By Jason Kron
In the midst of the global health catastrophe/nightmarish Stephen King novel that we’ve found ourselves in over the last year, the most persistently creative minds amongst us have taken the artistic mediums that are still safe and have made beautiful work with them. One of these artistic mediums is TikTok, and one of these creative minds is a Phoenician named Robbie Pfeffer.
An introduction is in order: Robbie has provided maniacally vivacious vocals for the local punk band Playboy Manbaby for the past decade. He’s also been a tireless show organizer and promoter, a former cassette label mogul, an animator for music videos and the Phoenix New Times, and all sorts of other things. His live-performance-related activities have been halted because ... you know. So, in September, Robbie put his focus into making daily videos that are posted on Playboy Manbaby’s TikTok account.
The range of segments includes “educational” videos about topics like Bitcoin, a capella songs about mental health, callouts of douchebags like Doug Ducey and Jeff Bezos, longer interviews with local politicians and social activists, and thirty-second songs about irreverent topics like gnomes (the latter of which is Robbie’s most viewed video to date). The backgrounds alternate between animated squiggly lines and footage related to whatever topic is being discussed, which all create a really fucked-up viewing experience (and I mean that in the best possible way).
One would not assume that psychedelic TikTok videos would lead to opportunities with giant corporations, major celebrities, and political parties. And yet Robbie has recently been hit up to promote Netflix movies, has agreed to collaborate with rapper Lil Jon, and has begun making surreal videos for the Maricopa County Democratic Party. Holy smokes!
I sat down with Robbie Pfeffer (and by that I mean we exchanged emails, and were both probably sitting when we wrote them) to discuss making stuff, how the internet works, and the potentially bright future of this currently scary world.
Walk me through the creative process of how your videos are made. Which of the songs/videos are Playboy Manbaby collaborations?
Almost all of the ideas I come up with are just concepts that pop into my head throughout the day and then I record them as voice memos and try to interpret them. I have an office/art space deal with a green screen always set up in the corner and I try to shoot 5-10 videos at a time. Just recently I’ve teamed up with 2 video editors Zac Markey (who also plays in Phoenix band Genre, which is a rad band) and Danny Garfield. That’s helped me keep more focus on writing and shooting stuff and that’s been neat.
We also make 30 second songs and those are a collaboration with TJ who is the guitarist and really a crucial part of our song arrangement process. He’s really a great musician and it’s helped us be able to make music for fun even though we haven’t been able to do things as a full band thanks to ye’ ol pandemic.
Let’s pretend that I’m old and have very little idea of how TikTok works. Can you explain it to me?
TikTok is basically a machine with one purpose. It’s a shotgun for content. It just sprays stuff out there and is only oriented to “hits” so if you have something do well it can do crazy well incredibly quickly. It’s honestly pretty bizarre and I don’t actually use the app other than to watch videos people send me. It feels overwhelming, but I can definitely see the potential and also appreciate that it has no many niche subgroups. Their algorithm can find you such specific content based on your interests it’s wild.
Which artists of any kind have been particularly influential to you for your videos?
I really like public access stuff and lots of kind of Adult Swim stuff and oddball comedy so that for sure shows up. Also, low-budget sketch shows like Mr. Show and Kids In The Hall. Since I’ve started making videos people tell me who they think I remind them of and one person I found that way was Brian David Gilbert and he makes really ambitiously structured lo-fi content and I really appreciate that.
What opportunities have been presented to you as a result of the videos’ popularity? Who has reached out?
Well, I got hit up by Lil Jon which is really neat. He’s really smart and funny and he’s got a new comedy show he’s doing on Twitch and he asked me to kind of be his co-host so that was really cool and very unexpected. I also just split off my Arizona political videos and am now doing videos on the Maricopa County Democratic Party platform and that’s really fun for me as someone who really wants to engage people to participate locally to get a nod from the legitimate infrastructure without having to change what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.
What do you envision as the future of live music?
I think we’re in for the roaring twenties. I really do. I think there’s going to be an energy when people are able to see each other that is going to be explosive, I think people are going to celebrate and appreciate the lives they have and I hope that it can be a moment that allows people to really start to come together as a community and be more open and accepting of the people around them. I think this can be a big moment to really emphasize the importance of community and compassion and I could not be more excited.
The vaccine is a miracle and I can see the light at the end of this weird dark tunnel. I can’t wait to be able to interact beyond the confines of a screen. To be in a crowd, to feel the energy of a room of people. It’s been a while but it feels like there’s an end to the wait and that’s massive.