The High Plains Drifters Talk Steamy New "Jennifer Aniston" Video, a Charlie Puth Collaboration, and More

The High Plains Drifters is the project of four music industry veterans, united by the common goal of bringing happiness to each listener. Frontman Larry Studnicky spoke to Popdust about blending genres, the music industry's past and present, and that NSFW new video.


Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Aniston, and plenty of ass are what you'll get from The High Plains Drifters' new video for their song named after everyone's favorite perpetually-newly-pregnant tabloid star.

The video stars comedian Chelsea Skidmore, known for her work with Adam Sandler on Netflix's Sandy Wexler and her podcast, The Chelsea Skidmore Show. In the "Jennifer Aniston" video, she plays a fan whose obsession with the Friends star has taken on religious and sexual dimensions. The camera lavishes attention on Skidmore's figure, which twists and gyrates in slow motion as she texts herself pictures of Aniston, drinks wine with a photo printout, and prays to her queen. It's a triple-shot of absurdity, humor, and gleefully satirical pandering to the male gaze.

Lead guitarist John Macom's rumbling vocals give the lyrics a weird sense of authority, making the whole thing sound like if Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" was narrated by a movie trailer announcer who just watched the striptease scene from We're the Millers. In short, it's mainstream pop culture's sacred tenets bound up in one four-minute bundle of synths, pointed irony and puns, and really, all these factors together should be enough to make it go viral.

One of the many bizarre things about the video is that its seminal photograph (used in many different contexts) is not actually of Jennifer Aniston at all. But that hardly matters, because even though none of us have or will ever meet Jennifer Aniston, we are all under her spell; she's the wrinkle-less fairy godmother of our wildest fantasies, the should've-been wife of Brad Pitt whose face is just so impossibly pleasing to look at that no one questions the fact that she hasn't aged in thirty years. Maybe it's all the Aveeno moisturizer, maybe it's energy gleaned from all the babies made while one or both partners fantasized about her face (just watch the video till the end), but she was definitely made in a Hollywood laboratory, and we will always love her for it. Though probably (hopefully) not as much as the star of this video.

The High Plains Drifters | Jennifer Aniston [Kris Vanderheyden Remix] - YouTube www.youtube.com

"Jennifer Aniston" is off The High Plains Drifters' self-titled debut album, but the song in the video is actually a Kris Vanderheyden remix of the original—which is a far more subdued and twangy, but equally devoted, ode to the co-star of every romantic comedy you've ever seen.

The band itself is the project of four music industry veterans, united by the common goal of bringing happiness to listeners. Their debut album is an impressively eclectic collage of genres that range from rockabilly to pop-punk, with "Jennifer Aniston" as its catchiest tune ("First Amendment Blues" is a close second).

Below, bandleader Larry Studnicky talks Jennifer A., Cher, Charlie Puth, genre-blending, waiting tables at the Grammys, and finding a sweet spot between the music industry's past and present.

What was the inspiration for your "Jennifer Aniston" video?

We knew only that the video had to speak to the song's theme of being obsessed with someone, and we knew that it couldn't cross the line into being stalker-creepy. That's all we had, really. So we trusted the video's director and producer, Behn Fannin, to flesh out that theme. He did it brilliantly by taking the quirky approach of having the person obsessed with Ms. Aniston be another woman. Even then, there was a risk it could all go awry. But Behn recruited the fabulously funny Chelsea Skidmore to play our protagonist, and Chelsea struck the perfect balance that the video needed. It's my favorite of the music videos we've shot to date by a wide margin. I think it's going to be a huge fan favorite as well. Heck, I think even Jennifer Aniston would laugh her ass off at it.

Your album is very sonically varied and really doesn't fit into any particular genre. Did you intend to create an album that is a collage of influences, or did it just happen that way?

I simply proposed to the band what I thought were some of the catchiest songs that I'd written over the years, and then we all collaborated on them and, as happens in the studio, some songs just took on a musical life of their own. Sometimes the song dictates the musical genre even when you, the songwriter, originally heard it in your head in a different style. Our first demo session working on "Jennifer Aniston," for instance, fashioned it as a ballad.

Frankly, everyone in the band is a pro and can play in any genre you throw at them. That gave us a lot more sonic leeway than, say, you'd find in the very early Ramones albums, where all their songs basically sounded alike. We did worry a bit about the mix of genres. But whenever I got too worried, I'd just go back and listen to two of Buddy Holly's tunes: "Oh Boy," which helped launch rock-n-roll in America, and "Every Day," still one of the sweetest ballads I know.

