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TAKING FLIGHT: PRINCESS GOES TO THE BUTTERFLY MUSEUM

Apr 2, 2020

By Richard Ray Ruiz

Photography by Paul Storey & Words by Katherine Turman

On the small screen, Michael C. Hall shone as the titular Dexter, a baby-faced serial killer with a heart of gold (or more aptly, a code of ethics). On Broadway, he was nearly naked as the breathtaking be-wigged genderqueer East German singer Hedwig. And as front man for eclectic, electric new band Princess Goes to The Butterfly Museum, Hall is charismatic and cool.

Make no mistake: the multi-faceted front man is a great singer (with the personal David Bowie stamp of approval for his Broadway role in Lazarus) and an introspective, quirky lyricist. His comrades-in-band, drummer Peter Yanowitz and keytarist/keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen, have equally impressive resumes, Katz-Bohen as a member of Blondie since 2008 and Yanowitz playing with the Wallflowers, Natalie Merchant and Morningwood. Together for less than two years, the trio are a quickly-evolving panache of musical styles that coalesce into a shimmering, chimerical whole. Alice captured Princess Goes… at the aptly named Butterfly SoHo bar in NYC to talk rock, lepidopterans and truck stop food.

You all met on the Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Mike, how did you get involved in Peter and Matt’s then-instrumental musical project?

MICHAEL C. HALL: I was hanging out, my wife and I, Peter and his wife, and we went up to the studio where Peter played me a couple of their instrumental tracks. And I just casually—because I thought it would be a way to have some fun—said, ‘If you ever want anyone to sing on these tracks I’d love to mess around with it.’ Without any aspiration, ambition; I didn’t envision where things would head from there.

Were you two freaking out inside like, ‘Oh, my God this could be great,’ or was that your master plan in playing him the music?

PETER YANOWITZ:No master plan, because you never know. Once he came over and brought some lyrics and melodies and we started working on a track I was just like holy shit! I sent that track around. It was called “Love American Style” and was our first EP. It was the first lyrics Michael wrote, and I sent it to Matt like, ‘I don’t know what this is but let’s keep doing it.’ And that was it. 

MCH: Thank god the first one worked or we might have just bailed!

Let’s go way back for a minute; what’s the first music memory for each of you?

MCH: I think my earliest musical memories were like second, third, fourth grade. For those years I lived in Vienna, Virginia. Catty-corner from my house, I was friends with this kid who had three older brothers. We would go down to the basement—red white and blue shag carpet!—and play their records. His older brother was really into Queen, and The Who, and Styx. I remember listening to those records and getting Queen’s The Game and Styx Cornerstone for my second or third-grade birthday party. I would listen to them both every day when I got home from school. I remember memorizing the words to “Babe” because I wanted to sing it to this girl I liked at school. I didn’t do it! Ali Khan was her name. I don’t know how she ended up with the name Ali Khan, but I was obsessed with her.

That’s an awesome memory; top that, Peter!

PY: My father is a pianist and composer and he also had this phase where he was a painter so he would be outside in the garage painting these huge geometric sorts of paintings, and then he’d have this old reel-to-reel tape thing playing his jazz recordings. I always had music in the house because he was always playing the piano. 

And Matt, you had a very New York thing going on?

MATT KATZ-BOHEN: Yeah, I grew up in New York. I went to LaGuardia High School, from the Fame movie, music and art. It’s actually a great education there. Before that, my dad had this huge record collection and I would take his records and bring them to school and carry them everywhere. He told me I was particularly obsessed with Toots and the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, and Charlie Daniels Band. Didn’t see that one coming, but apparently all that stuff.

What about your first-ever concerts?  

MCH: Never saw Styx or Queen live. My first legit concert my parents took me to was at The National Theatre in D. C. around the third grade and it was The Bay City Rollers. 

PY:I was the Cars, and very shortly after that, Aerosmith. It was a good one.

MK-B: I had been dragged to concerts, but the first concert that I was like I need to go to that was the Headbanger’s Ball show at the Felt Forum [in NYC]. Anthrax was headlining and Helloween opened and then Exodus. My mom took me because I think I was like 11 and she was nervous because it was a heavy metal concert. It was just a really great time, actually. 

Before Michael joined the band, when you were playing instrumentally, did you ever verbalize your direction, like ‘Oh, we sound like Television or Bauhaus’? 

MK-B: Yeah we’ve verbalized it. I say like Black Sabbath meets Giorgio Moroder and then Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush come and hang out for a while. It’s kinda like that. I play in Blondie, and that’s a band that’s kind of hard to pin down. People say punk, but then probably the biggest hit was a disco song and a rap song, and then a reggae song came out and they were always kind of throwing wrenches and would never identify as a punk band. They always said: “We’re a pop band.” In [Princess Goes…] we embrace all those styles, so I like that aesthetic.

How much thought do you give to your onstage persona, Mike?

MCH: You just go with what feels right. I think this is music that we made together that we couldn’t have made individually, so there is something kinda magical about it and we just kinda let it come through us; we do whatever we need to do and be whoever we need to be to let it flow through.

