The opulent charm of the International Playboys
With guitarist Jake Morton writing most of the riffs and a couple of the same band members, the International Playboys bear a certain musical resemblance to the now defunct Rhythm & Booze Soul Revue. What the Playboys have that Rhythm & Booze never did is a concept of sorts—that of American-born Eurotrash playing rock to alleviate the ennui of being filthy rich—and a howling Bon Scott-style frontman with a resplendent Afro and pockets stuffed full of dollar bills and panties.
I bullied them a little about dressing up like a bunch of Little Lord Fauntleroys before every show. Members drifted in and out of character—to somewhat humorous effect, what with guitarist Jake Morton discussing his yacht while skinning onions for soup stock and the resplendent Afro of erstwhile sybarite Colin Hickey stuffed up into his floppy cook’s hat.
MI: What’s the deal?
Chris Knudson, bass: We are the International Playboys. We were bored with our rich lifestyles, so we decided we should play rock ’n’ roll instead.
MI: What might an International Playboys fan be surprised to hear has been doing time on your turntable these days?
Chris: I’ve been listening to a lot of Blur and the Cure, and I can’t stop listening to the new Strokes record. I listen to a lot of soundtrack music, like Bernard Hermann, Henry Mancini, Danny Elfman. That’s what I listen to a lot.
MI: Do all decisions concerning the Afro have to be approved by the band first?
Colin Hickey, vocals: Yes, pretty much. Whenever I mention a haircut, they all whine and bitch. They’re concerned.
MI: You’re in this band, you book a ton of bands at Jay’s Upstairs, you help all these local bands book their tours ... Do you ever get burned out on rock?
Colin: I get burned out on attitudes from bands.
MI: What do you think you’re contributing to the “dirty rock” genre that wasn’t there before?
Colin: Everybody’s “dirty rock” is basically whoever their favorite bands are, trying to play like that. We just like different bands, so we have a dirty rock style that’s a little bit different from everyone else’s. Our favorite so far is getting called a mixture of Foghat and Black Flag.
MI: What’s the best part of being in the International Playboys?
Colin: Being so damn sexy and rich.
MI: What have you actually done for the ladies lately?
Colin: Satisfied them, obviously.
MI: How big is the International Playboys piece in the Charles Johnson pie chart?
Charles Johnson, guitar: It’s about 75 percent. What’s the other 25?
Charles: Working and thinking about going on tour.
Do you have a contingency plan in case rock ’n’ roll doesn’t work out for you?
Charles: No. The way I see it, I can go to school later to become a teacher. Or a saucier. Those are the two things I’m interested in.
MI: Who in your band would you fire first?
Charles: (Laughs). No one. I think it’s a great meshing of character in this band.
MI: Were you and Charles fighting at the show last night?
Jake Morton, guitar: We were loving.
MI: Do you think you’ll ever get tired of dressing up for shows?
Jake: I don’t look at it as a dressing-up theme, because there’s no set uniform or anything. Everybody wears whatever they want, and if someone shows up in a T-shirt and shorts for the show, no one’s going to be like, “Dude, you’re a dick.”
MI: Nobody does, though.
Jake: No, nobody does, because it’s like going to synagogue services as a child: You don’t go in a T-shirt and shorts because synagogue is something different. It’s different from normal life. Rock is important. You’re playing rock, you wanna look good. It’s important. It’s even less thought out than all the Volumen wearing matching outfits. If it got dull or confining, it wouldn’t be worth doing.
Volumen talk about who’s the boss, their modest rock goals, and the perils of cheesy facial hair
Volumen are currently sitting on a fresh batch of their best songs to date: “Type O Girl,” “Sexy Astronaut,” and the psychotically lounge-y “Snakes,” to name just three. Here, we find out the truth underlying the musically-mythologized relationship between the band’s principal songwriters, get band members to rate aspects of each other’s personalities, and sigh with relief at what we’ve all been needing to hear: that Volumen aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Volumen are: Shane Hickey (guitar), Doug Smith (guitar), Bryan Hickey (bass), Chris Bacon (keyboards), and Bob Marshall (drums).
Missoula Independent: Shane, tell us a little about how you and Doug grew up and how you started writing songs together. Did you really meet by fighting in the fifth grade?
