Standing out from the crowd. Some people spend their lives trying to do it. Others would rather hide in the shadows. Confidence Man, the Australian four-piece who’ve been the talk of many in the past 12 months, however, fall right in the middle of that particular venn diagram.
The outrageously flamboyant dance moves and poker-faced attitude of front duo Janet Planet and Sugar Bones are juxtaposed by the secretive beekeeper-hat wearing duo of drummer Clarence McGuffie and synth/hype man Reggie Goodchild.
And it’s not just a stage presence, at least not for Janet or Sugar, who, as I approach, are perched outside a pub opposite Manchester’s Deaf Institute, the former donning a black faux fur cossack and blazer, the latter a black polo neck and leather jacket.
The mystery that surrounds the band - Reggie and Clarence wear masks to hide their identity as they feature in other well-known Aussie bands - is something Janet is eager to accentuate. “We started writing our bio last week, actually. We want to make up another story that is better than our real story, it'll be much more dramatic. It's fake but it sounds good.”
That air of mystique was what first brought Confidence Man to the attention of GoldenPlec at Brighton-based industry festival The Great Escape, where their name was on the lips of every punter in every queue.
“We loved it in Brighton but the festival was a bit stressful. We had three shows on one of the days and managed to lose some of my make up and all of Sugar’s clothes along the way. We were lucky because there's such a big gay community, we could find him new shorts in less than an hour.”
“Yeah, Brighton’s a great place if you need hot pants at 10 in the morning,” Sugar chirps in.
If you’re yet to catch a Confidence Man show, they’re an experience like no other, loaded with the type of “choreographed” dance moves you usually only see in your own kitchen, some champagne-inspired antics and plenty, and we mean plenty, of hip-thrusting.
As good as it sounds, Confidence Man have had a number of detractors, especially in Australia, where radio station Triple J angered many listeners when labelling Confidence Man the next big thing, with comments on a YouTube video of the band performing at Splendour In The Grass festival particularly nasty.
If people are offended by us, then they probably needed to be offended.
“We weren't too surprised,” says Sugar.
“I think, at first, because we were still so fresh and hadn't really experienced anything like that before, it was a bit confronting, but we spoke about it and it's actually probably good to get such a passionate response rather than just a few people liking the song and it just disappearing off into nothing.”
“I think everyone had an opinion on it,” Janet interjects, “and whether it was positive or negative, we still blew up at home because of it. We never want to be mediocre and always want to do something different so I suppose that’s what that inspires, you’re either loved or hated. That’s what we wanted.”
“If people are offended by us, then they probably needed to be offended,” says Sugar, “it’s good for them.”
The reaction in the UK and Europe, however, has been wholly positive, the two agree. “People over here have got what we want to bring to the table really well,” Janet enthuses.
“Usually when we play, for example at The Great Escape, it’s initial confusion, people are a little ‘what the fuck!?’ but by the end of the set everyone is down on the ground screaming and throwing umbrellas around.”
Confidence Man play bass-heavy dance music, designed to be listened to through proper speakers, the band says, but they believe there’s only so much that the music alone can make you feel, so the addition of the visual element at their shows brings it to the next level.
“People can obviously listen to it by themselves and dance but we help them do it and be a little bit more nasty. It kinda rounds out the idea of the band. Having the straight faces and the costumes and everything. It makes it a whole experience.”
Will their debut album, set for release in April or May, be as much of an all-out-attack on the senses as their live shows or will Confidence Man bring the pace down a little?
“There's one slow burner,” says Janet, “which is the direction we’re going to go with the next album. It’s not necessarily slow, but there's a more well-rounded musicality in that one song that we’re really excited about. It's the outlier in the album, a bit more anthemic.”
“The challenge was more figuring out what the album would consist of and what we wanted to do because all of a sudden it's not just a few singles, it's 11 or 12 songs,” adds Sugar. “So we had to figure out what is the definitive sound of the band, while also making it multi-dimensional. Because we're only a year old, we've got the freedom to do what we want.”
