Pony Girl find music that makes their hearts sing

The indie art rock band are reinvigorated by new inspirations and old friendships

Who: Pony Girl, part of NXNE w/ The High Loves (8 pm,) Nat Vazer (9 pm), Sea of Lettuce (10 pm), Jane’s Party (midnight)
When: Fri, June 14, 11 pm
Where: Garrison, 1197 Dundas St. W.

How do we make ourselves feel better about having to work?

That’s the question that songwriting duo Pascal Huot and Yolande Laroche ask on the title track of Pony Girl’s lush and emotive 2023 album, Laff It Off. Originally, Laff It Off was a punk joke song that turned into something they could dance to, a jam about not wanting to have a day job, Laroche explains over a video call from her home outside of Ottawa. In between her answers, she gets up to stop her dog from interrupting.

This cheeky sarcasm is just one of the many facets on the album, representative of Pony Girl’s world of storytelling. From stage fright to sex work and cynical optimism, Laff It Off finds the Ottawa indie art-rock group embracing introspection with softer sounds and curiosity. Their guitar-driven, electronic melodies are mesmerizing, further complemented by Laroche and Huot’s thoughtfully intertwined vocals. The group recently won Single of the Year for Laff It Off at the 2024 Capital Music Awards and will be taking their show to a number of Canadian festivals, including NXNE in Toronto on Fri., June 14, at the Garrison.

“Pascal and I both love to collect bits of information — things that inspire us or just words that fit together and sound funny,” says Laroche. “We’re trying to build a world where maybe it’s not just us talking about our feelings but characters that we can embody through our music that tell just odd stories are just interesting stories or funny stories or sarcastic stories.”

On stage, the duo tell these stories by personifying those characters with a theatrical flair. Laroche plays clarinet and keys and sings together with Huot, who is the main vocalist and guitarist in Pony Girl. The two friends are the core of the group, and they are joined by Mili Hong on drums, Julien Dussault on guitar and Greggory Clark on bass. Their live shows don’t necessarily replicate the recordings on their album; the band imbue electricity into their set to bring Hout’s characters in the song to life.

Pony Girl derived their band name from one of Huot’s doodles. Fitting, for a lyricist who finds songwriting inspiration portraying characters who are extensions of himself, whether that’s a moment he happened to eavesdrop upon or a phrase that stands out to him. Laff It Off’s character portrayals are connected by world-building interludes, inspired by hip hop and R&B artists like Frank Ocean. These instrumentals are used as a palate cleanser to naturally guide you to the next song on the album.

Things have changed since the band first started 11 years ago. Although they lament the idea of taking up day jobs, it is a reality that most artists have to face. Huot works as a graphic designer and video editor — a convenient and stable job to support his new family — and Laroche uses her background in classical music to teach the clarinet to young people, which she describes as the healthiest relationship to work she’s had in a long time.

After wrapping up a big Canadian tour for their last album cycle, the band members were feeling disconnected. They took a much-needed break and worked on some of their personal music projects. When they regrouped, they decided to revisit the reasons why they were together: to create music that makes their hearts sing.

“We try to remind each other that we’re doing this because we love each other and we’re doing this because we want to have fun on stage and this should not be an experience that stresses us out, and then we go home feeling like energy has been taken away,” says Laroche.

Laff It Off is actually a sister album to 2022’s Enny One Wil Love You, which leans more towards an electronic influence. They recorded both albums together, and it wasn’t until they were done recording that they noticed that two distinct aesthetics had developed and were perhaps worth giving each its own space.

Both Hout and Laroche are detail-oriented people, asking what the purpose of every note is during the songwriting process. They hold each other to a high standard, finding the golden nugget of each jam session, which is sometimes only 10 seconds worth of material.

“Maybe this is a weakness of ours, but we go through everything with a fine-toothed comb,” says Laroche. “We consider everything from the sounds of syllables not flowing well down to each chord.”

Already shifting focus to the next project, Pony Girl has been writing and jamming at a friend’s cottage to create the next album. They started recording in Victoria, B.C., with their frequent collaborator Austin Tufts (from the indie art rock band, Braids) as producer. There’s still lots of work to be done, and Laroche hesitates to talk too much about the new album because it will inevitably evolve as they continue to work on it, but she speaks about it with an animated spirit. With more than 30 demos to begin with, they’ll pare it down to their best album yet.

In their upcoming fifth LP, release date yet to be finalized, Pony Girl will be exploring bombastic characters they’ve never played before, with Huot embodying a goofier, Talking Heads vibe and developing his showmanship through this new channel. Laroche promises this will be an album that will really make people move, with a mix of electronic sounds and a livewire energy that’s captured in the band’s playing.

“I’m really looking forward to taking the lead on some songs and I think the energy of this next record is even more explosive,” says Laroche. “And we are pushing each other to really produce next-level shit that I don’t think we’ve been able to achieve before because we have that kind of newfound mindset of gratitude and love and friendship going into each of these recording sessions.”