I caught up with PWR BTTM before their sold out show at Workman’s Club in Dublin to talk a little bit about their new album, the idea of shows being safe spaces, queer liberation and more. Words by Blathnaid McElduff and photos by @larapinkertonphoto
How are you enjoying Ireland so far?
Ben: I fucking love it here. It’s cute as hell and everyone is so helpful in a way that doesn’t feel forced or annoying! Our cab driver yesterday from the airport was really nice and super non-intrusive and cool. And everyone in the bar has been really nice. Yeah, it’s great. Liv: I feel like generally people here are so accommodating and one thing I’ve been connecting it to mentally is the fact that a lot of the architecture is thousands of years old. Whereas in America it’s like “if I don’t like something I’ll just knock it down”. Everyone seems really nice in Dublin. There’s a lot of tourists here too. Ben: Yeah, Grindr has let me know that. I just deleted Grindr though. Liv: Oh? After last night? Ben: And today… Anyway, ask us about rock n roll! What do you wanna know?
So your new album comes out next month, and you already released Big Beautiful Day and Answer My Text, and you just released the song ‘LOL’ so: what are each of your favourite songs from the album?
Liv: That wouldn’t be very fair on the other ones would it? Ben: We play Styrofoam now as a two-piece with Liv playing drums and me playing guitar and it’s really fun to just shred on that. And I love playing drums on Answer My Text because I have found different ways to play it every time that make it even bigger - that’s a song where I feel like I actually challenged myself on the drumming part. Those are the ones I’ve been enjoying most but I don’t think I’ll ever have a favourite song because they’re all a part of one thing. Liv: The song that I had the most fun writing was probably Kids’ Table. Pretty much every other song on the record was very laborious and involved so much second-guessing and drama and revising lyrics and stuff. Kids’ Table is the only one where I came up with every word in about a day and didn’t change anything. I don’t think that way of song writing yields better results than the one where I struggle and heave and groan over it but it is way more pleasant! When I first started writing songs they pretty much all came that way so it was exciting to write Kids’ Table and know that I still have that method available.
Have you been playing much of the new record live yet?
Liv: Yeah, if we write new songs before a tour we try to play them to see how they work. I actually get pretty nervous about doing that and I need to have my lyrics finished before I do it, I can’t really improvise with them. Ben forces me off the ledge. Ben: Which is so weird to think about because in any other situation I would not have that function for you in your life. Liv: It’s the one place where I let Ben do that! Whereas if Ben tells me to order a cheese Danish I’m like, ‘hi can I have the elephant steak?’ I shouldn’t say Ben has to push me off a ledge, it’s more like Ben has to push me out of a plane where I’m parachuting. Which is what I think playing a new song live is like. Ben: One thing I’ve just started to enjoy doing is playing covers! I’ve been playing guitar for three years and now I’m just starting to get really into this idea of learning covers. We haven’t done any covers live yet but we started playing The Chain by Fleetwood Mac in sound check today and it was really fun! And I really wanna cover Lorde.
In regards to your live shows – I’m not sure how much you know about Girls Against but we’re all about raising awareness for safety at shows since it’s obviously a big issue and I know loads of people say that PWR BTTM shows are safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people as well as POC and women. Do you think that’s important and do you think you have a responsibility as someone with a platform to speak out about it?
Ben: I think so because we have a certain degree of control, right? We’re not politicians or people who go fight and get bills passed but we’ve been given this degree of exposure and been given this responsibility of being the ones that are on the stage so we have the chance to make sure the space is in line with our political values. Especially with things like making sure the venue has gender neutral bathrooms – that was Liv’s idea – and things like having people not mosh. It’s all sort of stuff that has developed over time but its stuff that I would feel would make us hypocritical if we didn’t do it. It feels like it makes a lot of sense.
You can tell too that there’s still a lot of straight cis men who come and can still have a good time because they’re into the music.
