BANDSPEAK

“We just wanna do a good job”: A Gaymazing Q&A with PWR BTTM

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PWR BTTM is a New York band but their roots are in the greater Boston area. Liv Bruce, drummer and singer, lived here till he was seven before moving to Newton and Ben Hopkins, guitarist and singer from nearby Hamilton, read the Hassle as a kid. That only makes it cooler that PWR BTTM has gained a dedicated following. Not only have they become a beloved punk band that makes music about being queer AND about the highly addictive nature of carbohydrates, among other things, but they also successfully foster a vibrant queer community through their music, live shows, and highly amusing Twitters.

Most recently, the band has made a video for desperately lonely anthem “I Wanna Boi” involving a blow up doll boyfriend and Liv pouting on a kitchen counter while wearing an apron reading “gourmet divas.” They’ve also finished their second album, slated to drop on Polyvinyl Records next summer, which Ben will only say is “much bigger” than debut Ugly Cherries.

Ben and Liv will be gracing ONCE Ballrom in Somerville with their presence on November 23. Get PUMPED for the show by reading about the duo finding queer community in places it’s not stereotypically expected, regrettable tweets, and planning gruesome fates for Donald Trump if he becomes president.

KO: Hi, how are you doing?

BH: We’re great. We’re driving through beautiful Pennsylvania right now. It’s very much autumn.

KO: Pretty leaves and stuff?

BH: I’m kind of addicted to fall foliage so it’s really getting me all fucked up right now. 

KO: Haha, yeah, Boston has its fair share of fall foliage right now too. In other news, you guys are selling out a bunch of shows already! How do you feel about that?

BH: We’re really overwhelmed. We just sold out a show in Austin yesterday, which is amazing because we’ve never done our own headlining show there. We did go there for SXSW so I guess you could say we’ve played there 12 times, but you know, never done our own show. But yeah, we’re really lucky. We love touring. And we’ve toured a fuckload. After this European tour, we’ll have gone on seven tours for Ugly Cherries, that’s not counting this weekend. We’ve really been traveling a lot.

KO: Isn’t that kind of exhausting?

BH: It is. I mean, I woke up at 9 a.m. today. And I’ve had a bunch of different jobs, but I still feel lucky that I have to wake up at 9 a.m. to travel to play music.

KO: How do you think that you’ve both grown musically from your first EP, Cinderella Beauty Shop, to now?

LB: I would say that we just have a lot more experience playing live. We’ve both written a lot more songs. Especially on Cinderella Beauty Shop, I don’t think I’d written “I Wanna Boi”, or I’d written it but I’d never shown it to anyone. I think it’s safe to say we’re a little more confident in ourselves as songwriters than we used to be.

And one thing that’s definitely different now from when we made Cinderella Beauty Shop is that we have the option available to work with other people. Like Cinderella Beauty Shop was really homemade, whereas now, we have a wonderful producer and engineer fellow who we work with named Chris Daly, and we have a manager, and a label, and things like that that just allow us to do more complex and exciting maneuvers with our music.

KO: So you produced the first one totally on your own?

LB: Yeah, yeah, Cinderella Beauty Shop was totally homemade. But here’s one thing I’d say, I think back then I thought I was like, so badass for making it by myself, and now I’m like, “Well, it coulda used some more years on it.” *laughs* But I’m still proud of it, and it’s still what we made at that point in our lives, yada yada yada.

KO: It’s like your super DIY beginnings, and you still have that same vibe in your recent stuff. That was only 2 and half years ago, roughly, when you made Cinderella Beauty Shop, and you already have such a dedicated following, you’re selling out shows–

BH: We feel really lucky about that. Liv and I had this conversation this morning where we were talking about

LB: We were talking about like, when I came out, quote on quote, like when I even realized I was queer, and the things that helped me really key into were like music and art that you kind of find yourself in. And we’ve had the experience of having people tell us that they have sort of a similar experience with our music, and that’s something that we never could’ve anticipated. We made this band to just show songs to our friends. And the fact that people like it for that reason is really incredible, and we just wanna keep going.

KO: Yeah, I mean that’s amazing that people identify so much with your music and connect with it on such a deep level to use it figure out who they are, like you did. Has it been hard to adjust to that kind of exposure so quickly?

BH: Yeah, it has been.

LB: Ha, yeah.

BH: It’s been interesting. There’s a lot of pressure put on queer artists in particular who are more in the public eye to say all the right things, to be politically perfect all the time, but I don’t think anybody, despite how much we are hopefully trying to pursue good social progress, couldn’t make mistakes. I mean, I know I have.

Like I tweeted some joke about Sarah Jessica Parker the other day, a joke that everyone has made a million times. And when I looked at it later, I was like ‘oh, this is body shaming, and I didn’t even realize it.’ I think is absolutely our goal all the time but I understand why someone would feel that pressure. Liv and I feel very privileged to be in this position that we’re in and we take it very seriously. It means a lot to us, we just wanna do a good job.

KO: Totally, but it’s like the Bieber song (“Show You”, classic song, highly recommend), you know, “it’s like they want me to be perfect,” but you’re not “made out of steel.”