Shane: Hmm. Close. I first met Doug at St. Mary’s in Glacier. It was a retreat for the Air Force Base church that I went to, and his family had just moved to town. He was wearing tight-ass shorts and tube socks pulled up over his knees. The sad thing was that I knew immediately that he was way cooler than me. The fight scene, made famous in [the song] “Mama’s Boy,” actually happened well into the school year. Doug was needling me about a girl that I liked and I snapped and hit him in the neck. He dropped like a rock and couldn’t get up for a few seconds. It was really scary. A few days later he “accidentally” kicked me in the balls.
MI: You guys seem to have it pretty well figured out. “What’s the secret, Max?”
Shane: Hell if I know. It helps that we don’t really take ourselves or any of this rawk bidness very seriously. I think it’s important to remember what we are doing—basically, we are getting paid to ensure that people have a good time. That’s our job. It’s fortunate that we are able to have wicked amounts of fun doing that, but I think that’s sorta secondary. And, it’s impossible to have anything but a rockin’ good time if you are making people happy.
Bryan: What’s more fun than being in a rock band? I haven’t found anything yet that comes close.
Doug: I haven’t figured out girls, where the hell to put commas, how the economy works, the Rubik’s Cube, or the odds for Shake-a-Day. Plus a whole lot more.
MI: Please rank Volumen members in declining order of control-freakness.
Shane: Oh, great. I bet everyone puts me as the most control freakish. I say: (1) Doug, (2)Bob, (3) Shane, (4) Bacon, and (5) Bryan. I think it varies, though. I think if Bob thought that no one was at the reins, he’d take over in an instant. It’s good, though. We all have our little jobs in the band and we work it out fairly well.
Doug: (1) Shane, (2) Doug, (3) Bob, (4)Bacon, and (5) Bryan. Unless you’re talking about watching TV, and then it would go in reverse order.
Bryan: I’d say Shane and Bob would both lead this category together. Doug would probably come next, then Bacon and me. I’m not very controlling because I’m a bass player. I know my role as the court jester. My amp’s not even turned on half the time.
MI: Rumor has it that the Volumen girlfriends put you up to the “Moustache Tour” to help lead you not into temptation with any would-be groupies with “VOLUMEN” written across their chests in magic marker. True?
Bryan: Not true. I can’t remember who had the idea, but we joked about it for awhile. The next thing I remember is playing in a transvestite bar in San Francisco.
Shane: I think we actually started that rumor. The girlfriend angle is bogus because, I mean, have you ever looked at us? Besides Doug, the rest of us don’t have a lot of problems with girls fawning over us. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself here.
Doug: I have never experienced any groupies, with or without a moustache.
Shane: Actually, girls were hitting on us in Eureka despite the moustaches and we thought that perhaps our moustaches were broken. They kicked in pretty good after that, though.
Bob: I really wish I had the opportunity to experience temptation.
MI: With no immediate plans to leave Missoula, what level of popular and financial success is there to aspire to?
Doug: I would be happy having Missoula as a home base and touring for one month a couple of times a year. As long as I could pay my rent and bills, I would be happy. You can definitely Do It Yourself, but a little financial help from a label is nice.
Bob: Touring does so much more for a band than merely getting it heard. You grow closer, hone your musicianship by playing in different situations, and gain inspiration for future works. Ask Shane about his Oklahoma ghost songs.
Shane: My dream used to always be to be successful enough at playing music that I could always afford to keep doing it. Basically, just tour around the country and have solid shows and plenty of records to sell. I’m starting to realize, though, that I might not be cut out for the touring life. I go really stir crazy. I guess it’d be nice not to have a day job, but I wouldn’t want much more than that.
Bryan: I can’t see leaving Missoula anytime soon, if ever. I’ve always said that if I could support myself through music without a day job, then I’ve made it.
Bob: We can still live here and tour Japan, right?
