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Skating Polly Embrace The Chaos

Kelli Mayo shows off her cuts and bruises from growing up in rock and roll while crushing on people with the 'heart of an artichoke.'

by Johnny Papan

Photo by Travis Trautt

When nine-year-old Kelli Mayo started her alt-rock influenced “ugly pop” band Skating Polly with her 14-year-old step-sister, Peyton Bighorse, the duo’s adolescent minds couldn’t have imagined how fast they’d explode into the rock and roll mainstream. Born and raised in Oklahoma, Mayo took part in recording the group’s first studio record at 11 years old and was on tour by the age of 12. It’s safe to assume the life of a child rock star can be a rollercoaster; embarking on lifestyle adjustments from normal kid stuff like school and slumber parties to the mental and physical pressures of concert performances, television appearances, and other obligations that come with celebrity-ism. But Mayo preferred the latter.

“There’s a part of me that’s always going to feel like a kid,” Mayo, now 23, explains while Zooming in from Venice, California, where she is currently dog-sitting. “I think it’s because I was so young when we started this band and I felt like an adult from such a young age. It also goes the other way; I’m technically an adult now but I have all these kind-of babyish qualities. But being in a band helped me get through a lot of things. Definitely helped me get through my parents divorce. It kind of helped me reckon with my own self esteem and confidence and let out anger and this neurotic, frenetic energy that I have. If I wouldn’t have had this band, I would have just felt like a weirdo and not had anything to cling my weirdness to. I would have just been like, ‘I’m a weirdo. And this sucks.’”

Over a decade after the release of their debut, Skating Polly are not only ready to showcase their growing maturity as artists, but also expel the frenzied nature of their lives with their sixth studio record and double album, Chaos County Line (out 06/23), which also features Mayo’s brother Kurtis Lee, who joined the band in 2017 on drums.

Chaos is a fitting theme for the musicality of this album. Opening track “Baby” starts almost lullaby-ish before breaking into a garage rock frenzy then transitions into a melty, grungy breakdown outro that comes completely out of nowhere. This sets the tone for the manic nature of the record that jumps from emotionally vulnerable to outright pissed off and cheeky, then sweet, and everything in-between. 

“There’s some really raw and cutting songs on [Chaos County Line], but I also gave myself permission to be goofy,” Mayo says. “It’s funny to me when people talk about how heavy [some of] the lyrics are. I feel like the goofiness makes some of the moody stuff hit harder. I don’t know. There’s stuff about love on here and then there’s stuff about how I’ve carved out sex and hookup culture in my life.”

I get obsessed with people. I think being obsessed with humans and with friendships, for me, is one of the most fun things in life.”

She continues: “I get obsessed with people. I think being obsessed with humans and with friendships, for me, is one of the most fun things in life. Trying to figure someone out a little and understand their tastes and understand their expressions and match their cadence and their tone of voice. I really just like nailing who another person is. So falling for people happens to me a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. I have a friend who lives in Paris who taught me this phrase ‘coeur d’artichaut’ which means ‘heart of artichoke’ and it’s about people who crush and fall in love super easily. That’s so me.”

Mayo concludes: “I think a lot of times these fixations, not only on yourself but on someone who’s really wronged you or someone who’s physically or emotionally destroyed you, the fixation on these negatives only hurts yourself and only puts you behind. We seek to ease the pain, as if that’s the solution. There’s no exoneration. There will always be pain. There will always be uncertainty. There will always be constant work. Making peace with that, I think that’s the first step. I haven’t made peace with it, I’m still working on it.”