BH: I always take most of my cultural criticism from Bieber too. Love that guy.

KO: *laughs. So I was also wondering how being so openly queer affects touring and being in many different spaces when we’re living in this terrible heteronormative world. How you grapple with that?

LB: One thing that’s definitely hard about being queer and touring is that on tour, especially we’re you’re on more of the DIY level, so much of your day to day is about relying on the kindness of strangers or even just the friendliness of strangers, and that isn’t something that’s guaranteed to queer people.

People will frequently ask us that question but with kind of a regional bent to it. They’ll like “oh, what’s it like being PWR BTTM and touring in the South?” And I definitely wondered that before we started touring nationally, but one thing I was pleasantly surprised about is the fact that you never really know who’s going to be at what show in what state, and a lot of the time the queers that we meet in parts of the country where our New York friends and family wouldn’t expect it are like really some of the friendliest and most welcoming, maybe because they have to form those communities in order to survive there.

Whereas like, *laughs* by comparison New York is so queer friendly in some ways that I feel like half of the gay people in New York hate each other. *both laugh* Because they can, because they don’t necessarily need to stick together to survive in the way they used to. But that said, there are still many instances of beautiful gay families that we encounter where we’re from. But like, the queers that we meet in Savannah, GA or Birmingham, AL or Salt Lake City, Utah–there’s something really special about that.

That’s probably my probably favorite thing about touring on a national level is getting to meet that many people. I mean that might also just be a general thing about my relationship with music is that my favorite thing about it is connecting with people in various ways, like connecting with someone else on stage or writing a song that allows me communicate something to someone that I hadn’t been able to find the words for until then, or meeting another queer artist who is interested in the same things I am through my art. It’s kind of like this flair that you send up to find people like you.

KO: I think that’s super important to try to disprove this stereotype that the South is just only full of bigots. I also was thinking about how people boycott places like North Carolina because, for instance, they refuse to enact gender neutral bathroom laws, and how maybe that’s doing more harm than good because then you’re not able to bring any kind of radical message there.

LB: I think that with regards to boycotting states and things like that, it’s really important who the artist is. I think straight people should boycott those states that are exclusive or are persecuting queer people because that’s how they make it a problem for people who wouldn’t otherwise be affected. Like when they NBA cancelled all its games in North Carolina, that’s super effective, that shows a lot of straight basketball fans who might not otherwise be affected by this issue that it’s important. Whereas, like, Laura Jane Grace from Against Me! should go play in North Carolina, and I’m very proud that PWR BTTM goes to North Carolina because it’s important for us to be there, and be visible, and cause a ruckus, and do what it is that we do without letting the minority of bigots, who happen to have control right now, silence us.

 KO: That’s a good point, the effect it has can totally change depending on who the artist is. So, Liv, you were saying that your favorite thing about music is how it can connect people, and you guys are obviously really into using your music as a form of advocacy. But is music also a therapeutic thing for you?

LB: It’s cathartic definitely. I mean, sometimes songwriting can be very therapeutic, but I’ve personally found that a lot of my most therapeutic songs don’t make it onto the record because they’re really most useful as therapy, and they’re most useful for me to be able to like take that feeling out of myself, crystalize it, hold it up in front of me and be like “Holy shit! I felt like that.”

Like for example, you know the song “C U Around” on Ugly Cherries? I wrote ten more songs about that person, and that situation that will never see the light of day, and frankly, don’t really need to because they were useful for me to get that out of me and look at it but that didn’t make them necessarily interesting to everyone else. And “C U Around” was the one in ten that was like ‘oh, this is therapeutic AND interesting to other people, in my eyes.’ I’m not saying they’re mutually exclusively, but those are two very different things and they’re definitely not the same.

KO: So what is your typical songwriting process?

BH: We just write like a million songs, we recorded 21 songs for this record, and we cut it down. We both came from like theater and dance practices, so working in residencies has been very helpful for us, to get away from New York and write.

LB: I make lots of voice memos. When I get eaten by sharks they’re going to find 100s and 100s of songs.

KO: Is there a song/album/artist you’ve heard recently that made you go “wow, this is so good!” or otherwise touched you?

BH: Yeah! Our friends from New York are always going to be the ones–Big Ups, our friends from New York City, just did an absolutely incredible Audiotree session and you should check it out, tag ‘em in this post for sure, they’re the shit. Also our friend Gobbinjr  from New York just put some music out that’s amazing. Our friend Long Neck is gonna come out with a new record next year, they’re from New Jersey, they’re so great. We saw this band from New Brunswick play in New Jersey, they’re called Dollys, who are unbelievably good, they’re sooooo good, really good.

KO: Both of you have been tweeting some deservedly brutal things about Donald Trump. In the off-off-off chance that Trump becomes presidents of the United States, what are you going to do?

BH: I’m gonna murder him with my bare hands. Or, you know what you should say, I’m gonna blend him.

KO: With a Vitamix?

BH: I’m gonna blend him in a Vitamix and then feed him to a bunch of crows.

KO: That seems like a good way to deal with him.

BH: Yes, he would make a nice cheese soup.

Thanks so much. I wanna try to come to Hasslefest!

KO: Omg yes! That would be great.

 

 

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