At live gigs with Princess Goes… I feel like you don’t talk a lot to the audience.

MCH: Yeah we’re sort of anti-banter. I’m not anti-banter per se, I just don’t really feel there is much worth saying other than whatever we are saying in the context of the songs. It’s just kinda how it’s evolved. 

You have an EP versus a full album; what’s your strategy to go to the next level? 

MK-B: We have maybe 40 songs that are written and in some way recorded. This first EP was kind of a particular time and it felt like it was a great introduction for the band into the world. 

PY: Maybe a little sample platter of some of our styles, not all of them. 

Tell me about the single and video for “Ketamine.” How did it come together lyrically?

MCH: It’s called “Ketamine” because it’s at least partly based on an experience of doing that drug in a therapeutic setting, in a psychiatrist’s office alongside someone—and the phenomenon of having the experience of parallel and sometimes contradictory trips with someone that mirrors the challenge of maybe being in a relationship.

The song “Come Talk to Me” has a much lighter video than “Ketamine.” With puppets, no less!

PY: Patrick Milling Smith, a really amazing producer who does theater and ads, came to see us play. I had these puppets in my studio which were just sitting in a shoebox and Mike grabbed them—

MCH: …I think I jokingly said, ‘I should do this song with a puppet singing,’ and Peter was like ‘Oh I have some puppets,’ and he went in the closet and brought out the puppets. The next gig I did the puppets, and the gig after that Patrick came and he was like, ‘I like the puppets! I want to make that video.’ 

MCH: We were initially like, ‘Oh that was just some silly idea we had.’

PY: We said no at first and then kinda came crawling back.

MCH: We were like wait, no, we should definitely do this. 

PY: It feels like a nice juxtaposition to “Ketamine,” how weird it is. It also shows the band performing, which I think gives people a little bit of an idea that we are a band.

Ok, I have to ask about the band name, which I understand came from one of your kids. What other names did you kick around?

PY: Fuck, we tried some names; it was hard. 

MK-B: We thought of Pantera. 

MCH: My wife suggested Pantera Canada; you know how in Canada they take things that are American and just put Canada at the end? Like American Idol Canada. Pantera Canada was definitely one that cracked us up. There was Rocktronic, but that was taken. 

PY: We just kept playing that “what should we call ourselves” game, that’s why we kept coming back to Princess because it was like nobody has that. And also [Michael] made a really good point that it allows us to explore our feminine side. We’ve made our own sort of mythology around the name and what the museum represents to us, and who we are in the museum and all that shit. 

MCH: It’s nice that it is sort of wide open enough that hopefully listeners, or fans, or people who encounter us will have different ideas about what it might mean, who that princess might be, what that museum might be like. Is it nice in there? Are the butterflies flying around? Are they pinned to the walls? 

MK-B: These are things to consider. Also, the transformational aspect of what a butterfly is and the chrysalis state and we try to bring that to our live shows as well, and that’s sort of the overall vibe of this museum. 

PY: But the name also gave us the aesthetic for the music, and our music gave an aesthetic to the name. We imagine this museum being sparkly and glittery like in “Love American Style” when it gets all trippy. I always think that’s exactly what—or “Ketamine”— that’s what the walls are like in the museum, at least in my mind. We were told at least a dozen times by people that we started down the path of working with, ‘You guys gotta change that name, it’s too long,’ and we were just like—

MCH: Nah. Every day that passed it was just like we are Princess Goes to The Butterfly Museum.

MK-B: We love Queens of the Stone Age …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead; there are certain bands and it just kinda goes.

Also, glitter and makeup sets this band apart; is makeup the same every show like KISS or Alice Cooper?

MCH: No, it’s evolving. Originally it was just like clown white on my hands and just that. It’s gotten more something and less something else. Sometimes you just want to put some makeup on. 

Peter and Matt, you’ve done a lot of touring with your bands. Michael; have you ever been in a van with a band and eaten at truck stops? 

MCH: I’ve been in vans, I’ve eaten at truck stops, and I’ve been in a band, but I’ve never done all three within the same context, but I’m all game.

All three of you have higher personal profiles than an ordinary band starting out…  

PY: We are down for whatever the universe serves us. We would love to be able to play festivals.

MCH: We’re our own roadies at this point. I feel like people are always like, ‘What’s your dream for this or hope for that?’ I’d like to think that it’s something beyond anything I could imagine, because I certainly couldn’t have imaged this two years ago. Hopefully, things will just continue to unfold. 

PY: Playing live is, I think, the best drug that there is, so if we can tour a lot, I’d be happy. [Touring] is also a good way for bands to support themselves; as much live playing as we can get. It’s not up to us, though. If people book us, we’re there. 

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Photography By PAUL STOREY @thepaulstory

Words By KATHERINE TURMAN @katturman

Stylist KITTY BOOTS @kittybootsstylist

Make-Up THEO KOGAN @theokoganmakeup

Hair TANYA PACHT @tanyapacht

Print and download Available Here https://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1757709

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