No sooner had I secured a ticket for Princess Goes‘ UK leg of their European tour than I anxiously texted my editor, who I knew was a fan, to share my good news.
Flash forward a few months and literally 24 hours before the gig, I was met with a message that read “How would you like to interview the band before you see them live?” Um, hell yeah!
The following day, looking like the cat who’d got the cream, I sat down with the trio of New York natives to discuss, among other things, their experimental approach to writing, their musical influences, British gastronomy and, of course, their sophomore album, ‘Come of Age’, which is out now and features the singles Shimmer, Jetpack and Blur.
CinemaChords: This is your sophomore album. It must have been a lot easier to pull things together because obviously the first one came together in the pandemic. I was wondering how the lessons you learned from making the first album have informed how you’ve approached this one and whether your processes are the same in terms of sort of writing as a group.
Michael C Hall: Huh, yeah. Learned lessons.
Peter Yanowitz: I would think just as the more you do something, the more things make sense. And I think if anything, it felt more intuitive – the decisions we were making. And we did work kind of quicker on this one. It felt like, okay, the other one was done and we started writing for this one and then once we had a couple of songs going, it was like this entryway into it and it just felt like we were more confident. And just knowing, oh, we’re making a record, and this is taking shape. That made sense (looking at Michael).
MCH: Yeah I think the shorthand gets shorter. It’s just easier to cut to the chase when you’re onto an idea and maybe there were like a collection of songs out of which the rest of the album grew and so, without any sort of conversation, it was sonically cohesive.
CC: How much do you guys love touring and how do audiences in the UK and Europe compare to those back home?
PY: We just played in New York last week, in our hometown, and we played in Manchester last night. I don’t know. There’s definitely a difference in the audiences, right?
MCH: Yeah, but it’s almost just gig to gig as much as country to country, you know? Each room has its own personality that reveals itself almost immediately. It’s wild. But I do think, generally speaking, there is a great appreciation for live music in this part of the world; in the UK and Europe more broadly. We’re going to be playing in Germany, one show in France, one show in the Netherlands so there are a lot of new places on this tour. Touring is, you know, it’s hard. It’s a grind, but the shows can be really exhilarating, especially if you’re in a place where you’ve never been, with a room full of absolute strangers, no friends on the guest list, nothing…
PY: Yeah, we’re getting to know them, like, night to night. And they’re getting to know us a little bit.
MCH: Speed dating (laughter).
PY: And also, our record was supposed to be out on this tour, but we’ve delayed it by three weeks.
PY: And I think the record is a good introduction. This new record is a great introduction to making some new fans that might not know about us yet.
MC: Yeah, there are a few singles that we’ve released and those are part of the set. But, um, yeah.
CC: Yeah, I was going to say that Shimmer is a real earworm for me. Kind of divided myself and, my colleague. Um, but, it’s a grab… I was singing in the car on the way up (to Cardiff) and, um, your vocals in particular… So I’m a singer in a band as well so I tend to, sorry, I don’t mean to be rude (to Peter and Matt – drums and keyboards respectively), but I tend to kind of focus on the vocals first and they really do sort of punch (and has) this beautiful sort of ethereal quality to it.
MCH: Ah cool, thanks.
CC: In terms of when you’re making music, I’ve read that you’ve got quite an experimental style bringing tracks together. Does that make it easier or harder for you to whittle them down when you’re looking at putting them into an album?
PY: Mmm. That’s a good question.
MCH: I don’t know. Originally, we had thought this release might be more expansive, almost like a double album. That’s not really speaking to your question. I’m not sure what the criteria was in terms of whittling things down. I think it was just what felt like it was more of a piece. There were some things that were outliers, not in terms of how good or bad the songs were, but just not feeling like they were quite in the same book. But, I don’t know. The way we write is all over the place. There are no rules, which is liberating, but maybe the grass is always potentially greener. If you have some sort of set formula you can plug into, then you have that. And if you don’t, then you’re always creating new ways of working and new tools. But I’m just, I’m just saying words (everyone laughs).