Ben: Yeah! And that’s totally chill. Liv: Yeah, I love straight cis men. Ben: Yeah and if we’re gonna have a community that’s not just a queer community – those people who are down to respect us and the values and expectations that we set, and also just enjoy the music – that’s great. And this was never our intention but I find that a lot of people I know have come to understand some parts of queerness through seeing people at a PWR BTTM show. That has nothing to do with us, that’s really to do with the people who come. But I’ll never forget being picked up by a group of frat boys in Atlanta who came to one of our first shows outside of the North East and they crowdsurfed me and shit and were like ‘Ben dude I just love your fucking gay ass band!’ That’s cool! I hope I can have more experiences like that in my life with people who I would initially be judgemental of.
And you’re only getting bigger too – loads of shows on this run are sold out, including tonight which is saying something considering hardly any bands ever sell out Irish shows.
Ben: It’s funny because we were meeting all these Irish people when we were on tour who were flying to different shows and that was crazy for us. My great grandfather’s an Irish immigrant so I wanted to come to Dublin and rock out! And also we’re from the North East and there’s lots of Irish people there. I feel like there’s people who’d like PWR BTTM almost anywhere, which is something we didn’t really understand about our band. We just make rock music, everybody likes rock music. Or everybody can at least tolerate rock music. We’re not that complicated of a band at the end of the day.
As more and more LGBTQ+ artists come out and speak out about those specific issues it seems like the media start to talk more and more about how queer music is just ‘beginning’ and becoming a thing even though it’s been happening forever. What do you think about that?
Ben: It has been happening forever! Liv: Yeah, this is maybe the first time in history when someone can be open about it and not worry about it harming their career. So many of the iconic queer musicians from even ten years ago were put under pressure by their labels, PR staff, management to not tell people they were queer and not acknowledge it openly, and not write about it or to write about it more subversively. I think we’ve just reached a stage in many societies, but not all societies, where it no longer harms an artist’s career to be open about that. Which is great but it doesn’t mean that anything is over. There’s this Angela Davis book called Abolition Democracy where she’s talking about getting black authors into the canon of western literature and having the western canon include black authors and she says that that doesn’t necessarily solve anything or fix anything but that it opens up new terrain for struggle. And while there are many ways that queer liberation is different from racial liberation and black liberation – I don’t want to suggest that they’re the same struggle and that one success automatically means the others’ success – I think that that’s very true and that idea carries over to queer liberation. The open existence of queer musicians doesn’t automatically fix anything but it creates new space in the conversations we have with our elected leaders and things like that.
And lastly, in regards to the rest of your plans for 2017 – I saw you just got announced for Reading and Leeds! Are you excited for that?
Ben: I’m not sure who’s headlining our stage but our day is Eminem, right? GA: No, your day is Muse! Liv: I don’t know how it is in Europe but in America – I shouldn’t even say this in print – a lot people think it’s tacky to love Muse but we love them. Ben: Muse are my shit, for a three-piece they make such a huge sound. Matt Bellamy shreds. Maybe we’ll get to go see Muse! Liv: One thing we learned the last time we were in Europe is that the culture of music festivals here is kind of different than in America. In America I think people decide whether or not to go based on how many artists they like that are on the bill but in Europe it seems like people show up because they like going to festivals and they like music in general and they are willing to spend all day seeing bands that they’ve never seen before. Ben: And there is a segment of people in America who have that relationship with festivals but a lot of the people I know go because so-and-so is headlining. Liv: I just think festivals are such a cool challenge for a musician to try to be the one that the audience go home and listen to and buy a record from.
is grindr socially conscious enough for the option to connect your account to existing social media to be some kind of subversive ploy to preserve an image of the gay male hookup world in which all parties are not essentially strangers? despite that its entire interface lends itself to and bends for pent-up degradation and spontaneous sex with people while creating every desired condition to ignore their personhood completely?
if I’m overthinking it, is that maybe because by and large, communities of gay men have been silenced by assumed promiscuity / in the era where the internet is a current social catalyst, to the absurdity that fucking 4chan has been referenced in international news not just once but many times? am i a product of that thinking for feeling that grindr would be a productive arena for changing any public image, despite the fact that I’m viscerally aware of how grindr is the least desirable visualization of a community in terms of social code maybe ever, especially in the context of modern anti-gay rhetoric? is it inherently homophobic or destructive to view it as a platform for any larger change though it has enough memetic status and value to imagine how that could happen?
