Peach Kelli Pop

The Pit in Peach Kelli Pop:
Allie Hanlon’s Impenetrable Instincts

Allie Hanlon is as giggly and girly as you’d expect anyone behind a cutesy, bubblegum bedroom-pop project to be. Unsurprisingly, there’s an underlying giddiness to everything Hanlon says. It’s like her resting face is not blank and straight-mouthed like most people’s, but instead it’s a cheerful full-cheeked, teeth-baring smile. The stereotype of someone ultra-feminine may come to mind, which might lead you to think she’s dimwitted, and probably cries easily. Categorizing anyone so flippantly often proves false, of course. Hanlon’s not exactly a pillar of feminism – she’s never claimed to be one anyway. But inadvertently or not, she definitely disproves that archaic notion that girly means gutless. There’s nothing flimsy about Hanlon’s footing, despite that she’s still learning the ropes of playing, writing and recording. In fact, she pretty much oozes with gumption and self-worth.

“I always liked when songs have their own mood. I think if I’m playing a bass and it’s crazy and blown out, a lot of people would say that it’s wrong or it should be this or it should be that. But if it sounds good in a song, I’ll keep it. I think just following your gut with different sounds and instruments and stuff can lead to a song having its own aesthetic or feel or whatever. So that’s how I write and record,” she says with a laugh.

Even though she has only three years of solo music under her belt, Hanlon’s already crafted a uniquely signature sound. Peach Kelli Pop is like ‘60s girl group tunes sung through a helium filter, sped-up and perkier, but bearing the same wooly production quality and slightly scuffed up by poppy punk guitar work. That type of twist runs rampant these days, but there’s a uniquely cartoonish element to Peach Kelli Pop, as if Hanlon sees her songs with oversized, sparkling anime eyes. The cover art for both PKP full-lengths features Hanlon alone, seaside, and smiling ear to ear. She looks happy, peppy – like she’s just tickled to welcome you to her own personal Candy Land.

Naturally, Hanlon wasn’t always so self-assured. As a teenager, the Ottawa native was apprehensive about playing music.

“I was always a little bit intimidated to start a band and actually play live. Because there were no girls doing it, especially in the city where I was growing up. Probably if I saw more girls doing it, I would feel a lot more comfortable doing it. Because it’s kind of scary being 15 and seeing all these 19 and 20 year old dudes playing. I was already shy around them, so to actually perform in front of them would have been really scary,” she admits.

Around 2007, however, she began earning her rock ‘n’ roll chops with the White Wires, a hometown pop-leaning punk act in which she served as drummer, and still records and tours with whenever possible.

“It was the first band I was a part of where the other members were experienced in touring and writing songs,” Hanlon notes. “It was a really good learning experience to sort of understand how bands operate and how one band of people can operate in a way, and also write songs and work with each other as a team. It was a really good experience for learning.”

But it wasn’t until 2010 – three years after joining the White Wires – that she started her solo endeavor. At the time, all she knew how to play was the drums.

“I still wouldn’t say that I’m a good guitar player but I can play, you know, lots of basic stuff, like power chords and stuff. Basically I just decided that I wanted to learn how to write songs, and so one of my friends showed me the most basic way to play a power chord and explained to me that power chords make up a lot of punk and rock songs,” she explains. “So basically, after learning that, I discovered that I could learn almost any of my favorite songs, so I just tried to find ones that sounded really easy and just play them and try to make it sound better and smoother over time. That’s how I got to where I am now. It’s not great, but I can play whatever I want to play, basically.”

The pairing of relying on the building blocks and shaping a sound so sugary has its drawbacks. Not everyone’s open to taking seriously Hanlon’s penchant for hand claps, lo-fi production, uncomplicated riffs and abundance of “oohs” and “ahhs” between lines that are, for the most part, about the opposite sex. “Dreamphone,” a cut from her sophomore full-length, II, epitomizes the Peach Kelli Pop credo: Simple punk-rooted riffs, tinkling chime touches, near-constant tambourine and Hanlon’s trademark candied croon.

If you’re going to go full-on idiosyncratic like Hanlon has, some people just won’t be into it, plain and simple. Whether for personal sanity or as a means of gaining respect, dignity goes a long way. It’s best to stand behind your eccentricities unwaveringly – and Hanlon does just that.

“I think some people respect it as good music but I think other people just kind of put it in a category of stuff that isn’t very serious, or shouldn’t be respected – and that’s fine. I guess I don’t try and write anything too serious. Obviously, if you listen to a bunch of songs, it’s kind of a joke,” she says. “But I think part of me wants people to see that the songs are hopefully written well and that there’s more to it than what meets the initial listen, I guess. I always say that I’m not a great guitar player, or even singer, but hopefully people can see that I can write a catchy song or something. I think some people do dismiss it, and that’s okay. I just try and write a song that’s catchy and sticks with people and hopefully people like them, I guess.”

