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Photo by Matty Morand
In real life, Pony’s Sam Bielanski (singer/songwriter/guitarist) and Matty Morand (multi-instrumentalist) are as bubbly and engaging as the music they’ve made on their sophomore release, Velveteen. Throughout our conversation, the couple often finished each other’s sentences and spoke about their collaboration with a refreshingly youthful enthusiasm. It was surprising to learn that, due to the pandemic, they nearly decided to stop making music and figure out what they wanted to do with their lives. Instead, they doubled down and wrote enough songs to fill multiple albums, something we should be thankful for. If you’ve been a fan of alterna-pop at any time in the last 30 years, you’ll find something to love on Velveteen.
Do you look for your albums when you’re at record stores? If you find it, do you pick it up and just marvel at the fact that something you created is available for people to buy?
SAM: Yeah, it’s a pretty cool feeling to see it on a shelf somewhere. Sometimes people will post pictures of them, like at Amoeba Records or something, and you can see our record in the background and it’s like, “Oh, cool. Somebody should buy it.”
MATTY: I don’t think I’ve ever seen it out in the wild, but I’ve had people message me and be like, “Hey, I just bought this at the record store.” I think that’s really neat. It’s a little bit of a different thing than somebody buying it online.
SAM: Being able to hold a physical copy makes it feel more real. I was really hoping that our first record would come out on vinyl. And even though it was kind of a silly time to be so adamant about that, I’m happy that I was, because it’s really cool to have a physical copy of a thing that you worked so hard on.
MATTY: It also really feels like, when putting out the record with a label, somebody else thinks highly enough of it to put the money and the investment into it. It makes it feel more realized.
Did you spend a lot of time on artwork knowing that people would be holding physical copies of the album in their hands?
MATTY: That’s something that we both care a lot about. We kind of do everything in terms of the visuals. The last record, we had some help from a friend of ours, but this one is entirely our doing. It’s something that we thought a lot about and cared a lot about. So I’m really looking forward to getting to hold it.
SAM: Holding it and seeing it. It’s just always special.
Talk to me about the album packaging. Are their lyrics or liner notes on the inner sleeve? Will you be selling different color variants?
MATTY: We got four different variants that are all colored vinyl. I saw a friend of mine on Twitter complaining yesterday about everything being on colored vinyl and how they just want black 180 (laughs). There’s the retail variant, a couple variants for the label, and then there’s an Urban Outfitters exclusive variant. And there’s an insert. We’ve got photos on the insert, we’ve got liner notes, we’ve got lyrics.
SAM: We’ve got a lot of juicy stuff.
And there’s a bunny rabbit on the label in the middle of the record.
MATTY: When we shot that photo, we kind of had the idea for it in our mind for a while, and we had this stuffed animal that we got from my late stepmother, and the whole time we were like, “We’re going to use that rabbit.”
SAM: We get the whole setup set up – lights, makeup, outfits. So we’re ready to go.
MATTY: It’s like 7pm on Thursday or something, and we’re about to start shooting it, and we pick up this stuffed animal, and we realized it was a dog, not a rabbit. We had to do, like, an emergency trip to Goodwill and look through the abandoned toys.
SAM: But they came through.
Is the new album a pandemic baby, conceived during lockdown?
MATTY: For sure.
SAM: I guess it’s half and half. Half of the songs were written in 2022. And then half were written in the depth of the pandemic. We weren’t planning on putting another record out, to be honest. We were both like, “Oh, great, it’s done.”
MATTY: We both eulogized the idea of music. We were like, “We’ve got to figure something else out to do with our lives.”
SAM: Then time came to actually think about making a new record, and we had all these songs that we had written, so it was easier, I guess, because we had a lot of material to choose from because we basically never stopped writing.