The importance of being indolent
For Oblio Joes, Missoula’s longest-running original band, the less effort the better
In preparing to interview the Oblio Joes, I found myself caving in to nostalgia in the worst way. I dug out the Christmas Break 1993 tape—I think my copy is one of four ever made—and it was all over. On my way to the West Side basement where they still get together twice a week to practice, I rode past a half-dozen places that still seep sepia-tinted Oblio Joes memories of the good old days. The house where I was first overwhelmed by their slackadaisical greatness, second show of theirs I’d ever seen, at a Halloween party, with all of them dressed in black ninja outfits with white face paint and hunter-orange watch caps. The motel with the restaurant next door where three of us worked in the summer of 1993. Other places, too. I thought about old flames and secret thrills and the various scene intrigues of the time, and how none of what had happened in those places in those days had left any trace of itself discernible to anyone who wasn’t following the melancholic ley-lines of nostalgia. It occurred to me that everything looked pretty much the same as it always had.
All of this set the stage for a very melancholic and wistful interview as well. And it was, at that—all the more so, perhaps, because the current gravity of events caused us to reflect on how carefree and contentedly adrift our lives seemed at the time compared to now. Lives that, for the Oblios, now include wives and one young family. Hardly the most talkative bunch even in the most equable of situations (by which I mean conversational situations free of variables like intrusive recording devices), waving a tape recorder in front of them only seemed to make things quieter. We still had some laughs, though. The Oblio Joes are: John Brownell (guitar), Stu Simonson (guitar), Tor Dahl (bass), Ian Smith (guitar and keyboards) and Dan Strachan (drums). Their new album, Sin Tax and Some Antics, is slated for release at a Nov. 8 party at the Blue Heron with opening act Volumen.
MI: What’s the secret to keeping a band together for nine years?
John: Don’t make any effort.
Dan: Very little effort.
Dan: Well, OK, actually we’ve been trying harder lately.
MI: Considering how long you’ve been around, you’ve still got the lowest profile of probably any band in Missoula. What are you doing with your underground lives?
Dan: We practice twice a week, and that’s more than we ever have—
Stu: Trying to write new songs.
John: —Except in the very beginning, back at the Pink House. It’s like that when you all live together and nobody’s married.
MI: Three married members. That’s another record, of sorts, at least for the “Jay’s bands.” I’d like to go round-robin, here, and get at least a couple of you to recount one golden Oblio moment.
John: All right, well ... there are so many. I’m going to have to go with a show at Jay’s where Stu got so incredibly drunk that we had to put a chair up onstage. And then he started leaning back and toppled over and kept on playing until someone pushed him back up ... in the chair all the while. Then he stumbled into one of the big PA mains offstage, it started toppling and someone had to hold that up. Shortly after that, we showed back up at Jay’s and there was a big railing around the stage. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t to keep the audience off the stage, but to keep Oblio Joes on the stage.
MI: The Corral days! Yes! Remember how the top of the Corral was flat for awhile so you could put a drink on it? And then when one too many got spilled into the monitors they nailed, like, a lodgepole pine or something to it to keep people from putting things on it? [much laughter] How about you, Danny?
Danny: If not a big golden moment, a silver or bronze one would be the first time we played at the Battle of the Bands in Butte and discovered that we got room service, so we called up every half an hour and ordered rounds of scotch on the rocks. We were so shit-faced by the time we went on, and we’d never played for that many people before—at least 500. Just a sea of people. We played really well and everyone was dancing, but the only thing I remember after that is getting second place and one of the metalhead bands we’d given a copy of our single smashed it. John was walking by their door and all of a sudden this record comes flying out and smashes against the wall. That’s probably my favorite Oblios moment. One of ’em, anyway.
Stu: Oh, I don’t know.
Dan: You could tell him about the time Ian farted in the shower. [Some embarrassed confusion among bandmates]. You know, that time when he farted in the shower while we were recording vocals.
John: Um, I think it was just the two of you that time, Dan. [Much laughter.]
MI: On a band level, do you guys ever fear that personal developments and outside responsibilities will spell the end of the band?
Dan: I did when John got married, but everything was OK.
John: Stu moving away for awhile was a pretty big deal. But Stu moving back was an even bigger deal. I really think that staying together all this time has had a lot to do with not putting forward so much effort that we get frustrated.
MI: Yes, but when there’s so little effort being put forth, can things like failing to show enough initiative to even show up for practice and so on really be that far behind?
