Cover Interview: PWR BTTM

Photos: Ebru Yildiz

Fiercely effervescent and glitter-dusted, “queer punk” duo PWR BTTM, aka Liv Bruce and Ben Hopkins, definitively made their mark with the charm and wit of debut album Ugly Cherries, released last year. With the eagerly anticipated follow up Pageant due out in May, the Brooklyn-based band are preparing to head out on an extensive series of tour dates.

Describing the new album as “not the sequel but the next step to Ugly Cherries” the pair affirm “when we made Ugly Cherries we were laying the groundwork for what Pageant became”. Naturally, there’s always an element of second album syndrome that can be difficult to overcome for any band. Given the great acclaim and dedicated following PWR BTTM received as a result of their first album, with its encapsulating joy, unique, playful honesty and openness, it’s no wonder they felt a certain pressure with the follow up.

“When you know that there’s a group of people that love the record that you already made and want to hear the next one it can kind of mess you up,” Bruce remarks, going on to mention, “we had to work real hard to get back into that kind of intuitive writing.” They agree this intuition came about easier during the creation of Ugly Cherries – granted, they didn’t know who would hear it. Thankfully, though, this didn’t pose too much of a hindrance for Pageant; “I couldn’t be prouder of the result, it’s definitely our best work yet,” Hopkins adds.

Habitually bedecked in a vibrant array of patterned fabrics and shimmering adornments, the band’s visual aesthetic is undoubtedly characteristic and intrinsic to the PWR BTTM array. They both enthusiastically cite “The Muppet Show as an inspiration for everything” with Hopkins going on to describe their style as “The Muppets meets like 90s New York drag meets somebody getting too much glue on their hands and like accidentally touching a craft table.”

When choosing outfits to bring on tour Bruce says they “go by what’s comfortable. When I’m shopping I actually sometimes close my eyes and run my hands through a rack at the thrift store so I don’t have to like look at it, so I don’t have to fall in love with a piece of clothing that’s really uncomfortable, and then I choose something that feels really good and then I open my eyes”.

Hopkins adds, “I tend to always buy at thrift stores. I don’t try my dresses on before I buy them because it’s not really about what they fit like but I just like the idea of them. If they don’t fit, if they’re too big or too small I just like rip it or staple it together,” choosing outfits on the basis of “something that makes me feel like this would make me have fun if I was wearing it.” It’s a sentiment Bruce echoes, highlighting the importance for them of “making a space where people feel comfortable.”

Considering the current political climate, particularly post Trump’s election, Bruce remarks, “I think people seemed a lot hungrier for the space we create at our shows after the election. I think the basic premise hasn’t changed in what we do, it just might be a bit more loaded now,” they emphasise, however “there were plenty of people who needed queer safe spaces before the election, just as drastically as they still do.” Bruce goes on to passionately declare “it’s important not to lose sight of fun and joy, and hopefully not lose sight of love; I’m not talking about this kind of corporatised idea of love and joy that is used to blanket a lot of oppression and make it like everything’s okay when it’s not. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the kind of love a mother feels for their child; the love that makes you keep going ‘cause anger burns out.” An illustration of the inspiring, dynamic positivity that PWR BTTM encapsulate.

Even over the phone, the pair’s infectious vivacity is palpable as they enthuse about getting to play in a band, and joke about the need to “buy 20 phone chargers, drink a lot of water, call your mom” when touring. “I think it’s very easy to tell when people come to our shows that we love being in a band a lot, it’s really, really fun for us, and you know getting to dress up and play music everyday,” Hopkins says, adding “the thing I love about PWR BTTM is I don’t think we’re ever too cool for anything.”

On the topic of touring, they stress the necessity of making “space to do the things that make you feel sane on tour.” Mentioning the importance of finding “a skincare routine that consists mostly of inexpensive things because pretty much everything will get lost at some point.” Bruce quips, “isn’t that just a great metaphor for life? It’s all going away. Find stuff that’s easily replaceable or if you fall in love with something that’s impossible to replace try to hold onto it.” That seems like pretty sound advice.

Pageant is released on 12th May via Big Scary Monsters / Polyvinyl. They play the Exchange on 16th April. Check out ‘Big Beautiful Day’ below.