There is more to the phenomenon of Aussie four piece Confidence Man than first meets the eyes and ears. Made up of members from Moses Gunn Collective, The Jungle Giants and The Belligerents, Confidence Man have blown up internationally in the short two-year time span since the band started, and it is easy to see why. The fact that they were signed to legendary UK label Heavenly Records after the release of their first single ‘Boyfriend’ just shows that they are worth paying attention to.
Fronted by Sugar Bones and Janet Planet, and backed by Clarence McGuffie and Reggie Goodchild, Confidence Man are about to drop their debut album ‘Confident Music For Confident People’ and the consistency of bangers does not drop throughout all eleven songs.
Hearing their songs is only one part of the whole experience, the real fun lies in their electrifying live show. Janet and Sugar hypnotise the crowd with the combination of their energetic dance moves and dead pan faces, whilst Clarence and Reggie provide the infectious Confidence Man groove that will keep you dancing long after they’ve left the stage. It’s this live show that saw them face some disgusting comments in a backlash after Triple J posted a short video of their live performance from Splendour In The Grass last year.
They’re about to embark on an international tour in support of the album, that includes playing huge festivals like Governors Ball in New York and Primavera Sound in Spain, while also playing Groovin the moo back home and doing a run of headline shows all over the country.
I sat down with Janet and Sugar at The Dock in Redfern, and asked them a couple of questions over some espresso martinis (in true Confidence Man style). Here’s what went down.
SR: Where did the name Confidence Man come from?
JP: I think that was a Reggie. A few of us were writing down band name ideas for years, but you never think you’re going to make them. I’m trying to think of other band name ideas we had… I think Reggie actually might’ve been the one weird person who actually kept these in his phone. Then at the point where we had started writing all this music, we were like ‘What do we call ourselves?’ and then he went through his phone and said ‘This, or this or this’ and then he said ‘Confidence Man’ and we said “Yeah! Confidence Man!”.
SB: It was pretty set on from the start pretty much, and it just worked for the music. It was like ‘This is confident music isn’t it’…alright well this is us.
JP: We actually had the album name pretty much as soon as we wrote the first few tracks. We were like, ‘It’s definitely going to be called ‘Confident music for confident people’’ if we ever write an album. Then a year later we were like ‘So what do we call it?’ and we already had that organised, it was so easy.
SB: It was like a series of jokes of like ‘Confidence Man, that would be a funny band’, and then ‘Oh shit alright well we’ll call it that’ and ‘Confident music for confident people, that would be a funny album name’…oh shit alright well yeah we’ll call it that I guess, we have to.
SR: So it started as a passion project because you were all in other bands at the time like Moses Gunn Collective, The Jungle Giants and The Belligerents, when did you decide to pursue this?
JP: I think it was a slow continual thing of when we started doing it and when we were playing overseas and when we did Golden Plains and stuff. We were like, ‘Oh actually like people really do like this’ and I think it resonates with a lot of people. This is what they’ve been missing you know, that’s what’s been missing when you go out, something like this. I think when I realised how well it was resonating with other people and then the way that we all started writing together, it started getting bigger. Every song we were writing I thought was getting better, and then we were like ‘Oh actually maybe we should just drop the guitars permanently’. I think it frees you up to do more on stage anyway, why would you play instruments when you don’t have too.
SB: Yeah let the robots do the work
JP: Yeah you know, it’s 2018 why are you playing instruments. Flume doesn’t.
SB: Bloody slacker
SR: Was it kind of strange at first to have this kind of passion project, that just started as having a couple of drinks and making some tunes, become this big thing?
SB: It was just really unexpected I guess, we were doing a BIGSOUND showcase and in the lead up to that we did three secret shows at the Foundry in Brisbane, which is a place we were always going to, and they let us just do a midnight set/secret show three weeks in a row, no advertising or anything…
JP: I think they paid us $500 or something, we were really happy with that.
SB: We just wanted to see if this crazy idea would work, and straight off the bat every week there was twice as many people and it kind of just blew up straight away, so it was really bizarre and quick the way it happened. Just unexpected.
JP: I expected that at least people would like it, because when you’re making something like that, it’s like ‘There must be other people like me who think that this is fucking awesome’. So when people were running in, I was like ‘Yeah, of course’. I would run into that room and watch us too if I was them. I know that’s super wanky but it’s true. Sometimes I feel sad that we don’t get to watch ourselves.
