Most bands hit an existential point in their career where they stand back and question their craft. For Atlanta-based group Pony League, that time came right before they got their big break. “You get to an age where you ask yourself, ‘Is music what I’m going to do, or do I want something more?’” explains frontman Gus Fernandez. “We went the crazy route — and decided to keep going.”
Following a stint playing under the name Cute Boots, Fernandez and co. re-emerged as Pony League last year; the free time between projects allowed the (now) five-piece to hone in on a sound they could connect and stick with. Bandmates Mason Turner and Fernandez began making music together in high school, and when it was time for college, the duo met Charlie Mills, Jay Howell and Justin Green, continuing their artistic collaboration. As Pony League, the band’s lyrical wit isn’t forced, and dramatic transitions from piano-rock to folk pop recall the anthemic quality of Bruce Springsteen alongside the textured, playful sounds of Ben Folds Five. But if you hear parallels to Jason Isbell, Dawes and Band Of Horses, you’re on the right track: the band cites them all as influences.
As Pony League, the quintet found their breakout hit in “Harder Than A Rick Ankiel,” an Americana track comparing Fernandez’s rocky dating life to baseball player Rick Ankiel’s career. But it also revealed Fernandez’s faith in being the underdog. “The fact that [Rick Ankiel] was able to come back to the major leagues and hit a game-winning home run for our hometown team was a huge inspiration,” notes Fernandez. “For me, it was like, ‘Why call it quits?’ Look at what people are capable of doing.”
With their refined sound, Pony League recently partnered with Southwest Airlines, and thanks to the support of fans, the five-piece landed an opening set for The Fray at Destination: Red Rocks on June 26. But Fernandez has been dreaming about performing at Destination: Red Rocks long before 2017. “My first introduction to Red Rocks was an Incubus DVD that I bought in middle school,” he says. “I remember seeing how beautiful it looked and how beautiful it would be to play there.”
Pony League’s performance at Red Rocks is just the start of what’s coming down the pipeline for them. “We’re 90 percent done with a record we’re so proud of called A Picture Of Your Family,” says Fernandez. “The album will be coming out some time this fall. It’s coming out one way or another.”