Music

Prince Daddy & the Hyena: Punk fun with no off switch

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Prince Daddy & the Hyena: Punk fun with no off switch

Photos by Kiki Vassilakis

According to my phone’s GPS I was still two blocks from my destination, but Google Maps wasn’t necessary anymore. I audibly chuckled and allowed the unsynchronized rock band racket that was echoing throughout the bleak, nondescript neighborhood in Cohoes, New York to guide me to Prince Daddy & the Hyena’s practice space, frontman Kory Gregory’s childhood home. In stark contrast to the relatively shabby, modest city houses surrounding it, the Gregory household is oddly castle-like and quirkily out of place–which only added to the hilarity of the band interrupting the otherwise eerily quiet setting with their jam session. From the outside, this seemed like no place for a punk to reside; the only tangible indication of P Daddy habitation was their instantly recognizable green tour van (which looks more like a repurposed mini school bus than the typical Ford Econoline most bands swear by) parked in an alleyway next to the house. Miller Lite cans and fast food packages were scattered throughout the passenger seats, an amusing contradiction to the ornate walkway leading up to the front door.

After a couple minutes of pacing about the driveway, the side door to the garage swung open and a cheerful Gregory emerged, leading me upstairs to a punk rock bedroom straight out of an early 2000s sitcom. The space is roughly the size of a studio apartment, filled with couches, a bed, a coffee table stacked with at least five different game consoles and an entire corner dedicated to music gear. A long shelf runs along the right side wall and is home to three-and-a-half crates of records, a guinea pig cage, a 40-something inch flatscreen TV, a hefty videogame collection, a microwave and a turntable. Band posters line the walls (The Menzingers, Against Me!, Rancid and multiple Jeff Rosenstock-related projects, to name a few) and nearly every surface is sprinkled with beer and/or hard cider containers. It’s essentially the punk palace most of us only ever dreamt of while growing up and it’s unbelievably characteristic of P Daddy’s music–which makes sense given that all of their songs are born there. Seeing the TMNT poster and Christmas light chandelier (yes, literally a massive fixture hanging above Gregory’s bed formed entirely out of Christmas lights) that respectively inspired a Ninja Turtles reference in their debut LP’s title track and the line, “these Christmas lights that line my room/make me feel so special,” supplied me with the gratification a baseball fan receives upon examining relics at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

As I took in the overwhelming yet incredibly cozy surroundings (all of the lyrics on their 2016 record I Thought You Didn’t Even Like Leaving about Gregory not wanting to leave his couch made sense, once I plopped down on the thing) the band–23-year-old guitarist Cameron Handford, 20-year-old drummer Alex Ziembiec, 19-year-old bassist Zakariya Houacine and the 21-year-old singer/guitarist Gregory–playfully tossed inside jokes back and forth as some of them worked their way through a bowl of weed. The gang voiced their excitement multiple times about being able to smoke inside since Gregory’s parents were out of town for the week.

“We can smoke weed and play Donkey Kong,” Houacine exclaimed at one point, as if it were a truly magical occasion.

Hanging out with P Daddy is a genuinely unique experience. The four of them have a uniform sense of goofy, sarcastic humor that doesn’t have an off-switch, making it difficult at times to distinguish the real anecdotes from the completely made-up ones. Handford’s tale about “almost dying” after hitting a blunt in the desert while on tour is true, but could’ve easily been another one of his wacky quips (“we want to be the first band to play on the moon,” he remarked with a straight face at another point in the night).They have a natural social chemistry that’s carefree yet sincere and it mirrors both their relationship as musicians and the content of their music; the band’s performances are impressively tight despite appearing effortless, and their music itself is as fun and shamelessly juvenile as it is technically proficient and lyrically self-critical.

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“I’d much rather be a band that’s more fun, and make people smile and laugh and have a good time, than be a kind of band that’s associated with the negative things that I sing about,” Gregory, the songwriter, said. “That’s what I try to do with the fun music.”

Since P Daddy’s formation in 2014, Gregory has been successful with this approach and, intentional or not, it’s this dichotomous aesthetic that separates the band from many of their punk rock peers. Their social media presence has become notorious for their countless weed and fast food-centered postings, clearly not adhering to “professional” standards and thereby catering to the current crop of internet-savvy punks who’re wholly unconcerned with exposing their hedonistic indulgences online in an “all in good fun” manner. Again, this probably isn’t a conscious effort by the band to appeal to a certain audience, but whatever they’re doing is working.

