Pony Up! with Ben Lee at the Mod Club Theatre (722 College), Wednesday (September 22). $16 advance. 416-588-4663. montreal - the instructions i'm given to find the rehearsal space read like something out of Alice In Wonderland, or at least a Bondesque spy flick. Eventually, I'll get to sit down with Montreal-based all-girl five-piece Pony Up!, a group known for their quirky musicality and playful songsmithing.
First, it looks like I might have to swallow some potion marked "Drink me."
I walk into the warehouse in Montreal's Plateau district, down the stairs, turn right (because that's the only way to go), turn left (same again) and walk the length of the hall looking for the closet door that will take me to the locker room, then the boiler room, then finally to a practice space buried deep in the belly of the old building.
Twenty minutes later, the guy whose dinner I interrupt leads me to the right door. There, in the corner, behind the enormous water boilers and arcane-looking valves, is a low door through which two girls' voices are floating.
I'm startled. I can still hear the whimsy, the clever phrasing, but the song they're harmonizing on is all sweet melancholy. Nothing like the smartass slumber-party ditties that got Pony Up! press in the past.
A few minutes later I'm sitting on a couch with Lisa Smith (bass), Camilla Wynne Ingr (accordion, vocals), Sarah Moundroukas (guitar, vocals) and sisters Laura (keyboards, vocals) and Lindsay (drums, vocals) Wills scattered around me.
With the weight of an entire building above us and the space's grotto-like feel, the secret garden effect is powerful. When I bring up the new songs and the group's apparent change of direction, they laugh.
"I wouldn't necessarily call it a change of direction," Laura Wills offers.
"We don't really make deliberate choices about where the music goes so much as follow it where it takes us," adds Lindsay Wills.
"We're not specifically trying to do much but get better," says Moundroukas.
"I think it's more about writing songs that don't all sound the same," Smith observes. "Those funny songs were written very early on. They don't reflect our taste any more, and they aren't as musically interesting as new songs we've been writing."
The new songs, they say, have all been experiments.
"There are a lot of directions we explore for a song and never return to," Wynne Ingr says. "It's more interesting that way. The new songs are just part of that cycle."
"Yeah, our experiments are just more interesting now," Lindsay Wills deadpans.
We all laugh.
The dynamic between the friends/bandmates is evidently a major factor in how their music sounds and comes across. If Broken Social Scene is the sound of a group barely holding it together, Pony Up! is the sound of a group that can't stay apart. That bond lends their music a unique feel of inside jokes and private languages. And, though Pony Up! are still plying a brittle, creaky sort of indie tone, the signs of truly exciting things are already there.
"When we started this project a couple of years ago, some of us had never picked up an instrument," admits Moundroukas. "So we're still very much at the beginning of the process."
"But being relatively new in music makes us work harder at getting better," adds Lisa Wills.
"I think our inexperience also makes us slightly more playful in how we compose," observes Wynne Ingr. "There are things we might not do if we knew better."
"It also means there's a lot of music that no one's ever going to hear," Laura Wills says.