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Interview: Pit Pony

7 July 2022

With a modest collection of singles championed over the last few years by UK radio stations (BBC Radio 1, BBC6 Music) and influential DJs (Steve Lamacq, Mary Ann Hobbs), Pit Pony took advantage of the time afforded to everyone by the global pandemic to craft its blistering and in-your-face debut album, World To Me which was recently released by Clue Records (The Wedding Present).

Like the current crop of UK artists making waves (Fontaines DC, IDLES, The Mysterines), Pit Pony favors raw guitar rock with a melodic, punk rock spirit and if those bands have found overseas success, one can only hope Pit Pony is given the opportunity to impress U.S. audiences in the very near future.

Three of the band’s members – Jackie Purver (vocals), Garth Purver (guitar), and Andrew Jones (guitar) – joined me on a Zoom call to talk about Pit Pony’s history, how living in Newcastle influences their sound, what other names they had considered for the band, and how they dealt with the mental health challenges of being locked down.

You’re a new band to me. What should I know about Pit Pony?

JACKIE: We started in 2017/2018. We’re from Newcastle which is in the northeast of England. We’d all been in different bands locally and they all finished for whatever reason. Then we just started this one. We recorded a few singles, which was 2018, “Osaka” being one of them. And then, after that, the pandemic hit so we didn’t do anything for two years. Well, we didn’t play any gigs for two years. Now we’re just getting back up and running after the pandemic so it’s been nice to play shows again and record an album.

GARTH: We were just playing shows locally pre-pandemic and starting to book things out and then, just like for everyone across the planet, the pandemic put the blockers on everything. We used the time wisely, we wrote a lot of new material and then we were fortunate enough that we had the opportunity to record an album. We came out of the pandemic with something and we’ve been playing shows, done a first little tour, and now we’ve got an album out. It’s going all right at the minute.

JACKIE: I think before, we always concentrated on singles and recording a single and then getting the next one out. This gave us a chance to write an album which is really different. It’s a different way of writing because you can get more into it and go a few different directions. It really gave us a chance to concentrate on the songwriting. It was really nice, actually. We had to send demos to each other, we obviously couldn’t meet up and then when we did record the album, we had to wear masks and use sanitizer and everybody had to be distanced so it was really weird but it was still really nice because it meant we were doing something and had something to focus on.

When recording the album, did you treat it like you were recording everything in the same session or did you do things in chunks and go into the studio sporadically?

ANDREW: We did it over the course of 5 days. We blocked off the studio. We had a lot of the demos down, a couple of the tracks were fully formed. We knew what we wanted. We have a bit of a reputation for a strong live show and we wanted to capture that. We pretty much set up in the room, Jackie was in the vocal booth in the room next to us and we pretty much played it through from the start to the end. Once we got the skeletons of the tracks down, we could dive in and add overdubs and any little extra features. That worked quite nicely for us. Before we even went into the studio, we did research, referencing of albums we liked in terms of production and what sounds we wanted. We would quite closely with our producer, Chris McManus at Blank Studio, who really helped us push the tracks into new areas we wanted them to go.

What were the albums you were using as the template for the sound you wanted to get?

ANDREW: All of us have quite different influences.

JACKIE: The Ohsees was one of them.

ANDREW: Ty Segall’s Manipulator album because I thought it was like a modern version of a T. Rex record.

GARTH: I remember one of [drummer] Joey’s was Queen of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf.

ANDREW: I had a psych record, might have been Gnod or White Hills. I think the one common element that came into the production is that a lot of it was raw, a real kind of power behind them but you could quite clearly hear a melody.

JACKIE: Mine were The Kills, Dead Weather, Dum Dum Girls, PJ Harvey, and Duke Spirit.

GARTH: I put The Horrors, Shame, IDLES, Interpol, Can, Savages.

ANDREW: The studio we recorded at was set up by one of the members of the British rock band Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. They’ve been described as a modern Sabbath meets Motorhead, so their studio is just full of Orange amplifiers and it’s extremely well treated acoustically so even if we don’t sound like that, just adding extra layers on guitars you get that beefy, mid-low tone. It was very exciting being in that studio.

Is that the same studio where you recorded all your singles?

ANDREW: We’ve used that studio all the time, throughout our recording sessions. As it went on, we’ve gotten more proficient at songwriting and as musicians and they’ve also gotten more proficient as a studio and are always adding new gear. We’ve always worked with the same producer. He knows what we’re going for and what we want to sound like and so it was a lot more collaborative than it has been in the past.

I’m terrible with geography and have never left the United States. What can you tell me about where you live?