the places we create in our smaller worlds to fertilize the mutations of sexuality - such as grindr, hustler clubs, anonymous group meetings, or even boards on certain forums - constantly breed smaller groups, regardless of how, based loosely on a compulsion to categorize. but when and why did we start categorizing traits of human sexuality based on assumed moral limits? does this encourage or put order to the masochistic hierarchy of disgust this creates in people, this arbitrary unconscious competition that makes it so some people find themselves as functional sociopaths that murder for a psychosexual attempt at feeling something? and others unemployed, closeted and hiding under their parents but jacking off to necrophilia or an unsourced 240p MPEG of a guy getting fucked by several horses in one day? I’ve learned at least one pattern of questioning that comes with using the word kink, and if you aren’t explicit about which kink or kinks you mean, the guesses very eagerly turn as morbid as they can be - i think often we get so lost in the wet dream of excess we confuse feeling the worst with feeling the most.
on a less grounded note but also uncomfortably predictable, can you imagine if subcultures post-internet had been allowed to fester in the same way they would have before then, possibly for centuries? what if the even smaller counterculture of grindr users that self-identify with the pig emoji had ever, in any capacity, had everything necessary for a functioning and self-sustaining economy? that’d be fucked
so ive been avidly following your evak drabbles (they are marvellous) and ive had a terrible prompt floating around my head for a few days now. ok ok hear me out, we know isak is absolutely shite at being discreet with his porn tabs, but get this he has totally forgotten to delete grindr off his phone (that he downloaded in episode 2 to stalk even on). even perhaps stumbles upon it one day when he is looking at cute photos of them, copious amounts of teasing ensues ...you decide the rest <3
oh holy god. this prompt. I was literally half way through another one when I had to stop because I kept thinking about this one. So you’ve got me, anon. You’ve got my attention, so sit back and ride this out with me.
There is something to be said for an empty apartment on a Friday night.
Even grins and lays back on Isak’s bed, door wide open, every so often listening to the off key sound of his boyfriend singing in the shower.
Life is good. Right now, this minute, it’s the best it’s ever been. And that’s thanks to the boy singing Adele as he washes off remnants of their afternoon. It’s thanks to the uneventful, drama free weeks of their relationship following Christmas.
Through the haze of Isak’s singing, Even reaches for his boyfriend’s phone, thumbing the lock (Even’s birthday, the sap) and glances at the home screen.
“Isak, which photo am I looking for?”
Even hears Isak’s singing cut off in the midst of a moving rendition of Hello. “What?”
“The photo!” Even calls out, snorting at the image of Even passed out with his mouth open and drooling that acts as the home screen image. “The one my mom took the morning after Christmas that she wants you to send to her.”
“Oh- yeah.” The shower cuts off, “It’s the one of us on the floor in front of the Christmas tree. Give me five minutes and I’ll find it!”
Even rolls his eyes. Five minutes his ass. If Isak takes less than fifteen minutes in the bathroom after a shower, he counts it a miracle.
“Uh huh,” he says, mostly for himself. Then loud enough for Isak to hear him, “No worries, I’ll find it! Where is your gallery icon?”
Even flips through the pages on the phone, trying to locate the fucking button.
Even pauses, sliding his thumb away from the screen.
Sure enough, at the bottom right hand corner on Isak’s third page, a little orange button sits with a creepy fucking black mask icon.
What the fuck.
Even glances up at the empty doorway, unsure whether he should be impressed or really fucking concerned. But Isak wouldn’t. There is no fucking way he would. Isak could hardly look Even in the eyes the first time Even had gone down on his, let alone use Grindr to hook up with guys.
Nevertheless, Even hits the app and waits for it to load.
Last Activity October 2016.
Even lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding and laughs, the situation sinking in. He pulls up some of Isak’s last conversations, noting that his boy didn’t respond to a single one and that each message was more vulgar than the last.
B-Toy: Do you squirt?
Even snorts out loud. God he can almost imagine the look on Isak’s face reading these.
