Ryan and Pony Elaborate on their Partnership and Emphasis on Vocal Harmony for ‘Moshi Moshi’

Moshi Moshi might be the debut album of Minneapolis rock outfit Ryan And Pony, but they met long before that, while touring in the same backing band. It was in the worn seats of a full van that they saw small pieces of their future in each other.

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Originally performing under the name, The Melismatics, the duo, Ryan Smith and Kathie Hixon-Smith, otherwise known as Pony, devised their future together as a creative force.  But The Melismatics had to take a break before they even really got started, when Ryan joined Soul Asylum in 2016.  After that venture settled down and Soul Asylum released their album Hurry Up and Wait earlier this year, Ryan and Pony picked up where they left off, ready to debut their first full-length Moshi Moshi

The album, which is out now, is a collection of rock, pop, alternative, notes of shoegaze and even includes a superb cover of Prince’s Purple Rain hit, “I Would Die 4 U.” Cemented with bright vocal harmonies that have become paramount to Ryan and Pony’s style, songs like “Cinematic” offer glistening vocal leads by Pony that create a perfect unison with Ryan. The song’s simplistic lyrics and guitar riffs have the power to reach every fan of pop, rock and everything in-between.

‘“Cinematic’ was a song Pony mostly wrote,” Ryan told American Songwriter. “She gave me an iPhone demo, and it was fantastic. I just added a bridge and handled the production. 

Usually I’ll have a melody in my head first,” Pony added about the song. “I put the idea into GarageBand and play around with the keyboard sounds and patches.  That’s how ‘Cinematic’ came to be. I loved the chord progression with the keyboard sound.”

Ryan, on the other hand, is often prompted to write by the momentum of physical activities. He got many of the ideas for Moshi Moshi, songs like the opener “Starry Eyes” and the single “Thunderlove,” which were often well-thought out enough to be cut as the final track, while running or driving. “There’s something about motion that gets my mind in a creative space,” Ryan said. “I try to quickly document these ideas on my iPhone in voice memos, GarageBand, or on paper. Later when I have time in our home studio, I develop those raw ideas by starting to record the song. These aren’t really demos— they become the final versions most of the time.”

Ryan’s talent for blurring the groundwork and polish of songwriting and production is a technique Ryan adopted from his time in Soul Asylum with frontman Dave Pirner. They have now become integral pieces to Ryan’s writing and recording perspectives. “Dave Pirner has always been one of my favorite songwriters,” Ryan said. “Working so closely with him for over four years has really affected my approach. I love his wordplay and layered meanings. I also like the balance Soul Asylum has always struck with polish, spontaneity, and chaos. I feel like a great album really needs those elements to feel complete.”    

Ryan and Pony’s eclectic style reaches back to Ryan’s childhood when he listened to everything from The Kinks to Radiohead, both of which had an influence on Moshi Moshi.  “The first music I was introduced to was my Dad’s record collection, so at the core I have classic rock/oldies and folk music as an influence,” Ryan said. “In my teens I really got into punk and indie like Dinosaur Jr, Husker Du, The Replacements, The Descendants, and Radiohead.  In my later teens, I really got into a combination of Brit Rock and Post Punk music like The Cure, Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays.  I also liked EDM and shoegaze. I would put together super thought-out mixed tapes that were eclectic.  That’s kind of how I see putting an album together— there should be lots of twists and turns.”

Even with the variation of musical styles on Moshi Moshi, both Ryan and Pony realized how well their vocal harmonies coalesced in the band and consciously pushed that in each one of the songs, creating a cohesive sound among the chaos and conflict. “We set out to create a harmonious sound with our vocals on this album,” Pony said. “Even if the song is noisy, we wanted the vocals to be more delicate.”   

I’ve always thought there needs to be some unifying sound that is identifiable for a band, even if the genres and styles shift manically from song to song,” Ryan added. “The Beatles and Queen obviously pulled that off in supreme fashion. So, you need look at what makes your outfit different or unique. The combination of two voices creates a sound that you only get with that specific recipe. Two vocal personalities added together equal one new sound.”

Ryan and Pony have a handful of songs that did not make it onto Moshi Moshi but that still build on the same qualities. Though they are both busy with other projects, Ryan working on a songwriting and guitar methodology book, and Pony demoing some of her material, there could be some more Ryan and Pony this year. And despite Moshi Moshi’s prolific tracklist of songs Ryan says, “It’s all about learning new things, growing, and changing. There’s no need to repeat yourself, so I’d like chart new territory musically and throw out some curve balls. There’s always new music in the pipes!“

Have a listen to “Thunderlove” here on American Songwriter and check out the full Moshi Moshi on your favorite streaming service. You can also order a CD or vinyl through Pravda Records here. 

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