Ride the Ponyby Craig Wilson / 06.10.2010
London-based disco punk band, New Young Pony Club, has toured with the likes of Lily Allen and CSS, remixed the likes of Amy Winehouse, and is inexplicably popular in Australia. With their new album, The Optimist, still fresh and climbing alternative charts, they’re coming to our neck of the woods in October for Cape Town’s Rocking the Daisies festival and the Johannesburg spinoff, Rocking the Gardens. Craig Wilson spoke to their guitarist, primary songwriter, and lone male member, Andy Spence about the pending tour and what it’s like creating a scene only to have to escape it.
Mahala: Not that we aren’t pleased to have you, but how have you wound up with South African tour dates?
Andy Spence: I don’t know really. It fitted in really nicely with the Australian shows we’ve got coming up, so we jumped at the chance. Our keyboard player [Lou Hayter] did some DJ sets in South Africa about a year ago, and she found there was a bigger fan base for the band than we’d imagined. We love playing new places and it seemed like a good opportunity. Clearly someone, somewhere, thought it was a good idea, and we’re just glad that they did.
NYPC have enjoyed extraordinary success in Australia. Do you think it’s because Modular Records signed you and they’re based there, or the other way around?
Yeah, it’s a chicken and egg thing really… I don’t know whether Modular signed us because we were popular down there, or we’re popular there because Modular signed us. We just seem to go down well there. We always have a lot of fun playing there. It’s a good place to be big, you know?
Do you pick and choose where you play, or are their obligations that come with being on the label?
We don’t really have that much choice, but there are far worse places than South Africa and Australia to play. We love going to places that are hot, have a good vibe, good food… that sort of thing. It could be worse; we could be playing in Russia.
Is there anywhere you really don’t like playing?
That’s a tough question, you don’t want to upset anyone, you know? But, to be honest, probably one of the most difficult places to play is England. People are just so cruel, they’re so tough, and they’ve heard everything. I can’t say we’ve ever played outside England and said ‘Oh God that was terrible, we’ll never go back’. But we’ve had a few shows in England that weren’t very fun. Especially Portsmouth – that was a pretty terrible show right at the beginning of our tour. Yeah, Portsmouth gets it I’m afraid.
You’ve played a number of shows with CSS, and you’ve clearly got common ground both in terms of your sound and in terms of being a predominantly female band. Do you guys still keep in touch with them?
Funny enough, they contact us before we met, and told us how much they liked out music. Our first single, ‘Ice-cream’ came out on 7” in 2005, and Luiza [one of the guitarists in CSS] said how she used to listen to it on her drive to work and how much she loved it – they just got their act together, and their album out, quicker than we did. It was a symbiotic thing, and we loved playing with them. People talk about how we were both part of this ‘movement’, but back then there was no movement – we didn’t grow up knowing each other or anything, but we definitely felt a kinship with them when we were starting out. We all liked the same kinds of music, and we got on really well on tour. We still see them sometimes and we’re still in touch with the bassist even though she’s left the band. They’re just lovely people.
With most bands, if there’s a female member they’re the minority. With NYPC, you’re the minority. Do you get a hard time from the rest of the band being the only bloke?
Nah, not really… they’re like sisters really. We’ve got the dynamic just right. I find all-male bands a little tiring to be honest – there’s such bravado, and a lot more ego involved with male bands.
Not to mention guy’s obsession with gear and technology?
Yeah, the ladies pretty much leave that side of things to me – I’m the one who does all of the studio stuff, and I like it like that. Every band’s different, you know, but this is a dynamic that works for us.
NYPC have done a number of remixes of tracks from other acts, is that your handiwork too?
It’s mostly me, but Ty [NYPC’s vocalist] has helped out now and again. She’s given me a kick up the ass when I’ve needed it – like with the Amy Winehouse remix. I’d lost my way a little bit and she came in and gave me some direction, played some keyboards for the track, and generally inspired me again.
You’ve also been on the received end of remixes. Is there anyone in particular you’d love to see having a go at one of your tracks?
We’ve always wanted a Soulwax remix… They just seem to nail it every time. I’ve never heard a Soulwax remix that doesn’t absolutely kill it. There are lots of people really, but to be honest we didn’t have the biggest budget with this album, so we couldn’t ask all the people we wanted to. We were lucky though, we still got some great remixes from people, often more out of the kindness of their hearts than anything else.
Your new album seems more introspective and mature than your debut, was this in reaction to the massive success your first album enjoyed, or an attempt to move away from the sound of the first album that’s now been copied so widely by other acts?
It’s always harder with a second album. You don’t have that pleasure of being a new band that everyone’s talking about. Plus, the sound that we kinda helped pioneer became very mainstream, other bands after us took that sound, slightly watered it down, and made it more mainstream than we were. We felt we had to move away from that sound a bit. But it’s gotten praise for its honesty, which is great because it was a labour of love for use. We had to inspire ourselves and we didn’t want to repeat ourselves. It was probably more laboured than it needed to be, but I think people recognise the effort that’s gone in.
I think the next album will be a lot easier. I hate the ‘difficult second album’ cliché, but it was difficult. We had to put ourselves in new musical territory and inspire ourselves again. It was cathartic really, and that’s where the album title ‘The Optimist’ came from. We put ourselves in the wilderness, if you like, and trudged through it, back to a place we felt comfortable and happy. There was an optimism that we’d succeed and create something special. We’re really proud of it now, maybe more so because it felt like a fight or a battle.
Two albums in five years is, well, what some might call slow. Are the long gaps between releases so that you can have time to regroup, or because you’re obsessive about the end result?
A little bit of both to be honest. We’re a bit lazy, but also a bit perfectionist. We like to get it right.
What are you most looking forward to about your trip to South Africa?
We’re just really excited to see the place, especially having heard so much about it with the recent World Cup. We know it’s really picturesque. We’re looking forward to experiencing the vibe of city culture, but we don’t have any preconceptions or expectations. We’re chasing the sun really, we’ve got two weeks in Australia before we get to South Africa, so we should be a bit sunned-up all ready.
**New Young Pony Club’s second album, The Optimist, is available now and is distributed by Sheer Sound.