MATTY: We spent like a year-and-a-half trying to each write and record a song every week. That was our goal. We were really good at it for a while. We probably did it for 80 weeks. We’re both very bad at doing nothing. I know that it’s unhealthy, and this is not something I brag about, but I often feel like my days are just a to-do list that keeps recycling. So to be able to just take time off and just not do something …
SAM: It doesn’t really feel good for us and we’re both tortured by it. We have already started working on new songs for the next record.
MATTY: Neither of us ever really stopped writing. I have a record of my own that’s coming out shortly after this one by my band, Pretty Matty, so we’ve been trying to put a set together for that stuff.
SAM: And then we also make all of the visuals and art. So it’s like days sometimes are dedicated to photo shoots or video shoots that we both just do ourselves in our little house.
I hate to ask this, but, since you’re from Canada, are you Rush fans?
MATTY: Check it out. Rush was the first band I ever saw live. I saw them on their 30th anniversary tour when I was a little kid. And this record, there’s definitely a lot of *Alex Lifeson*-influenced guitar moments, but I don’t think anybody would guess it. I don’t know enough music theory to know what it’s called but the barre chord with the open strings ringing on the bottom, like the “Limelight” chords, was something I was doing. And the engineer that we worked with is also a humongous Rush fan and sent us a picture of his baby in a 2112 onesie the other day. So, we’ve got some Rush crossover.
What inspires you as both a musician and as a person?
SAM: It’s a tough question because the last record we wrote was definitely more autobiographical, and it took me a long time to write that record because I was like, “What am I going to write about?” I felt like I had to constantly be revisiting trauma in order to write a song. And for this record, I was like, “I feel healthy. I don’t want to do that.” So a lot of the songs started out from me writing little parts or little demos about television shows or, like, books I was reading at the time that obviously, after you work on them and work on them, they do become more of a piece of your story but they definitely started out as a third party story to kind of keep myself safe spiraling, I guess.
Is that a refreshing way to write?
SAM: Totally. Once we started using the TV shows or outside sources as prompts for writing the songs, I felt almost invincible. I was like, “Oh, my God, I can write 100 songs a day” because you don’t have to feel viscerally exhausted by remembering something bad that happened to you or just something that was difficult. You just kind of get to look at someone else’s story and be like, “Oh, what about that do I find the most interesting? Or what about that story do I find compelling enough to write a song about?”
MATTY: Which is kind of a funny thing because it feels like music, and particularly rock music, indie rock, whatever, it’s expected that you’re writing about yourself. People listen to it and they’re like, “This is Sam’s life,” but you’re not going to read Blood Meridian and be like, “Cormac McCarthy sure had a wild life.” You know what I mean? The expectation that everything is autobiographical is interesting, especially over the last few years. I think that a lot of the really big artists, that becomes a part of their whole marketing scheme. You’ve got` the Taylor Swift’s and everybody’s divorce record in the last ten years and that sort of thing, where it’s like, “This next record is the most personal and the most heartbreaking record you will ever hear in your life.” At a certain point, when the personal is the marketing for it, it’s like, how personal is that? How sincere can that really be? It’s all narrative in the end.
SAM: It’s just storytelling. And I was feeling pretty guilty about it for a while. I was like, “Oh, is this an inaccurate representation of myself by writing them about other people’s stories?” But then we were really listening to a lot of Kate Bush in the pandemic, and I was like, this ho is just out here just making songs about books and whatever else she likes.
MATTY: It’s our little Wuthering Heights moment.
Velveteen sounds so ’90s to me, and I love it for that reason. Are you hearing that from other people?
MATTY: I think we got it a lot more in the last record than we have been with this one. And there definitely is a 90s influence in there. Like I like a lot of 90s stuff, but I don’t think it’s like as 90s influenced as people expect.
SAM: The record, I find, is sonically much more vast than our last record. But whenever I talk about it, I kind of describe it as like 2004. I was going for 2004 Lindsay Lohan movie soundtrack vibes.
