August 15, 2016

Interview: PWR BTTM

PWR BTTM on lyrical inspiration, tour chow, and house boat looks.

PWR BTTM has one of the best live shows around. Sure, you can watch videos of the duo playing to experience their campy sense of glamour or read an interview like the one below to get a hint of their shady and irreverent humor. But when you see them live, these moments fuse together with their anthemic rock songs to make one of most exciting and unpredictable shows you've ever seen. I saw the queer duo (both prefer they/them pronouns) play a handful of times in the year that they were also voted the eleventh hardest working band in NYC. No two performances were the same, but they all felt like a safe haven for queers who like a little distortion along with their disco classics. This fall you'll get your chance to see PWR BTTM in their proper context: headlining a tour full of their own fans who will be able to continue to enjoy the gender neutral bathrooms PWR BTTM requests in their tour rider. The tour spans the US and the UK, where the band is re-releasing their debut album Ugly Cherries before dropping a new batch of songs. In the spirit of their new track “Projection,” a song about being playing it safe and staying inside, I called PWR BTTM up from inside my own apartment to talk lyrical inspirations, tour chow, and house boat looks.

The Le Sigh: I have to say the synergy of y’all is amazing. You both responded 40 mins after the initial time of the interview and within minutes of each other.

Liv Bruce: That’s incredible because we’ve never spoken once to each other.

Ben Hopkins: Never.

LB: And I don’t know her.

TLS: You guys have that a new song “Projection” out which is great, but it’s not really like new new. You actually played it around a year ago at the BTR live session. 

LB: You caught us.

TLS: But the lyrics were different. The only part they included was Liv’s, but you sang “Bone dry again, I found myself want for nothing how could I ever go to sleep..."

LB: Oh my god drag me, oh my god this is incredible this is incredible yes.

TLS: They were a lot more positive back then, so what prompted the change in tone? 

LB: So that line, “Bone dry again, I find myself want for nothing, why would I need to go to sleep,” was something that Ben wrote in a demo around that time. And the idea struck me for whatever reason to change the melody of it and use the lyrics in the part of “Projection” when I sing, but then when it came time to record it… part of the new lyrics are something that I wrote in high school before I wrote songs.

BH: Really?

LB: Yeah I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but I was out as gay for all of high school, but I was still one of the only people who was in my school. I wasn’t the only but it was very rare. I would sit online at home and look at things like, do you remember BUTT Magazine? I would religiously read their blog online and things like this web series that James St. James had called The Daily Freak Show and I would watch those things and feel like, “Oh there’s all this awesome gay stuff happening in the world and I’m stuck in high school and stuck in the suburbs. And I’m missing it." So in some journal somewhere I wrote, “It’s raining men, I’m stuck inside staring at the ceiling.”

TLS: And why unearth that now as opposed to the more positive original lyrics? You were looking back more or... 

LB: Yeah, and when we were recording I had to write lyrics for that song I was like “Oh! That would be a nice thing to put that there,” because it my mind its related to what Ben is singing about in the rest of the song.

TLS: “Projection” premiered on the Zane Lowe radio show on Beats 1. How did it feel hearing your music being played alongside Young Thug and Post Malone and all these pop songs?

BH: It feels like, “Why not?” but also “Yayyyy.” It’s cool. Anything that happens as a band is a privilege, you know what I mean? There’s also no reason a band like PWR BTTM shouldn’t be on the radio or something like that. We are just another fucking band at the end of the day. We have a political agenda that is affecting how the music happens, but we also are just trying to be a band so having your song on Zane Lowe is great.

TLS: You guys are going on your first UK tour soon, what are y’all expecting? 

BH: Uncut dick.

LB: Uncut dick [laughs], yeah lots of yummy uncut dick. I’m really excited… it’s as exciting as playing in Jackson, Mississippi. It’s just a chance to do what we do in a new place. It’s so exciting to meet people from new places. That’s what I love about touring; it’s so anthropologically interesting. What are queer people like is Glasgow, what are queer people like in Birmingham, Alabama.

BH: I used to live in the UK for almost a year when I was studying theater there in college and that was one of the first places I showed people the songs that I had written. So playing in London is going to be amazing and special for me. I am very excited about it because I’ve been to the venue before and I never ever thought I’d get to be in a band, ever. I bought an acoustic guitar there, and I sort of had a crisis, having a crisis with studying theater when I was living in London and I started really falling in love with the idea of music. It’s going to be really special I can’t wait. I also love all the uncut dick.

TLS: When you go on tour, besides eating the many types of dick, you have to eat a lot of different types of food to stay sustained. What’s some of the worst things you’ve had to eat on tour? Like, there’s nothing around… 

BH: This is a great question a lot of people never ask us.

