March is upon us, and we are finally starting to see some hints of spring! When the weather shifts, it is time to escape the house. This month I went out and about to catch up with my old friend Charles S. McVey, a musician who plays in the Lawrence and Kansas City area. McVey has most recently been involved in the indie rock duo Ponyboy. (the band’s name includes the period), with McVey on bass and vocals and David Zey on drums.
McVey also writes music, and he has made a canvas of his body through body modification. McVey is an intelligent and witty man whom I am proud to call a friend.
1. How long have you been making music?
Well, I’ve been performing in one capacity or another most of my life. My grandfather was very pro-active starting me in my youth as a singer and bought me my first piano as well. In high school, I started experimenting with sound-on-sound type compositions and eventually started performing in coffeehouses. I started my first band in the mid-’90s, and ever since, I’ve had my hand in some sort of project.
2. How would you describe the music you make with Ponyboy., and how does it differ from what you’ve done previously?
Ponyboy. initially started as an attempt to fuse the sludge of Athens, Georgia’s Harvey Milk with the over-the-top depressive observations of Xiu Xiu. I’m not sure if that’s what it is today, but that was my original idea. I had become frustrated with the “Gay Suicide Epidemic of 2010,” and what I found to be a semi-contrived message in the “It Gets Better” movement. I decided to reach out to outsider youth with an empathic, yet non-comforting response to the same feelings. That’s sort of the gist of most Ponyboy. lyrics. Our music sounds quite different from the solo recordings on piano I made the years before, but I think there has been some level of confrontation in most of the projects I’ve worked with. The sound may change, but the attitude is usually the same or similar.
3. Ponyboy. has scored some music for Buck Angel (Buck Angel is a transmasculine porn star who is hot! hot! hot!). How on earth did that come about?
I met Buck and his wife at a Fetish Ball in Dallas, Texas, in 2010. We became friends, and I sent him some of the early “Dick Trilogy” demos. He said he was working on a new film and would like to use some of our music in the background. Most of our songs were fairly short at the time, so I proposed we write lengthier instrumental tracks to accompany the project. Most of the music for Sexing the Transman XXX was assembled from recording jam sessions and then editing them into actual compositions. The editing process was sort of my 21st-century take on the late ’60s improvisational jazz recordings made by Miles Davis. His band would just track, and then the recordings were edited down to make more stable compositions. I actually like this process, and it’s the same method we used in the composition of Ponyboy.’s 2012 release, Pussy Killer.
4. Where can our readers see Ponyboy. perform?
Currently, nowhere. I’m in the middle of working on some new ideas. I usually just tell people, “I’m thinking about things.”
5. Are you working on anything outside of Ponyboy.?
I dabble a bit with the idea of expanding into some other artistic areas but haven’t gotten anything put together. I’ve focused most of my creative energy on Ponyboy. in the past three years, which has allowed me to tap into other artistic parts of my brain via video production, album art, and performance. In 2012, we shot a remake of the viral video “1 Lunatic 1 Ice Pick” to accompany the “Pussy Killer” project and received a lot of criticism and some hate mail, a first for me. Last year, we started work on a remake of a classic pop-art film. However the project has been shelved due to concerns over possible litigation. Most recently, I started working on a performance art piece only to find that some of the fundamental staples of the piece are illegal to do in a public setting in Kansas, so I’m considering doing a video version instead. Art is hard.
6. Do you feel as though you use your music as a form of advocacy?
Quite honestly, it’s the only form of advocacy I’ve really felt comfortable in participating in. I still have too much of a soul left to focus on political circles and organizations.
7. You’ve been working with music for quite some time and have a number of CDs out. Any plans to leave Lawrence to work on “making it big”?
Actually, I am leaving Lawrence for an undetermined amount of time, but plan to continue in some fashion. There might be another Ponyboy. record in the future, and there might not. It’s really up in the air. As far as “making it big,” I gave up on that long ago. I prefer having an outsider posture. Financial stability and outside support sometimes leads good artists into making contrived work in order to support themselves or maintain a lifestyle they have grown accustomed to. I’d rather just say what I want to say and not have to answer to anyone else. I like pissing people off too much to “sell out” and be nice.
8. Now anyone who knows you or has seen pictures knows that you have some gorgeous body art. Which is your favorite tattoo, and what inspired it?
It is really hard for me to have a favorite anything, and I love getting tattooed. On my left arm, a moon from a bigger image interplays with two numbers due to the placement. It creates this sort of sequence of moon-2-3 on my wrist, and I think it looks kind of like a spell. Also, I recently got a design with a buck and goat head with a pentagram between them on my lower abdomen. I think those are probably my favorites.
9. Any new ink coming in the future?
Oh yeah. Big plans.
10. And we can’t forget your piercings (I know you have quite a few, many below the belt)! How do you find inspiration for your body art?
I was rather gun-shy about piercing at first, but after I learned more, I started experimenting (or being experimented on) with piercing. At this point in my life, I really enjoy body modification and feel like I’ve been able to use it to enhance my appearance rather than detract from it. Many people outside the Body Mod community can only see the pain or the permanence involved, but it is more of an involved experience than that. I’ve found being on a serious weightlifting and diet regimen is far more painful and taxing than any piercing or tattoo. Most of my tattoos relate to one of three things: experiences, specific people, and religious or spiritual concepts, but I bet that’s the answer you’d get from most people.