Band of the Week: PWR BTTM


MEET THE BAND: Ben Hopkins (vocals, guitar) and Liv Bruce (drums)

THE BAND FROM BARD: The band initially formed in upstate New York at Bard College where drummer Liv Bruce and singer-guitarist Ben Hopkins bonded over a mutual interest in performance and drag artistry. "We were both performing arts majors at Bard," says Hopkins in a recent phone interview. "We liked a lot of the same stuff. I don't think we thought PWR BTTM would be a thing we would do beyond performing for our friends. That's probably why the band existed on the intense premise of being so unabashedly queer." While at Bard, the duo recorded the demos Cinderella Beauty Shop and Republican National Convention, a split EP with Jawbreaker Reunion.

SHARING IS CARING: On the early releases, Hopkins plays guitar and sings, and Bruce plays drums. Since then, the two have begun to share vocal and songwriting duties and have also started to trade off instruments. "I wrote a lot of the songs on the EPs," says Hopkins. "When we decided to keep working on the band after graduating, I asked Liv about writing songs and wanted him to write more songs. The first song he brought to the table was 'I Wanna Boi.'"

GETTING UGLY: In August of 2014, the band started writing songs for last year's Ugly Cherries. "I don't know if we thought we were going in a particular direction sonically," says Hopkins. "As a two-piece band, we're defined by our limitations. A lot of our sound came by virtue of that. It's not like we work toward a sound. We just do what we think sounds good." Outlets such as NPR, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, MTV, and Spin praised the album upon its release. The band is currently in the studio putting the final touches on an LP that it will release next year via Polyvinyl Records.

WHY YOU SHOULD HEAR THEM: Ramshackle tunes such as "Short-Lived Nightmare" and "Dairy Queen" feature snotty vocals and bursts of noisy guitars while the album-closing ballad "House in Virginia" features quivering vocals that show off the band's sensitive side. "We're influenced by so many different things," says Bruce. "We both have a history with musical theater in one way or another, Ben more so than I. We were both steeped in that water. That totally informed our songwriting sensibilities. A term that I never knew about in musical theater but learned about recently is the 'I want ...' song. It helps tell a story. I didn't know it was a convention but in hindsight, 'I Wanna a Boi' is the definitive 'I want ...' song." Bruce adds that they both had this connection to music made by queer artists when they were kids. "I remember when I heard Cher for the first time as a child," Bruce says. "I heard 'Believe' as a kid. I said to my mom, 'Who is this guy? I love his voice.' I mis-gendered Cher when I was a kid. We both have this early love for queer things in various shapes and forms."


WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM: PWR BTTM performs with Bellows and Lisa Prank at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 25, at Mahall's in Lakewood.

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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