Playboy Manbaby: The gospel of a good time

by Patty Templeton

Playboy Manbaby’s the kind of band that saves the world, one party at time. Their most recent full-length, “Don’t Let It Be,” is an elegant pandemonium and – is that a sax? Why hell yes, it is. Their high-energy Phoenix post-funk-dance-punk stirs up a ferocious, boppin’ bedlam. It’s the kind of album that’ll cause you to quit your job, draw dicks on your boss’ car, blow your last five bucks on a thrift store sequin tube top, and finally go after your dream of owning the first neurofunk soundtracked, treehouse-centric Chihuahua sanctuary.

DGO gave Playboy Manbaby lead singer Robbie Pfeffer a holler to talk about “Don’t Let It Be,” televangelism, and Tom Waits.

Playboy Manbaby is exactly who they’ve always been but the chaos seems to be a bit more controlled in the most recent album.I think it’s more of a focus on doing something specific instead of something guttural. There is validity in both, but there’s a lot more intention in our newer stuff. That comes across in us being a lot less obscure. I feel like the message of what we’re talking about and the structure of the songs is a lot more apparent in our new stuff.

Recording music and playing music has a lot of room for happy accidents. It’s a progression of us as people. Now that we’ve been playing together for a while, we know what we want to sound like, experiment with, talk about.

I spent a lot more time writing lyrics and trying to make sure that they were discernible. I’ve tried to strip down what I’m saying and not be esoteric, to minimalize interpretation, or focus it to a point where someone is like, “OK, I get what you’re talking about.”

You’re music has been called a hellton of shit – spazz funk, art punk, dance punk. Is there a label that fits your sound?I’m too personally invested to accurately be able to tell what the [eff] is going on. I’m all the way zoomed in. I can’t really have an untainted opinion about it. I don’t know if anyone ever could.

It’s just eclectic, unashamed musical preferences. I think one of the reasons we come off as odd and hard to pin down is that there’s not one particular curator when it comes to the musical side. We all contribute ideas. Someone will want to make something that has a Dixieland jazz element to it or someone wants to make a song that’s foundation is in a cha-cha beat. No one is gonna be like, “We can’t do that. That’s not our thing.” That’s definitely our thing.

Everyone not shitting on ideas: That’s our genre. (laughs)

The song “White Jesus” implores people to not waste their lives. What advice would you give to someone stuck in a rut who feels like they’re wasting their life? Try stuff. Try stuff that you are bad at. Try different stuff. Keep it moving. That’s the only constant and if something doesn’t feel good, stop doing it.

Speaking of preaching, what’s your interest in televangelists? I think it is the height of showmanship. It’s really strange to me on multiple levels.

I see no problem in playing a character if the intention is stated, but the idea that you would playact or pretend to manipulate someone is really dark to me. I think that TV preachers are the most blatant example of that. Pretending to be able to talk to God to get people to give them money and trust is insane, especially when their show is based on the book of an ancient Jewish dude who didn’t want people to [eff] with each other.

How do you transpose televangelism showmanship into Playboy Manbaby live?I think rock ’n’ roll and gospel are deeply connected. If you read a lot of what influenced early, iconic rock ’n’ roll showmen, it was going to church.

James Brown started in the church. That’s how he learned his timing and how to control a crowd. I think I’m continuing something that already exists.

The showmanship and fall-backs of that kind of preaching, the timing and use of energy, is really interesting to me, on a fundamental craft level. You can watch these people, most of the time without a backing band, enrapture a crowd. That’s a lot of their own energy to set it up.

I feel like there’s a difference in myself and a televangelist in that I’ve openly stated what I’m doing. I’m not trying to get money out of people or to send them to follow any certain doctrine. I’m just looking to have a good time and talk about shit that bothers us.

Do you need to be in a certain mental state to write or a certain setting? I will put things together piecemeal. I’ll be driving and a line will come into my head and I’ll record it on my phone since I have a trash memory. Then I’ll sit with it later and see if there’s anything there, if I can form it into a coherent narrative.

I write all over the place. I think there’s a certain mental state that really helps. A lot of people say that good art comes out of depression, and I don’t think so. Being depressed can influence art but being depressed doesn’t make you particularly productive. For me it’s a vicious cycle. I’m bummed out because I’m not doing anything and I’m not doing anything because I’m bummed out. I have to have at least a degree of mental stability to make anything that I’m happy with.

How does the Everyman inform your lyric writing?I feel like I have a pretty average perspective of things. I don’t see myself as a super smart or super dumb person. I had a pretty typical American upbringing in a pretty typical American place. The people I look up to and associate with are “normal” folks but not in a country-music or Bruce-Springsteen kind of way. Not as in “normal folks” as an archetype or marketing technique.

I would have a different experience if I grew up in extreme poverty or extreme violence or extreme affluence. It just happens to be you write about what you see … I can’t pretend to know anyone else’s experience.

Who is the film director Playboy Manbaby would love to work with versus the director their music fits the aesthetic of?I feel like I would love to be involved with a David Lynch project, but I don’t necessarily think we fit that. David Lynch has such a strong lineage of music and he has such an aesthetic. I would love to do that but I don’t necessarily think that we fit his vibe.

I feel like the Coen Brothers characters are more fitting to us. Like the dude you see for three seconds who works at the bank. The Coen Brothers tediously mull over those background people. If we could be a soundtrack for every Coen Brothers character that is getting paid less than $5,000 to be there that would be the ideal.

Who are some of the people out there that inspire you to keep going at full tilt? There are so many people who I feel like have, for better or worse, destroyed their lives for art. I appreciate each and every one of their sacrifices.

When I grew up I, listened to a lot of the meat and potatoes basics of punk music. That really forms the basis, that classic DIY ethos of if someone’s not doing it, you do it.

There are certain performers that I appreciate all sorts of different aspects of. I really like David Byrne. He’s got about seven albums and they have a bunch of world musicians on them and they can be really bad albums where there’s not one good song, but I appreciate the fact that he tried stuff.

Everyone has some sort of commercial ambition but I like the people who stay true to whatever strange idea they came up with. Now, Byrne’s doing a thing where he is mixing science and art pieces and before that he was doing marching band music. I like the idea of trying stuff over and over again regardless of what people think of it. That’s so inspiring. As opposed to riding on your classics and playing “Psychokiller” every night in a different city.

Is there a celebrity out there that you’d die over being asked to play their birthday party?I wouldn’t even have to play his birthday party, if I was in the same room as Tom Waits and he lifted a drink and pointed it at me – I think he’s been sober for like 30 years – it could be seltzer water. He doesn’t have to say shit. If I walk into a room and he holds it up like a tip of the hat and keeps doing his thing, that’d be like WHOA.

What do you love about Tom Waits?I like people that unabashedly pursue their own grotesque personal vision. The people where if they weren’t successful and you looked at their discography or filmography and they weren’t successful you could be like, “Well, yeah, this shit is weird.” It is so distinctly them.

You never see a David Lynch film or hear a Tom Waits song and not recognize it. If Tom Waits wrote a song and Gwen Stefani performed it, I feel like I would still know that he wrote it. People who see something so familiar to us like a pop song or feature-length film and can interpret it into something that is bizarre and specifically theirs, that’s all you can really hope for. If you’re worth isn’t in having children and continuing your lineage, how do you live on? I think that’s what it is, creating something uniquely yours.

People change. My opinions will probably change. But if I can look back on the stuff we recorded and put out and be like, “Shit, that’s exactly how I felt in 2017,” then I feel like I’ve done something that’s worth it. Even if I’m the only one who cares about it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer

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