Their silly attitudes turn up in their music videos and merch as well. Their video for “Hundo Pos” features a comically fake bank robbery that ends with the “cops” shotgunning beers, puffing joints and demolishing the set in a glorious, slow-motion cinematic display. The video for their most popular number “I Forgot to Take My Meds today” is a lot simpler yet equally as entertaining: the camera slowly pans from left to right as the band faces a blunt whilst lounging on a couch, which has no relation whatsoever to the song’s content. Their shirts are even more outrageously random, featuring such designs as their moniker pasted over the Pop Tarts logo, and a Nintendo 64 controller hooked up to a microwave set to 4:20 that’s nuking a flaming crown.

“The ones that are actually nice and not stupid, we just have a designer do the thing,” Gregory said, referring to a recent one of a cartoonish silhouette of the band performing at South By Southwest last month. “The really, really fucking dumb ones we thought of,” he said with a smile.

As evidenced by their public presence, the band are completely unafraid to be themselves, and that straightforwardness is carried into Gregory’s lyrics as well–but often under a different light. “I know I can’t do fun things after work/cause I’m too scared to smile, and risk the effort,” he delivers via his raspy, melodic yelp on “I Forgot to Take My Meds Today.” The song’s hook is so sugary, and the performance so entertaining, that it’s easy to forget exactly what you’re singing along to after a couple of listens–which is one of Gregory’s biggest fears.

“Honestly, I feel like the scariest part is when they figure out the lyrics,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to worry about me. It’s just me being straightforward and honest. [I’m] definitely not writing these as a cry for help.”

He seemed to be having difficulty explaining what he tries to put forward with his verses, so Houacine offered his own interpretation.

“It’s like when you have a really bad day and then you tell someone, ‘oh this happened and this happened and this happened.’ Even though your day still sucks, someone just validated it,” Houacine said. Gregory eagerly agreed.

Regardless, lines like, “I think I’m getting depressed again/I think I’m gonna lose all my friends,” from the record’s closing track “Really” still hit hard–but it’s reassuring to hear Gregory emphasize that his lyrics are mostly just part of his bold character and are only one component of what makes up P Daddy.

“I don’t wanna be a depressing band just because I sing about being sad. If I write sad lyrics I want people to get positivity from them. I don’t wanna be associated with heavy stuff like that,” he said.

His songs aren’t all sad though. He and his bandmates’ sarcasm and stonery hobbies seep into his storytelling as smoothly as they do in casual conversation. “I wanna do weird drugs on my high school park/I wanna do drugs that I haven’t even heard of,” he belts on the second track of their 2015 Adult Summers EP. “I spend paychecks quick no regrets/drugs and ice cream whips paying off debt,” he bellows on “Hundo Pos.”

I Thought You Didn’t Even Like Leaving also includes some fiery diatribes aimed at homophobic co-workers (“I’ll shove my ‘gay jeans’ so far up his ass,” on “Broc Ched”), perpetrators of toxic masculinity (“I wish I was as tough as you, dude/I would be so cool,” on “Clever Girl”) and sexual assailants (“you go to parties and try to convince me/but somehow ‘not that rapey’s’ not convincing,” on “Nika’s Got It Wrong”) which are all characteristics the band is vehemently opposed to. They make sure to insert a “safe space” mandate into all of their concert event pages and have been vocal opponents of problematic language/behavior on both their social medias and in real life.

After the band finished their smoke sesh, Gregory asked, “are we ready to rock?” and the four ardently assumed their positions in the corner of the room. As soon as they picked up their instruments and kicked into the jams–which consisted entirely of new material (minus vocals) that they’d been perfecting for some time in preparation for a new EP and a new album–it became apparent that their collective, dichotomous personality is reflected in their work ethic as well. Moments before, they were goofing off and now they were practicing diligently, each member straight-faced and focused on their respective duty. These new songs are complex, rarely repeating parts and constantly altering the riffs and the rhythms just when it feels like they’re settling into a consistent groove. Handford and Gregory are hardly ever playing the same part, the rhythm section pummeling forward (Ziembiec is damn fast behind the kit and he was giving it the gas, sweating and panting between songs) at a pace that the axemen somehow keep up with despite their noodly arpeggios. Handford was stoic; he made it look easy. I would’ve never guessed that they hadn’t played through those songs in over a month if they didn’t tell me.

