Accidental protest music
Phoenix’s Playboy Manbaby writes messed up songs for messed up times
Playboy Manbaby has impeccable timing. The Phoenix six-piece released its latest full-length, Don’t Let It Be, in February, on the heels of the presidential inauguration. And the gleeful satire of the album’s lead single, “You Can Be a Fascist Too,” makes for just the sort of sing-along punk anthem disenfranchised progressives can rally behind as they battle Trump’s regressive agenda. But that’s not exactly what the band intended.
“We wrote [the album], like, last summer, so before Trump and everything,” lead singer Robbie Pfeffer said during a telephone interview on the eve of the band’s current two-week West Coast tour. “It kind of ended up becoming slightly more relevant than I would’ve liked. … The word ‘fascist’ has become a lot more prevalent since I wrote that song.”
Despite how well “You Can Be a Fascist Too” might sync up with the country’s current sociopolitical shenanigans, its lyrics—“I am right, I am correct/If you disagree with me I’ll get really upset”—are actually painted in much broader strokes.
“It’s kind of an anthem for people not listening to each other,” Pfeffer explained, adding that not being able to have conversations—no matter where on the political spectrum one’s views are entrenched—is how the country has gotten to its current state of incivility.
Playboy Manbaby got its start a little more than five years ago, playing notoriously wild shows at parties and small clubs in the Phoenix area with a rotating cast of players for its first couple of years before solidifying into the current lineup. The band has released several EPs, live recordings and full lengths since 2012, and toured all over the U.S.—except for out west. The current jaunt, including a stop at Chico’s Naked Lounge tonight (July 13), features its first California shows.
The new album is being distributed in the U.S. by Echo Park’s hip DIY garage-rock label Lolipop Records, and Don’t Let It Be is filled with songs about navigating a crumbling modern world. But don’t make the mistake of labeling Playboy Manbaby a serious political band. For one, the music is too goddamn fun—a mix of punk-, garage- and indie rock, even a little funk and ska, with lively horns and a loose energy that fans the flames of the live shows. Plus, no matter how charged the subject matter—from broken systems to being broke in America—Pfeffer’s flippant delivery (“God quit his job today/He doesn’t wanna have to learn your names,” on “White Jesus”) saves the songs from becoming self-absorbed.
“I just think it’s a little more honest to kind of approach things more tongue-in-cheek,” Pfeffer said, admitting that he’s more of a “politically moderate dude.”
“If I was really interested in politics, I’d become a politician,” he added.
Of course, the first clue to the band’s irreverent nature is its name, taken from an episode of cartoonist Brad Neely’s nutty Baby Cakes Web series. “It’s a rad name for us,” Pfeffer said. “It’s not offensive, but it’s kind of uncomfortable.”
Pfeffer is an animator as well, and some of the band’s early videos were illustrated by him in a style similar to Neely’s minimalist approach.
For the new album, the band already has released three companion videos. No animations this time, just well-produced, often hilarious complements to the rockin’ songs featuring the band in drag, or petty fascist caricatures, or a West Side Story-style dance/fight that escalates to Monty Python-esque heights.
“It’s just another aspect of the art,” Pfeffer said of filming the kind of shorts that have become a nearly ubiquitous part of being independent musicians.
“Being in a band nowadays is kind of like death by a thousand cuts—you just put as much stuff out there [as you can].”