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Horny rockabilly act Phantom Playboys sure know how to hoot and holler

Ghost Stories

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Phantom Boys drummer "Jungle Jim" Kaylis is well aware of the trappings rockabilly can bring with it: audiences who expect a group full of dudes with slicked-back hair playing the same sounds they've heard a million times before. But he also understands that the only way to really stand out from his genre-mates is to bring a few well-placed outside influences into his brand of music.

"We branch out," Kaylis explains, standing outside of the band's practice space. "So much of it can sound the same, and that's why we've tried to mold all of our influences together into our sound. When fans come see us perform, we try to keep it fresh so it doesn't sound the same all of the way down the line of the setlist. There is a common thread, but there's not room for boredom."

The band leans on their rockabilly background for sure, and perhaps the surf stylings found within their music shouldn't be a surprise once the band's home of Wilmington, N.C. is taken into account. Ska, however, is something you usually wouldn't expect from a group that lists Southern Culture on the Skids as a major influence. Kaylis points toward one very important addition to the band as the major reason for that particular sound.

"I saw Maaike [Brender à Brandis] playing trombone in a local ska band called the Mad Hatters, so we asked them if they wanted to play a show with us," Kaylis remembers. "One day I just said, 'Hey, since you guys are opening for us anyway, why don't you sit in on horns with us?' As soon as they did, I knew we had to have that sound in the band going forward."

Brender à Brandis and her trombone soon joined the Phantom Playboys. "We use her very non-traditionally, as she isn't just a horn section; she is an integral cog that makes up the wheel," Kaylis says. "She's been a big proponent of swing. The bands we like from that genre all have that Louis Prima sound, which we both like and try to mix into our sound."

Over the last decade or so, rockabilly has seen a remarkable resurgence in popularity. Where once the flagbearers of the musical movement would buy tickets to local shows for acts like Reverend Horton Heat out of obligation as much as excitement, the scene has been flooded in recent years with younger blood, both onstage and off. With motorcycles, tattoos, and an appreciation of both the past as well as the present, rockabilly has become the home for many fans searching for a musical offering that isn't quite as polished as what's offered up on Top 40 radio.

"The turn that music has taken is just pathetic and people are looking for music that is built the old-fashioned way, with fun, heart, and soul," says the drummer. "You go to shows now, and it's just boring. The songs may sound good when played at home, but if you hear it live, it's just so sterile. We just hoot and holler onstage, and people feel like they are getting their money's worth."

Phantom Playboys have also become an integral part of the beach music circuit, a genre addition that boils down to long-term planning for the band. "What is happening now is that we have just begun playing regionally, not that we won't play away from the coast or anything. Our CD is out now, and we're starting to tour a lot so we're just trying to build a following in the surrounding areas that are easier to get to on the road," says Kaylis, as he rattles off a list of cities throughout the Carolinas in which the band has played. "Then we'll try to get draws in those areas and expand from there."

Kaylis has to get back to practice, but before we say goodbye he names one more surprising influence for what the band hopes to achieve with their music.

"I hate to compare ourselves this way, but if you remember when the Red Hot Chili Peppers first appeared, they took funk and rock, but they created their own sound from the two. We're taking all of the influences that we've had over the years and are trying to write something that only sounds like us. That's not easy to do, so we're not always successful at it. We try to put twists and turns into the music so that it's more interesting for everyone."

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