A Californian by birth, Jessie Antonick’s journey to this point is somewhat all American, having been raised in Chicago, “transformed” by Oakland and, “set alight” by New Orleans. It was in Louisiana’s biggest city that Jessie started making music as Pony Hunt, culminating in her debut album, VAR!, out this Friday via Wing and Wing. The album lifts its title not from the controversial video referee in football, but instead from Edward Hubble’s investigation into the Milky Way. On seeing three stars, Hubble initially labelled them all as N, for nebula, later realising one was instead actually a Cepheid Variable from another galaxy, he instead labelled it VAR! This idea sparked something in Jessie and became a fitting title for a record that explores the vastness of the universe and the transient concepts of gender, queerness and identity.
Although the bug for making music didn’t come into the light until she found herself in New Orleans, the seeds of Pony Hunt’s sound had already been planted in Jessie by the record shops of Chicago, that turned her on to a world of doo-wop, indie, punk and American classics. With those influences, it’s perhaps no surprise that VAR! is not an easy record to pin down, its sound might seem to hark back to the great and good of Americana’s past, yet the themes are distinctly modern. Pony Hunt seem to sit triumphantly alongside artists like Jenny Lewis or Hurray For The Riff Raff, musicians who turn the country genre’s clichés on their head and drag them screaming into the 2020s. While many records open with a bang, VAR! begins with more of a shuffle, the snare-driven drum rhythms of opening track Pulse joined by flourishes of organ and sweet, doo-wop inspired vocals, as Jessie seeks to bridge the gap between her and another, “I don’t believe that what we’ve got is true, because I don’t believe in truth the way you do”. Elsewhere, the fabulous recent single That Feelin’ adds a retro-tinged Ezra Furman flourish, while Who Are You is a deliciously simple lullaby showcasing a bruised romantic soul and Last Of My Kind dials things back into a gorgeous slice of soulful heartache. By the time the record draws to a close on the reverberating alt-country of Last Alive, we seem to be blasting off into the outer reaches of the cosmos, “I can feel my heart beat into deep space, stars watch as they pass me by, darkness overcomes what was tomorrow, yesterday dreams still floating by”. As the record fades out on a gorgeous meander of keys and the steady rhythmic pulse of the guitar, it’s hard not to feel you’ve been on a journey, Pony Hunt’s world is a vast and beautiful place, full of subtle nuance, a touch of sadness and the steely belief that tomorrow might be better than yesterday: there’s magic in these musical hills and valleys, now get exploring.
FTR: For those who don’t know who are Pony Hunt?
Pont Hunt is a New Orleans based band lead by songwriter Jessie Antonick who writes dreamy cosmic Americana songs.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
It was at an all ages punk venue in Chicago called The Fireside Bowl. I was twelve years old and chaperoned by my older sister. This was my first real experience being immersed in a scene of folks “breaking the rules”. I remember feeling a sense of extreme excitement and amaze to not only witness live music for the first time but to be exposed to a counter culture that felt like home.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
I actually jump between different art forms often. Woodworking, printmaking, writing, sewing, building, and animation are some of my other mediums. I love creating something from nothing but an idea. It’s perhaps the most rewarding feeling in life. I especially love creating space, physically and emotionally. My desire to create music feels visceral. An innate art form that’s always in my day to day. I feel deeply satisfied by creating space through songwriting and love the ways music pushes me to expand myself and observe the world around me.
FTR: What can people expect from the Pony Hunt live show?
They’re usually pretty chill with bursts of energy and intensity. I always strive to saturate my audience with a haze of dreamy sound and stories—captivating them. One of my favorite Pony Hunt shows ended with slow dances and embraced couples scattering the audience. I loved the idea that my music caused folks to embrace one another.
FTR: What’s next for Pony Hunt?
The new record ‘VAR!’ comes out July 23rd. Looking forward to doing some touring behind that. Until then, I have some fun projects coming up: A new video and some demo recording.
They Listen To…
Barbara Lynn – You’ll Lose a Good Thing
Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Up Above My Head
Big Mama Thornton – Hound Dog
Connie Converse – Talkin Like You (Two Tall Mountains)
Nina Simone – Ne Me Quitte Pas