[BLEARY-EYED ROCK] It's 5 am on election night, and Ryan Barber is just getting home from his job as sound guy at Kelly's Olympian. The presidential race was called hours ago, and the Pony Village frontman is typing from home, telling me about how he found his singing voice.
"I worked as a baker, and in those early mornings I was the only one in the bakery," Barber writes via email. "I sang along to everything at top volume, but when Built to Spill or Neil Young came on, I realized my voice sounds a lot like those dudes."
And it does. Barber has the great Pacific Northwest in his pipes. His whispery vocals fall under the Doug Martsch school of incantation: soft and glowing like the embers of a dying fire. At times, the ghost of Elliott Smith—and the cloudy, coastal grayness of Barber's native North Bend—can be heard.
"I love me some '60s rock, and some '50s rock," Barber adds. Indeed, the band's sound is riddled with retro traits, going back to its 2010 self-titled EP. In particular, "Cowboy Phase" is a surfy, lo-fi jam reminiscent of the Who's "Pictures of Lily," with a drum and tambourine intro directly nodding to Phil Spector.
Barber and lead guitarist Marlin Gonda are the only members remaining from the lineup that performed on that EP. While Barber is the band leader, there's greater collaboration within this current quintet, and it shows in the group's newest material—softly layered West Coast bedroom rock in its purest form, drawing on the likes of Earlimart and Jason Lytle. Barber contends there's also some John Vanderslice in his approach, another musician he has studied thoroughly.
Hard at work on a full-length, Pony Village is poised to tour next summer. Having done the I-5 trek several times already, Barber and company are pushing for more. Newest 7-inch Wildwood Drive is a graceful three-song release, deeply entrenched in and respectful of the Northwest musical tradition circa 1995 to 2005.
Back at his place, Barber is watching a replay of Obama's victory speech. It's light out, and now it's time to go to his other job finishing furniture. But that's how bands survive, and Pony Village is in good health. Now, if only Barber could get some sleep.
SEE IT: Pony Village plays Rontoms, 600 E Burnside St., with Mike Coykendall, on Sunday, Nov. 18. 9 pm. Free. 21+.