SB: Yeah it is a bit sad. I’d love to watch us.
SR: It’s a good show, from the other side of the stage
JP: I can only imagine
SB: I’m sure it’s amazing
SR: When did the ideas for the live show start?
JP: All of us were thinking of what we want (for the project), I think all of us were in agreement about the costumes and stuff but the synchronised dance moves was something that I would not give up. I remember our manager saying ‘Oh I think it’s a bit ABBA with the matching dance moves’, and I said ‘I’m not doing it unless there’s the dance moves, sorry’. Then in the end after a while he said ‘Maybe it’s good, maybe just do less’ and I was like ‘Nup’. Then a few months later he said ‘it’s good, you’re right’. I think everyone had little things that they wanted to bring. We always knew that we would have live drumming and that was what Clarence wanted to have, and then the beekeeper hats, I don’t really know where they came from..
SB: That was just to keep Reggie and Clarence’s identities a secret. I think because we wanted to not be looked at as just a side project for everyone. Then after the first few shows it added this really weird, off putting vibe that seems to really get people in the right mood for letting loose.
JP: I think it also allows those guys to kind of, like Clarence always gurns when he drums, and the reason why now is because he knows that no-ones looking at him, so now he’s full on super ugly. I suppose it lets them do stuff that like they can get away with whereas they wouldn’t usually get away with it.
SB: Yeah they can do whatever they want under those masks. If you could see their faces you’d be terrified.
SR: How important is the live show to the whole confidence man performance, the whole art form?
SB: It’s definitely a massive part of it, and I think the image and the psychology it puts people in is actually super important to it. If you just hear the songs on their own recorded, like a cheery song about bubble-gum, you probably picture a sweet little girl standing there in a field of daisies – JP: or like K-pop or something – SB: And so having that sinister straight face, not taking any shit sort of attitude, punky kind of vibe just makes a contrast that really works for it. Visually, everything is so visual these days, it’s a very important thing that a lot of bands probably don’t really think about and don’t really need to, but for us it’s important.
JP: I think also that now music is more digital and more people aren’t buying as much music, it’s really important to have a live show. The most important thing is really the live show now, that’s what people talk about and even though someone can release a great track, if they’re average live or if they’re not touring then I feel like there’s an expiry date on something like that. I feel like you have to be a good live band, particularly now I feel it’s more important than ever really.
SR: When you were first starting out, because what you guys do is really unique, were you a bit hesitant with putting yourselves out there and putting your art out there in the public eye? Were you feeling confident?
SB:…the dancing and stuff. I feel like Janet was more confident about the dancing than I was.
JP: Sugar kinda came around. When we started out, he couldn’t dance for shit, but now he can even body roll a little bit and stuff, he’s getting skills. I remember my dad saying, my dad has watched us from the start, and he said that initially it was really funny, he’d watch Sugar and Sugar would just be doing the same dance moves as me but doing it slightly wrong. He said there was something really good in that because it didn’t look too rehearsed, and it didn’t look too clean, it was kind of like the perfect amount of punkiness and messiness that was good. Then my dad watched us recently and he said ‘Oh I think sugars getting too good, you need to start doing harder dance moves’, because he’s starting to hit right on the beat or he’s starting to do a proper body roll and dad’s like ‘It’s not good enough!’.
SR: You’re going to have to make it more complicated
SB: No no no, I just got here now. I was terrified, of all the different art forms there are, like painting and sculpting, and playing a fiddle, I never thought dancing would be something I’d do, so it was very scary.
JP: Because you know, he writes poetry and paints and all this kind of stuff as well and he’s a kind of country boy, writes country music. I suppose the dancing and the costumes, for him was a bit weird, whereas my mum’s been making my clothes for years and I’ve always been a dancer so for me it was really natural, whereas I suppose for sugar it would’ve been really scary.
SB: It was fucking terrifying
JP: I was always just like ‘Yeah it’s gonna be fucking awesome because I am fucking awesome’.
SB: Janet’s confidence gave me the confidence to pull through, and now it feels great.
SR: I’d like to talk about the writing process of the songs, because I read that ‘Bubble-gum’ started with just the word, and you wanted to write a song around a cool word like bubble-gum. It’s an extremely unconventional way of writing but the way you’ve pulled it off was brilliant. How did you start to write songs in those early days?
