Side Pony becomes primary focus for songwriters Alice Wallace and Caitlin Cannon

The Nashville-based country duo visits Natalie’s Worthington for a concert on Thursday, March 3

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Alice Wallace (left) and Caitlin Cannon of Side Pony

Lucky Break, the debut album from Nashville-based country duo Side Pony, includes two songs that play like bookends to the ongoing COVID era.

The title track, which falls near the beginning of the record, unfolds amid the stoppages ushered in by the coronavirus, Alice Wallace and Caitlin Cannon harmonizing about postponed meetings, stopped clocks and canceled races. “All the Time in the World,” which closes the album, offers a more up-to-date snapshot two years into the pandemic, the pair inhabiting a space in which they’ve exhausted all of the streaming options on Netflix and Hulu but maintained a sense of humor, engaging in a mid-song back-and-forth about the ridiculous progression of their online shopping habits.

“When the world shut down for the pandemic, we started writing every week just to have something to help us feel productive in a time when everything productive had been taken from us,” said Wallace, who first met Cannon at the Nashville dive Belcourt Taps three years ago, with Wallace engaging Cannon after she overheard her place an unusual drink order (club soda with a splash of sugar-free Red Bull).

“We tried to keep the songs universal enough that they would still be relevant after the pandemic, except for ‘All the Time in the World,’ which is clearly a novelty, a snapshot in time,” said Cannon, who will join Wallace in concert at Natalie’s Worthington on Thursday, March 3. “A song like ‘Lucky Break’ … can really apply in any moment when you have the rug pulled from under you, and where your only saving grace is to find that silver lining even when you can’t see it. In a way, we were sort of trying to write ourselves out of our own misery.”

Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter

While the outside world had a marked impact on Lucky Break, much of the album maintains an inward focus, which both songwriters described as a thread running through their respective solo careers. “I’ve always been self-reflective to a fault,” Cannon said, and laughed. Throughout the album, songs deal with the turbulent emotions that can sometimes exist beneath a person's more placid veneer (“Under the Surface”), the process of unlearning sexist stereotypes (“Heels,” which addresses misogyny with humor intact) and gracefully aging out of the desire to play games in a relationship (“All I Have Is Want”). 

The collaboration between the two proved fruitful from the jump, with album track “Pressing My Luck” emerging from the first writing session, which the musicians attributed not just to their shared backgrounds (both are the same age, born just weeks apart) but to the differences in approach that can lend the songs unexpected dimensions. 

“After we play a show, [people] will come up afterwards and be like, ‘Oh, we love your comedy act. We love your variety show,’” Cannon said. “Going out and performing together, we didn’t know we had that, but it ends up being a natural funny man/straight man dynamic, which I think comes through in the songwriting, too.”

These divergent approaches can be heard within each artist’s solo work. Cannon, for one, brings bawdy one-liners and heartrending empathy to recordings such as The TrashCannon Album, from 2020, tracing her approach to the impact of tagging along with her father to see Ethel and the Shameless Hussies perform at age 3. “I was estranged from my dad at age 9, so those early childhood memories are burned into me,” said Cannon, who for years couldn’t pinpoint the name of the comedic female trio, immersing herself in the catalog of Hussies songwriter Kacey Jones after coming across the group in a news article in more recent years. “And she (Jones) is one of the only other Nashville writers that has the career I most want to emulate … because [she] can win you over with humor but still get a point made.”

Wallace, in turn, effortlessly navigates complex emotional minefields on albums such as the bruising Into the Blue, from 2019. Witness the gracefully disconcerting “Elephants,” a slow burner that examines the fraught lived experiences of women, where a short walk across a dark parking lot can become a perilous life-or-death journey. “It’s such an important sentiment, and we do need to call attention to the fact that there are still lots of issues regarding how women are treated and how women are seen in the world as human beings,” Wallace said in a 2020 interview with Alive.

Moving forward, though, each envisioned their solo material continuing to evolve as a result of Side Pony, with songs spinning off in directions they might not have taken prior to crossing paths. 

“My last record had a lot of kitsch in it, and a lot of satire and humor, and now that I’m getting to exorcize some of that in Side Pony, the solo songs are getting a little more earnest, which is interesting, because I thought it would go the other way,” said Cannon, who described her continuing musical evolution as a result of trying to deepen the sense of communion she feels with the listener. “The heady, clever lyrics thing definitely has its place, but until you’ve tapped into your personal truth, until you’re willing to get vulnerable enough that you’re not hiding behind the words, I don’t know if you can reach other people with your songs.”