PWR BTTM Interview: “Often Times (As Queer People) You Can’t Be The Protagonist In Your Own Life.”

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Debut Album Ugly Cherries  Out 18th Sep Via Father/Daughter And Miscreant Records.

Representation, privilege, gender, sexuality. These are all aspects of our lives that we deal with, and sometimes struggle with, everyday.  PWR BTTM (pronounced power bottom) is a pretty freaking great queer punk duo from Hudson, New York that explores and challenges all these concepts. We love them here at Overblown because of this and on top of that, their tunes are fun, heartfelt, and gently subversive of the typical sexual narrative in rock music. We love a bit of subversion!

Luckily, the duo took the time to chat with Overblown recently before the release of their debut album Ugly Cherries next month via Father/Daughter Records and Miscreant Records. Liv Bruce (drums/vocals) and Ben Hopkins (guitar/vocals) managed to get around to talking about selling PWR BTTM lunchboxes, their desire to befriend Ariana Grande, and the experiences of trans people in America today.

Overblown: Hey! Thanks for talking the time to talk to Overblown. So, why do you hate vowels?

Ben: Because you’re not my real dad and you never will be.

Liv: I love vowels! I love all letters equally. It’s just a functional thing. When you Google “power bottom” you get a lot of things that aren’t our music.

Ben: Great things, but not our music.

O: PWR BTTM (Power Bottom) is gay sexual slang. Why choose this name?

Liv: My friend and I came up with it when we were discussing the queer hardcore punk band Limp Wrist in high school. We were bouncing similarly-minded names off of each other and after Hissy Fit (Which ended up being the name of my first band in college. We were a Hole cover band.) and My Ass Hurts (I have yet to start this band. Who’s down?) we came up with The Power Bottoms, and then just Power Bottom. Taking out the vowels was Ben’s idea. It’s to optimize our Googleability.

Ben: C’MON GOOGLEABILITY *tongue pop*

O: The band began due to your mutual desire to bring performance and drag culture into DIY culture. Why is this important to you both?

Ben: It’s important to be seen on your own terms. As queer people, a lot of our lives are prescribed for us in terms of who we “can” be in pop culture. Like you can be someone’s hairdresser or wacky best friend, but often times you can’t be the protagonist in your own life. Starting the band was an attempt to create performance identity that was inextricably queer and took power from that. I like to think of the drag as a signifier. We’re not trying to be sulky boys in hats pretending not to care about anything, we’re weird and we’re invested in the present moment of performance.

Liv: That said, the decisions to include performance and drag elements in the band didn’t seem like a huge deal to us at the time. Both of those things are big parts of who we are. It didn’t feel like ~adding~ something as much as it felt like ~not subtracting~ something. Bringing drag and performance elements to our live show was just one part of bringing our full selves to the project.

O: The last number of years has seen same sex marriage legalised in many countries throughout the world. Combined with this there is more recognition of the complexities of gender. For instance, Ireland recently passed a gender recognition bill making Ireland only the third European country, after Denmark and Malta, to allow transgender people aged over 18 to change their legal gender without intervention. Do you think that these changes in public attitudes towards sexuality and gender make it easier for bands like yours that overtly deal with sexuality and gender to operate? Have you experienced any opposition to your band?

Liv: There’s a good deal of ground being gained in terms of laws passing, and that’s exciting, but simultaneously, there’s a crisis emerging of violence towards queers. In America the number of trans people murdered in 2015 just surpassed the number from 2014. A (very) disproportionately high number of these people are transwomen of color. PWR BTTM hasn’t been subject to physical violence of this sort, and for that we’re very lucky. There have been some strange and uncomfortable microaggressions, though. One time in Philadelphia a ciswoman started like, chasing me around trying to do my eyeliner cause she said I “wasn’t doing it right.” People ~love~ to ask me at shows if the thing I’m wearing is “for a man or a woman” and I usually respond “it’s for me.”

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O: You are releasing your debut album Ugly Cherries via Father/Daughter Records and Miscreant Records on the 18th of September. Did you have a goal or plan when writing and recording the album, or was it a more malleable process than that?

