The Show Ponies: Mixing it up

by Casey Dunau

The Show Ponies mix old-school verve and new-school savvy. For evidence, watch their live performance of the traditional folk tune “The Blackest Crow” on Youtube. The song they cover is so old that it has no official author, but the medium by which they distribute their performance (YouTube) is so young that it could be the hallmark of a century that’s not even yet a quarter of the way through.

The vid itself has over 90,000 views, perhaps proof that millineals and gen X-ers have more interest and respect for the past than they’re given credit for. The Show Ponies, at least, certainly have an interest. They draw on traditional, folk, and bluegrass music as source material for cover songs and as inspiration for their own original work.

“We love to go back to traditional music and study it to see what makes it great—to sit with the music and learn from it,” said the band’s guitar player Jason Harris.

Harris doubled as the The Show Ponies’ producer on their first three albums, Here We Are! (2012), We’re Not Lost (2013), and Run For Your Life (2014).  He was also the first member to join the band after lead singers and songwriters Andi Carder and Clayton Chaney founded the project together in 2011. Harris was shortly followed by Phil Glenn on the violin and Kevin Brown working percussion. The band has been the same five-piece based out of Los Angeles ever since. They’re already getting to work on what will be their fourth studio album in as many years.

That type of stability is somewhat remarkable in 21st century music, and it seems a fitting testament to the band’s steadfast and homegrown style. It also goes to show that if The Show Ponies believe in anything, it’s commitment—a concept they put to practice both in their personnel and their songs.

“With the last two albums, we’ve been really faithful to the roots genres. That music came first, and everybody playing that music needs to pay their respects, and make sure they’re not ruining the genre,” Harris said.

Of course the band still wants to grow and evolve their sound.

“We’ve started to do our music with a little more drama than some of the traditional old time musicians do. That’s how it felt natural for us,” Harris added.

The band also hopes to incorporate other genre influences and instincts that come naturally to each member. Everybody brings something different to the table—Brown is trained in metal and jazz, and Carder loves Regina Spektor.

“While being as faithful as we could to genres like bluegrass, old time and folk, we haven’t been as faithful to ourselves. We’ve all had five very different musical upbringings,” Harris said. “There’s always going to be that old time and bluegrass influence, but we want to push the boundaries of what The Show Ponies are right now.”

If there is one core element that will still always draw The Show Ponies together, it’s their live show. It’s their drive to master songs so well that even when their audience is watching a performance through a computer screen on Youtube, they can still feel the band’s charisma.

“Playing live is instinctual. There’s years of hard work, but when we get on stage we’re not really thinking,” Harris said. “How we perform live, the energy we bring—that’s the essence of who we are.”

Published in the May 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine