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March 30, 2007

Ponys gallop toward hometown after SXSW success

The Ponys, an alternative rock band based in Chicago, have gained considerable critical attention since their debut record Laced with Romance. While they have not received much commercial hype, their unique brand of garage rock tinged with post-punk has made them a critical sensation. They recently signed with Matador Records, one of the most coveted indie-rock labels in the U.S., for their well received third album, Turn the Lights Out. I talked with Nathan Jerde, the Ponys’s drummer, while the band was on its way from Boston to Montreal this Wednesday.

Chicago Maroon: Are you guys excited to be performing in front of [your] home crowd Saturday?

Nathan Jerde: Yeah, we’re thrilled to get back. It’s been a really long trip. We kinda killed ourselves at South by Southwest, and anything is better at that point.

CM: How is the switch to Matador going?

NJ: They’ve been really nice. We’ve been thrilled so far. Obviously we haven’t been there too long, but everything’s certainly working so far.

CM: Matador’s pretty high up there. Do you expect to get more popular because of the switch?

NJ: I don’t think we ever expect to get more popular. It’s nice if you can get more people who appreciate your music, but they don’t really come in and ask you to write your songs differently. We’re still just writing the kind of songs we can appreciate. But yeah, hopefully more people can come to our shows and buy records.

CM: You have a new member [guitarist Brian Case]. What’s that been like on the road?

NJ: Brian does all the driving. He’s an amazing guitar player and a super-nice guy. We’ve been with him for a couple of years and he’s one of the more trustworthy people I’ve met.

CM: It seems like I can’t read a review of you guys without bringing out comparisons to other bands in a sort of spot-that-influence game. How do you guys try to get a unique sound while still getting meshed into the post-punk revival movement?

NJ: I think we all have a wide variety of influences, and most of the influences kind of connect in one way or another. I don’t think it comes down to the music we’re listening to at any point in time. We were all in bands before, and when we met each other, we really dug what we were doing. So we met each other, started doing songs, and it kinda developed on its own. I’ve never been like, “I really like this cut, it reminds me of some other band.”

CM: Obviously, working with Steve Albini on an album was as minimalist as possible. What was it like working with a new producer and having more time in the studio?

NJ: Well, working with John Agnello is super exciting, he’s kinda a crazy dude. He has so much energy, and every time you walk into the room with him he’s constantly into it and inspiring us to push it forward. Whereas with Steve, I don’t want to say it was a stronger approach, but you have to be on the ball because he took it at face value what we were working with. He’s pretty psyched about miking up your drums, so I was pretty excited to work with Steve. He took all these homemade microphones and put them all over the set and made it look like a war tank, so that was kinda cool. This time around we all recorded in one room. I wasn’t far away from the band, so I was pretty psyched this time around. The studio is amazing. They were both really good experiences, but working with Agnello was a lot smoother and a hell of a lot more fun. He’s a talented guy too.

CM: This album was not as vocally driven and more guitar-based than your previous albums. Was that a specific approach you took, or did it just happen to work out that way?

NJ: I guess it’s just how it came along. I mean, [singer and guitarist] Jered [Gummere] [has] developed and gotten a lot stronger on guitar. I mean, we’re a very guitar-based band, and the deeper we get into it, the more guitars we acquire, and more amp styles and pedals. I think we’re just getting more into it.

CM: What’s next after this tour?

NJ: We have about four days off, and then we’re going out with the band Deerhunter to the West Coast. They’re pretty amazing. We played one show with them in Houston, and the room was kinda packed. But sitting there listening to them, I think we’re going to have a lot of fun. They’re a pretty amazing band.

CM: How’d you hold up during South by Southwest?

NJ: It was kinda rough. I mean, it’s cool because you see so many of your friends from all over the country and all over the world. It’s kinda fun to hang out with people and see the shows, but it gets to be a clusterfuck, y’know, running around from show to show and doing three shows a day. It gets to be a bummer. You have to question the value. All in all I think we had some really good shows. I mean, it’s worth it, but it’s kinda taxing after awhile. It’s not my favorite thing—I think we were all pretty excited to get out of Austin. It’s been uphill since. It’s kinda exhausting when you’ve been out for six weeks, and all of a sudden you play six sets in three days.

The Ponys will be stopping by their hometown this Saturday for a performance at the Logan Square Auditorium.