How did you guys come together as a band, and what are your musical backgrounds? You've all worked in very different spheres (musical theatre, production, etc.) so what was it like putting all that aside (or together) and making the album?

I have no professional musical background. I always (since high school) just wrote songs in my head and then sang the lyrics and melodies onto cassette tapes and Dictaphones (in the stone ages) and then onto digital voice recorders and now onto my iPhone.

The band came together when I took out two of my music industry pals to dinner and introduced them to each other – Charles Czarnecki, who produced just over half the album, and John Macom, who plays rhythm and/or lead guitar on pretty much every song. Oh yeah – and each of them is also the lead vocalist on two songs.

I told John and Charles that I needed a full band to record a Christmas tune. This was around the time President Obama was talking about bringing our troops home from Iraq. I had written the song already, but I thought that its theme (and title) of "Get Me Home By Christmas Eve" would resonate with the troops and, indeed, any family man (or woman) who finds himself or herself stuck far from home as Xmas eve is approaching.

Mike DoCampo joined us, at my invitation, right after we put out the Xmas song and I had decided to keep going and do an entire album.

As to "putting it all together," well, it was pretty seamless. Each member of the band, once the basic demo of a song was done, seemed to know intuitively what he should do when playing a particular instrument, or when singing backup vocals. Not that the producers didn't guide and direct – they did, and very well. But the choices – of precisely what notes and chords to play where and on what instruments – that, to me, all seemed like watching magic happen.

You've all worked with a variety of luminaries in the industry. Do you have any favorite stories about particularly weird or entertaining moments during your careers?

Years ago, I wrote for a band that Mike DoCampo was in. One afternoon in the studio – it was in central Jersey – the lead singer announced that Cher would arrive at the studio after finishing a performance that night at a casino in Atlantic City. None of us believed him, of course. Well, not only did Cher show up, but she brought her entire gang of vocal coaches, backup singers, techies, and hangers-on. She did in fact sing all night long on the planned duet.

It was amazing to watch on a number of levels. First, it was CHER and she was gorgeous. Then, you'd hear that distinctive voice of hers and you'd go "OMG, it's Cher and she's here and singing on our record." But what really amazed me was her dedication and professionalism. She could've just "phoned in" her performance. But instead, she worked hard, with her regular vocal coach present in the control room, to do her absolute best delivering every line of that song. I was blown away watching the process of how she recorded.

Where do you see the High Plains Drifters going next?

Next year we all go to the Grammys – I secured us all gigs as waiters. In the interim, I see us starting pretty soon on a second album. It has been really thrilling, on this debut album, to see so many radio stations embrace our (now often-called) "genre-bending" sound. Not that we're really "known" yet, but there's enough of a fan base, among both music consumers and radio stations, to keep going and see if someday we can get out of the waiter outfits and make an appearance on the awards stage instead.

You've said the purpose of your music is to bring happiness to every listener. What brings happiness to you?

In music, above all, I find happiness in the studio with my bandmates, as each of us tries this-little-thing, or that-little-thing, all trying together to find that magical spark that will make our tunes rise above the ordinary.

In the rest of my life, my happiness is just hanging out at home with my family and making time to hang out with my oldest friends – the ones who've known me since I was young and can call me out when I get too far out of my lane.

Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians looking to break into the industry, particularly for musicians who work in multiple fields (like production, music directing, etc.)? What're your thoughts on the music industry today?

Anyone looking to break into this daunting industry needs to learn from the older generation – the older guys and gals who can boast true achievements in the business. You need to make those people your mentors, your teachers, and – when you really hit paydirt – your collaborators.

Check your own ego at the door and find and listen to real musical geniuses. That's how I view everyone in our band: each in his or her own right is some kind of a musical genius that I am NOT.

As to my thoughts on the industry today? I am an optimist, despite bemoaning the fact that it has become almost impossible for 3 or 4 guys or gals on drums and guitars to get arrested at U.S. radio anymore. Despite that failing of the radio industry, I actually listen to and love today's pop acts – I have a 12-year-old daughter who controls our car radios, so I have little choice.

Every generation will produce its pop sensations, and they're always worth listening to even when they seem like snotty, arrogant little kids. People forget that the young Frank Sinatra and the early Beatles were popular mostly because teenage girls loved their music.

So, we have a parting message for the young and super-talented Mr. Charlie Puth: The High Plains Drifters have you in their sites for the second album, youngster. We're a-gunnin' fer ya.


Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.


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