Janet picks up on that issue, saying: “Sometimes it felt like we were looking down the barrel of just doing one thing. It was an exploration of where we want to go. We've done this, we're fully rounded in this. I think it was really hard not to just say ‘we are this’.
“I don't think there's any fear of it not being what we want because the four of us write together. The environment that we write in is always so fun and we're always getting drunk together and laughing and making stuff stupid and silly but also making it all down to the music. I think there'll never be a point where it's not fun.”
On that note of ‘just doing one thing’, I ask the band do they worry about the risk of their choreographed live performance turning stale in time. “I guess that's the challenge for us,” Sugar says in agreement, “to keep pushing the performance and the psychology of what we want people to feel and how we want to work the crowd.
“It's kinda tricky but we've got a new set that we're touring with and we'll have a new one when the album comes out. The bigger the shows get the more options we have with money we can spend on ridiculous props and dancers and theatrics.”
Janet is a bit more confident in the show’s longevity. “For me, I just never get sick of having fun, I don't know how anyone can see us and be bored. I guess if you get sick of fun then maybe, but I can't imagine ever being bored by what we do. I mean, I've done it a hundred times and I'm not.
“I feel like we can always add more to it. With a show like ours you can always add in dancers or riding in on white horses. I feel there's no point at which it gets too much.”
For most, dancing in such a crazy, borderline ridiculous way would make it nigh on impossible to keep a straight face, yet Confidence Man manage this with ease. I suggest that they’ve been at home watching try not to laugh challenges on YouTube for practice.
“No! It comes really naturally now, it's kind of sad. I feel that could be a bad thing for us in the long term,” Janet says worriedly.
“Yeah, it's probably going to give us some psychological trauma eventually,” Sugar laughs.
They tell a story of the one time they’ve broken face during a recent show in Russia, when performing their champagne routine, the bottle slipped from Sugar’s hand and crashed into a woman’s head, who luckily was unharmed.
“I was just waiting for blood to start pouring out of her head and have some kind of Russian lawsuit but luckily she was ok, we just got her a little bit drunk.”
The champagne routine involves Sugar and Janet pouring each other a glass before proceeding to drink it in tune with the music and then spraying the crowd with it before passing around the remainder. I repeat, it’s not your average show, but have any of the choreography suggestions gone too far?
They got me on to baby Guinness shots, which fucked me up.
“It's mostly me trying to make him do something,” Janet mocks. "One of the first gigs we did, I had a dance where I wanted to crawl on the ground like cats and do some hip thrusting movements and he refused to do it.”
Sugar interjects to defend himself: “There's a couple of real sort of skanking, dirty dancing that she tries to throw in but I do try to rein her in. I suggested we dance in giant champagne glasses recently, but yeah, money. That one’s still on the table.”
We can hear you screaming at us to find out when and where Confidence Man will play an Irish show. Worry not, we’ve got you covered.
“When we’re back in Europe in May, we definitely want to come over,” Sugar enthuses, “we’ve been seeing all the radio play some of the songs have been getting, which is really exciting. I can imagine the Irish people being really into it. Janet and Clarence were actually over in November!”
The pair visited Roscommon for a short break to visit family of Clarence. “Yeah! It was full of little grandmas. I met the best donkey ever. I was sitting there feeding him carrots, which is much of what I did on the holiday,” Janet says without a hint of sarcasm.
“They got me on to baby Guinness shots, which fucked me up,” Janet says, a little regretfully.
“In London afterwards, I was making all the Heavenly [the band’s label] guys drink them but then Clarence and I were vomiting all the way to Moscow the next day.
“We had to stop the van on the way to the airport and jump out and then, in the airport, I pushed everyone out of the way and ran to the toilet. So yeah, Ireland fucked me up.” And that was only Roscommon, I warn.
Hide the Bailey’s and Kahlua Ireland, Confidence Man are coming.
Confidence Man's debut album 'Confident Music For Confident People' will be released through Heavenly Recordings on April 13th.