“Baby?” Even calls out, thumbing through more of the messages his eyes growing wider with each one and the corners of his mouth growing sore with the force of his grin.
Even props himself on the pillows, getting ready for the show.
“Uh- who is Daddy890?”
Silence, then a muted and confused “What the fuck?”
“What about Bottom4You? And it’s a number 4, so straight to the point.” Even snorts, “Apparently he’s been a bad boy who wants to be punished.”
Another bout of silence and then a loud thud, followed by a clear, “FUCK! OH MY FUCKING GOD.”
Even can’t help the burst of laughter that bubbles up, escaping his chest in almost honks of sound. He hears another thud and then the bathroom door slams open.
Isak rushes into the room, covered in only a towel that he holds up with his left hand. He zeros in immediately on Even with his phone and the specific app that’s pulled up. “Even.”
“I’m just- does he know what you’re like in the bedroom?” Even gasps out through pees of laughter, only strengthened by the force of the red flush starting at Isak’ s chest and flaming upward.
Isak squawks, lunging for the phone. Even rolls smoothly away, holding the phone up to his face, and crawling backwards to evade Isak’s desperate swipes. “StrongSven wants to know if you like to be called ’baby’. I can certainly tell him the answer to that.”
Isak crawls on top of the bedding, ignoring how his towel falls off in the process. “I fucking hate you so much!”
“I feel like we should talk about this a little.” Even gasps, finally surrendering the phone when Isak hooks his arms around Even’s waist and he’s left with a lap of warm, naked boy.
Which is something he could get very used to.
“No,” Isak says forcefully, trying and failing to hide his beet red face in Even’s shoulders. “We are never talking about this. This was a mistake brought on from curiosity, Eskild, and a lonely night watching Romeo + Juliet! I can’t believe I forgot to delete it.”
“Curiosity?” Even pulls back, hooking a hand through Isak’s hair and pulling slightly- just enough pressure until Isak had no choice but to look Even in the eyes. He tried to tramp down another grin and keep his face serious, “Were you looking for me on there?”
Today I deleted my profile on grindr. As I mentioned in my previous post, I felt like a slave to that app. I was always on it and felt obligated to go on it. I can’t do that anymore, I am better than that!
The guys on there were just not what I would expect and I should show myself more worth than that. I will write a post if I ever decide to re-download it. I cannot be ridiculous!
So, since my college has many gay guys who are hidden, I guess I will be hidden too :(
Now….my chances of getting laid have gone drastically low….sigh…oh man
Seb had a lot on his plate since he really even been able to be home. Working as a surgeon and all, plus really dealing with his mental health and physical health he really could use some company and not be so pushed away at any person that wanted to give it to him. He deleted grindr, tinder, all that since he was just getting people that really weren’t at all worth his time. Sebastian has such high standards for a partner and right when he thought Lennon met them he just turned him off with the whole way he spoke. He wasn’t going to change him for his own pleasure, that wasn’t him, just Seb felt so alone in even his own head even if he can easily call Adam, his own brother or Kris. He has people in his life but yet he felt like he was walking around being the only man in his earth and it was getting to him.
Coming back from his therapist for the night he hated doing this but Reid said this will help with his depression even if really it just made his mouth dry and wasted his time. Coming up the steps he noticed Lennon and he’s not seen him since that day a couple days ago. Hoodie up and just minding his own business he just then right when he was about to go inside his house he called out. “Come have a fucking drink with me and ——- “ He stopped as he just then looked away. “Sorry, that sounded pathetic … Just — Could use the company and I thought you might too even with how dry I was that last time…”
I talked with this guy for a bit and we added each other on Facebook. Then I figured out he was a creep and was trying to cheat on his boyfriend with me and I cut all communication with him and blocked his number. Dude keeps making new grindr profiles and trying to talk to me and I keep blocking him. Today was the 7th (or so) time and he messaged me and said something along the lines of “hi (my full name here) it’s (his name)” so I told him to fuck off and that I wasn’t interested… He blocked me but now I’m paranoid and am deleting my grindr profile completely. Yikes.