Artist Spotlight: Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum talks supergroup label, unforgettable name and having Debbie Harry as their (sometimes) roadie
Michael C. Hall, Peter Yanowitz and Matt Katz-Bohen have come together to form the kaleidoscope of sound that is Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum. The band was born from this unexpected trio’s love of New York and their strong desire to rock out. Atlas spoke with the band about how they got their incredible name, filming a music video in the subway and being labeled a supergroup.
Can you tell your origin story- how did you all come together?
Matt: I met Peter awhile ago- he had a band called Morningwood- and we used to play together a lot. Fast forward to Hedwig [and the Angry Inch] on Broadway, which we all took part of in some capacity. That’s kind of how the three of us all really came together and then we said ‘you know what, we should form a band [and] play our own music’ and that’s what we did.
Peter: Yeah, it was after the Hedwig tour of the United States. Matt and I had spent a lot of time hanging out going across the country and just decided to keep hanging out when we got back to New York City. One thing led to another and we started making music- instrumental music. Long story short, Michael heard it and realized we didn’t have a singer and offered to sing on some tracks and that was the beginning.
How did you come into your sound as a group?
Peter: We were doing a lot of jamming in my studio which we kind of made into the band clubhouse and we just sort of used whatever we had here. Since it’s a studio in downtown Manhattan, there’s a lot of electronic equipment. I have an electronic drum set because I can’t bang real drums in here. So it’s just sort of what we had laying around our studio is how the sound evolved.
Matt plays guitar [and] bass but his main instrument is keyboard and my main instrument is drums and I play a lot of other instruments as well. We just sort of got into ‘hey, there’s no guitarist in this band’ which was an interesting jumping off point, just not having electric guitar or when we first started not even electric bass really. Slowly, we started adding a little bit of electric bass and some acoustic guitar but we still pretty much managed [without] electric guitar. Long story short, we just used what we had and we sort of erred towards being interested in more electronic sounds.
What names come to mind when thinking of your inspirations and influences?
Matt: Probably just everything I’ve ever seen and touched and heard. Just everything. Obviously we’re influenced by New York City, seeing as we all live here and we’ve all lived here for quite awhile. Everything about this city- you can just walk around and pick it up.
Michael: We also never explicitly talked about who or what we wanted to sound like. It’s just the way our sensibilities intersect.
Is there anyone that you each look to for inspiration in general?
Peter: Lots of stuff. Books, movies, the city itself. We share a love of rock music [and] we have a lot of love for different kinds of music. We all love to rock and that was a good jumping off point as well.
Matt: Yeah. We all love that. What else do we love? We love a lot of stuff. I’ve been reading the author China Mieville lately- she’s incredible. FKA Twigs- she can kind of do no wrong [and] I’ve been doing some of her workout videos that she’s been posting lately.
You guys really do draw from everything!
Matt: We’ve always been conscious to not be ‘we’re a garage rock band playing garage rock that only happened in 1966’ or ‘we’re a synth-rock, early Kraftwerk band’ which is cool- we love bands that pay homage to specific time periods. We’ve all played in a million bands, we’ve done a lot of projects, we’ve all had pretty versatile careers and stuff that we’ve done so we’re kind of just exploring our combined muses and having fun with it, really.
Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum has gotten the “supergroup” label when people talk about the band. How do you feel about that characterization?
Peter: We’ll take it!
Anytime you get “super” in your description, we’ll take it. We think it’s kind of funny- we don’t really think of ourselves as a supergroup.
Michael: I feel like if you’re a supergroup, you need to have like a helicopter or something. At least a driver!
Peter: Supergroups definitely have to have roadies. We don’t have those yet. We’ll let you know when we do.
Matt: Debbie Harry likes to be our occasional roadie.
Peter: That’s true!
Michael: She’s lugged some stuff around for us, that’s pretty super.
Matt: I think she gets some sick and twisted thrill out of being our roadie, I’m not sure.
What’s the story behind your new video and the music you’ve just released as well?
Michael: We had worked with the woman who had directed the “Vicious” video on the “Come Talk to Me” video and we just really liked working with her. Concurrently, we had talked about the idea of doing a video in the subway, guerrilla-style. We had joked around about us doing a really busted version of the acrobatic subway dancing thing but then we decided that was not advisable. She showed up, we had two 16mm cameras that the guys came along and operated and we went down to the subway. We grabbed the respective….a little drum machine and a Casio Tone and I had this toy microphone and speaker. We just sort of grabbed them without even knowing why, we headed down to the subway and we just started shooting and the style of it emerged.
I liked the idea of us sort of performing for people on the subway platforms and in subway cars and for those people to either ignore us or be less than captivated. It seemed funny. That guy who dances and throws his shoe up in the crook of his shoulder and neck- we just came across him [and] he’s the embodiment of everything we knew we couldn’t do for our original idea. We got him to sign a release and he was in it and a couple other people. It’s really just the fruit of us going down to the subway and seeing what happens and the video is what happened.
