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If there's any great secret to the music that Pony Trash play, it's that there really isn't any secret. The beauty of what the Minneapolis four-piece does lies in the simplicity of droning, one-note guitar riffs and rhythms testing the monotony barrier. And yet, like any good sleight of hand, what the band members do — or more precisely, how they do what they do — somehow evades explanation. Within the songs' breathless restraint, dreamy soundscapes, and cryptic lyrics is a message, but it's delivered in code.
Pony Trash play an EP-release show with Web of Sunsets, Flavor Crystals, and the Velveteens on Friday, November 23, at Turf Club; 651.647.8486
"I don't think we ever try to be literal, at all," says guitarist Nate Nelson, half-jokingly. "We're, like, anti-literal." He's with his bandmates at the Kitty Cat Klub, not far from where they practice and record, at singer Neil Weir's Old Blackberry Way studios. Nelson sits in a half-slouch, his head leaning on one hand. "For me, too, it's also an exercise in playing very moodily," he adds. "It's not just how you're playing, it's how hard you hit the strings. I don't get to do that ever."
That's not to say that Pony Trash won't still rock out, because they most definitely do, especially live. But the guys have spent years playing in loud, lacerating rock bands like STNNNG, Gospel Gossip, and Chambermaids. So in a way, having the chance to play quietly — to turn the volume down and listen closely to each other, to focus on the subtlety and dynamics of a song — is a fresh and invigorating idea.
"It's the first time I haven't had to try playing over everybody else, which allows me to try new things," says Ollie Moltaji, the band's wispy, soft-spoken drummer. The band make a point of leaving some room to improvise when they perform, and that, too, can have a big effect on how they play. "Each show kind of freaks me out," Moltaji admits. "You don't know how it's going to come across, because you're so indebted to how the songs breathe."
To some extent, that intensity — however inadvertently — can be attributed to Weir, the band's gregarious, curly-haired leader. "I'm good at coming up with interesting chord progressions, but in a very rudimentary way. I can't [jam out] even if I wanted to," he says. As a result, Weir — who sketches out a lot of his song ideas with the aid of drum machine — serves as more of an anchor for the group than a true frontman, allowing the rest of the band more room to experiment. "It's as much what the guitar sounds like as what the lyrics say, as far as what the song is about," he explains, hitting the table with each syllable for emphasis. "It's about capturing the feeling of witnessing something happen."
"Witnessing something happen" is particularly apt, for Pony Trash's songs evoke a visual sensibility — especially when Weir's vocals get obscured, even subsumed, by the group. On their new, self-titled EP there's a distinct sense of moving gradually from one scene to another. It progresses from opener "Submarines," where Chris Bierden dominates proceedings with his falsetto vocals and melodic bass line, before culminating in the slow-burning build-up of finale "Dry Your Eyes." Says Moltaji, "I've always thought of our songs as kind of like sculpting, where you have a massive bunch of shit that's a song, and you carve away at it, rather than build it up." Nelson agrees. "You'll never hear an abrupt, choppy change in a Pony Trash song. We're definitely not trying to jar someone."
Of course, the songs on this EP were recorded several months ago, and already the band's sound is still evolving. Of some of the new songs they've written — some of which have already made it into the live rotation — Weir says, "There's more of a drastic change. It's like there's two songs that kind of split halfway through." He spreads his hands out to either side, then drops them into his lap, legs crossed. "Of course," he continues, smirking faintly, "in a Pony Trash sort of way, that scene change takes about 40 seconds to happen — it's a really gradual thing."
As far as future music is concerned, don't expect to see the band putting out a full-length any time soon. EPs, it would seem, suit their tastes just fine. "I think this band is just better suited to the shorter format," insists Weir. "Say if you have five songs, just release those rather than feel obligated to write more. It's a much better snapshot of where you are as a band at any given moment."
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