little Girl Blue and The Battle Envy” off The Make It All Show about men in the music scene constantly telling her what she was doing wrong.
But for every nitpicker, there are dozens of prominent musicians who have gushed over Skating Polly’s songwriting and electrifying live performances over the years. Perhaps no other icon is more spiritually aligned with the band than X’s legendary frontperson, Exene Cervenka.
Raised on raw bands like Beat Happening, Bikini Kill and Dead Moon — along with a healthy smattering of songwriter pop, Mayo and her siblings had a vast knowledge of music at young ages, and Cervenka was impressed with them from the start. She’s been their champion ever since, producing some tracks, taking them on tour and writing lyrics to their song “Queen For A Day,” off The Make It All Show. In addition to the new songs she’s working on for Skating Polly, Mayo says she and Cervenka are also writing some folk songs together, based on boxes of Cervenka’s poetry.
Mayo said that there are many times she’s called Cervenka feeling overwhelmed. “I think one of the main things she says that I always go back to is just that you can’t let other people’s expectations prohibit you from making your most honest art. If you start trying to cater to other people’s tastes, it loses the thing that made you special and unique in the first place.”
And while Skating Polly may still be young, they’ve obviously grown by leaps and bounds, personally and musically, since the band’s inception way back when they were middle schoolers.
“We are just a normal band at this point,” Mayo said. “If we need to be young for people to like us . . . that’s kind of weird. We’re always going to be changing and trying new things because we listen to a lot of different things and it keeps music exciting for us.”
Skating Polly performs on Thursday, April 18, at 7 p.m. at the Tavern, 211 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura. For tickets and more information, call 805-643-3264 or visit thetavernvta.com.