The hardest part of being within a band, especially a successful one is finding a sound that self-describes you and what you’re trying to convey through lyrics and sound. Sometimes when you least expect it you’re thrown a curveball, whether it be jobs, relationships or the departure of bandmates; change is inevitable, and it is up to you to find the motivation and make the necessary changes to keep going and never to give up. Such is so for Atlanta’s Pony League, formally known as Cute Boots, who’s new name and slightly changed sound is something they can finally fully identify with.
During the absence of the former ‘Cute Boots,’ it allowed the band to take a break and hone in on their craft, adapting to a sound that they were searching to identify with. The key words were never give up, even when things might look grim. Pony League’s new single provides more of an upbeat and finely produced song that Gus Fernandez says he wanted to write to compare his struggles in dating to the tumultuous career of former major league pitcher-turned-outfielder, Rick Ankiel (whose home run against the Giants in the 2010 playoffs inspired him to write it). Pony League is picking up where ‘Cute Boots’ left off with a southern Americana soul element through its folky piano-driven staple but adding a slightly garage rock edge to it. “Harder Than a Rick Ankiel” has a down-home feel like that of Jason Isbell while maintaining an edge to themselves not unlike Bruce Springsteen. It’s a song that each of us can probably self-identify with from some part of our lives; finding life’s curveball, making the changes and moving on from it while remembering, never give up!
Pony League will play a cassingle release show at The EARL on Thursday, March 10th with Blue Blood and New Junk City. “Harder Than a Rick Ankiel,” will be released on Friday, March 11th digitally and on limited edition cassette tape via Bear Kids Recordings. The cassingle, which will also feature B-side track, “Bad Habit,” will include a digital download code printed on the back of an original Rick Ankiel baseball card designed by local artist Jeremy Ray. A full-length album is in the works with a release date forthcoming.
Listen to the premiere of Pony League’s new single “Harder Than a Rick Ankiel” Here:
We also got a chance to catch up with Gus Fernandez of Pony League to answer a few questions about “Harder Than A Rick Ankiel” and the band.
What was the inspiration for the song?
PL: “Harder Than a Rick Ankiel” came to be as a result of my fascination with a relatively unknown player for The Braves during a time of uncertainty for myself and the band. It was 2010, and I was in between relationships and jobs, the band had lost a key member and was restructuring. I think we needed a boost of some kind, and Rick Ankiel’s home run in the 2010 playoffs was just enough to get me writing. Something about the fact that no one expected him to do anything made it that much sweeter when he won the game, prompting the announcers to tell his story— how he’d started his career many years before as a pitcher for The Cardinals only to lose his ability to throw strikes, eventually being released by the team. Through hard work and determination, he made his way back to the major leagues as a batter and a home run hitter at that. To me, the moral of Ankiel’s story was crystal clear; never give up.
What ultimately prompted the change?
PL: Time, really. When we started out as a folk band five years ago, we didn’t really know what we were doing. We all came from punk or indie bands that avoided conventional modes of songwriting and steered clear of anything sounding too close to country music. Mason (bass), Charlie (Guitar) and myself had been in a band called North Trolls that hinted at some southern twang but were primarily a garage-punk band. I was the drummer in that band, and while I sang a lot of the songs, I wanted to play more of a roll in writing, and the only other instrument I’d played was piano. So we started “Cute Boots” as a way of exploring our collective love of folk rock. Our first few recordings were very much a learning experience— I’m not sure we felt very attached to them, seeing as how we opted to use fake names and rehearsed dialogue on stage. We toured the southeast this way, trying to find our place in Americana music until one day we found that over time our music had evolved, fusing our love of country/folk with our roots in fast-paced garage rock. The songs began to feel more true to ourselves, and we grew weary of the “act” that we’d developed as Cute Boots. At first, we didn’t want to change our name out of fear of losing some of the audience we’d built, but as time passed, it became apparent that the change was needed, if only for ourselves.
What would you say are the key changes of Pony League over Cute Boots?
PL: Musically, we feel that Pony League will be able to pick up where Cute Boots left off and then some. At heart, we’re still an Americana band, we’re just allowing ourselves more room to branch out during the writing process resulting in music that isn’t so strictly tied to one specific genre. As far as the “act” goes, people can expect to see us looking a lot more comfortable on stage as we won’t be playing any characters other than ourselves. Still, we may pull out a few tricks for special occasions like release shows and stuff.
I read in the press release that this song was about the struggles dating and Rick Ankiel, but could you say it was also about the changes in the band as well?
PL: Definitely. One of the most interesting things to me about songwriting is how the meaning behind a song can reveal itself to you after you’ve already completed it. We started writing this song when we were still called “Cute Boots” and didn’t finish it until we’d changed our name to “Pony League.” Now that the song is coming out, I can listen to it and feel how much Rick Ankiel’s transition from pitcher to batter encouraged us to follow through with our transition from Cute Boots to Pony League. Making it to the major leagues is incredibly tough to do, and Rick Ankiel did it not once, but twice. That takes a lot of mental strength. When we were feeling discouraged about the future of our band, his story gave us hope and encouraged us to make the change that was needed to keep our dreams alive.
So what’s the story behind Rick Ankiel, and using it in the song and title?
PL: Well, the song is all about never giving up, no matter how discouraged you may become. Whether you’re trying to find a job, a lover, or make it to the major-leagues. Giving up is the only way to ensure failure. When you get discouraged, you can’t give up. You’ve gotta be harder than a rock. Rick Ankiel lost the ability to pitch in front of a crowd of thousands and was sent down to the minor leagues where he was laughed at while trying to regain his ability to pitch. He didn’t give up. He adapted, and worked his way back to a second chance. I heard he’s a life-coach for The Washington Nationals now, and I couldn’t think of a better job for him. His story serves as a great example for all of us, men, women, children. No matter your dreams— never give up!!
“If you feel like really nerding out over Rick Ankiel’s story, here’s a video for you to check out. It may bring to light the meaning behind certain lines in the song! “/- Gus Fernandez