BRONCHO, like their wild equine namesake, are running free. Making a name for themselves this side of the pond, the US five-piece are taking no prisoners, with a new album and unremitting tour to boot.
“It’s fun at times, and tough at times,” says Penny Pitchlynn, breathlessly. She’s talking about touring, and has just plonked herself down to chat to TGA after lugging gear into the venue ahead of BRONCHO’s Manchester date on the UK leg of their tour this May. Who needs roadies anyway? This is one woman who’s prepared to get stuck in.
The five-piece returned to the UK on 1 July as it happens, with a date at Dingwalls in Camden. She and bandmate, guitarist Mandii Larsen, who also perform together in Tulsa-based trio Low Litas, have been on the road with BRONCHO – formerly an all-male four-piece – since November last year. And the touring’s set to continue. They’ve got a handful of dates in Europe before they head back stateside for a US tour, and dates reaching into November. With such a relentless schedule, you’d understand if she’d sat in front of us and declared herself “so over it”. But the whole touring thing still excites Penny to her core.
“Both Mandii and I had never been to Europe before, for music or anything else, so to be able to come across the ocean like this and play music for people in other countries is amazing,” she says. Even if it is “constantly go go go”. And though that can be exhausting, it’s something she’s thankful for. “I like that you don’t really have time to dwell on a bad moment in a show, because there’s always another one right after it!”
As the newest additions to Broncho, Penny and Mandii bring with them a fierce femininity borrowed from their ‘dream-rock’ side project, Low Litas. They’ve been playing with Broncho for the past year. “We joined at the end of last summer before BRONCHO were about to take off to promote their newest album. Originally made up of four male members, we came into the picture just before the album came out,” says Penny.
But it wasn’t totally out of the blue – because of the scene they were all a part of, it seemed like a natural progression. “We’re all friends,” explains Penny. “We’d play shows with the same bands over and over.” She’s talking about their days starting out in Oklahoma – a US state arguably better known for high plains and cattle drives than its musical landscape.
“There are definitely more bands getting out of Oklahoma now,” says Penny, who talks about the broad spectrum of music genres represented in the southern state. It’s a close-knit community, but it’s not the case that everything sounds the same: you’ll hear everything from folk-Americana to psychedelic pop being played at its network of live venues.
Relationships are clearly important to them, and playing gigs around the world has been an integral part of strengthening their bond as a relatively new line-up. “All this touring has definitely helped us develop as a band family,” says Penny. As well as that, it’s helped hone their performances – they’re getting tighter all the time. Although Penny is cautious about becoming complacent. “We’re continually getting better and more comfortable. Then right when we get comfortable, something happens and we get really uncomfortable again! It’s a constant cycle, but there’s a rhythm to the madness. And once you’ve been doing it for quite a while, I think you find a good rhythm to exist on.”
They believe in keeping themselves busy – and that presumably includes taking on roadie duties. But putting in the effort is paying dividends, and BRONCHO’s infectious summer sound is certainly drawing attention. Their signature track ‘Class Historian’ has already racked up over 4.5 million plays on Spotify – and counting. “It’s surprising,” Penny says. “It’s probably best we don’t know how many people are listening to us because it would make us more nervous!”
The band’s sound is perhaps best described as gritty 70s glam-punk with a hefty dose of surf rock, and they’re certainly making waves. Their latest album Just Enough Hip to Be Woman flags the band’s switch from an all-male line-up to two-fifths female, and also signals that Penny and Mandii have brought so much more to this lively quintet than simply their respective bass and guitar skills.
And we’re not just talking the feminine touch, either. Their healthy eating habits are rubbing off. “We eat a vegan diet so we just try to seek out good food,” says Penny. And, of course, good food and a better diet generally means improved all-round health, including higher energy levels and increased stamina. This could go some way towards explaining their staying power on such an arduous tour. “I think having people around that eat a little bit healthier rubs off on the other members – some of them actually talk about eating vegetarian [for good] for a minute or two!”
But while their bandmates appreciate having Penny and Mandii around for their considerable talents and positive impact, among other things, others aren’t quite as ready to acknowledge their presence and influence. Penny has found some reactions to her and Mandii pretty awkward to say the least. “Sometimes we walk into a room and people think the band is a three piece, and we’re their girlfriends…” winces Penny. “It’s a male-dominated industry; people are surprised by the fact that we’re even in it.”
The struggle is real, yet the Broncho girls are philosophical. “Sometimes people make assumptions based on gender,” says Penny. “We’re different creatures, men and women, but we’re also not so distant. There are obviously built in differences: one of them is a monthly recurring thing I can think of… We have different things to deal with, but it shouldn’t change anything. The biggest problem for me is that I need to think about my gender at all, because as a dude I wouldn’t be [thinking about that] – I’d just be doing it [playing music].”
Gender aside, these girls are doing it, winning over crowds one city at a time. Broncho have even recently been supporting the likes of Billy Idol… an unlikely musical match, that’s for sure. How do the unknowing crowds respond to BRONCHO’s sound?
“We know people aren’t there to see us, especially when the show had sold out before we were even on the bill,” admits Penny. Even on this recent tour, BRONCHO have been the supporting act (to Californian Beach Goth rockers The Growlers) but the buzz has been palpable. “The support shows have been great. Even though our music isn’t necessarily the same as any of the bands, crowds are really responsive. People are always at the front dancing. It’s pretty encouraging.”
And so it should be – but the band shouldn’t be surprised. Their combined stage charisma is beguiling and their sound contagious. Virulent, even. So much so, you’ll probably be adding BRONCHO to your summer playlist. For Penny and Mandii, the excitement is tangible as they look forward to pouring more of their notable influence into future Broncho records. And to all the other women musos out there, Penny has this to say: “Just do it. The more of us there are, the easier it will be for us all.”
Just Enough Hip to Be Woman is available now via Lolipop Records.
Photos: Nick Sayers