When asked about Panini Girlfriend’s Facebook cover photo, bassist Mike Poletti (COL ‘18) and singer-guitarist Natasha Janfaza (COL ‘18) burst out laughing. “Oh, so that was a joke that went too far,” Poletti said. In the photo, the three members of the band are standing in a parking garage, staring expressionlessly into the camera, wearing adult diapers. “You can ask them where the idea came from…I was involved in the execution,” Janfaza said. However, drummer Michael White (COL ‘19) gives Janfaza all the credit. “All Natasha. And I was into it because it’s funny as hell,” he said.
The story of the photo reveals the chemistry within the group, an up-and-coming punk band comprised of Janfaza, Poletti, and White. White brought the three of them together in the fall of 2017, having met Janfaza through their rock history class and Poletti through the Corp. “I told him we were going to play loud and fast,” White reminisced about his conversation with Poletti. He is also responsible for coming up with the band’s name. He wanted it to be “Panini, I’m Not Your Boyfriend,” a reference to a one-sided romance featured on the old Cartoon Network series “Chowder,” but Janfaza suggested something more succinct like Panini Girlfriend.
Janfaza, Poletti, and White are all easygoing and love a good laugh. Each has their own talents and brings a unique perspective to the table, a mixture which can result in the creation of something as catchy as their song “Boba Bola Banini,” or as hilarious as a grungy photo of three college students in adult diapers.
Creativity is one of Panini Girlfriend’s strong suits, the spark for which stems from the variety of musical influences which guide their songwriting process. The three members come from entirely different musical backgrounds. Janfaza is on what she describes as “the indie train” and draws influence from artists like Portishead and Sinead O’Connor, while White prefers a diet of punk rock, heavy metal, and hip-hop. Poletti comes from a metal and hard rock background, having learned to play bass by practicing Rush songs. A sound technician once described the way he played as “if Geddy Lee was in a punk band.”
Although Janfaza writes most of the band’s lyrics, they agreed that much of the process involves everyone adding different pieces together. Their song “Boba Bola Banini” shows how they build off of each other’s work. “Michael was messing around with some funky stuff on the drums, that intro rhythm,” Poletti said. “Then we came up with the dual lead lines just like messing around at practice.”
“That song is such a weird mashup, which I feel like we try to do with our songs,” Janfaza said.
Their mashup mentality also comes across in the song, “Havarti,” which, like many of their pieces, starts out slow and gradually becomes more energetic. Janfaza, who loves to use food metaphorically, recorded the spoken bridge in her room over winter break, growing increasingly louder as she yells at a hypothetical store owner for making her wait so long for a slice of cheese. The intensity crescendos with Janfaza’s anger and reaches a peak when White comes in on the drums, complementing Poletti’s magnetic bassline.
The vitality of Panini Girlfriend’s music is conducive to upbeat and exciting live performances. “We’ll say a lot of jokes on stage. It keeps us loose,” Poletti said of their concerts. Looseness shouldn’t be mistaken for lethargy, however. “There’s a good amount of movement and dancing that goes on,” Janfaza added. In a recent show at Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe in Adams Morgan, White called for a mosh pit, and security had to break up the rowdy crowd.
Although Panini Girlfriend only has one single and one EP on their Bandcamp page, they have recently been on a songwriting kick, incorporating new songs into their live set. White’s favorite of their songs at the moment is one of these new numbers, “Being a Human is Weird,” which he believes is a fun and representative intersection of the members’ influences. Even though their new music won’t be recorded until mid-May, Panini Girlfriend recently released a list of upcoming tour dates to exhibit both their new and old music. The band is most looking forward to their Gun Reform Benefit Concert at St. Stephen’s Church on April 20.
In conversation, the members of Panini Girlfriend are spirited and refreshing. “I feel like there’s a whole jokiness about the band,” Janfaza said—and it comes across in the best way. For their first concert together, Janfaza wore her adult diaper, Poletti dressed as one of the Aquabats, a ska band that performs in distinctive skin-tight blue uniforms, and White wore a One-Punch Man costume, appearing as his favorite anime character.
“If you can’t make a joke out of yourself, you need to rethink yourself,” Janfaza said. The band may not take itself too seriously, but Panini Girlfriend’s animated and fun sense of humor catalyzes their already fresh and kinetic music.
Video credits: Danielle Hewitt (Executive Producer), Maya Tenzer (video), Kayla Hewitt (audio), Alex Lewontin (audio)
Image Credits: Margaux Fontaine