“I wanna do that again,” Gregory said at a couple different points immediately after blazing through a punk ripper. This was the only point during the three hours I spent there that one member appeared to hold any authority over the others, which demonstrated a healthy power dynamic. Given that Gregory writes all of the parts, maps them out on GarageBand and then teaches them to the others, it made sense that he was the leader in this situation.

“Kory’s like the body, but we’re the blood,” Ziembiec said while attempting to explain their symbiotic relationship. Another fitting metaphor would be to call Gregory the wrap and the other three the herbal goodness that makes up the interior of the blunt.

“Is there anything in any of those songs that you want to go over?” Gregory asked after playing straight through a good 20-minute chunk of material. He kept things moving but was by no means overbearing. At one point his girlfriend nonchalantly strolled through with a lit joint and the gang took a brief pause to re-fuel before getting right back into it, ostensibly unfazed.

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It was exciting to see how much more adept P Daddy have become within the past year, which can be attributed to their near-endless tour schedule that’s landed them on all four corners of the country a handful of times. Adult Summers and I Thought You Didn’t Even Like Leaving were released via Broken World Media, a formative DIY label for many emo/indie/punk bands over the past three years that’s launched such acts as Sorority Noise, Rozwell Kid and The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die (now-ex-member Nicole Shanholtzer owns the label). However, the band is set to make a jump to the next tier of labels in the near future, as their crowds have been growing noticeably in recent months. They were met with clusters of fans shouting back their lyrics at both SXSW and the heralded Gainesville, Florida punk fest–aptly titled Fest–in October, which the band noted as a defining moment.

“Since I was like 13 I dreamed to go to Fest, and my first fest I went to I was paid to go to,” Gregory said, as if he still couldn’t believe it.

Despite their now-national notability within the underground indie/punk/emo sphere, the band still plays basements in Albany all of the time and are currently the biggest draw in the entire scene. Their record release show last September drew over 100 kids who piled up on each other like animals while screaming back the final verse of “Clever Girl,” inadvertently cutting the power to the amps. The whole crowd took over vocals acapella-style while Ziembiec drummed onward to keep tempo. It was one of the most surreal music moments in my life and a tangible indication that P Daddy were bound for something bigger than what the Capital Region has to offer.

On their next couple projects, the band aims to go all-out with their sound. They expressed their qualms with their last record that have coalesced since it was released and are now ready to do things differently.

“I wish we had more time in the recording process to fill in little things,” Handford said.

“I want more instruments. I wanna be as obnoxious as possible,” Gregory laughed.

“We’re gonna get like a spice rack of instruments,” Houacine added.

“On [I Thought You Didn’t Even Like Leaving] all those songs are the exact same speed. I don’t like that,” Gregory said. “I wanna write some really curveball slow songs and curveball fast songs so every song’s a curveball. . . It’s still gonna be four dudes playing punk music, ya know? It’s still gonna sound like a punk band or a rock band or whatever. We’ll just put that stuff on top just to make things a little more interesting.”

“I think we’re much better about what we do now and I think we all write cooler parts and cooler songs. If I could change one thing I’d make those songs cooler,” the now-significantly baked Gregory said, immediately realizing how repetitive he sounded.

“That’s a really good way to put it actually,” Houacine sarcastically chimed in with a playful smirk.

They’ll be recording their next EP “very soon” with local producers Scoops Dardaris and Dan Maddalone, and on 4/20 the band will be playing a stacked basement show at the DIY venue Moshi Island in downtown Albany alongside Oso Oso, Just Friends, Jouska, California Cousins and Hate Club.

“Friendfest,” Ziembiec shouted excitedly upon mention of the gig.

“It’s actually all a lie. None of those bands are gonna be there,” Handford said, weaving a spontaneous yarn that the rest of the members began lightly snickering at. “It’s just gonna be like a corner store. But there will be a sale of $2 for six mozzarella sticks.”

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