When it comes to Tina and Her Pony, the name is the same, but many other things have changed.
Classically-tinged Americana/folk outfit Tina and Her Pony got their start in Asheville in 2010. At that point, the lineup featured singer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Tina Collins and cellist Quetzal Jordan. But shortly after forming, the two-person group decamped for Taos, New Mexico. “We just needed something different,” Collins says. And the group had some connections out West: Collins’s aunt, Jenny Bird was already a well-established figure in the artists colony of Taos. “Our fan base grew really quickly out there,” Collins says.
She says that the region’s character worked its way into the original songs of Tina and Her Pony, too. They released their self-titled debut album in 2012. In support of that record, the two set out on the road. “We left Taos to tour full time,” Collins says. But after 18 months of touring, the two were “burnt out,” she says. Around that time, Collins’ father – who lived in Asheville – was diagnosed with cancer. “So we decided to stop touring and move back to Asheville,” she explains.
“It wasn’t a random choice to come back,” Collins says. The group had outgrown the vibrant yet tiny music scene in Taos, with its population of less 7,000 persons. “It was time for the next level,” Collins says. “Asheville’s music scene was a great next step.”
Collins’s own musical career began years before Tina and Her Pony; she recorded and released her solo debut, Journey Onward, in 2009, and toured with a five-piece band backing her. So when she and Jordan split – after the release of 2017’s Champion – Collins continued as Tina and her Pony.
The sound of Tina and Her Pony has undergone subtle but significant changes along the way. While rooted in Americana, elements of jazz, baroque pop and classic singer-songwriter values inform the music on Marigolds, the group’s latest full-length release. The album came out March 1 and is available on CD, digital and vinyl LP.
Some might detect the understated influence of songwriters like Carole King or Natalie Merchant in Collins’s compositions and arrangements. She waves those suggestions away, instead citing an affinity for the musical stylings of Jenny Lewis and Haim. “Historically, Tina and Her Pony has been much more folky than this current album,” Collins admits. “I definitely wanted to bring more soul and pop into this record.”
On Marigolds – and on stage in support of the record – Collins is aided in realizing her musical vision by a talented and celebrated coterie of Western North Carolina musicians. Melissa Hyman plays electric bass and sings backup; Ryan Furstenburg plays electric guitar and sings as well. Hyman and Furstenburg are a married couple who also tour and record with their own popular group, The Moon and You. The quartet is rounded out by Ross Montsinger, who’s also behind the drum kit for another WNC group, Fwuit!
Yet at its core, Tina and Her Pony is built around Tina Collins. Live onstage, she sings and plays acoustic guitar and occasional tenor banjo. The band’s acoustic-electric hybrid setup and the songs’ folk-meets-soul-meets-pop character all come together to create something as compelling as it is unique.
Collins’ classical training shines through in the album’s crystalline, finely-tuned arrangements. In her younger days she studied opera at a conservatory in the Midwest, but “didn’t like it very much,” she admits. “It was way too much for someone who also wanted to have a life outside of music school.” So Collins took what she found valuable from that experience – “music theory, ear training and understanding the ‘bones’ of music” – and moved on. “What all that really made me realize,” she says with a laugh, “is that I just wanted to be a folk musician!”
Collins’s life experiences – relocating, having relationships and groups start and eventually end – and the lessons she’s learned along the way find expression in Tina and Her Pony’s original songs. “The goal of most of my music is to move people to emotion,” she explains. “I think that’s been true of all my albums.” She notes that several of the songs on Marigolds address the visceral emotion of grief. “But it’s not just songs of grief,” Collins’ emphasizes. “There are also songs of rebirth.” She sums up her perspective in three words: “Nothing is forever.”
Collins’s years of writing and performing have brought another important change to the music of Tina and Her Pony. “I’ve shifted away from a literal songwriting style,” she says. These days, her lyrics have an even more universally quality, one that resonates deeply with listeners. “I’ve been working on saying more with few words,” she says.