She ends with a giggle. Hanlon finishes most of her responses that way, no matter the subject. Her demeanor is perpetually lighthearted, like that of a person who’s never felt the disappointment of getting the short end of the stick. In some respects, at least musically speaking, Hanlon hasn’t endured many struggles. While there’ll always be folks refusing to ride her glittery pink bandwagon, plenty of others have happily hopped on. Burger Records handled the release of both PKP full-lengths, and she’s not hard up for shows with genre comrades by any stretch. Last spring, Hanlon even scored the opening spot for UK pop singer Kate Nash’s West Coast tour. Nash literally hand-picked PKP, reaching out to Hanlon on Twitter.

“It was a very different tour than we’ve ever done. It was all really big venues with, like, 500 to 1,000 capacity usually, and every show was sold out,” Hanlon says. “So the first show was at the Observatory in Santa Ana and that was like 600 people. That’s definitely the biggest audience we’ve ever played to. Luckily, all of her fans are really young girls, so they all loved Peach Kelli Pop. It was like, whoa! Maybe I should always play to young girls! Because they were way more excited about it than the old barflies I usually play for. It was a good match for sure.”

Luckily, as a West Coast resident, Hanlon was perfectly positioned to seize that opportunity. About a year earlier, she’d left Ottawa for Sacramento – a move that marked her first abode away from the only place she’d ever called home.

“It’s a very liberating feeling,” Hanlon says of leaving Ottawa. “It’s kind of scary sometimes, but it is really good for personal growth, I guess.”

After a stint in Sacramento, she moved to LA. She had a good-paying job as a dog walker, but for two-and-a-half months, Hanlon says, she couldn’t find a place to live. Everyone gets a raw deal on occasion, obviously. Nobody’s immune to bad times. But the way one deals with it, of course, is often the difference between the mishap being an avalanche of awful or just a brief little shit-storm. Hanlon says she saved money while working full time during her couch-hopping period. She also got a feel for the city.

“There’s actually a lot of really nice people in LA, which I guess my views of LA used to be that it was cheesy and that there were a lot of douchebags here,” she confesses. “But there’s actually a lot of really nice and inspiring people that are super supportive and that have helped me. I was staying on other people’s couches for so long, so there’s really nice people here. I’m pleasantly surprised, and I also feel like a jerk for thinking those things about a place that I didn’t really know about. So things work even when you move and you’re not sure what’s going to happen and everything.”

Hanlon is clearly of the chin-up variety, an attitude more likely to attract the latter, more manageable outcome. (If you believe in the whole Law of Attraction thing, that is.) She even flips ongoing issues with her live lineup into a positive: Enlisting different musicians for (nearly) every tour is a chance to make new friends.

“It’s actually really hard to find people that can and want to go on tour for a month. Most people have jobs that don’t really allow for them to leave for that long. So basically I just kind of trust my instinct and I find people that I think I can work with and would be nice to spend that much personal time with,” she explains. “So far it’s actually worked out really well. I have lots of really close friends that I’ve gone on tour with that I would totally travel with again.”

The latest incarnation includes Mandy Mullins, who’s been with Hanlon on a few jaunts already and makes her own brand of girl group throwback tunes as Garbo’s Daughter, as second guitarist. She’s from Orlando but is moving to LA. The others aren’t so close, though. Black Belles member Shelby Lynne, Hanlon says, will likely serve as drummer, and Lynne’s based in Nashville. And while bassist Jessica Feeney lives in San Pedro, she won’t be anywhere near California until just before the first show – because she’s in Afghanistan.

“It’s kind of crazy. Her job is building planes for the military so she’s over there. And she only works a few months each year doing that, but she’s currently there and she’s getting home a week before we leave for tour,” Hanlon says. “But she convinced me that she really wants to do it. And she actually had bass guitar flown to Afghanistan so she’s learned all of the songs and she’s ready to go.”

That’s a risk a lot of musicians wouldn’t take, but Hanlon does it in stride. And they’ve never even played together before – they’re just fans of each other’s bands.

Hanlon’s stage band is an endlessly swinging door, and she doesn’t seem to mind a bit. She’s not even bothered that her twin sister, who was there from the start, is no longer part of the crew.

“She actually lives in Toronto now. She’s going to school to become an archivist, so she’s kind of focusing on the academics while I’m doing the rock ‘n’ roll. So I’ll probably be living in her basement later,” Hanlon laughs.

Maybe it’s her upbringing that taught her to have faith in her hunches. Her parents have always been supportive, she says – they even financed drum lessons and bought her first kit when she was 15. However it came about, Hanlon’s self-assured gusto for music-making likely has a lot to do with why Peach Kelli Pop manages to be especially conspicuous among the avalanche of today’s garage and punk. It’s incredibly saccharine stuff, but there’s plenty of people who like their punk smothered in sugar. And while she’s not signing up as the genre’s spokesperson for female empowerment, Hanlon does serve as an example of a few reassurances for fledging female musicians: You can totally start your own band, and it’s OK to be extremely cute about it – if you want to be.

Photo by Bekah Cope.