The Missoulian 09/07/2006
URL: View Actual Article
Always playtime with the Playboys
New CD is funner - and bigger - than ever
By JOE NICKELL of the Missoulian

The International Playboys will celebrate the release of their third album, "Cobra Blood Hangover," with a concert at the Raven Cafe on Saturday, Sept. 9. The Hermans and the Victory Smokes will open up the show.

Colin Hickey huddles over a table in the Old Post Pub, nursing his third beer of the afternoon. He gazes at my empty glass, and tries to convince me - again - to have a second drink.

"C'mon, you gotta have it, right?" he urges. "It's Friday. You don't have to go back to work. What other reasons do you need?"
Although it doesn't look like it here on this lazy afternoon after work, Hickey is in a rush - albeit not to get drunk, nor to get me drunk. As it happens, he's only got a few days to burn through his monthly bar tab at the Old Post, where he works as a cook.

After that, he's headed out on the road, for yet another of his band's insanely overbooked cross-country tours.

That band, the International Playboys, just released its third CD, "Cobra Blood Hangover." Thanks to a new distribution deal with Australian CattleGod, an Austin, Texas-based record label, the record is set to be the band's biggest release to date.

Hickey also recently learned that the band has been invited to play at the upcoming 25th annual CMJ Music Marathon in New York City - a prestigious indie-music industry event known for jump-starting the careers of bands ranging from R.E.M. to the Black Eyed Peas. The CMJ gig will come on the heels of a tour with NoMeansNo, a legendary punk band that, frankly, could have brought just about any band it wanted on its tour.

The Playboys, which already won last spring's Montana PBR Band of the Year contest, might just be on the verge of breaking out.

But regardless of what the future holds, most of the band's fans are probably just happy that they're not breaking up.

Last spring, after the new album was recorded but long before it had been released, Playboys drummer Joe Brennan announced to the band that he was moving out of town. Over the summer, the remaining Playboys auditioned other drummers; but none seemed to fit.

Hickey insists that the band never really considered breaking up, but he allows that Brennan's departure threw the band into confusion about its future.

Fortunately for the band and its fans, Brennan eventually decided to return to Missoula, just in time for the new album's release.

"It seems like there was more drama than there was," says Hickey. "But really, a lot of it was just simply waiting around for the record to get here."

The trying-to-convince-the-journalist-to-drink episode that began this article serves to illustrate several vital points about Colin Hickey.

1. He never, ever wastes free beer.

2. The concept of journalistic objectivity makes about as much sense to him as the concept of wasting free beer.

3. Despite the on-stage swagger, Hickey is a genuinely nice guy who gives far more - to his friends, to the local music scene - than he takes.

Hickey made his first splash in town when he took over the booking at Jay's Upstairs back in 2000. He had just moved to town from Laramie, Wyo., where he had cut his teeth booking acts to play at his rental house, which served as a kind of default nexus of that town's underground music scene.

Given a legit venue to book acts in Missoula, Hickey went wild, bringing a barrage of brilliant bands to the bar over the three years he served as its booking manager.

One night in October 2000, Hickey was hanging out at Jay's Upstairs when guitarist Jake Morton approached him - or, more precisely, drunkenly grabbed him around the chest.

"He said, you're my new lead singer," recalls Hickey. "I said, OK."

It was an apt birth for the International Playboys, which has never been a band that takes itself - much less its music - too seriously. In fact, Hickey, who had never been in a band prior to the Playboys, says that the guiding philosophy of the band boils down to one, simple principle: Show people a good time.

"We've always approached it like, it you're not sweating and smiling, it's not worth doing," says Hickey. "Who wants to watch a f----- boring rock band? It's my job to show people a good time, and I love it. I don't wanna ever do anything half-assed, especially on stage."

That philosophy has long guided the band's music, which is heavy on the simple, fist-pumping guitar riffs, manic drumming, and Hickey's paint-peeling screech. Underneath the din and intensity, though, the band's music has most often fallen back on goofy jokes, self-effacement, and booze, with song titles such as "My Car is an Alcoholic," "Voodoo Chicken," and "The International Playboys get a bottle of wine, go to the beach and get f - - - ed up."

You won't ever hear the best song off "Cobra Blood Hangover" on the radio. The reason is evident in the title: "The Give a Sh----er is Broken." The song, which deftly traces the professional ennui of a wage laborer (which is to say, it's about a guy whose job sucks), is hilariously clever and genuinely catchy, with a sing-along chorus that could serve as the anthem for an entire nation of sucky-job sufferers. Since the jokes hang on the off-color language of the song, it won't pass the prude-patrol at the Federal Communications Commission; but that simply means it will forever serve as another inside joke for fans of the Playboys.

Outside of that one tune, however, "Cobra Blood Hangover" doesn't have a single verboten word on it. It's but one sign of the band's subtle maturation, and of its intensified focus on spreading the gospel beyond its already substantial local choir of fans.

"I actually changed some of the lyrics so that the album is more radio-friendly," says Hickey. "It sucks when a radio song can be ruined by one curse word."

Fans will also notice a decided down-shift in the tempos - though not the intensity - on "Cobra Blood Hangover." The album's title track is a perfect example of the new Playboys vibe: Not only can you pump your fist to it, but you can dance to it, too.

The most remarkable transformation on the new album, however, is in the quality of musicianship and the complexity of the arrangements. The Playboys have apparently been secretly polishing their chops. How else to explain the explosive cover of the Who's "Young Man Blues," in which they double up the intensity of one of the world's most intense bands; or "Bandit," the album's epic, episodic, eight-minute-plus closing flourish?

The Playboys, it would seem, are done playing around.

"With an opportunity like (the CMJ Music Marathon), it's hard not to go all in," says Hickey. "I don't mean to brag, but I guess I'm bragging. It's cool. I'm dancing in the streets. You better believe we're gonna do whatever it takes to make this our biggest gig ever."