Playboy Manbaby have been playing, touring, and dropping records for more than five years. They’re about to do the latter on Friday, April 6, when they unleash Lobotomobile on the public. The 11-song full-length is available digitally and in limited-edition quantities on vinyl, cassette, and CD.
The band features Robbie Pfeffer on vocals, TJ Friga on guitar, Chris Hudson on bass, Chad Dennis on drums, Austin Rickert on sax, and Dave Cosme on trumpet and percussion.
Together, the band creates jumpy, raucous music — topped with sharp, thought-provoking lyrics — that pulls in a few different apples from the punk rock tree, from artsy to hardcore. Their multiflavored sound maintains a ska vibe at times with its horn section and other times those noisemakers lend themselves to help bust out garage rock dripping with the spirit of the ‘60s.
We chatted with Pfeffer (who, full disclosure, has contributed to Phoenix New Times) about some of Lobotomobile’s details like how they tackle the songwriting process, what they hope they offer listeners and fans, and what the hell a lobotomobile is.
New Times: This new release is called Lobotomobile. Where does the title come from?
Robbie Prefer: The title is based on a story about Walter Jackson Freeman II in which he traveled around the country in a camper dubbed “The Lobotomobile” and performed trans-orbital ice pick lobotomies. He was not a surgeon, and even under the best circumstances, lobotomies are a terrible procedure. He caused a lot of people pain and suffering under the guise of trying to help them. He also used the procedure to try and make himself famous.
I think the idea of doing something and saying you’re doing it for the greater good but you’re actually being reckless and harmful is the real face of evil. Very few evil people think they’re evil. A majority of the “characters” in the album share that trait in some form or another. Many people who end up perpetrating horrific acts consider themselves the good guy. Beyond that background, it’s just kind of unsettling and uncomfortable while also being a goofy name, kind of like the name Playboy Manbaby [laughs].
Who handles the band’s songwriting duties?
As far as writing, most of the skeletons of songs are created by me or Chris, and then TJ really refines the structure and writes melodies and makes the songs work. He’s kind of our Brian Wilson. Without him, the songs would be significantly more boring. Chad is such a rad drummer and has been playing with TJ since they were in the womb. So once we get the songs laid out, he can put down a beat that fits after hearing, like, 15 seconds of an idea.
Where did you record this one and why?
We recorded this album with Josh Medina. TJ lives with Josh, so it was his idea to give Josh a shot. I’m happy with the results. We recorded the album fast and the instrumentation live. It took us over two years to make our last album, which was our own fault. But going from two to three years to two to three weeks made this really fun to work on. I think the urgency and intensity comes through on the record.
I feel like urgency and intensity is very present in your live shows and creates a bond between the band and the audience. It seems deeper, to me, than some band-fan relationships. Is that important to you?
Yeah, I feel like the audience is a member of the band when it comes to live shows. If we can't win the energy of the audience, the show is going to be uncomfortable and jarring. We can only really operate at one level of intensity, so it's kind of an all-in ordeal. Dave has reminded me on a couple occasions that part of the reason we can convince people to let loose and freak out during shows is our utter lack of machismo, and I think that's true. If we were all very muscular, Type-A punk dudes, our enthusiasm and energy might come off as aggressive, which is not at all interesting to me. But I think us being who we are sends out more of an invitation to be weird and have fun, as opposed to punching a stranger in the face.
Did you take any new or different approaches to the songwriting or recording for this record?
I tried to write songs in a very direct fashion as far as lyrical content. I’m not trying to hide behind metaphor. I have opinions that may be controversial and I’m comfortable with that. I’m making art as an adult and I feel like if I’m going to spend my time and effort writing songs, I want them to convey something that represents who I am as a human being. I want to be able to look at this album in the future and think, “that is exactly how you felt about the world around you at that specific time.” I started this approach with Don’t Let It Be, but I’ve sharpened the point even further on Lobotomobile.
I don’t think the world needs another love song. I want to talk about predatory student debt, the isolation of social media, mass shootings, the rise of strong-man style governance across the world, the devaluation of human work, mental health, capitalism as a moral structure, and the blatant celebration of narcissism. I may not be able to solve anything by writing a song about it, but I just hope it can open a conversation.
What's most important for you that people take away from listening to this new record or from any Playboy Manbaby release?
I just really want anyone who comes to our shows or listens to our records or anything to know they’re not alone. It’s okay to be afraid and feel powerless and that empathy and human kindness still have a place in the world. I’m not sure that’s being conveyed, but that’s my intention, if that counts for anything. I feel like at our shows, or with recorded music we just want people to have a good time and feel accepted no matter how bizarre they think they are.
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We are a band of really very antisocial, lifelong weirdos and nerds who have managed to find a platform to embrace who we are through this band; we’re not trying to be anything we’re not. I want to be able to talk about serious issues, address the absurdity of our existence, and also enjoy the fact that we’re alive as much as I possibly can. I also want to invite everyone we encounter to do the same.
What artists influence this band and how does that factor into this record?
In the last few years I’ve been significantly more influenced by books than I have by music. Here’s some books that I read while I was writing this album: Sapiens by Yuval Harari, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, and Understanding Power by Noam Chomsky.
What will this record release show look like?
A hectic mess of limbs and the rest is a surprise.
Playboy Manbaby are scheduled to headline a night of bands celebrating new releases, including Toso, Not Confined, and Exxxtra Crispy. The show starts at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 6, at The Rebel Lounge, 2303 East Indian School Road. Copies of Lobotomobile will be available at the show and via Playboy Manbaby's website.