I like what you’re saying. I like the experimental approach. But it’s… Yeah, we don’t really talk about it amongst ourselves. We don’t try to figure out what we’re doing. But I do like that idea of going into every song, like, how do you write a song? Like almost tricking myself or looking for an accident that happened in the studio or something Mike said. To just be like, oh, you know. I like forgetting how to write a song and then having to remember it, that way you make something completely different than you did the last time you did it.
Matt Katz-Bohen: Yeah, the formula. Who writes songs formulaically? Which bands?
PY: Tons of people.
MKB: I mean, like, pop stars?
PY: Yeah, it seems like so many of them are written by like… It’s like the same people, and you go to them because they do their thing.
MKB: Like in like pop.
PY: Yeah, pop. It seems like even rock, a lot of people have other people write their songs…
MKB: Yeah, sometimes. Well, there is that definite formulaic, like, Nashville, U. S. sound, or like, L. A. pop songwriter thing. But obviously that’s not who we are. We just like to use whatever we have on hand, technologically. Mike might sing a voice note and send it to us, and why not use that? But I don’t think that’s even that experimental because everyone does that. So, I’m sorry I just screwed this (laughter).
MCH: No, I think it’s more like we don’t follow some standard formula and I guess songs have come about in lots of different ways. Maybe through an instrumental that one of you, or both of you, came up with; maybe through some sort of lyrical or melodic idea that I came up with, maybe through some sort of jam; maybe, there are some songs that were fully realized, then completely like, dismantled, and then rebuilt into different songs. So, there’ve been lots of ways.
PY: Shimmer is a great example because I had that instrumental jam, just sitting around, and I just thought it was going to be an instrumental forever, and then Mike heard it and just threw all that out, and just came up with this beautiful poem, if you will, and it just was like, oh my God, now I can’t hear it any other way, so the lyrical approach also adds to the experimental approach that we have.
CC: Michael, I’d read from one of the interviews that you said that you didn’t mean to form a band. What was it when you guys were sort of jamming together that changed for you…
MCH: I think there were maybe a couple of instrumental tracks that you guys had made that we focused on and I put lyrics to both of those, and we felt like something was kind of working. And then, in the way we’ve been describing, we just sort of started throwing ideas around and songs were emerging and we had probably like 10 songs and I can remember us in the studio just saying “Should we book a gig and like play these for people?” And if we’re gonna do that, I guess we should come up with a name and if we’re gonna do that, does that mean we’re a band? (laughter). And it was really like that.
MKB: I mean, that’s pretty much it. We had these instrumentals. Mike sang on a song called Love American Style, which was on our first EP and I think that made us all realize that this was sort of a special thing. I thought it was really cool. And we sort of all jumped up in the air and did like this three way high five. We said, Princess is go! And then it was official. Pretty much.
PY: I remember that. I forgot about that.
CC: It’s instilled in your mind no doubt, in slow motion as you all came together (more laughing).
MCH: Yeah, I wish we’d thought to roll the cameras, yeah.
CC: So, once you’d committed to Thanks for Coming and you were going to ultimately put an album out, were you already then thinking ahead to a second album or was it very much just in the moment and that was the focus and that was a discussion that maybe came along later?
MKB: Well yeah, we have a lot of material, a lot of songs, a lot of material recorded that hasn’t been released yet. We probably have another album’s worth of material that’s pretty much ready to go, but we’re constantly writing and working on stuff, so that’s just the nature of being creative because you’re not really content to say, “Well, that one’s done.”
CC: Michael, do you work with Peter and Matt in the same way as you would with fellow actors or is that a completely different kettle of fish to what you would normally do?
MCH: Um (laughing) I was just imagining a situation where I passed out a scene.
PY: I know. I got nervous.
MCH: Maybe we just read through this before. I mean, it’s definitely a different kettle of fish on the surface. There’s no script but we’re sort of discovering the script, sonically, lyrically, melodically, together. And we’re not interpreting someone else’s work. But maybe on a more fundamental level, it’s hopefully similar in that it’s a sort of intuited collaboration and communication.
PY: We met doing Hedwig (and the Angry Inch) on Broadway, so doing theatre in a fictional band. So we did actually work together related to the acting side of things then.
MCH: Yeah, the first context for all of us was that.
PY: I am not an actor, but there has to be the performance element of Princess.
