– Pony Boy Gets Into Character Making Songs for Outsiders
Let’s set the record straight: Pony Boy is not a slicked-back greaser who’s about to take his sweetheart on a drive down to teenage tragedyville. Pony Boy is actually doom wop chanteuse Marchelle Bradanini, a blonde bombshell with candy apple red lipstick and usually sporting a leather jacket who could probably get a rebel without a cause to stir up some mayhem just for her.
The Californian-born singer fuses ‘50s-inspired country, blues and rock with a touch of woe, making any murder ballad sound like a comforting lullaby. As Bradanini travels down south to record what may become her official debut album, Boxx Magazine contributor Stephanie Nolasco spoke with the artist about becoming Pony Boy, her many female inspirations and why her next track sounds like a party in a graveyard.
Stephanie Nolasco: Where does your name Pony Boy come from?
Marchelle Bradanini Somehow I got this nickname from a guitar player of mine. And to be honest, I don’t remember what the reference point was, but I know that there’s a Bruce Springsteen song called ‘Pony Boy,’ there’s also an Allman Brothers track called ‘Pony Boy’ and a reference in The Outsiders, a movie that I really love. The name represents the kind of sound I want to make. It harkens back to an era that really inspires me as an artist. Whether it’s early Elvis or Roy Orbison, I really love ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll — as well as early gospel, Americana and blues. For me, the music takes me back to the past and continues to inspire me. I definitely wanted to have that nostalgic feel in my music for, you know, whatever decade we’re in. (laughs
SN: What is it about that type of early music that you like?
MB: I’m a fan of music on a lot of levels, but when I put my hands on the guitar, it’s what comes out of organically, and for me, the simple kind of rock ‘n’ roll and doo wop do it. I’ve been told that my sound fits into a genre called ‘doom wop,’ [some have categorized as retro doo wop style mixed with doomed love songs] which I didn’t even know existed until someone in the press told me. It’s a genre I’m definitely happy to be a part of. But for me, artists like Rich Nelson, Elvis Presley, early Johnny Cash and all those kind of old school country types inspire me. It’s so easy today to create a perfect song in a technical sense, but I tend to turn to imperfections. I think a lot of that can be found in early blues records, like Robert Johnson. It’s about playing music that comes straight from the soul and not necessarily being worried about hitting a note.
SN: You grew up in California, correct?
MB: Yes. I actually grew up in a town called Vacaville, which literally translates to Cow Town. (laughs) It’s a place where you definitely had a steady diet of hip-hop, punk rock and then a side of Californian country. You get the sense of the desert and just the old Wild West really. There’s also a kind of loneliness that comes from a vast, open place like that.
SN: Did your upbringing influence you in terms of the kind of music you ultimately wanted to create?
MB: It definitely influenced me…it’s funny, I experienced one of these major label catastrophes that turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it made me wonder if there was another path for me in music — and I’ve discovered it in creating these simple acoustic country heartbreak songs. It felt so natural. I managed to meet this wonderful producer, John Wood, and we had all the same sensibilities. Although the seed for Pony Boy was planted around 2010, I started recording songs around 2012 and just releasing singles online because really, you can put something on the Internet and people will find it. I’ve been doing that for the past year, but now I’m ready to release a collection of music. I am going to be releasing an actual album soon. Mostly because I would like something in vinyl (laughs
SN: What did you ultimately get as an artist from working with your producer John Wood?
MB: It was like finding a friend who would become a mentor. I’ve discovered so many instruments, especially from the ‘60s, that created this sound that I can only describe as a party in a graveyard. It’s this spooky rhythm that gave us a vision for the music we’ve been working on. It was a blessing to work with someone who wasn’t trying to create a cookie cutter mainstream song, but was more open to sounds like murder ballads or cocaine in the valleys of California. I would say something to him like, ‘Let’s make a sound that’s like someone who’s drunk in the desert,’ and to find somebody who could help translate that into music was amazing. His daughter Amy Wood played drums on the music, and she’s frankly the best I ever played with. She’s actually out on the road with Fiona Apple right now.
SN: When will your collection of songs come out?
MB: I’m been recording with Skylar Wilson at this place called The Casino in East Nashville, and we’re in the process of mixing it right now. I’m literally outside of the studio right now talking to you. As soon as we’re done with that, I’ll have a better idea of what day it will come out. But we’re looking at late summer to early fall right now.
SN: Is it going to be like a party in a graveyard because that sounds awesome.
MB: Ha, well I don’t intentionally try to create creepy shit to listen to, but that’s just the way it’s been coming out in the studio. I like stories about outcasts, and they do need a little bit of darkness. So yes, more graveyard parties. That’s why I love Johnny Cash. He makes despair sound sexy.
SN: What has been your relationship been like with your audience so far?
MB: I’m always amazed how people find me on the Internet. It’s this crazy wonderful shit. I always respond to people who send me e-mails saying they love my music, and I’m like how the fuck did you find me in Iceland? I recently played a show in Alabama, and I had such a warm reception. People knew some of the songs and it was mind blowing. I play shows everywhere and it’s nice to not have a stereotypical demographic. I’ve had baby boomers and 13-year-olds at my shows, and I think that’s pretty great.
(Cover photo by Natasha Noramly; inset photo by Elaine Reed)