SB: Well we did do a lot of, like everyone would be throughout their days, just writing down funny song titles like ‘Catch my breath’, or ‘Try your luck’. The guys in the band would just have lists on our phones of song names with a new beat, and we’d just be reading out these ridiculous song names and then everyone would say ‘Oh that’s cool let’s start with that’ and it just seemed to make it really kick-start the song writing process because you’ve got the central idea, you know what it’s all aimed at, the theme, which really speeds it up.
JP: Sometimes when you have the right lyrical idea that you can base the song around, like ‘Don’t you know I’m in a band’ for example, I think sugar said that, and as soon as he said that, all three of us where just like ‘Holy shit, yeah! Then this will happen and then he’ll say this and this is like what your character is now’, and as soon as he said that line, the whole song was already written, it had a direction from then on. I kind of figure even ‘All the way’ on the album, as soon as we had that lyrical idea it was super easy and the song was written in a few hours. Usually it’s like a moment where something just works.
SB: It just clicks.
SR: Did the process change at all after you signed to Heavenly Records in the UK and got the record deal?
JP: Nup, it was still exactly the same. I remember after we signed with Heavenly we went on a writing trip out to Victoria and we all sat down and had a list of paper and said, ‘Alright, what are your lists?’, and everyone read out all their song name ideas and then we chose the best bunch and we’d wake up every day and say ‘Alright let’s do ‘Try your luck’ today’ and then we would just start writing from there, and then say, ‘Okay ‘Better sit down boy’ let’s write this song’ and then it would just work from there. I suppose we are a bit weird but I suppose we’re weird in writing that way because there is four of us who are writing, it’s not just a solo project or just two people writing together. Four people writing together is actually pretty unusual and I think that’s why the music is a bit weird, it’s kind of a bit glitchy and unconventional. I think that’s because there are four people contributing… SB: So many ideas…JP: whereas if you did just have one of us, the music would be completely different.
SB: We’re lucky it works, just because everyone’s really close as friends and like family members and everything. Everyone’s super honest, there’s no like hurt feelings. We can be like, something that I would say to Janet, if I said that to anyone else they’d probably never talk to me again, but I’ll say it to her and it’ll be like water off a ducks back. The same for her to me, to each other, there’s no fear of putting an idea out or getting it shut down, there’s no ego attached to it.
JP: I think that’s really important as well, that’s where a lot of our really good ideas come from. When someone says something that they think is really dumb and stupid and is never gonna happen, if all the three other people grab onto that idea and say ‘No that’s actually really good’, then a song can come from that. There’s been heaps of ideas that we were like ‘That’s definitely too dumb to do’. Like the ‘C.O.O.L Party’ lyrics and stuff, there are all these characters and even the idea of having that guy with the lightbulb up his ass, because that actually happened at Splendour, we saw a guy put a lightbulb in his bum at tackle-shack, and then one of us threw that idea out and we said ‘That is definitely going on the song’ and then the person who suggested it said ‘No that’s not going on the song, we’re not going to do that’ and we said ‘Yeah, we all agree now’, so I suppose you kinda need that relationship in order to say all this dumb shit and then that stuff gets through. Even the bacon and eggs line (on Boyfriend), who the hell talks about bacon and eggs on a song.
SB: Just trying to push each other to put on the cheekiest stuff that we can get away with is really useful.
SR: You can definitely see that each member brings a different influence, you can hear that in the music because it touches on so many different genres. There is no one genre that sums up what you guys do, but that’s almost the beauty of it.
JP: I suppose that’s the reason why the music isn’t really one or the other, because what we wanted to do with the band was make exactly what we like. I suppose that’s why there is Primal Scream influences and then there’s Basement Jaxx influences. We don’t have to say this is what we are and this is the music we write, it’s like ‘Oh you wanna write a song like that? Sick! Let’s write a song like that!’. If we wanted to write a slow jam, we could do that because we just do whatever we want. We do what we want, and that’s why it’s cool.
SR: You’ve got quite a big fan base in the UK, and you were doing some festivals over there last year. What are the festival crowds like in comparison to Australia?
SB: I’d say, it’s pretty similar. I feel like no matter where you are in the world, like in the western world, you know well-off people at music festivals, taking pingers, is always pretty much the same kind of crowd. I guess there are a few little differences, Europeans generally seem to be a bit more forward-thinking sometimes than Australians. There wasn’t really any backlash like the old rock dog backlash that was here.
