Sure, file Sky-Pony under indie pop, but understand everyone in that category is not created equal. If you wanna get more specific about things, you’ll find that Sky-Pony actually cleave to the Dresden Dolls–Eurythmics-Blondie cluster: They’ve got the prodigious, virtuosic female lead; the intrepid master musicians unafraid to stray into unusual structures and outré tones; the old-school storytelling lyrics that challenge listeners to unearth their nuanced meanings.
The Brooklyn-based outfit has gained a loyal and ever-expanding cult following, though nothing on the order of massive popularity or anything like that. Not that Obie-winning songwriter Kyle Jarrow and wife Lauren Worsham (no artistic slouch herself, having received a 2014 Tony nomination for her performance in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder) are looking for mass-market consumption. In fact, Sky-Pony was born as a way to escape the groupthink attitude that has overtaken many art forms.
“We decided to put a band together to show people a different side of her voice and my music,” says Jarrow, looking back on Sky-Pony’s formation in 2012. “We really started it for fun, and it started well. As we went along we drafted more friends, and now we’ve got an eight-piece [band]. It started on a whim and grew into a thing.”
That thing is a beautiful mash-up of music, choreography, costumes, projections, and drama that boasts the beats and rhythms of music made for twirling your body and lyrics made for spinning your reflections.
Beautiful Monster, the group’s debut release, is a lesson in variability. It moves the listener from the sophisticated joy of electropop melodies and Worsham’s haunting vocals in “Steal Tonight” to the percussion-and-strings-heavy title track — relating a story of retribution for a love gone wrong that would fit seamlessly into an Andrew Lloyd Webber production — to the bouncily irreverent “Doctor.”
Each individual tune is similar to a one-act play in structure and performance, and that’s no accident. Songwriter Jarrow, whose full-time vocation is writing for film and television, says the constant of Sky-Pony is the artistic release it provides the co-founders and other band members.
“That’s a big part for both of us,” says Jarrow, who met Worsham at a party in 2009 when his rock group had disbanded and Worsham was stifled by pigeonholed casting. “As an actor performing other people’s work you have limited control over the materials. For me, writing for [mass-market media], it’s never quite my vision because I am serving the marketplace. The band turned into a creative outlet we control.”
That allows Jarrow to pen songs from the perspective of specific female characters he creates, departing from the more universal song structures and lyrics of many contemporary artists.
“What drives me crazy is [when a song is written] from a generic perspective and a generic voice,” he says. “There is not really a sense of who the speaker of the song is. I am drawn to songs that tell you something about the character who is singing it.”
But while fictitious creations guide much of Jarrow’s songwriting, Worsham’s classically trained voice plays an almost equal role.
“I know Lauren’s voice really well, how it works,” Jarrow says. “Sometimes I think, ‘What do I want to hear her voice do, like sing a song with a big range or move from sweet to angry?’ ” Not that the band operates in a vacuum: The group often welcomes guest artists to its performances, and Jarrow joined with producer/engineer Michael Tudor (the Strokes, Rufus Wainwright) to produce Beautiful Monster, which will be out December 4 — the same day as Sky-Pony’s show at the Knitting Factory.
Working with Tudor was further encouragement for Jarrow to step away from his more commercial work. It also gave him a chance to absorb more musical inspiration.
“It’s a little embarrassing to admit that I don’t go out and hear as much music as I should,” he says. “But when I do, I absolutely am inspired by other people’s music…. To be an artist of any sort is to take in many parts of the world, filter it in your head, and release it through your art.”
Jarrow and Worsham take that seriously, often mixing and matching songs for various projects.
“We have songs that are our favorites on the record that have never been super awesome live,” Jarrow says. “And we have a couple super awesome live songs that we just don’t record. We might say, ‘This is a good song, but it just feels like a live song.’ [Our setlists evolve] when we say, ‘We are going to take the craziest version of the stage-show ideas and let it go as far as we can.’ That’s what we love to do.”
Sky-Pony celebrate their album release on December 4 at the Knitting Factory. For ticket information, click here.