John: I don’t think that would ever become an issue because we have so much fun doing it. We’re just not very goal-oriented. We just like to play together. We don’t have a game plan that we follow. You know, only releasing an album every four years.
MI: Bold move, yeah. Bold move.
Dan: It’s not everyone’s strategy. [laughter]
John: But it works for the
“I voted to eat the bacon”
At the horse latitudes of the touring life with the Everyday Sinners
Being in a band can be trying at times, but at least when you’re safe at home you can walk away from it for awhile and pick up where you left off after tempers have cooled and everyone’s ready to be in a band again. When you’re on the road, you’re in a band all the time. You play your ass off and barely make enough for gas to the next town. Someone leaves a pedal (or, worse, the whole guitar) in Grand Forks. No sleep, greasy truck-stop food, nightly drunks and daily hangovers, the reek of feet, stale beer and cigarettes in a van that’s been cooking all day under a punishing July sun. With no one acting exactly like himself (or maybe exactly like himself only much more so) and everyone just a few nerves away from core meltdown, the pettiest of differences can explode into internecine warfare.
The Everyday Sinners’ doomed summer tour had many of the same ingredients for a variety of disastrous outcomes—including the big B(reakup). When a succession of van problems and dodgy mechanics left them high and dry in Bridgeport, Calif. for five days—with all four of them living in the van while they waited for an appointment with one of two mechanics in town—things couldn’t have looked much grimmer. It would be overstating the case to say that these four fellows—guitarists Josh May and Marcus Herring, bassist John Fleming and drummer Jason Phillips—only somehow managed to get along OK, but considering how quickly dispositions can go rancid in the doldrums of tour fortune, the fact that they’re still together and planning to record a full-length album once the tour is paid off is indeed something of a minor miracle. Read on.
MI: What did you learn about each other while you were stuck in Bridgeport?
Josh: Some guys in our band smell.
Marcus: The weird thing about it is, last year we had a really good tour and at the end of it we all hated each other and didn’t talk for a month, but this year we were stuck in that shithole town for so long that we actually got along better. We kind of clung to each other for support through the ordeal.
Josh: And we wrote two new songs in the park.
Marcus: John likes to play Golden Tee. We learned that about him.
MI: John, what did you learn about Marcus?
John: That that was the lowest point in his life. You know what he told his mom? [Much anticipatory laughing] He told his mom, “Mom, this is the lowest point in my life,” and she told him, “Well you’ve still got your arms and legs!” And Marcus’s rejoinder to that was, “Well, John’s 32 and he says this is the lowest point in his life.” Only being in jail was lower for me. And we almost made it to jail on this tour.
MI: Oh, yeah?
Josh: It was an abandoned gas station.
John: It was, like, an empty building. We stepped behind it to take a leak and we weren’t back there for three seconds before three cop cars came errrccch squealing into the parking lot.
Josh: And the cops said [in small-town redneck cop voice]: “You boys don’t need to be rootin’ around in this town.”
John: That town sucked. [Matter of factly]: We drank at the same bar where Judge Lance Ito goes to with his fishing buddies once a year.
Marcus: That’s our major claim to fame at this point.
John: And Fred Dryer. TV’s “Hunter.”
Josh: To kill time, Marcus went crawdad-fishing. He was buying string and they were like, “You got a fishing license here?”
MI: How do you fish for crawdads?
Marcus: You put a piece of bacon on the end of a string and dip it down there, and they grab on to it and won’t let go.
John: I voted to eat the bacon and not waste it on a futile attempt to catch crawdads. [Much laughter]. Should we tell him about the fortunes we got?
Josh: On the way back, when everything was fixed, we stopped at this Chinese restaurant in Nevada and had this glorious meal. But all of our fortunes were creepy.
John: Josh’s said, “You have a magnetic personality,” [The Sinners have a song called “Psycho Bitch Magnet”] and mine said, “A man’s best friend is a sympathetic wife.” Marcus’s and Jason’s said about the same thing, “Your future is as boundless as the heavens above,” or something like that. I took that as the sign that we were going to make it home in one piece, and we did. Oh, you know what I discovered about myself that I didn’t know? That I actually like “Bohemian Rhapsody!”