Missoula is not exactly a hot destination for big-name groups, especially ones that enjoy the benefits of cruising in luxury tour buses. But for van-reliant acts, Montana's scenic metropolis serves as a pit stop between Seattle and Minneapolis or Denver.
Thanks to the open-door policy at a juke joint called Jay's Upstairs, struggling indie bands had a place to refuel and jam any night of the week. Unfortunately, the rock safe haven closed its doors last October, leading most bands to drive right on through.
"A lot of those bands don't have a chance to play Missoula now," says Colin Hickey, frontman for the International Playboys, a raunch 'n' roll five-piece. The unassuming Northwesterner, who ran the room for the three years leading up to its closing, is on the line from his home. "A no-name punk band from anywhere could come to Jay's and I would book them. You could go there and be blown away by someone you never heard of."
Hickey knows what it is like to make a killer first impression. When the Playboys rocked the Pic almost two years ago, they opened up for the Chargers Street Gang on a sleepy Monday-night gig that ended up being one of 2002's most memorable shows.
Topped with an unkempt MC5 'fro and decked out in a shirt and tie, Hickey spasmodically gyrated his way through 40 minutes of unholy and dirty rock 'n' roll. Heavy on smut and pelvicly propelled, the formally dressed group cranked out tunes like "Texass" and "Whiskey Dick", all the while taking a redneck-boogie approach not normally associated with a Northwest garage outfit.
"Our guitar players [Charles Johnson and Jake Baccarat] grew up listening to southern rock music, so I think that kind of comes out," Hickey explains. "If you have an ear for the Top, there are definitely a couple of stolen ZZ Top riffs--just like two seconds of a riff. I think they would be happy if they knew they inspired us to write songs"
Other influences on their debut LP, First Album, come from bands based a lot farther away than the Oil State. According to Hickey, it all started when he forced his bandmates to listen to Norway's Turbonegro on the Playboys' 2001 tour.
"Now they're all junkies," Hickey says about his band's obsession with the perverted Norsemen. The results of this can be heard in "My Car Is an Alcoholic", which has virtually the same fist-pounding riff as the intro to Turbonegro's "The Age of Pamparius".
"I don't think Charles realized until he put it in there, and we're like, 'Dude, that's totally Turbonegro,' and then Jake said, 'Well, I think they stole it from KISS.'"
Figuring that the short, repeated chords were fair game since they had already been lifted, the band decided to keep them in, and it works. For the rest of First Album, the Playboys capture the unique, pit-stained energy and bravado of their live show by taking the no-budget approach to recording.
Lyrically, the band recaps the feeling of meeting that certain someone special in "Playboy Inc." with "There's a ho that we all know/She's at the Playboys show/She wants to have sex with us/Shit, bitch, get on the bus".
Of course, this is a fictional account; there's no way an indie band can afford a bus. These guys can barely pay their dry-cleaning bills; and because this group wears three-piece suits on-stage even when touring the Midwest in the summer, you might catch wind of them before they hit the stage at the Brickyard on Friday (February 20).
"There's definitely a funk coming out of the van," Hickey admits. "The smell is definitely an acquired taste, but I love it".