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Shorty Boy-Boy: Spirit In The House.

March 26, 2014

ShortyBoyBoyKM02Text by Tyler Horst. Images by Kate McCann.

Josh Pannepacker is a lot more reserved than his on-stage antics suggest. He speaks deliberately, planning each sentence before opening his mouth as he prepares a cup of tea in the kitchen of the now-defunct Studio A in South Philly. Since getting back underway with his weirdo-pop pet project, Shorty Boy-Boy, Pannepacker has spent more time in Studio A than he has his Northern Liberties apartment. If he’s not working on his own music, he’s directing videos or working as engineer for someone else’s project.

“It’s my home,” he says, only half joking.

But it easily could be. After a brief, quasi-retirement, dropping in and out of other bands and getting a day job, this month, Pannepacker is finally set to release the latest  Shorty Boy-Boy full-length, his first since 2006’s whimsically titled Kicking Your Ass, Then Smoking Your Grass.

Roadblocks to the completion of the new record (which he says will be titled Spirits in the House) range from tragically breaking his wrist after providing an ill-fated piggyback ride, to the decidedly more positive experience of drumming with Sun Airway during their fall 2012 tour with M83.

Actually, the two events sort of overlapped.

After the tour, Pannepacker played two more Sun Airway shows with what he thought at the time was a sprained wrist. When he confessed his worries to guitarist Chris Doyle before that second show, Doyle handed him a bottle of whiskey and suggested, “This will fix it.”

Pannepacker couldn’t be more excited about the time he’s found to put finishing touches on his new material. If he was playing shy earlier, he’s dropped the act now as he previews a few new tracks in the low-key mixing room upstairs. Unable to hide a smile, Pannepacker starts air-drumming and dancing in his chair. He’s as chipper as a little kid proudly showing off what he made at school that day. It’s a glimpse of the gleeful energy he brings to his live performance, where he’s been known to pull self-described “stunts and stupid shit,” like playing in a sleeping bag or encouraging audience members to play the snare drum with trash bags.

Although Shorty Boy-Boy comes alive on the stage, it’s in the studio that Pannepacker truly seems to feel at home. He’s played nearly all instruments in his songs and has recorded himself for years now. For a long time, the spaces in which he created his music didn’t get much better than his dad’s basement or his apartment but limited resources never presented a problem for the intrepid self-producer.

“As long as I have four walls and a ceiling, I can record on anything,” says Pannepacker.

The most recent set of four walls fell into place after Pannepacker met engineer Mattias Nilsson in 2009 at Larry Gold’s “The Studio” (now Milkboy). Pannepacker was interning for a now-defunct production company recording hip-hop artists. It was as a part of that team when a strong friendship between Nilsson and Pannepacker quickly formed. Before long, the two began recording together out of Studio A.

Since then, Nilsson has been at the mixing board for every Shorty Boy-Boy recording. The guys are also largely responsible for developing the group’s endearingly bizarre music videos (like one where they send a dog across the Ben Franklin Bridge or another that invokes the bearded spirit of David Bowie). Most of these videos were filmed at the studio on a very tight budget.

“You have to be creative with what you have,” says Nilsson. “Josh figures out a way to make it happen.”

Conceptualizing the strange and extraordinary is not unfamiliar territory to Pannepacker, who’s used arpeggiators, synths – even a cardboard box – to color a few of his newer tracks, resulting in a goofy, “Monster Mash” feel.

Song lyrics are often just as carefree as their melodies. One of the tracks features words that are no more than the off-the-cuff result of a one-take improvisation performed in Pannepacker’s bedroom. Though his lyrics are not always so lackadaisical, Pannepacker makes it a point to keep things from straying too far away from the bright side.

“Sometimes I think about lyrics but if it gets too heavy, I make puns,” he explains.

Even if some other venture pops up along the way, Pannepacker says Shorty Boy-Boy is here to stay.

What started as a way to goof off became one of Pannepacker’s most cherished projects and has even served to include great friends he’s met along the way. The Shorty Boy-Boy band, or Pannepacker’s “traveling circus,” is a revolving door of musicians and other pals which (at the time of this interview) feature Nilsson on bass guitar, longtime Shorty Boy-Boy member Artie Smith on guitar, and Ilana Worrell on keys and vocals.

“It’s been out of this world to me,” Pannepacker says. And whether it’s a broken body part, an impromptu touring schedule or a change in studio space, he admits, “I don’t see any limitations but myself.”

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