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Phil Buckman thinks he's awesome.
It's not hard to see why the towering 24-year-old musician from Flagstaff feels this way, since more than 200 howling fans have packed Modified Arts to witness his whacked one-man act, I Hate You When You're Pregnant. But if Buckman needed further reassurance, he might consider the cultlike following he's amassed across the Internet, or maybe a possible record deal with an L.A.-based indie label.
Or he could glance at his meaty left bicep, as a recently inked tattoo proclaims, "I AM AWESOME."
At the moment, Buckman's focusing on other parts of his anatomy as he struggles to keep a skimpy pair of blue bikini panties from falling off his massive, 6-foot-5-inch, nearly naked form.
"These panties are a little small, and it's hard keeping these things in place," he says while adjusting the undergarment. "I couldn't find a decent costume, so I apologize in advance to people who took pictures of my pubes."
But any possible wardrobe malfunctions are forgotten as Buckman explodes into "Sleeveless," a thumping, techno-meets-cock-rock ode to his muscular arms, exemplifying the bizarro blend of drum-machine-generated electrosynth and deranged lyrics that create his sound.
As driving drumbeat and warbling bass flow from one of the three Zoom RhythmTrak 234 drum machines he uses, the solo performance artist bellows lurid lyrics into the microphone.
Buckman roars, "I'm sleeveless/I'm fucking raw/I fucking look just like a fucking god/I'm sleeveless and I'm number one/What would Jesus do if he could see these guns?"
This profanity-laced ego trip gets physical as Buckman begins a spastic workout of flexing, running in place or frantically writhing onstage to the delight of alt-rock kids -- some of whom have traveled from the East Coast for the show.
Following the spastic set, the now-clothed Buckman stands in the venue's lobby, passing out tee shirts, pins, and CD-R copies of his four demos for free -- or a small donation -- to the fans mobbing him. "No one goes home empty-handed," he says. Buckman chooses to subsist off his day job as a medical file clerk versus raking in the dough.
"You're the shit, Phil. I'll give you head later," says one portly redheaded male. "It takes balls to do stuff like that onstage."
Long after he's done doling out merchandise, Buckman relaxes in the suburban Flagstaff home he shares with his girlfriend and members of the punk foursome Ponies. In between pulls off a 16-ounce Budweiser tallboy, he's surprisingly low-key when telling New Times how IHYWYP was conceived when he was serving as roadie for the Stab City Slit Wrists in the summer of 2002.
Friends in the punk band suggested Buckman should open up for them with some outlandish act, flaunting his goofy side that they loved during his days as the high school class clown, and when he was in Switching Hats, a quirky quintet that performed everything from metal to doo-wop. Every aspect of I Hate You When You're Pregnant was designed for maximum outrageousness, from the name -- coined by Betsy, Stab City's vocalist -- to the music, which came from a borrowed drum machine he'd brought along.
"I wanted an instrument with the least appeal, something you couldn't make much good music with," Buckman says. "So if I use a drum machine, shocking lyrics, run around in panties, that should be funny enough. At least everybody's drunk. It's frat-kid shit, but it was a good time just fooling around making my crappy techno."
After a "really painful" 13-minute set in Portland, Oregon, Buckman figured it was a one-shot deal. But friends clamored for another performance, and "things sorta snowballed." Before long, Buckman as IHYWYP was performing his gonzo gig all over Arizona, and fans began digging the vibe. More funky costumes were busted out -- like duct tape shorts or a psychedelic body suit -- and his infamy spread across blogs, Web sites like The Shizz, and even the Village Voice, which ranked an IHYWYP demo as one of the best CDs of 2003.
John Lipfert, formerly guitarist of After Any Accident and currently with the Minibosses, says Buckman's an indefinable sonic boom who involves his audience, whether singing in the crowd or otherwise.
"Phil draws you in," says the guitarist. "It's not like a lot of other bands where there's some invisible line between them and the audience. He crosses the line and gets in your face."
Comparisons have been made to the similarly surreal singing-over-synth stylings of Har Mar Superstar and the late Wesley Willis; and while Buckman tips his hat to those crazy-ass contemporaries, he admits his genre-defying sound riffs more on the likes of the Jackson Five, Talking Heads, and Sugar Hill Gang. (He's also known to drop the drumbeats in favor of an acoustic guitar.)
Songs like the gleeful, '80s-synth-pop-style ditty "They Got My Picture in an Issue of Thrasher," to the a cappella doo-wop of "A World Without You," feature lyrics that are a combination of "words that sound funny together," Buckman says, and stream-of-consciousness musings, pop culture, and shout-outs to friends.
The over-the-top antics of IHYWYP have also generated some controversy: A feminist writer once took umbrage at Buckman's stage moniker in a 2004 issue of The Noise, a Flagstaff arts magazine. "It feels like a kick in the gut every time I hear it," she wrote. Buckman, who's since sat down and discussed the issue with the writer, admits that while he's sorry if his stage name or songs offend anyone, he's not changing anything.
"If I keep the same energy about things, and not get too offensive -- but maybe just a little -- you keep it fun and people usually realize I don't mean any harm," he says. "If they do, it's something we can talk over after the show."
Modified promoter Leslie Barton says she's never received any complaints. "If you're easily offended, don't show up," Barton says. "Would Phil be doing the same if he was female? Hopefully. He's just a big, goofy guy with a heart of gold, and people recognize his act for what it is. Music's music."
Buckman admits he "gets off" from IHYWYP's shock value, but says he's saving the more controversial stuff for Black Wax All-Stars, his comedy rap group with buddy Corey Dieckman. There's still plenty of "the usual comical nonsense and stupid bullshit," Buckman says, on his fifth IHYWYP demo, which is currently being completed and promises "to be a little different." He's also currently in talks with L.A.'s Doggpony Records about cutting an actual album.
Despite all his infamy, Buckman plans on keeping things as minimalist as always and doesn't hope for any MTV-style success. Frankly, he'd rather remain a novelty act.
"When it goes any farther than that, that's when it gets too serious, too pretentious," he says. "I should make a rider up, but just make it bullshit, like just asking for a peanut butter sandwich."