“Here’s a question for YOU: is a shot a drink? Cause I had a real weekend, and I don’t usually do shots.”
Mike Warne of rowdy Toronto punk rockers PKEW PKEW PKEW is asking this question as he determines what to tally in his drink recap, and he’s drawing a line between his weekend binge and his songwriting. The weekend was cool, but those shots were goddamn awful. The night’s novelties, cloaked in an inebriated haze, were rad, but the next day was horribly punishing. This is a two-part tale that Warne and his band are trying to tell; thing is, most people are getting past the first chapter in PKEW’s handbook and calling it quits, while there’s a whole other side to the narrative.
“If you listen to the record once, you’re like, ‘oh, that’s a fun party thing,’” reasons Warne. “But what we’re really talking about is, more often than not, staying in and just getting drunk with three of your friends.”
See, the band’s throttling, unbridled sophomore full-length, which burst onto the scene on June 10 via Toronto’s Royal Mountain Records, isn’t just a simple ode to breaking the limits and smashing beer bottles on your head; its more like the eyes-crossed, heavy-breathing, back-sweat-stained stumble into the bathroom wall that makes you realize your limits are breaking YOU, you’re gonna have to sweep up that bottle you smashed in the back alley, and you owe like three different people apology-texts in the morning. It’s a reminder that you’re not Achilles, and this WILL suck tomorrow.
Warne thinks that people are starting to get that.
“It seems like people are starting to get into it a little more as of late,” Warne states, citing Ian Cohen’s gushing endorsement on Bandcamp and Steven Hyden’s recent name-check of the band as examples.
“It seems like in those two [articles] that people are ‘getting’ the album.”
“I think the idea was that it would be a slow burn. Maybe [the party angle] would get you in, and then you’d find something else later on. That’s the best part of it all, is that maybe people are getting it. That’s the gratifying thing.”
The group plays with popular perception early and often throughout the record. “Let’s order a pizza/I gotta eat something before I throw up,” the group belts on the aptly-named, “Let’s Order A Pizza,” a song that’s less a triumphant endeavour as an admittance of, ‘shit, I’m WAY too drunk, someone give me food.’
Lead single “Mid-20s Skateboarder” might be mistaken as a rallying cry for ignoring adult life and living that skater dream well into adulthood, but really, it’s the band just hoping they don’t injure their aging bodies, and perhaps a tongue-in-cheek jab at the actual mid-20 skateboarders screaming the song back at them.
“Before We Go Out Drinking” drives home the ultimate ode to practicality: “We don’t make much money/That should come as no surprise/We got drunk before left so we wouldn’t have to spend much tonight.”
“Going out to bars is fun, sometimes,” says Warne. “But more often than not, I’d be happier to stay in. It’s kind of that antisocial-ness to us.
“I mean, that’s like the most fun part of our-” Warne cuts himself off, groaning. “Oh, I’m saying my own lyrics right now. That’s the most fun part of the night, hanging out with your friends.”
The band had humble beginnings and uncomplicated aspirations from the start; hell, it basically started as a couple of drinking buddies, just hanging out. “I was like, ‘why don’t we do something while we’re drinking,’ and then we [started] the band; that became what we did.”
If you’ve been paying attention, PKEW PKEW PKEW are part of a pretty exciting time in Canadian music; the punk rock and roll revival of recent years in the GTA has seen the likes of PUP, The Dirty Nil, Greys, and our beloved PKEW PKEW PKEW explode into public consciousness, with all these bands tangled in a wonderful incestuous mess of touring across North America with one another, promoting each other, and just being general buds.
“I feel like we’re at the bottom of that surge,” says Warne. “But it’s great to think that people look to Toronto, cause then you think, ‘maybe they’ll see us, too.’ Those bands are great bands. PUP, they’re our best friends. It’s cool that we could be in the conversation with them.”
And it’s clear that Toronto is home now for Warne. Album standout “Glory Days,” touches upon the troubling idea of trapping yourself in your hometown; “that was always something that scared me/These could be the best days I’d ever see/If those were your glory days, you must be real shitty now,” he opines on the track. “I don’t really have a relationship with where I come from. All my friends that I like from there moved to Toronto, or somewhere cooler,” he explains.
“In high school, you hear people say, ‘these are the best days of your life.’ That can’t possibly be true. In four years, I’m going to decide what I want to do at college, and I’m going to meet 100 new people who also want to do that.” He dryly adds, “Although it makes sense in a Friday Night Lights situation. You win state championship, you’re good forever.”
That’s as good a segue as any into discussing the band’s other passion, beside discount beer and loud guitars: Madden. Yes, the football video game.
“It’s not even fair when we play,” Warne explains. “[Guitarist/vocalist] Ryan [McKinley]’s a quarterback, I’m a wide receiver. We consider it a personal loss if we don’t score 100 points a game.” Dropping the veil ever further on their revered playbook, he continues, “We don’t kick extra points. We kick them to the fans.”
The band’s tendency to keep things dumb isn’t a mistake, nor is it a blasé, apathetic surrender to the modern world; rather, it’s a clever way of dealing with and undermining it. It’s a break from doom-and-gloom and the hyper-serious. It’s a statement, a mechanism, a manner of interpreting and dealing with life, and it goes back to the band’s songwriting rules.
“If there’s going to be four lines to [a verse], it’s either going to be three dumb ones and then one serious one, or three serious ones and one dumb one that just ruins everything. It needs to be brought back to the idea that life’s kind of stupid and funny most of the time.”
They also sidestep an all-too-familiar trope in pop-punk: the horrible, preposterous, RIDICULOUSLY under-interrogated tendency towards misogyny (and portraying women as heartbreaking she-devils).
“So far, nothing about girls,” asserts Warne. “There’s too many songs about girls.”
A punk band not bashing or mourning the follies of their unrequited feelings? Has hell frozen over?