Ben: The plan was to monetize the brand into a massive distribution deal and get a PWR BTTM limited-edition lunchbox into the hands of every queer kid in America, collect the riches and move to a private island in the middle of the ocean.

Liv: I think our goal was nothing more than to record the songs we had been writing.

Ben: We sort of both write obsessively, we probably wrote 20-30 songs that didn’t end up on Ugly Cherries, all of which are short chronicles of the past year of our lives living in upstate, NY. We’ve both spent a lot of time figuring ourselves out over the past year and the record is a product of that experience.

O: Father/Daughter Records is one of our favourite record labels here at Overblown. What made you decide to work with them?

Ben: It’s funny like to think of it as “us deciding to work with them” because it was a mega mega dream of ours to get to work with Jessi (Frick) and Father/Daughter for long time. We were fans! Jessi has put out records by our friends in NY like Sharpless, Small Wonder and Diet Cig, I never thought she’d be interested in our material. Early this year Alex from Diet Cig tweeted a music video I had made for a song off our EP called ‘Carbs’ and Jessi saw it and retweeted it. I literally screamed when that happened. After that I DM’d her and prostrated myself before her. I have a very similar hero-worship story to how we got involved with Jeanette and Miscreant Records, who are co-releasing Ugly Cherries. We’re very, very lucky.

O: One of our favourite songs on the album is ‘I Wanna Boi’. The lyrics read like an advert on a dating website or something. Tell us the origins of that song.

Liv: I recently wrote this email in response to my school’s helpdesk’s notification of my email address’s imminent expiration. I think it explains things quite nicely:

“To Whom It May Concern,
I have a kinda weird “other justification for keeping [my] Bard email account

I’m in a band and I wrote a song that’s basically a desperate plea for love and companionship, and at the end I ask all available parties in the audience to email me at my bard email address.

This song is my only hope.

Without the email responses this song might bring in, I am doomed to a life of misery and bitterness. If it must be, I shall resign myself to this fate and do so with some semblance of glamour and maybe even a hint of courage, but if there is any way I could keep [email protected] for even another year, I would be very very grateful to you for years to come.”

The song is a parody of my loneliness & the ridiculously high standards for partners I had when I wrote it. I wrote it when my house’s heat was broken and we were too scared of the landlord to ask her how to fix it.

O: The title of the album is Ugly Cherries. Where did that title come from?

Ben: “Ugly Cherries” is a phrase from my childhood. My parents would always try to get me to eat maraschino cherries, which I thought–and still think–were too sweet and gross. As I discovered my queerness, it sort of fell in line with my self loathing on the subject. I was like a “bad fruit”. As Liv and I explored our queerness thru the performance element of the band and the writing process, it seemed to encompass something bigger that we were trying to figure out.

O: What are PWR BTTM’s plans for the rest of 2015?

Ben: Besides befriending Ariana Grande which is our number one goal from now to eternity (tweet us girl) we’re planning on touring a lot after the record comes out. We have some very special stuff planned for around Christmas that those of you on the East coast of America will soon aware of. PWR BTTM is really just the name of the collaboration between the two of us, and here will be many more things coming from PWR BTTM, who knows if all of it will be music!!!

Liv: We are trying to figure out our next step. There’s a lot of cool things we could be doing moving forward, and whatever we pick, we plan on enjoying it thoroughly and looking horrible.

O: You guys originally come from Hudson, NY. What bands should Overblown readers be checking out in your vicinity?

Ben: We’re biased of course but any band that comes out of Hudson Valley colleges–Bard College, SUNY Purchase, SUNY New Paltz, Vassar, etc.–is worth listening to. The scene upstate is really supportive and full of the best bands anywhere.

Liv: I’m wary of naming anyone at the risk of leaving anyone out, so I’m just going to say that we’re very lucky to be playing shows with a lot of really amazing bands right now. If someone were to dig back through our Facebook page and make a list of all the bands we’ve played with, that person would have a lot of cool stuff to listen to.

If you like this PWR BTTM interview, you might enjoy our interview with Diet Cig

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