She is neither boy nor pony, but don’t let the stage moniker of doom-wop singer/songwriter Marchelle Bradanini’s fool you. Singed with just the right amount of L.A. flare, Pony Boy’s down-home Southern style allows the small-framed blonde and blue-eyed bombshell to get down and dirty with the right amount of class.
The B-side to Pony Boy’s new “Not in This Town” single, titled “The Murder Ballad of Carrie Lee” (and up for free stream/download on Soundcloud) is aptly described by the artist as “junkyard doom wop soul country blues.” An imagining of a cross-country crime spree by a ’50s gal who falls under the sway of a bad boy, the tune moshes together twangy banjo plucks, bouncy piano riffs and the obligatory harmonica solo, creating a mossy swamp pond that lays thick underneath a foggy vocal track mixed with just the right balance of smoke and grit. While the song itself is finely crafted, Pony Boy’s seductive voice is definitely what sets her apart, carrying a soul and strength unrivaled by other Americana-loving female vocalists in L.A. This interview was done [on the quick! - ed] by Linda A. Rapka.
Where did a California gal like you get the soul of a down-home Southern songstress?
I grew up in Vacaville, literally a cow town. Whenever I sang before, I always used this twee indie voice. I trained as classical mezzo soprano, but if I’m true to how it really is, it’s bigger and brassier than how I’ve ever allowed it to be before. I love women like Bettye LaVette, Etta James, Tina Turner, who bridged the line of punk to soul to country. Like Aretha Franklin covering “The Weight,” I’m like, This is amazing! I just had this voice and figured out what’s the best context for it, the most natural thing.
Pony Boy is quite a departure from your past musical project as frontwoman of the electro/hip hop/pop/metal band Bedtime for Toys. What led you to junkyard country music?
When you’re in a band you’re a product of a democracy, of several people’s input and musical identities. It was more about an extroverted project. Like, these are my best friends, I wanna have fun, dance, get crazy; I don’t even care if I’m singing in tune. It was more of a celebration of friendship through music.
I recall breakdancing at more than one BFT show. There’s no breakdancing at a Pony Boy show.
I know, sadly. Not yet anyway. When we broke up, I thought if I could make any music I wanted to, what would it be? The whole time during Bedtime for Toys I was making all this crazy music at home, listening to Kris Kristofferson, Warren Zevon, Howlin’ Wolf; that’s always the music I loved. The music I always go back to for emotional guidance or to get through hard times is more singer/songwriter-based or more lyric-based.
“The Murder Ballad of Carrie Lee” is loosely inspired by the tale of Charles Starkweather, a teen in the late 1950s who went on a killing spree while on a two-month road trip with his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. What drew you to their story?
I had originally seen the film Badlands with Martin Sheen; that’s based on the same crime. So is “Nebraska” by Bruce Springsteen, and so is Natural Born Killers by Oliver Stone. I gravitate toward outsiders and thought it was interesting writing a love song from the perspective of this girl who meets this really charismatic James Dean-like character, and only when they go on this horrific crime spree do they then get this notoriety and media attention. I wanted to do a different take on it as opposed to writing a melodramatic ballad. Because it’s from her perspective it’s more bouncy and optimistic, to capture what she felt and what the relationship was all about, what blind love feels like. It’s not a morality tale, it’s a tale of what happens to this girl living in a dead-end town and meeting his guy and what they end up doing, which is obviously horrific and terrible. It’s an extreme example and being so consumed by someone that you’ll literally do anything to make them happy. These fringe outsider characters are more meaty. Plain love songs just never interested me.
The name Pony Boy. Is this an S. E. Hinton reference?
It is an S.E. Hinton reference. I kind of rediscovered The Outsiders in my later years, browsing the youth fiction section — which I find most of my reading comes from. I like that fact that the author was a woman and had this kind of great punk rock, allegorical tale of these two classes saddling it out. It’s about innocence and obviously outsiders. In the film the theme song is written Stevie Wonder, Tom waits is one of the characters, and it’s directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and I was like wow, this is my trifecta of my heroes! There’s also an early Allman Brothers song “Pony Boy,” and Bruce Springsteen has an early song called that as well. It’s not necessarily a direct reference to one in particular. There are a lot of old-timey songs about days in the old west when one of your most important relationships was with your pony. So for me it’s about getting back to California and the roots of my family coming out west and being out here and being able to redefine how you are, and not really be defined by your family or your context. The pseudonym for me means it’s something not necessarily done before, it’s a new birth of a new identity. You picking your name, like Bob Dylan: that is how I’m choosing to be, instead of what someone else is choosing for you.
Would you describe yourself as more Pony or more Boy?
Probably more boy. I have always felt being a girl was a bit weird. I always preferred boy things, G.I. Joes and bloody knees and running around outdoors, than brushing my hair.
I take it you never had any My Little Ponies then.
I did. I drew on all of their faces. And my sister’s.
What’s best for Pony Boy listening: whiskey or beer?
Everything from Coors light to top shelf tequila. Pretty much anything goes. I don’t wanna be the cliché of whiskey… probably a cold beer. Fast women and cheap beer.
Catch Pony Boy live on a short sting of west coast dates this month to support the release of her new single July 31. Billed with Mynabirds and others, she’ll be joined onstage by drummer Garrett Ray (Fool’s Gold), guitarist JP Bendzinski (Crystal Antlers) and bassist Brandon Owens (Lauryn Hill).
7/31: Los Angeles, CA @ The Satellite (w/ Mynabirds)