Village Voice 05.10.2017 : Page 20

22 May 10 -May 16, 2017 VILLAGE VOICE.com L On Pageant , in between songs about crumbling relationships and crushes on boys, there are layered LGBTQ anthems like “Sissy,” about the struggles and ex-citements of veering from masculine norms, and “New Trick,” about the inva-sive questions well-meaning people ask of those they can’t immediately under-stand. There are moments of bittersweet insight about the strange trip that queer life can be, like a lyric on “LOL” that rings with an empathy and honesty that every not-straight-and-cis kid will understand: When you are queer/You are always nine-teen. “When you’re an openly gender-nonconforming person, you’re just always under scrutiny in public,” says Liv. “I think writing these songs helped me process that.” iv, 24, and Ben, 25, live in the Bush-wick neighborhood of Brooklyn, about ten minutes apart. In truth, they’ve always lived close to each other. They both grew up in Massachusetts — Liv in the Boston area, Ben about an hour away in South Hamilton — but hadn’t met until they both wound up at Bard College in New York State’s bucolic Hudson Val-ley. Bard has a reputation as something of a liberal-arts petri dish for experimenta-tion and creativity, and Ben, who studied theater, and Liv, who studied dance, pursued their passions with a feeling for freedom and discovery. “It’s a very open-ended kind of place,” says Ben. They met when, as they told Out in 2015, Liv accidentally stepped into Ben’s dorm room, mistaking a small get-together for an open-invite party. “Not just walked in — beat the runway into my house. And I was like, ‘Who is this sissy?’ I was confused by her because I wished that I was more like her,” recounted Ben. They started futzing around and making songs together and eventually played their first show in 2013. “I was actively trying to get better because we’re both self-taught,” says Ben. “I started to practice a lot and re-ally care about being in a band.” A shared sense of theatricality has bled its way into almost every single thing they’ve done since, partly from what they learned dur-ing their college years, but also because of their interest in pop culture and the art of gender play: They’ve noted RuPaul’s Drag Race as an influence, and Ben claims Jus-tin Vivian Bond, the pioneering New York queer performer, as a drag mother. PWR BTTM have an openness to un-expected sounds and strange flourishes, including the use of a French horn as a punctuation to their guitars and drums. “It’s unique to have a rock duo that doesn’t sound bare, and that occupies so much sonic space in recordings and on-stage,” says Cameron West, who helped with the arrangements on the album and played the horn. “A lot of our discussions were about expanding the instrumenta-tion. I thought it would be unique to have some instruments that are often under-ers. “It’s refreshing to hear a kickass rock ’n’ roll sound again,” she tells me through email of her kid’s music. Which is true: The underground scene in Brooklyn has come, in the laptop age, to be dominated by electronic music and bedroom pop — any music that can be made with just a synth and a computer, really — and there’s something thrilling about seeing a pair of young bohemians pick up instru-‘When you’re an openly gender-nonconforming person, you’re always under scrutiny,’ says Liv utilized in rock ’n’ roll, so we used bass trombone and alto flute. I knew that the parts needed to be outgoing, maybe even be a little histrionic.” Ben asked his mother, Chris Hopkins, a trained opera singer, to perform backing vocals on a se-ries of tracks, too, adding a pretty siren’s touch that sounds halfway between the great backing vocalists of the 1960s and ’70s and Kim Deal’s voice in the Breed-ments and make pure and simple punk. Indeed, beneath the sparkles and the bluster, there is both a virtuosity and a real talent for songwriting. If sometimes the spectacle of PWR BTTM can suck up more of the attention than the music, there are a number of moments on the album, particularly on somber tracks “LOL” and “Won’t,” in which Liv and Ben sound more like weary country cow-

Previous Page  Next Page


Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here