JACKIE: We’re from the northeast of England. We’re probably one of the closest English towns to Scotland, thus the accent is fairly similar. It’s coastal, we have a lot of beautiful coast line which actually influences the songs a little bit, I think. The famous river is the River Tyne which you hear in songs. There’s a song called “Fog on the Tyne” by Lindisfarne which is a big song for us. The background is very much mining and shipbuilding, and that’s what, I suppose, fits our name, Pit Pony. It’s a very beautiful part of the country but I think everyone in England thinks we still live in caves because it’s north of the north.

ANDREW: It’s the post-industrial region.

JACKIE: If anyone’s a Game of Thrones fan, we’d be Winterfell. But that’s what you want. You want to be a Stark. That’s how we would describe it.

So where you live influences the music?

JACKIE: Yeah, especially in lockdown. You were only allowed, for ages, to have one walk per day. You could only leave the house once a day if it wasn’t for work. It was really strict. So everyone was going for a walk either in nature or by the coast. Because of where we live, we are lucky because we had a lot of choice. I grew up in a town called South Shield, which is a seaside town. It’s in our latest video, that’s where we filmed it. I think that’s seeped into it. There’s a lot of imagery about the sea and rivers. It’s not intentional but I think it has influenced how it comes out in the songs.

ANDREW: When it’s winter and autumn and it gets dark at 4pm in the afternoon, our practice room is in the middle of the woods next to this guy called The Rat Catcher who makes sculptures out of wood. He’s actually a really nice guy. We practice in the dark in a shed next to a totem pole made of wood. I think that seeps into the music as well.

In terms of Newcastle, is there a music scene? Other bands? Clubs to play?

JACKIE: There’s a lot of really good venues. There’s an area by the river where there’s a lot of pubs and venues where people start out. In Sunderland, which is where The Futureheads and Frankie & The Heartstrings are from, they’ve got a scene as well. There’s a venue called Pop Recs which was started by Frankie & The Heartstrings which is kind of a community project. We are lucky because there’s a lot of places where you can go see live music. A couple of weeks ago we supported L.A. Witch so there’s a lot of touring bands as well that come in. We supported IDLES at a place called The Boiler Shop. It’s good for people who are starting out and you can go up the ranks a bit, there’s different levels of gigs and bands happening.

Was Pit Pony the first band name you came up with?

JACKIE: You know what? It was the first name we came up with. It came from from [Andrew] Potter, the bassist, and I, we do a local radio show and we played “Pit Pony” by She Drew the Gun and we said, “That would be a really good band name.” But when we took it to the band, I think we went through about 500 names before coming back to Pit Pony.

GARTH: It was the title of the WhatsApp group we were all in. It was kind of a working title. For a bit it was, “Should we try to think of another name?” We went around but came back around to Pit Pony.

JACKIE: We had a German company get in touch with us.

ANDREW: They made stables for pit ponies. We’ve communicated with them frequently. They pre-ordered the album, really nice people.

JACKIE: You just never know who you’re going to meet through your band.

What was the backup band name if you hadn’t all agreed on Pit Pony?

ANDREW: I wanted to go with Big Wave but then thought that sounded too shoegazey. And there is a beer named that as well, so that was vetoed. In hindsight, that was the right decision.

JACKIE: The other one was Council Pop which is what people call water because you get it out of the tap and it’s provided by the council.

How did you handle the mental challenges that came along with the pandemic? Were you able to practice mental wellbeing?

JACKIE: Because it was written during the pandemic, the theme of the album is very much about that claustrophobic anxiety that everybody had because it was constantly bad news everywhere, there wasn’t a break from anything. I think we’re all lucky because we all work, we’re all considered key workers so we all had to go to work every day. We had that routine, which is good. But, I think other than that, for me it was focusing on the album, going for walks. I also did the classic baked bread and things like that. I think it was just things to keep a routine and stay occupied.

ANDREW: It was a time where we could a lot more writing and demos. Traditionally, when we write songs, we’d be in a rehearsal room and have a jam and come up with a hook or a riff we like. But this time, it meant we could have ideas and pass them back and forth in a phone recording. I taught myself a bit of music production and it meant we could make more formal demos. Doing music was a lifeline to get through those difficult stages.

I’ve noticed that UK bands tend to release a number of standalone singles before writing and releasing a full length album. Is that because you get radio airplay and it helps build up the band name and reputation before going in to do an album?

JACKIE: I think the dream is always to do an album but it’s difficult because of the cost of it. The studio time costs a lot and then if you do a physical release, it costs a lot and everything when you start is self-funded. The reason we managed to do the album is we got some PRS Foundation funding. Now we’re with Clue Records and they’ve done the physical release. But, other than that, you’re playing a gig, you get paid, you put that towards the next single and you just keep going until you get to the point where you think you’re able to make an album. I think it’s speed – move on to the next thing, move on the next thing, move on to the next thing. See if you can get some radio play with this one. See if you can generate something with the next one. It’s just to keep people’s interests.

