From early basement shows in Oklahoma punk houses to a spotlight on the HBO show Girls, Broncho’s shape-shifting garage rock has taken many turns over the past five years. When Penny Pitchlynn joined as the group’s new bassist two years ago, she learned that firsthand.
“I hadn’t played bass with a pick before and I remember having mixed feelings about making the switch. Some of those eighth notes were just too fast for my fingers though, so I caved,” she says about her first assignment as a band member: learning the songs off of the squealing punk debut, Can’t Get Past the Lips.
Once she nailed that, it was on to Just Enough Hip to Be Woman, Broncho’s 2014 album that had the band out on the road touring for a year straight. “Those songs were fun to learn,” she says, “I spent a few days just playing them non-stop and listening to them while I worked at my kitchen job, so when we started touring I had pretty decent muscle memory.”
Broncho’s latest album Double Vanity (out 6/10 on Dine Alone Records), marks Pitchlynn’s first studio album with the band, contributing a commanding, fuzzed-out sound. “It’s a different feel for me,” she says about the new record, “I’m learning to hold the reins a little tighter and allow space to come in and do its job.”
Double Vanity is a spacious record in terms of instrumentation. It’s grimy and rocks a little harder than the group’s more polished sounding songs like “Class Historian” and “It’s On” (the song featured on Girls). In a way, Broncho is circling back to its punk roots, but this is no copycat of anything the band has done before, either.
We spoke with Penny before the to learn about how she first connected with the group, the guitar, and why she thinks Double Vanity will come as a surprise to Broncho fans.
She Shreds: You seem particularly drawn to gritty, fuzzy guitar tones in Broncho and in your other projects, like Penny Hill and [your previous band] Labrys. Why is that?
Penny Pitchlynn: I like the raw, dirty mood of it. I started out playing really soft and trying to be really pleasing—or pretty, if you will—and I just got bored with that. Once I got an electric guitar and an amp I realized that could just fill up a room [and] control people. It’s kind of a power trip, I guess. It’s more me. I’m kind of rough around the edges.
And it wasn’t until you got into that louder electric sound that you came into your own?
Totally. When I started out, a lot of my friends were doing folky, red dirt stuff, but I always liked a more eerie take on music. I like it dark. I was recording myself on Garageband with super crappy microphones, and it sounded kind of bad in terms of quality, but I really enjoyed that lo-fi mood.
Once you started playing like that, did your listening style change? Did it open up a new window of bands?
Yes, for sure. I started listening to a lot heavier music. I was into the folk world in high school, and then I was late to the game on bands like Sonic Youth, The Breeders and The Pixies. The energy of that stuff, I guess I just wasn’t ready to be taken there. I liked stuff that made me want to cry when I was younger, and then I started liking music that made me want to kick stuff—or ride my bike really fast. Just energizing music.
You met your bandmates in Norman, where you all grew up. Was it a small enough town that everyone just knew about each other’s musical projects?
I think I met them all individually right before Broncho started. Ryan [Lindsey] was always doing solo stuff, and I had started to do my own solo stuff live, too. We were in kind of different scenes even though Norman was this really small down, so I didn’t really get to know him until later on.
What about the live performances? Have you noticed Broncho’s audience has changed in recent years, as the band has leaned towards different styles and sounds?
I want to say yes, but I can’t necessarily tell. I feel like it’s always interesting because the last tour we did a pretty good mix of first and second record songs. We’d always start playing “Try Me Out” or one of the old garage-punk songs and there might be a light, sort of sweet mosh pit. I wasn’t in the band when they were solely doing super high-energy stuff, but knowing them from Norman, people were always angry moshing and hard-hitting. It’s shifted. I don’t think it’s what people expected—and with this new record, it’s maybe even more so what people won’t expect.
Because of how much slower a lot of the songs are than previous records. I mean, I was surprised when we started rehearsing them and I already knew all the songs. It’s a different feel for me, to learn to hold the reins a little tighter and allow space to come in and do its job. The space is so important. It’s tense in its own way. Not like the tension of playing every note super fast, it’s this new anticipating tension. Like more when you want to touch someone but you don’t know if they want you to, so you keep timing it out in your head and when you finally make contact, they respond and it’s so gratifying.
What was the writing process like for Double Vanity?
It came together pretty naturally. Ryan [Lindsey] had quite a few of the tunes pretty much written before we were in the studio, and then the others kind of figured themselves out during the process. It’s really open-ended until it’s not. It’s exploratory during the search for the right sounds and then they show up and everybody ideally hears it. There is always tension, but I think it feeds creativity more than kills it.
What was touring around the previous records like—specifically the largely successful Just Enough Hip to Be Woman?
Touring that album was a wild ride. We had a lineup change midway through, changes in crew and lots of blizzards that winter. A huge draw for me to play with the guys was staying busy, moving around and touring, and they’d been hitting it hard for years. I didn’t necessarily expect that album to keep us out for something like twelve months, but I was way fine with it. Plenty of people are fighting hard for work.
What are you most excited about this time around?
I’m excited to do it all again: get the dates, pack the bag, and play the shows. I also am way better at reading tons of books when I’m on the road, so I’m looking forward to reading. I am most excited about playing my new bass on this tour! I just bought a 75 Fender Mustang that I am excited to play.