The DIY, queer punk duo PWR BTTM takes the stage dressed in drag, face paint, and glitter. Their banter between songs seems brash, but in a playful way that highlights the pair’s genuine adoration for each other.
At the heart of PWR BTTM’s spirited sets are quick and catchy songs that touch on a range of topics. From foods loaded with carbohydrates, to more serious topics like love and gender, PWR BTTM covers all the bases.
The band consists of Liv Bruce and Ben Hopkins, who both alternate between vocals, guitar, and drums. Their debut full-length album Ugly Cherries will be co-released in September via Miscreant Records and Father/Daughter Records.
We chatted with the band about their upcoming release and glam-rock essence.
BreakThru Radio (BTR): How did you two start playing as PWR BTTM together?
Ben Hopkins (BH): We were friends for a while at Bard where we went to school. The genesis of my invitation into the band started at the gym. Liv asked me to ask someone else to be in PWR BTTM and I said, “Sure, but you should let me be in this band.” And I had never been in a band before, but I said, “I know how to play guitar,” even though I didn’t really know how. At that moment, I think I was running on so many endorphins from the push-ups I was doing that I really felt the need to be in a band. And now I’m in a band.
Liv Bruce (LB): Here we are. We are still sort of in the zygote stage.
BTR: There seems to be a ton of buzz around PWR BTTM for being in the zygote stage.
LB: We do a lot of advertising on social media.
BH: Yeah, our LinkedIn account is blowing up. We’re also big on Craigslist. [Laughs]
LB: And you should check out our Xanga.
But for real, the only other thing I want to say regarding the buzz is that we are very, very lucky to have people who are on our team.
BH: Working with Miscreant Records and Father/Daughter Records sort of feels like a hallucination that I don’t want to wake up from. They are the coolest, most rad, ethical people in the world. We would still be plucking a one-string banjo on the side of the road without them. We are very lucky to be associated with these incredible people who have good values, who care about our music, and who have never thought of us as a joke or a gimmick because of the performance element of what we do.
BTR: You’ll be releasing your first full length via Miscreant Records and Father/Daughter Records this September. Would you mind talking about the writing process for Ugly Cherries?
LB: It’s like a fossil record. It has songs that were eight months old when we recorded them. But Ben was undergoing this saga of self-discovery post-graduation.
BH: I wound up being in the the Hudson Valley for an extra year after graduating from school, which was like this weird, cosmic sign that we should stay a band and not just be a college band. The record came out over a year of trying to figure out who we were as independent people while living in this isolated place where you have nothing but time to think. And that’s a scary thing to have, but also an amazing privilege.
BTR: Do you both write lyrics for PWR BTTM?
BH: It depends. If I am singing the song, I wrote the lyrics. If Liv sings the song, they wrote those lyrics.
LB: This is a very recent development, but sometimes we will ask each other about the song before it’s finished. We will ask what the other thinks about a certain line or what fits after it.
BH: I just keep trying to sneak the lyrics from “All Star” by Smash Mouth into all of our songs. [Laughs] But really, we have a very collaborative writing process. We are two very wacky, headstrong people, but the sharing is the most beautiful part of the experience.
BTR: What about the instrumentation?
BH: Playing guitar is the only thing that keeps me stapled to planet Earth. I am constantly playing guitar or else I will fly away and explode. But when Liv sings on the record, they usually play guitar and I play drums. We have had a lot of cool experimentation with instruments. We worked a bass into our new song.
LB: We are getting a llama.
BH: We are getting a llama who is going to do a lot of live singing for us.
BTR: Where do you get a llama?
BH: Craigslist. [Laughs] The same place you get a boyfriend, if you’re curious.
LB: We are being silly.
BTR: When you perform live, you dress in face paint and drag. Has that been a part of your performance since the inception of the band, or is that an element that came about later?
BH: You know what, it just happened. As queer people, it was something we had to do to be true to ourselves and to survive.
LB: I am very lazy when it comes to my appearance. Since I came out as genderqueer, I started blurring the lines of what I would wear on stage and what I would wear on the street everyday.
BH: I need drag. It’s like armor for me. I have been dealing with anxiety. The more scared I am, the more makeup I wear, and the better I feel. It’s like a security flamethrower. If anyone tries to fuck with me, I know I look crazier than they do. With drag I think, “Thank God I have this.”
LB: At our show in Beacon, [NY], I was wearing this amazing and confusing romper. This man sitting outside the show asked, “Is that for a man or woman.” And I said, “It’s for me.” Wearing drag during our performance and being onstage with it is empowering, but I like being around the show space beforehand in drag, too. I think it’s equally empowering to walk to the bodega in a maxi dress and buy a tallboy.
BTR: Is there anything in particular that you hope your audience takes away from listening to your music?
BH: I always say that the only thing I really want anyone to feel when they hear our work is that they feel, in some way, less alone. I justify making art as a thing to live by, and it’s the most important thing that art can do.
LB: I just came off teaching at a summer camp that teaches queer youth how to play rock music. What’s really exciting is showing someone who didn’t think they could write a song, or play an instrument, or be in a band that they can do those things. Being in a band is hard work, but it can also be easy and fun. There was definitely a time in my life where I thought that my queerness meant that I couldn’t be in the music world. I don’t think that anymore and I want to make sure that other queer people don’t think that.
BTR: What’s next for PWR BTTM?
BH: We are going to do a lot of touring in the next year or so. We also intend to make a lot of interdisciplinary work in the next few years. Be that making plays or hosting interdisciplinary shows. We will obviously keep making music, but we also have other projects that we want to work on.
LB: We also have what feels like an EP of songs and we are excited to get those out at some point. We are just trying to do one thing at a time.
BH: You’re going to see more content from us than you can handle. That is if we don’t kill each other first. Or get thrown in the East River.
Photos courtesy of Andrew Piccone.