ANDREW: There’s always a financial barrier that’s been there. I think our first recording we did 3 tracks and we intended to release it as an EP. You kind of release that if you did that, it would be one release and people would forget about it in a few months. So, instead, you release each track individually throughout the year and that would generate your buzz, get more attention, get more people to listen to you which would give you the funds to do the next few. We’re incredibly fortunate to get that funding.

GARTH: It’s counterintuitive to what you want to do, making art, making a body of work. You record something together, you think “These 3 or 4 songs is an EP.” Same with an album. Pretty much every band our size and just starting out, 90% of them just seem to do one single at a time. We did one 7”, but that was after after 4 or 5 digital singles. You’re not really doing anything physical to start off with so when it’s just that constant churn of putting things online and streaming, everyone seems to go down that route. But, because you’re doing that, you’re writing in a different way because you’re always trying to write a single rather than try to explore all the types of things you’d want to put into an album.

In 2019, the band Blind Melon was releasing singles with the goal of putting them all together on an album after each single had been released. They wanted listeners to really spend time with each track individually. They only wound up releasing 4 singles before the pandemic. But, the idea was that if they spent the time writing the songs, they didn’t want listeners to listen to the first couple of songs on an album and then move onto the next thing.

JACKIE: The Wedding Present is doing something like that.

ANDREW: I think they’ve been doing that since the ’80s, releasing a single every month and then also release albums on top of that.

JACKIE: For them, it’s very much about collectors now. Every single is a 7”. We played a gig with them a couple of months ago and there were people queuing up to get the singles so they could have the full set. That’s nice, especially on vinyl, because people are going to listen to the song, they are going to hear every song properly on the album and not skip.

I’ve spent more time in the last two years listening to physical albums from front to back than I have in many years when listening to albums digitally and being able to skip around.

JACKIE: When I was at school, none of that existed. It was CDs. And an album was 10 pound and you had to save your money. I always have a huge list of albums that I wanted and never got through it because it was too expensive. And now, I don’t think people realize how lucky they are to be able to listen to a full album digitally. I do the same thing, You get a taste from singles coming out and then when you really love something, then you order the vinyl and when you listen to it that way, it’s really something special.

ANDREW: I feel split. On one hand, I think it’s great if you want to check out a new artist or someone recommends something, you listen to it. More often than not, if I listen to an album once and think it’s great, I’ll go on Bandcamp and buy it even if they don’t have a physical release. On the other hand, sometimes you’re like, “I have 100,000 plays of this song and I’ve got 50 pence. Isn’t that great?” I don’t think the streaming model is going to be sustainable for artists.

JACKIE: That’s an ongoing conversation. That’s really nothing to do with the people listening to the music, it’s to do with the people running it.

You mentioned Clue is handling the physical production. Will World To Me be coming out on vinyl, CD and cassette?

GARTH: Vinyl and CD. We haven’t dipped into cassettes but they are also having a resurgence.

JACKIE: I’ve bought some and I don’t even have a cassette player!

GARTH: There are two editions of the vinyl. That’s another thing everyone does now, colored vinyl. There’s a black and red smoke vinyl, which is the Clue Records one, which is really, really nice. There’s a transparent gold one which is just for sale from indie record shops.

You’ve made a few videos. There isn’t really a great outlet like MTV to play them, but, it’s still a good marketing idea to put content out there for people to watch. Do you enjoy making videos?

JACKIE: We’ve been really lucky because the person who worked on a lot of our videos is called Sel MacLean and he approached us as a fan of the band and asked if he could work with us. He’s done it out of a labor of love and on a shoestring budget when we first started. It’s really nice. It’s a proper video set – everyone is really professional and really knowledgeable. We just sort of turn up and play our instruments for a bit and then go. It’s really nice to do. The “Supermarket” video was really good because it was two actors so it was nice to watch how they worked and how everything was set up. It was in a room that we’ve all been in for gigs but it was completely transformed for the video and it looks so good on film.

The video for “Sinking” was fun because that we borrowed my friend Kate’s Super 8 camera and we went to the beach. To be honest, we didn’t know whether the film would turn out but we just hoped for the best. It has been really nice because it’s a different aspect of being in a band.

Are you hoping to be able to tour in America?

JACKIE: Of course.

ANDREW: Definitely a dream.

JACKIE: We’ve sold some t-shirts recently, a few went to America which surprised us. It was nice to know that.

ANDREW: It would be a dream to come to the U.S. and do a proper tour so hopefully when things go right. It would be a dream to play Europe at this point! We always work within our means, I’m confident we’ll get to that point.