Did people recognize you all and try to come up to you during filming?
Michael: No- the opposite. People come onto the subway all the time and perform and people just act like they’re not there so we weren’t any different. Also the volume of the song is there in the track but when we were playing it, we just had it coming out soft out of an iPhone so that we knew where we were in the music. I think that helped with the juxtaposition between the intensity of the music and whatever the vibe is of the New York subway- nobody’s shaken by anything.
What are you hoping your fans take away from your new music?
Peter: What Mike just said about how the video came about and the spontaneity involved- that’s a good metaphor for this whole band. We haven’t really thought out…we’re just friends getting together and making music. If people like it, that makes us happy and if they don’t like it then whatever, we’re not really affected by that either. It’s great if people love it and people feel something [and] come up with their own response, emotionally, to it. It’s all up to them, but that’s great. Obviously we’d love to reach as many people as we can with our music.
I had read somewhere that one of your children actually named the band.
Matt: Oh yeah, my daughter came up with the name. I asked her what her band would be called if she has a band one day and she just came up with that- like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
And I said ‘wow, that might be too good’- I need to get that band name out there like now and she was cool with it. She’s actually very proud that she named the band.
Michael: Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum- we just, we couldn’t quit it. It stuck.
What plans do you (hopefully) have for the rest of 2020?
Peter: We want to release as much music as we can. We just released our first EP on April 6 and our fourth video. I think we’re going to make a couple more videos hopefully to finish out the EP and then we’re already mixing our full-length which- I don’t know when it’s going to come out but I imagine it’s going to come out this fall sometime before the end of 2020. It’ll be a full 11 or 12 songs and I guess the trick is trying to figure out how to make some videos. Just to put as much music as we can out during now and always as long as we keep on doing [this] together.
Michael: And we’ve been able to compose songs remotely; just passing ideas back and forth and recording in whatever ways we’re individually able to and we’ve managed to keep making stuff. It’ll be real nice to get back in the same room but we’ve managed to keep the ball rolling.
Do you hope to take this project on tour at some point?
Matt: We had a trip out west planned to LA and Joshua Tree to record and play some shows and that was supposed to be in April so obviously that didn’t happen but we can’t wait to do it.
How are you all staying creative and productive in quarantine and do you have any advice for people trying to do the same?
Matt: One thing that’s helped for me a lot is being able to get outside. I’m lucky to have a park that I really like near my apartment so I just go there and I walk around and that’s been incredible. I’ve been surprised at how many people I’ve talked to that are just like ‘yeah I’ve been staying inside, not really going out’ so I would implore everyone to try to go out if they can. That’s my PSA.
Peter: All the usual stuff. Yoga helps, walking like Matt said, drumming, doing something creative, anything just using your imagination, all that. Cooking is fun sometimes.
Michael: Making stuff has definitely been a saving grace. It’s been great that we can do it collectively and make songs. Even just drawing a picture for no one kind of makes me feel better- just to make something. Then I set it on fire. It doesn’t work unless you burn it!
You’ve all been part of so many projects- bands and acting alike. Is there one that you find more or less difficult or is there one that calls to you more than the other?
Michael: I don’t know that I think of it as any more or less difficult. It’s just when you’re doing it, it’s what you’re doing. There’s a different relationship to the material that you’re putting across when it’s material that you helped realize, that you made. There’s a sense of ownership that you don’t have when you’re playing a character that someone else conceived of or speaking somebody else’s words. That’s the biggest difference.
They’re both fun. This was a very unexpected, unplanned development in my life- I think that’s true for all of us in a way. I’m just really thankful for that.
What are you hoping for when you get to put this project before an audience?
Peter: Wind machines.
I imagine when this shit is over, every band that’s ever existed and all the bands that are forming now during this time are going to want to go out on the road so we’ll probably have some competition but hopefully we’ll create a little space for our music while we’re going through this. We love playing small places- like Mercury Lounge in New York City is one of our favorite places to play. We’ve played some bigger places in New York City. We were supposed to be, like Matt said, in April we were supposed to play Desert Daze down in Palm Desert. We’d love to play outside, we’d love to play on a big stage, we’d love to incorporate as many other creative people that inspire us to do visuals and lighting and maybe even projections. We’re thinking big but let’s see what the universe lets us get away with.
Is there anything else that you want people to know or is there anything you wish you could talk about more that you may not get asked?
Michael: I just think we want to keep sharing our music- we want to get more stuff out there.
Matt: I feel pretty good that we got ‘Debbie Harry is our roadie’ in there.
Stream Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum’s new EP now!
Story by Olivia Khiel
Images courtesy of the band