Playboy Invite You to Enter Their Vortex
Get pinned with the Montreal band's unique take on outsider punk.
The above photograph was taken in Saint-Marc-Sur-Richelieu, a municipality in southwestern Quebec. The three gentlemen are seated in a sugar shack, or cabane à sucre, a uniquely Quebecois dining experience that celebrates spring and the flow of the maple sap.
You may have already noticed but two of them are wearing balaclavas.
They are three-quarters of the band Playboy.
Besides the fact that some of them have played in Montreal hardcore bands Omegas and Mueco, and that they have a new record out, I know little about them or their band. I do know that the four songs on the new record Celebration, out now on Negative Jazz, are disruptive and depraved shrieks of punk rock. As if Benny Goodman had released records on SST, the songs work and knead in the same vein of Venom P Stinger or Lubricated Goat with more No Trend or Flipper damaged noise. There are bleats and blasts. There may be no guitars. It's both crazed and amazing.
I sent them some questions to try to better understand their vortex.
Noisey: Some of you play in Omegas who were known for burly and aggressive music and Mueco were raw d-beat. The music of Playboy is aggressive but in a different way. Was this a deliberate or considered approach to move away from fast punk into a more warped style?
Gordon Phillips: Everything about Playboy is considered. I don't think I'd say we were deliberately trying to carve out a 'warped' style, but the origins of the first Celebration were not in a creative process that was looking to ape a particular band's sound or trend in hardcore punk music. Deliberateness in a creative process can be tricky though. We are deliberate in our process and its possibilities, but we didn't deliberately set out to put these particular sounds together. Spontaneity is still very important.
Gaudier Brzeska: Our Vortex is not afraid of the past. It has forgotten its existence. Our Vortex regards the future as sentimental as the past. With our Vortex the present is the only Active Thing.
Your music has been described as 'scumbag rock'. How do you react to that?
Gordon: I think it's either unfortunate or apt – or maybe both – that we would be singled out as 'scumbag rock.' This whole experience is a celebration of the decadence of aggressive, loud music. We are erstwhile playboys, celebrating and continuing a long tradition of violent music, steeped in testosterone and misogyny, among other things. We never want anyone to think that we place any kind of value on those worst aspects of hardcore punk, but we do not kid ourselves as to the shoulders on which we stand. I suppose we're trying to bring those things out in the open to hopefully create some distance between them and this experience, to not kid ourselves that we're surrounded by a lot of scum.
W. Lewis: I think what Gordon means is that a group of adult men who are going to get on a stage, writhe around and shout violently can't forget about Slip It In, can't forget about Vile, and also can't be offended if someone things they are scumbags. I don't think that 'scumbag' is really what we're going for here, though, and we also don't just have a totally downer view of what punk is or can be.
The band haven't played live. Is this something you decided when the band started or has there not been any opportunities to play so far?
Gaudier: The first stone in the structure of the world wide reformation of taste has been securely laid. The remains a lot of work, and for now live performance has not figured into our schedule.
Is that saxophone on the album?
Gordon: There is actually no saxophone on our current recording, it's all done with various clarinets. The punk instrumentarium is too small, and we felt like we needed more ways to get our breath out into the sound.
W. Lewis: Often saxophones are thrown into music in a way that still keeps them separate, even if it's not intentionally separate. Punk music completely reinvented the way guitars and drums are played (not to mention the way people sing) but there's not a large catalogue of 'punk' saxophonists. We're not necessarily on a mission to change that or create a 'punk' saxophone sound, but it's not an afterthought that's added to the music to give it some sort of wacky credential, it's a part of the bedrock of our Vortex.
Your sound owes something to Cleveland band the Easter Monkeys who considered themselves as a psych jazz band. Are you a fan of the original sounds some of those early Cleveland bands were trying to do?
Gordon: I don't know very much about psychedelic music, although that Easter Monkeys record is very important. I don't tie the Easter Monkeys in with much other stuff because their record is basically an anachronism as far as I know. I'm under the impression the entire pressing sat unsold for a long time after being pressed ten years after the fact, and that a store in Cleveland came into all the records and just started selling them in the last decade or so. Maybe he just told me a tall tale to get me to buy a record, I dunno.
It is telling that they became a benchmark so quickly if that is the case, though, and I think subconsciously they definitely have had an influence on what we do. I would never think of them as a punk band, though, so I think the influence is a bit less intentional.
W. Lewis: There is a core difference between the Easter Monkeys and what we do that goes back to your first question. They are true scumbags while we hope not to be, or pretend not to be. I don't know how they can consider themselves a jazz band with a cover like "My Baby Digs Graves", but when the bass player sings that song, I get the impression he actually believes women (or 'his baby' or whatever) will be the death of him. Maybe we're dumb enough to cover George Thorogood, too, but I think there's a line that separates our scum from their scum.
The lyrics are poetic but border on stream of consciousness. "toe cigarettes and sleet/assorted mush". Is this a lyric born from real experience?
W. Lewis: Are you trying to ask what a toe cigarette is? I think that verse is more of a list, there's basically a comma missing between toe and cigarette. I suppose our lyricist could maybe have had a real experience that birthed a toe cigarette, though.
Gordon: I don't think they necessarily need to be thought of as stream of consciousness, but there's not a coded narrative in that song. It's about the highest highs, the lowest lows, the simultaneity of those two things that is punk.
The 70s Playboy font and design looks great. What do you think of nostalgia/vintage porn or soft porn?
Gordon: You can thank Playboy the magazine for having chosen that font. Once we settled on the name, there didn't seem to be any other way around setting that up. The rest of the design has little to do with 70s magazines. I am responsible for the layout, Spoiler (not his brother) is responsible for the artwork. We have particular tastes when it comes to typography, and we owe a lot of inspiration to the Review Of The Great English Vortex.
W. Lewis: Pornography and nostalgia are both very complicated, and I agree with Gordon that I don't really think any of our aesthetic engages with it directly, although I'm sure that's the first thing that comes to mind when people hear the name.
I suppose it is a good analogy for the scumbag tensions that we already talked about in rock and punk music : pornography is fine, pornography is wonderful, pornography is liberating, pornography is spiritual. Pornography is also problematic, it's degrading, it's a fake expression, it's a negative reinforcement of so much bullshit we pretend doesn't affect us.
I don't really know much about how nostalgia relates to pornography or its consumption, but we are certainly not making a nostalgic statement. We are not nostalgic or sentimental playboys.
Gaudier: I am the Playboy. Will and Consciousness are our Vortex.
'Celebration' is available now through Negative Jazz.
Image: Supplied by band