On a cold November afternoon, back in 2017, I sludged through sleet and snow to meet up Sam Bielanski, who is front women to the Toronto glitter rock band, Pony. She is pretty much the cutest, with a casual tee under a fitted black cotton spaghetti strap dress and leggings and sporadic minimalist tattoos of kittens and a crescent moon on her arm.
We sit and say our hello’s to one another, immediately finding so much in common, from our love of all things vintage and handmade to our mutual love of Canadian ’90s indie rock.
We immediately get into talking about ‘Cub’ and their Betty Cola album, which had been a big influence on Sam in her early song writing. The impact of that era of pop mixed with riot grrl is extremely evident on all the songs on all of their singles, from ‘Crushed’ in 2015, to ‘DIY‘ and ‘Alone Tonight’, and onto their 2017 EP, ‘Do You’.
I love that album (Betty Cola) because it’s very ’90s, but it’s also very 60’s.. like a 60’s resurgence girl group.. but also with like 90’s ‘riot grrl’ feel. So, it’s like my two favourite things coming together.
The same artist did the artwork for Pony’s two 2017 singles, ‘DIY’ & ‘Alone Tonight’ after Sam their artwork on instagram. @hexelot will often do illustrations of things and then will add song lyrics to the image, as they had done with a Pony song, which is how Sam first found them.
Sam says that her song writing evolved from a lot of “woe is me” 3 – 4 yrs ago to a more self reflective tone, centred around mental health and growing up.
She says that it is always very apparent in her songwriting what she is listening to at the time, and while she was writing Do You, that would be Veruca Salt, the Breeders, Pavement, and etc.
I inquire to Sam about how she is able to encase sometimes serious subject matter of her songwriting into glitter pop guitar riffs without it coming off as being just silly.
I want to write songs that are relevant to what is happening to me, at the time, but I also want to write songs that I want to listen to, and so since I’ve always been a fan of pop music and up-beat music, like pop punk I guess, it never made sense for me to write slow jams or dark music. It’s not really want I want to listen to. But I also don’t want to be a faker.
I ask Sam if she feels any added responsibility to be the ‘consummate feminist’ as a front women of a rock band, especially in today’s climate, when feminism is becoming more mainstream and young women are looking for role models to grab onto.
I think that it is super stressful, in general, to say “I’m a feminist” because people have so many different expectations and preconceived notions of what ‘feminism’ is, but I’ve gotten to the point where I actually don’t give a fuck about what people think about me when I’m expressing my opinions because I think that would stress me out way more. I want to use this platform as a way to address issues that are uncomfortable to people, like not conforming to a gender or abuse of any sort, mental health issues, racial issues, because when you have a platform to say something you should.
When asked about sexism in music, Sam can total relate and has a few stories to tell. She says that it has gotten to the where she’ll have men approach her after shows to say “we didn’t think that you were gonna be that good” because she is a woman.
She recounts another time when Eva, Pony’s bass player, had a strap break during their set and afterward there was a parade of men recommending the very basic tabs that she could attach to her strap to prevent it from falling off.
Good to know sexism is alive and well in music.
In 2017, following the release of their ‘Do You’ EP, Pony did a super fun video for my favourite song off that record, called ‘Small Things’. It features gender non-conforming individuals and so I have to ask Sam about her experience, as an ally, to be a part of that community and to see it’s emergence from the fringe.
I am specifically inquiring about the LGTBQ+ community in Toronto, where Sam and I live. I am eager to hear whether or not my town has been accepting to these individuals as more and more seem able to come out.
I admit that I have not had much personal exposure to the LGTBQ+ community where I live and so I was really looking for an education.
Sam was very hospitable.
I have been doing this thing lately where I try not to assign anyone gender because I do have a lot of friends who are trans and queer and just don’t conform to any sort of gender binary, so I just refer to everyone as people or ‘yall, and then when I’m introduced to a new person, I ask them what pronouns they would prefer I use for them and they ask me and that is a good way to start.
Sam also referred me to a fab little article on Kastor and Pollux that features great educational content on gender identity/LGTBQ+ terms and tips for conscious communication. If you, like myself, am interesting in expanding your knowledge of this community so that you know how to engage with them in the real world, this is a great place to start.
My time with Sam ends on a hilarious note when I am forced to ask her about the reoccurring theme of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which had come up numerous times within the background research I had done on the band.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer had apparently had something to do with the song ‘Small Things’, but I wanted to know why Buffy had had so much influence over Sam’s life.
I guess the reason she keeps coming up is because as a child growing up she was like the big sister that I wish that had. She was this girl, kicking ass 24/7, small, and like, fierce, and like, no dude ever told her what to do and if he did, she’d just stab him with a wooden stick. I didn’t realize how important she was to me until I rewatched the series last year and when the series ended, I was so devastated. I felt like my best friend had died!
Sam says that watching Buffy as an adult now is so refreshing due to the lack of tech and that it’s so much more comforting for her to watch it and think about that universe and that world.
I confess that I have never seen the show to Sam’s utter disappointment and disbelief. I left the interview with some homework to do and a new friend, who I found to be extremely honest and articulate.
If you haven’t heard any of Pony’s songs yet, then I encourage you to check out any of the links above and if you want up to date news on show and tour info, you can join their facebook page here.
Pony is a quartet consisting of Sam Bielanski (guitar/vocals), Eva Link (Bass), Matt Sandrin (drums), and Stephen Giroux (guitar). They are signed to Buzz Records with other great female fronted bands like Weaves, Dilly Dally, and Casper Skulls.