I can hear that! I also hear Veruca Salt and Letters to Cleo in your sound. When I first heard “Sucker Punch,” it sounded like something I would have heard on the radio in 1994.
MATTY: I think our Letters to Cleo connection is we are both Josie and the Pussycats movie obsessives and Kay Hanley’s the singer on the songs in that movie. I would say that, at one point, that movie and soundtrack was probably our biggest influence. We are also both humongous Anna Waronker and That Dog fans. We also really like her solo record. There’s definitely that stuff in our music.
SAM: I thought That Dog was the biggest band in the world. Their records are so good. I was like, “Surely everyone knows That Dog.” And then I find out nobody I knew had ever heard of them.
MATTY: I feel like the only time I’ve heard That Dog referenced by an artist is when they are mentioned by the Crutchfield sisters (Waxahatchee, Swearin’).
SAM: Hayley Williams (Paramore) has talked about That Dog.
MATTY: Retreat from the Sun should be the biggest record from the ’90s. Given their familial connections, it’s the one time that nepotism didn’t work when it should have. They have a big connection to early Weezer world which is where I think that they should have blown up. I love Weezer, but I like Retreat from the Sun better than the Blue album, to be honest.
SAM: It was such a different time and I think people were really upset. I think that their fans felt betrayed that they made a record that sounded a little more pop leaning.
MATTY: When you compare it to Totally Crushed Out, it’s really not that different. Anna, if you happen to read this, we love you so much.
SAM: I think she has such a cool career trajectory, being a music supervisor and composer for film and television is kind of dope.
Is there a lyric on Velveteen that you’re particularly proud of that some people might miss when listening?
SAM: It’s hard for me to remember anything about the lyrics I’ve written. But, one thing that’s kind of like a joke that no one would ever know other than Matty is that “Sucker Punch” is actually written about an episode of The Sopranos and it’s written about the Pine Barrens episode. In the bridge of “Sucker Punch,” I kind of I wrote a duet between the guy who they’re trying to find and, like, Paulie and Chrissy. One of the lines says, “I slipped and I fell and you tried to catch me and I’m still running around.” And then the other line is “Too cold to keep it all you watch me run, I watch you fall,” or something like that. It’s like an overlapping duet between the two characters of the episode but no one would ever know yet.
How do you decide what the last song on the album is going to be?
MATTY: I don’t know why this happened, but the last song just decided itself in the studio. We were recording it and there was a little noisy part at the end. I was like, “Oh, we should put a piano line in here.” The piano line that plays at the end of the last song is the chorus melody from the first song.
SAM: it was also the last song we finished. The song didn’t really know what it wanted to be. It was also the second song that was written. It kind of just decided itself, while we were in the studio, what it wanted to be and that it was going to be the last song.
Is there a song, album or artist that, when you hear, takes you back to a specific time in your life?
SAM: Yes. Rilo Kiley’s Under the Black Light. When I listen to that record, I can just picture myself driving in my shitty Hyundai Elantra down, like, the back roads of northern Ontario, because that’s where I lived, without my shirt on, because the AC was broken and it was so hot, and it took basically the whole records length to drive home. So I would just listen to it front to back. But when I listen to it, all I can picture is the summer and I’m in my shitty car that sounds like a helicopter and it’s like I have no worries in the world.
MATTY: I have two. One that I think is like a normal developmental music moment, and the other that is just like I don’t really know why it’s like that. The first is Blink-182, Mark, Tom and Travis Show, the live record. Listening to that at my friend Steve’s house, who was, like, the first person I ever played music with. And he had one of those combination CD player stereo that was square and had two speakers on the sides. That’s what I think of when I hear Blink 182, that’s the version of the songs that I hear and it always takes me back to that. It was a fundamental music moment for me. And the other one is Modest Mouse’s The Moon in Antarctica. It brings me back to a time I stayed home from school and was playing Super Metroid with the sound off and that record playing, so there’s a weird connection between those two things in my brain.
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