Ponys: Retro Active

ponys325The Ponys have heard it all: The Velvet Underground. Television. The New York Dolls. The Ramones. Post-punk. Revivalism. Garage rock. But even with all the press-approved reference points and clunky modifiers thrust upon them, these four Chicagoans don’t feel bogged down. After all, it could be worse.

“I actually catch myself doing it, too,” says singer/guitarist Jered Gummere. “Saying, ‘Listen to this. It’s my new favorite band. They sound like this!’ So I can’t really bash it. For the most part, we’ve gotten good comparisons. I mean, if we’re getting compared to Cake or something, then I’d be upset.”

There’s not much chance of that, however, because everything you’ve heard is true. The Ponys harness all the grit, sweat and attitude born in New York City’s ’70s rock heyday, the arty iconoclasm of the post-punk era and the moody melody of British art pop. So why aren’t the Ponys being vilified as just another smug pack of copycats in Joey Ramone’s clothing? Because there’s purity in their reverence and authenticity in their blueprint.

“I was really into the New York punk scene,” says Gummere. “I listened to a lot of that stuff in my late teens and early 20s. And I get a lot of the Richard Hell vocal comparisons.”

Gummere, his bass-playing girlfriend Melissa Elias and drummer Nathan Jerde founded the Ponys in 2000. After releasing a pair of seven-inches and playing around Chicago, the trio added guitarist Ian Adams and recorded 2004 debut Laced With Romance with Detroit producer Jim Diamond (White Stripes, Mooney Suzuki). It’s a garage-rock record packed with searing distortion, brash hooks and a lovable, guttural snarl. After kind reviews and heavy touring, the Ponys recorded follow-up Celebration Castle (In The Red) with Steve Albini.

“I wanted to record in Chicago, and Steve was number one on my list of people to do it with,” says Gummere. “So we just called the studio and said, ‘Can we make this happen?’ I think he’ll record anything. If my grandma called him up, he’d probably do it.”

The Ponys walked out of the studio with a tighter, cleaner and more discerning rock record, one that gets off on anticipatory tension as opposed to in-your-face discord. After Celebration Castle was completed, Adams left the group. Brian Case (90 Day Men) took over on guitar, putting, in Gummere’s words, “a little more balls” behind the band’s sound. Whether it’s the practice, the maturation, the Albini factor or all of the above, the Ponys definitely don’t sound like just another throwback fad band spoon-fed to the kids.

“I feel like a lot of times people are latching on to things because they’re being told to,” says Gummere. “I’m not gonna be like, ‘Come on, everybody—dance!’ I’m not going to tell people what to do.”

—Beth Wawerna