JP: There was literally none of that at all in the UK or Europe. after that happened, we were expecting it, like ‘Shit’s gonna go down’ and then nothing happened. They were like ‘There’s naked people onstage all the time’, or like, ‘we saw a drag queen last week, what are you guys doing’.
SB: ‘This is tame, you pussies’.
JP: They were like ‘Take more of your clothes off, what are you doing’.
SR: The backlash from the video that triple J posted, how did that affect you guys at all? Were you a bit offended by it at first? How did you deal with it or did you not take much offence?
SB: We did that Splendour set and then triple j put up that video with the caption ‘Best band in Australia?’ I remember after the festival I was hanging out with my friend in Byron sitting on the beach, smoked a doobie and started reading these comments and I was like ‘Oh my god, what the fuck’s happened?’. There was millions of views and thousands of comments. At first it was pretty confronting, just seeing how mean people can be on the internet and the terrible things said about Janet.
JP: I think it shows little bits of homophobia as well, those were the bits I didn’t like. I didn’t actually care except for those little things where I was like, ‘I didn’t think there was still a culture of that in Australia’.
SB: It’s gross to see it, but then after seeing how it was going off and getting over the rudeness of it, it was like, ‘This is awesome!’. We’ve hit something like a sore note here, and it’s actually got people thinking and talking and that’s great. If we’re offending those people, then they need to be offended. At the end of it we were like ‘This has actually been really good for us’.
JP: I don’t think those people realised that when they were tagging their friends or whatever, it meant that our fan base tripled within two weeks. I think they might’ve thought that they were tagging their friends being like ‘Fuck this band’ but we were like ‘Thank you! Keep tagging your friends! Please!’, it was awesome.
SB: You couldn’t pay for publicity like that
SR: You’re about to go on the biggest tour you’ve done yet. Playing all over Europe and then Primavera Sound and Governors Ball, do you guys think your live show works better at a festival or in a smaller venue?
JP: I don’t really reckon size matters. I would love to play at night time, which I don’t think is gonna happen for us at those festivals. I think it’s more that if we can have lights and stuff, that adds so much more. I suppose the smaller club shows have been more fun, maybe because they know the music more and they’re into it and you know that anything you say, they’re gonna do, and they understand when they’re meant to get down and all this kind of stuff.
SB: I think it goes both ways, there’s something really cool about the big outdoor, big crowds at festivals where you’ve got so many people there, but then the dark, little, hot and steamy nightclub shows are really cool as well. They’re so upfront and personal but they’re both good. I love them both.
JP: I suppose another difference as well is if people don’t know who you are, there’s always a six song period where they are just super confused, but by the last two songs they’re taking all their clothes off and screaming. The first six songs in a set when we’re playing to a new crowd, like what we were doing in France last year, that’s always a bit hard. As soon as you break the barrier you’re fine.
SR: What can fans expect from the rest of the album?
SB: I guess, just more bangers.
JP: More Bangers, and a bit of an aqua throwback I would say.
SB: An aqua throwback, some more anthemic vibes, even slightly serious in some songs.
JP: I actually sing a bit! Which is a bit weird. There’s a choir featuring in two songs, it’s a choir made up of the four of us, so it’s not a real choir. I suppose for the live element, bigger and better costumes and electricals, a lot of electricals. Maybe we’ll even walk in on horses this time…probably next album we’ll have horses but we still have lots of things this time as well.
SR: I’ve just gotta ask, what are Clarence and Reggie up to at the moment?
SB: Oh, who cares.
JP: Yeah I don’t really know those guys really well, and they’re kind of annoying and all they do is hang out at home and read books.
SB: Probably just playing board games or something.
JP: I think they’ve been reading a lot of books lately on how to be as cool as Sugar and Janet.
SB: Probably reading all our interviews.
JP: Yeah! Seeing if we mention them at all.
SB: Yeah, which we won’t.
JP: If you ask us about them again we are going to have to cut this interview short.
SR: Noted. Cheers for talking to us, guys!
You can pre-order Confidence Man’s debut album ‘Confident Music For Confident People’ ahead of its April 13 release right here. Be sure to catch them on their massive tour which they are not even half way through as well. See dates and venues below.