When Pennyblackmusic last interviewed Pony Collaboration front man James Scallan in February 2010 shortly before his group played one of our London Bands’ Nights at the Half Moon in Herne Hill, the Cambridge/London-based hybrid had just released at the end of the previous year its second album, ‘If These are the Good Times’. Reviews for it, while not plentiful, were highly positive, and the Pony Collaboration, which had a then membership of ten, was playing gigs semi-regularly, getting round any potential line-up problems by plating shows with a hardcore of five members and taking along whoever else in the band might be available.

The group – we were told - had also “pretty much finished writing our next album”, but then then shortly after things suddenly became very quiet with the Pony Collaboration and for a long time they simply vanished.

Now they are back with their third album and first in nine years, the appropriately-titled ‘Everything Was Ages Ago’. The strings section of ‘If These Are the Good Times’ is gone, and the Pony Collaboration is now stripped down to a tauter six-piece, consisting as well as Scallan (vocals, guitar), of Ellie Chalmers (vocals, piano, synthesizer), Michael Chalmers (guitar, pedal steel, melodica), John Norbury-Lyons (bass), Tom Burden (drums, percussion) and Marc Roberts (percussion), all of whom featured on the last album.

The group has, however, lost none of its ability for melody, and the eleven songs on ‘Everything Was Ages Ago’, all of which “were started by James Scallan and finished by The Pony Collaboration”, mix breezy pop anthems with more reflective-in-tone ballads. Scallan and Chalmers’ vocals, sometimes shared and sometimes sung with one taking the lead and the other serving as a backing vocalist, once again soar around each other.

In his lyrics meanwhile Scallan's knack for telling a story or capturing a situation remains as acute as ever. “I don’t know what happened/I took my eye off the ball/I have turned into someone I don’t recognise anymore,” he sings on the surging opening number,’Spare Me the Details’, and wearily “I met you when you were on the way up and when I was on the way down” on the mournful ‘Citizen Kane’.

“I still think of you sometimes,” Ellie Chalmers reflects about the title character on ‘Steven’. The pair, both secondary school misfits. “held on to each other for dear life,” but her love for her classmate turns out to be one-sided as he is “not that way inclined.” The bleak ‘Continuity Errors’ is about another unrequited love affair but this time it ends in murder, while the final track, a glorious ballad ‘When I’m Lost’, a rarity for a Pony Collaboration song in that it ends happily, tells of a couple who against all odds hang on together.

Pennyblackmusic spoke to James Scallan about ‘Everything Was Ages Ago’, and started by asking about the Pony Collaboration’s long absence.


PB: ‘Everything Was Ages Ago’ is the Pony Collaboration’s first album in nine years and after what you have described as “an accidental hiatus”. In what way was this hiatus accidental? Was it simply a case of the rest of life getting it in the way?

JS: We were in the middle of recording an album and we just kind of stopped. Life events certainly played a part. Some members of the band selfishly decided to have children. Nothing happened for a long time, but I always assumed that we would come back to it at some point. I think we were all pleasantly surprised when we revisited the songs that we had recorded. The process of pulling it all together made me realise how much I'd missed being in a band and we started to think about under what circumstances we might be able to do it again. We've started recording another album, which seemed pretty unlikely even a few months ago.

PB: ‘Everything Was Ages Ago ‘ seems to owe to a little more of a debt to indie pop in comparison to ‘If These Are the Good Times’ which was largely to these ears an Americana album. Would that be a fair assessment?

JS: We've flirted with a few different genres, but it always just sounds like the Pony Collaboration to me. Does that sound really pretentious? There are no strings on the album, which left more room for guitars. There's still a fair amount of pedal steel!

PB: When we last spoke to you the next album was “pretty much finished”. How many of these songs on what has become this album remain from those sessions and how many of them are new songs?

JS: I may have been exaggerating slightly. I think we had quite a lot of material at that point and we had probably recorded a few of the songs that ended up on the finished album. I can't remember which songs came from which session at this point. There are definitely a few that we've forgotten about. The most recent session was from 2013 so we're approaching 'Chinese Democracy' levels of procrastination.

PB: There seems to be a real middle-aged malaise to a lot of these songs. Songs such as ‘Spare Me the Detail’ , ‘Steven’, ‘The Novelty Wore Of’, the title track and ‘Citizen Kane’ all reflect in one form or the other on the way things were and the way they are now. More often than not things have not worked out for the better. You have said in the past that you like to remain slightly detached from your subject matter, but as you sing on ‘The Novelty Wore Of’ “Now I feel so much older.” How much of this album is simply a reflection of just that?

JS: I wrote those songs before I could reasonably be described as middle-aged (a quick Google search suggests that I've still got a few years to go). I don't write autobiographically, but I've come to accept that I'm always in there somewhere.
The passing of time is something you can't help becoming more aware of with age. It's always the 20th anniversary of something that happened in the 90s. Everything was indeed ages ago.

PB: Yet the last song ‘When I’m Lost’ is the most, tender, life-affirming love song, which reflects on however bad things can get there are often better times ahead. Was it important to you to end on a note of hope?

JS: I think that's probably just a coincidence. Normal service will be very much resumed on the next album.

PB: When we again last spoke to you had a line-up of ten including people who lived in other countries and only played occasionally with the group. There are six of you who appeared on this record. Is that the current, full line-up of the group?

S: It's all a bit up in the air at the moment. I'm not sure who will end up contributing to the next album. We've roped in Mark Boxall, who plays with Tom in Mammoth Penguins, and there are a couple of other people that I'm hoping might want to do something.

PB: At that time it had been six months since some of the members had been in the same rehearsal room because the line-up was so large. Has that become easier to organise or is it still difficult?

JS: I've given up even trying. We're currently operating as a studio project and have been congratulating ourselves on finding a way of working that avoids smelly rehearsal rooms altogether.

PB: The album cover for ‘Everything Was Ages Ago’ is spectacular. Who are the older
ladies on the front cover and why did you decide on that photograph for your sleeve?

JS: I'm glad you like it. I seem to remember Pennyblackmusic describing our last album cover as 'drab, colourless and totally unappealing'!

This one is by an Italian artist called Naomi Vona. She makes amazing collages out of old photos and postcards. I saw the image and thought it captured the mood of the album perfectly. I'm really happy she gave us permission to use it. I don't know who the older ladies are, but they look like they're having a nice time. They obviously haven't heard the album.

PB: You were also in a duo for a while Life Classes. Does that band still exist and what kind of music does it in contrast make?

JS: That was me and my friend, Gav Singleton, messing around with drum machines and synthesisers. We only played one gig. The promoter thought he'd booked me to play an acoustic set and he seemed a bit annoyed when he realised what we were up to. I maintain that we were quite good. I'm hoping that Gav will contribute to the next album.

PB: The Pony Collaboration last played a gig according to your Facebook page in 2014. Will you be playing gigs? What else will you be doing to promote ‘Everything Was Ages Ago’?

JS: I think it was actually 2013. It would be nice to play some gigs, but I'm not sure I see it happening at the moment. I've tried to remove any barriers to us working together and playing live presents a lot of challenges. I'm excited to be making another album. It's pretty much finished. I look forward to speaking to you again in another nine years.

PB: Thank you.













Related Links:

https://en-gb.facebook.com/ThePonyCollaboration/
https://theponycollaboration.bandcamp.com/
https://twitter.com/ponytweets


Commenting On: Interview - Pony Collaboration








ie London, England

tick box before submitting comment
 


First Previous Next Last