One of the most Googled questions about Confidence Man is whether Janet Planet and Sugar Bones are siblings, or a couple. The extrovert singers, innocently sipping their coffees across the table from me, both certainly have dramatic dance moves and playful fashion in their DNA, and a love for performance that clearly goes beyond their live shows.
Quite commonly, you’ll read that Planet and another band member, Reggie Goodchild, are siblings. But today, Planet and Bones insist that it is they who are brother and sister – though immediately the truth of that is hurled in the air.
“We like to keep them guessing,” Planet admits. “Someone in the band is my fiance and someone is my brother. Every now and then we like to flip it up, change who it is.”
I meet Planet and Bones in a Fitzroy North cafe in Melbourne; their publicist has beseeched me not to publish their real names, despite these being easily found on the internet. It’s unclear if all this mystery comes from a genuine need for privacy, or just extreme playfulness. Their new album, Tilt, was even released on April fool’s day.
“I don’t even know if we’re joking any more,” Planet says.
What we do know for sure is Confidence Man formed in Brisbane in 2016, made up of four friends who have also served in other bands: the Belligerents, Moses Gunn Collective and the Jungle Giants. When they released their debut album, Confident Music for Confident People, in 2018, it became clear this project was no side hustle: their outlandish costumes (designed by Planet), choreographed routines and bossy lyrics bring down the house at festivals around the world, from Australia’s Splendour in the Grass to Spain’s Primavera Sound.
Bones says their extrovert personas give their audiences permission to let go and join in. With their shared love of OTT performers such as Grace Jones, Róisín Murphy, David Byrne and the Prodigy, that is the band’s ultimate mission.
“I’m always the chick at the wedding going full throttle,” Planet says of her energy on stage. “The number of times I’ve gone up to randoms and said, if you’re not going to dance, get off the dancefloor. Pissing me off … You’ve got to fully commit.”
During lockdown, the band moved in together and created a club in their back yard in Thornbury: the Fuck Bunker, a party pad tricked out with a spray-painted sign, lights, speakers and a smoke machine. It was in these climes that the dancefloor denizens recorded Tilt, their second album, in the laundry of their share house; the vocal booth was a cupboard inside which Planet would shut her head.
“We’d take heaps of mushrooms and dance around, and listen to the tracks we were writing,” says Planet. “The neighbours hated us.”
As you might imagine, the vibe is sheer escapism: the album’s first single, Holiday, is a banger with an earworm vocal about gettin’ paid and gettin’ high, perfected by a video in which the band grooves in a hot air balloon. Planet dances in an animal-print halter top and hot pants, an epic sunrise behind her, while Sugar Bones, who shares vocals and shape-throwing duties, is in a billowing open shirt, 90s boyband style.
The band are serious anglophiles, so signing to Heavenly Recordings in 2017 and having their tracks remixed by Andrew Weatherall was a dream. In the 90s, Heavenly released albums not a million miles from the Confidence Man sound, such as those by Saint Etienne and Flowered Up, and the label’s founder Jeff Barrett put on early gigs by their heroes Primal Scream.
Bones thinks the band’s absurdist humour clicks with the Brits. While touring the UK, they found themselves partying with new fans U2 and Noel Gallagher. They’ll return to the UK in May, slotting in a major performance at Glastonbury. Australia has its turn in August, but there’ll be a teaser at the Melbourne Grand Prix next week.
Bones calls the costumes and personas “a functionality thing” as they “wanted [Confidence Man] to be its own project”. While Planet and Bones dominate the stage, fellow band members Goodchild and Clarence McGuffie lurk at the back, their identities concealed by costumes that look like a cross between a beekeeper suit and something you’d wear to a funeral. It’s a surreal effect and also unnerving; a good foil to the bubbly sugar pop up front. “We quickly realised that them sinisterly sitting in the backdrop while we strut around is visually quite powerful,” Bones says.
It’s not uncommon for Bones and Planet to see elaborate dressed clones bopping back at them in the audience, but the devotees will have trouble keeping up with Planet’s increasingly outrageous costume changes, including suits with motorised shoulders.
“We want to get some snakeskin stuff going,” says Bones, no less enthusiastic about showmanship. When they were teenagers, the pair would go clubbing in Brisbane (“Ecstasy was just kicking in – good times”) and at school they choreographed routines to the Spice Girls’ Wannabe, albeit separately (both were Posh Spice).
The sheer spectacle of Confidence Man, and the personas, makes them ripe for a Monkees-style series or a Jackson 5-era cartoon show. Perhaps acting is on the cards, since they uploaded to their YouTube channel a faux press conference in which the band are the haughty new faces of a drink called Tilt. Is that a comment on selling out?
“I feel like everyone in indie music takes their art very seriously and we’ve always gone in the alternate direction to that,” says Planet. “I don’t see why indie musicians can’t sell out too. All we need now is the opportunity!”
If the band can charm more money, rest assured the sky is the limit: Planet and Bones bounce around future ideas involving dancing horses and illusionists.
“We came up with the sickest idea for a film clip the other day but we were told we could only get six bunnies instead of 100,” Planet mourns.
Tilt is out now on I OH YOU