Since the International Playboys are best known for their rowdy stage show and classy suit-and-tie garb, it only makes sense that the cause of their impending breakup is anything but mundane. Forget the usual reasons rock bands disintegrate: personality conflicts, tour fatigue, encroaching maturity. The Playboys’ demise has more to do with Virgil and the Roman Empire than anything else.
After seven years, 317 shows, 11 tours, four drummers, three albums and one zombie movie, guitarist Jake Morton, aka “Cap’n Sextastic,” is headed to Boulder, Colo., to get his master’s degree in the classics.
“With a Latin emphasis,” he adds. “I think a lot of people quit rock bands for that reason.”
As it turns out, the end for the International Playboys—Morton, singer Colin Hickey (aka “Monty Carlo”), bassist Chris Knudson (aka “The Count”) and drummer Joe Brennan (aka “Joe Danger”)—isn’t exactly unexpected, considering that Morton moved to Kalispell more than a year ago and the band’s shows have become less frequent ever since. Practice nowadays is even rarer, so much so that for a recent warm-up before their penultimate show they had to listen to their own CDs to re-learn certain songs. But if the songs come back slowly, reminisces about the band’s best, worst and strangest times come fast and furious, especially as their final concert—Thursday, Aug. 2, at the Badlander—approaches.
“The funny thing is, just today I was at the library on the computer going through shows and tours on our website,” Morton says over fried chicken and beer following the band’s latest rehearsal. “I remember every show. I wouldn’t have expected that.”
You can’t accuse the Playboys of being private. They’ll tell a listener almost any drunken, embarrassing detail about themselves if it makes for a good story. Self-indulgent, yes. But also self-deprecating and enthusiastic. What they remember as the good times have less to do with themselves and more to do with the quality of people they met and the bands with whom they’ve played. Their most recent tour with long-time jazz-punk heroes NoMeansNo, for instance, rates as one of the highlights of the Playboys’ tenure.
“We were up until five in the morning with NoMeansNo in Richland [Wa.],” says Morton. “They’d pull out $200 bottles of Scotch from their sleeping bags...They’re, like, 50 years old and just putting us under. I wanted to sleep so bad it hurt but it’s like, what if I never get this chance again?”
In Cleveland they opened for The Black Keys just a few months before the Ohio band blew up into indie rock fame and began touring with Beck. In St. Louis they got the opportunity to play to a packed auditorium opening for Japanese cult band Guitar Wolf just a few shows before the headliner’s bassist died of a heart attack. Even their first tour is remembered warmly, despite incidents like Knudson accidentally lighting Hickey’s hair on fire with a firecracker.
“It was a total, complete disaster,” says Knudson. “But it was our first tour and we were all excited, so it still stands out.”
Even the worst of times, the Playboys insist, usually ended with their feet on the ground.
“We’ve had bad luck, but not hard luck,” Hickey says.
For instance, while on tour in Chicago, their van got robbed (fortunately they had their stage gear in the club), but the audience at their show that night pulled together hundreds of dollars to send them to Target to buy new clothes the next day. When they were snowed off the road and stranded in Kansas, the Playboys dismantled their entire motel room—shelves were turned into ramps, beer cans and garbage cans were artfully stacked about—and played putt-putt golf all night. A less sunny incident involved Hickey hurting his leg running in cowboy boots to White Castle in a snowstorm; his bandmates gave him a hard time and bought him a cane, only to find out five shows later that he’d actually broken his leg.
In retrospect, the Playboys claim few regrets. They’ve had bad luck with drummers, especially their first, who was called back to report to his parole officer in Missouri just a day before they began recording their first album, titled First Album. He laid down his drum tracks the next day, then the Playboys drove him to Oklahoma City and put him on a bus, knowing it had been a bad match.
“We had to drive 2,000 miles back to Missoula and it was Thanksgiving,” Morton says. “Everything was closed and we ate meatball mozzarella Hot Pockets for Thanksgiving, in the van.”
The band’s stability since current drummer Brennan joined in 2003 has had a huge impact on their more recent successes. They were named 2006 Pabst Blue Ribbon Montana Band of the Year, signed with Austin-based Australian Cattle God Records, and put in more than 80,000 miles of touring. Aside from drummer fall-outs, they wouldn’t change much.
As for individual futures, each says music will still be a major focus, albeit with some switching of instruments. Bassist Knudson will spend time with the three other local bands in which he plays: Rooster Sauce, Daphne Starburst and the hermans, whom he recently joined as a lead guitarist for their upcoming tour. Drummer Brennan has joined up with locals Victory Smokes as bass player. Hickey plans to start a band with his brothers, Shane and Bryan, both in Volumen. And Morton, who has a tattoo of Alexander the Great and spent many hours in the tour van entertaining his bandmates with stories of ancient battles, won’t be left out.
“I’m gonna start this band that [sings entirely] in ancient Greek,” he says. “It’s gonna be awesome.”
All are adamant about reuniting whenever they happen to be in town together, but after their final show, they say, the Playboys as a going concern are officially over.
“It’s going to be really hard, of course,” Morton admits. “I’m sure there’s going to be some drunken tears shed.”
“This band is the longest relationship I’ve ever been in,” Hickey adds. “Someone asked me the other day why we don’t just get another guitarist.” Hickey shakes his head firmly and says, simply, “Impossible. That’s not even an option.”
The International Playboys play their final show Thursday, Aug. 2, at 9 PM at the Badlander. Volumen open. The $5 cover charge includes fried chicken courtesy of the band. Formal attire is requested.