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'Being In A Band is a Dumb Idea': Pkew Pkew Pkew Keep Things Honest on 'Optimal Lifestyles'

Monday, 25 February 2019 Written by Huw Baines

There is no other strain of self-analysis quite like the one that begins with a hangover placing its foot on your throat—that sweaty, heaving mass of bad decisions, good decisions that now feel like bad decisions, and inconvenient black spots.

On ‘Optimal Lifestyles’, their second LP, the Toronto punk band Pkew Pkew Pkew spin that feeling out across 15 songs, figuring out a few plot holes and slipping into some of the same old traps along the way. If their self-titled bow was a blowout set to yell-along choruses and spilled PBR then this is the morning after, when the question is ‘why?’ rather than ‘why not?’.

Following the release of their debut in 2016 the band became a genuine touring concern for the first time. They swapped local bars for foreign locales from time to time as life carried on without them back home. What began as a goof-off distraction from their 9 to 5 became much more than that—an artistic outlet and a potential money pit. On ‘Optimal Lifestyles’ this shift in priorities casts a long shadow.  

“It's really just about what our lives are like,” frontman Mike Warne says. “When we made the first record we hadn't really been on the road yet and we hadn't really been a band that was functioning as a business, where we're all taking time away and trying to make it work for real. So this is kinda where we ended up after that.”

At the heart of it all is the difficulty of existing as a creative person in the modern world. Here spiralling rents duke it out with uncertain incomes and the lingering belief that maybe this whole play-guitar-with-your-friends deal isn’t all that wise— particularly as you’re not in your 20s anymore, when the hangovers faded a hell of a lot faster than they do now. Pkew Pkew Pkew tap into this anxiety very well, perhaps because they know that sections of their audience will be feeling the same way.

“I think the safest thing for me when I'm writing songs is to just be completely honest,” Warne says. “Whatever my situation is, it's not unique in any way. There's tons and tons and tons of people that are going through the same stuff. So however old I am is what I'll write about, and there'll be people there for that.

“But, yeah, there might've been more bad decisions than good, but they're still the ones we made knowing that very likely they were going to be bad decisions. Being in a band is a dumb idea, you know? Look at the failure rate. It's just being honest about that and moving forward as a band. I hope our next record is about how we’ve got tons of money now and everything's easy.”

Butting up against this new thematic concern is a dialectical shift in the band’s songwriting. There are moments of gonzo mayhem here, but there are also tightly-coiled pop-rock detours, Thin Lizzy-derived twin guitar leads and shrewd narratives in the style of the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, who helped out with some ideas during the record’s early stages.

Pkew Pkew Pkew—completed by guitarist Ryan McKinley, bassist Emmett O'Reilly and David Laino on drums—have been friends with Finn for a while, after opening for the Hold Steady several years back. He remains a totemic presence in this sort of music—if you’re writing a rock song about beer, anxiety and futility, there’s a solid chance he’s written a better one. But he’d be proud of moments like The Polynesian, an after dark wander through a tourist town that peaks with Warne pleading: “Is there anywhere anyone here ever goes to dance?”

“Before we even started the band he was one of my favorite songwriters,” Warne says. “I think he's a good role model for me in that way because I'm never going to write like him. I'll never be that. I always wonder if there are any Hold Steady songs that have more lyrics than our entire first album. It wouldn't surprise me if there was. It was crazy to have him become a friend of the band and want to fly out and work on stuff with us. With a lot of it, it's just running it by him. Him skimming over the line and not saying anything was good news.”

Pkew Pkew Pkew, a band with a silly name and a six pack in hand, have cracked one of songwriting’s most devious codes on ‘Optimal Lifestyles’: making their own stuff, their own experiences and insecurities, feel like our stuff, our experiences and insecurities. It makes the key change in Passed Out hit that much harder because we also hate our jobs on Monday mornings, and it helps Everything’s The Same’s tiny lament for youth get under our skin: “Tell the truth, do you think it’s too late for me to age gracefully?”

“What I've always wanted to do is just write my sort of weird take on the mundane stuff,” Warne says. “Like, if it wasn't that big of a deal then just say it wasn't that big of a deal. Don’t try to overdo anything. It's storytelling, but it's not even trying to do a good job of storytelling. It's just being very to the point.”

‘Optimal Lifestyles’ is out on March 1 through Dine Alone/Big Scary Monsters.

Pkew Pkew Pkew Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue March 05 2019 - LEEDS Key Club
Wed March 06 2019 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Head Of Steam
Thu March 07 2019 - NOTTINGHAM JT Soar
Fri March 08 2019 - LONDON New Cross Inn
Mon May 06 2019 - MARGATE Elsewhere
Tue May 07 2019 - BRIGHTON Hope and Ruin
Wed May 08 2019 - MANCHESTER Soup Kitchen
Thu May 09 2019 - BIRMINGHAM Flapper
Fri May 10 2019 - BRISTOL Exchange
Sat May 11 2019 - LONDON New Cross Inn

Click here to compare & buy Pkew Pkew Pkew Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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