LB: Oh wow, I feel like I have learned the art of eating safe if that makes sense. I’ve learned what things will almost always be good no matter where you go. I think when I started touring I was way more susceptible to like, “Oh you’re in Illinois, you have to have the magical rock log,” and I would be like “Ok, I have to eat this rock log,” and then I would feel like shit. Now no matter where I go in the US its usually some kind of supermarket that sells sushi. I try to stay away from it in the middle of the country when there’s no ocean anywhere, but if I’m on a coast or reasonably near one, I usually will eat sushi.

BH: Yeah, we go to Whole Foods a lot when we can.

TLS: What other types of advice would you have for young bands embarking on their first tour? 

LB: Oh my god. Water Bottle. Bring a water bottle. Bring many water bottles. Have a backup plan if your stereo breaks. Oh wait this, this, a thousand times this: download music you like on to your phone because if you just try to stream it, you’ll run up your data plan immediately. That’s my biggest tip. Download music that you like to your phone before you leave.

TLS: You have anything you want to add Ben? You can say no . 

BH: I just realized I’ve been on mute for a minute so that’s frustrating.

LB: It’s a dream come true for me.

BH: Just spend the little the money you have on treating your body good. I drink, a lot of people I know don’t drink. You can’t get wasted every fucking night. I mean, you can get wasted for the love of God, but you can’t get wasted every night. Just take care of your fucking body. We’ve been doing yoga a lot on tour, and I just bought a yoga mat. That’s my new thing I’m gonna try.

LB: I’m gonna sue you for that, I’m gonna sue you. It’s my thing

BH: Oh sorry

LB: Me, it’s mine!!! No, I’m kidding.

BH: Ok, I’ll just remain hunchbacked for the rest of my life.

TLS: Ben, did you have any other tour advice that you tried to share while on mute? 

BH: Just be nice to everyone even if they’re not nice to you. Be nice, be kind, and be respectful of people’s spaces. Give people the benefit of the doubt on tour because it’s hard when you’re really tired, and you’re going to be tired. It’s going to be exhausting being on tour. Also, appreciate the privilege of having people come to your show. One thing I really learned touring is to not have preconceived expectations of any geographical cliques. Like, don’t pigeonhole a city before you play. We’ve had some of the most amazing shows we’ve ever had in places you would never think. One of the most amazing shows we’ve ever had was in Dallas, Texas. We played there and it was an amazing show. Everyone was so radical and nice.

TLS: You also mentioned in an interview that while you record this next album you’ll be living on a house boat? 

BH: Yes bitch!!!

TLS: How did you get that lined up?

LB: Basically it was the cheapest Air BnB near the studio, and we needed a place to live. The space that we’re recording in doesn’t want as much money from us as we thought. So we had some leftover money that we had allotted.

TLS: Do you have any house boat looks you’re planning on pulling?

LB: If you have ever seen me or my Instagram you know that I wear nothing but house boat looks.

BH: Is that your aesthetic? Is that what you’re calling your brand?

LB: Yeah, house boat mom punk. No, there’s no mom in it. I feel like house boat has always been one reference for me, but I have specifically bought dresses since we’ve realized that we would be doing that with the intention of wearing them on the house boat.

BH: I’m going to be giving you like a gay ship captain look. I’m really been feeling wearing ascots lately, like onstage, and I’m definitely going to be giving you ascot.

TLS: Going back to Ugly Cherries for a second, that album, despite all the fun bombast, there's a lot of melancholy happening in the songs. Is that going to continue on the next album?

BH: Well bitch, I’m still depressed.

LB: Yeah, I don’t see how it could not. I’d like to think that I’ve grown as a person in the past year and a half and that some of that will come through in my songwriting. I think it’ll sound like the same people but after two years.

BH: I think the best sad songs are also happy songs. A lot of my favorite writers do that. I was thinking about how much I love The Shins the other day.

LB: You know what I was listening to the other day, what I was openly weeping to? Broken Social Scene, their first record. That song “7/4 (Shoreline)?” Damn. What a beautiful sad song.

TLS: Well they’re coming back you know, Broken Social Scene. They just played at Panorama. 

BH: Hell yeah they are!! I want them all to pee on me.

TLS: You’ve done a lot in this band. What are some of your goals for this next album cycle? Do you have any projections?

BH: Well I’m a very goal oriented girl. I think that it’s about time that a really queer band like us, and that’s not to say this hasn’t happened, I want to play TV. I want it. I think it would be really fun.


Listen to PWR BTTM on bandcamp.

Mo Wilson is a writer who enjoys collecting posters and still has a CD player. You can find him on twitter @sadgayfriendx.