MCH: Being on stage in front of a live audience, experiencing something collectively is essentially the same. I’m not pretending to be somebody else. But I also, I think all of us… have a way of being on stage that’s different than the way we’re being now, you know?
PY: Yeah, I do this a lot (swishes his long hair about).
MCH: Yeah, you never do that.
MKB: What about the tongue? Does that come out on stage a lot?
PY: Do I do the tongue on stage?
MCH: You don’t. You really just do it in photos.
PY: Ah, shit. It’s like my dog’s tongue now; just hangs out of his mouth naturally (more laughing).
CC: Is being in a band for you more cathartic and a more intimate and revealing experience than say acting?
MCH: I don’t know. I suppose it would seem to be in as much as, as far as the words go, I came up with them, but sometimes it feels like it’s easier to reveal yourself through a mask, but you know, whoever wrote the words, it’s all a mask. So, I don’t know.
CC: Your sound has been informed through a lot of different influences from Giorgio Moroder, who’s a favourite of mine to 70’s disco and all sorts of other stuff. Who is it that’s on your radar now? Who have you got on your Spotify lists at the moment?
MKB: Mmm Spotify lists? There’s a band from New York called the Nation of Language. I like them a lot, but again they sound very New Order, OMD… They’re kind of throwbacky, but they’re also now at the same time.
PY: Matt turned us on to this amazing band from Colombian band called Bomba Estereo. We’ve been playing them a little bit before our show. Really, really heavy bass. Really great shit.
And there’s a new band in New York called Exclamation Pony.
MKB: They’re great. Their record is forthcoming.
CC: I read a quote from someone on YouTube that said, “Your music sounds like it’s from the past and from the future at the same time” which I thought was a pretty spot-on assessment. What do you guys think of that?
PY: That resonated. Maybe it’s because of where we are in our lives and how much life we’ve already absorbed. We have a lot of ground to cover and we get creative together.
CC: Question for Peter and Matt. Michael crossed over from acting into the world of music. Would you ever consider going either into acting, or maybe something related to film such as scoring a movie.
PY: Not scoring, but, I mean, I’ve always…
MKB: Not scoring?
PY: Yeah. It just seems like there are so many people doing that that are good at it. You’d be amazing at it (to MKB).
MCH: You should score. You’re the scorer.
PY: Yeah. Let’s do it. No, I mean, I’ve considered… I’ve done scoring and I appreciate it. But the acting part, I’m always in awe of because when you were just talking about being vulnerable as an actor or a musician, I’ve never felt more naked than when I was acting in school or you know, even to an extent in Hedwig. It’s terrifying. Going up on stage, you get a little nervous and stuff and I like that kind of fear. I like that fear that acting sort of represents in my mind. That’s scary. I want us to feel that more, because it’s a rush. It seems like it’d be fun to explore. My mom always says, “You should be an actor,” and I was like, “I don’t know.”
MCH: Well, not many parents say that to their kids, that’s for sure.
PY: I was a dramatic little shit.
MCH: It’s like going to med school. You sure you don’t want to be an actor (everyone laughs).
MKB: The med school thing.
Everyone: Ehhhhhh. There’s no future in that.
MCH: It’s too competitive.
MKB: Who wants a doctor in the family. Yeah, I’ve got to tell my friends.
CC: Changing the subject slightly to close the interview. When you guys are touring, you’re going to be sampling various local cuisine. Is there anything that you’ve spotted in the UK that you thought you needed to try? A good Toad in the Hole, for example.
MKB: Mmm, Toad in the Hole.
MCH: What’s a Toad in the Hole?
MKB: I’m not sure.
CC: So, a Toad in the Hole is a batter mix, you put it into a baking tin with sausages and then bake it, and then smother it with gravy when it comes out. It’s better than it sounds.
MCH: It sounds pretty good.
MKB: Kind of like biscuits and gravy in America, perhaps.
MCH: Yeah, yeah. Does it come out like a distinct element? Like a slurry.
CC: No, the batter rises and it’s nice and crispy.
MCH: And you cut in and discover the gravy and the sauce. That sounds pretty good.
PY: It sounds Victorian, too.
MCH: Well, that’s on the list now.
CC: Well I hope you enjoy the Toad in the Hole when you try it and thank you so much for your time.
Come Of Age is out now and you can grab a copy of the album here.