Many people know Michael C. Hall from his award-winning acting, breaking out in his role as the title character on the crime drama Dexter. He also played the lead role in the musicals Lazarus by David Bowie and the hit musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. During Hedwig he met Peter Yanowitz, who started his career as the drummer for The Wallflowers and more recently was a member of the band Morningwood. The trio is completed by keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen who played with artists like Blondie, Boy George and Cindy Lauper. They continued playing music after the musical, which led to their newest band, Princess Goes To The Butterfly Museum. With their first EP released on April 2nd, mxdwn had the opportunity to talk with all members of the band. They talked about how they found each other, origin of their name, inspirations for songs and lyrics and how they are handling the ongoing quarantine.
mxdwn: I know you guys all have a vast musical background that reaches over decades and over different projects. How did you find each other and start this band?
Matt Katz-Bohen: That goes all the way back, several years. There was a show on Broadway in New York called Hedwig and The Angry Inch. We were all involved in the Broadway show in New York and that’s kind of how we all connected.
mxdwn: So how did you guys come up with the name Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum? What’s the story behind the name?
MKB: My daughter actually came up with that, and I just thought it was the greatest band name I’ve ever heard, and so it would be a crime to not use this. I was asking her if she could have a band with her friend what she would call it, and she came up with that. We had actually been to a butterfly museum in New Orleans. I was down there visiting some family and I think that may have influenced her decision to call it that.
Mxdwn: One of my favorite songs on your EP is “Love American Style,” can you describe what the song is about?
Michael C. Hall: All right. Lyrically, it started out, with a song about a somewhat, at least emotionally sadomasochistic dynamic that might exist in the relationship, or that exists in other relationships, like the internet or one on one relationships. But I guess as we started to record it, and the ‘torture freedom’ line of the chorus, just sort of came out of nowhere. It started to feel that maybe, it had a resonance in a broader sense. I think we might have a somewhat sadistic relationship with the broader structures and systems that run our lives in this country broadly, some of both. Whatever you think it means. That’s what it really means. Whatever, whoever’s listening to it thinks that it means.
mxdwn: Okay, I can see that. Also, on your EP, no song is really like the other, they’re all unique. How would you personally describe the style of your band?
Peter Yanowitz: It’s a good question. We have a lot of different sides of the band and I think from early on, we didn’t wanna close ourselves off to any type of music. We wanted to be open to whatever music came out while we were creating and I think that led to such a diverse sound. It’s something that we’ve kind of continued doing for the last couple of years of writing. It’s just not judging as we’re writing, just writing and seeing what comes out. And we have a lot of songs that we’ve written, that we haven’t released and they’re all over the map. Some are acoustic, some are really heavy, synth-based and electronic drums dominant, and some are just straight-up pop songs. The new stuff we’re doing is even different than that. I think the way we would describe it, it’s just part of what our name is about, Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum. We just think of this museum, an imaginary museum in our minds, it has a sound to it and that’s kind of what our band sounds like. So, as many wings as there are in the museum, it has many sides of Princess there.
mxdwn: Yeah, Like in a museum when every painting is different.
PY: Exactly, Exactly.
mxdwn: Is there someone or something that influenced you guys the most?
PY: I think mostly friendship. You know the friendship that we shared and also a desire to just be creative at this particular time in our lives. I think as much as anything, just friendship and cooperation and creative energy. This state of the world seems like a good time to say what you got to say, even before the last month or two. You know, it’s a good time to get your shit out.
mxdwn: Times are very strange right now. Now some questions for Michael. Can you describe what it was like to perform in David Bowie’s musical Lazarus?
MCH: It was amazing. I was put in touch with Ivo van Hove, the director, for just a general meeting, just to talk about the possibility of working together in some way. I had gotten wind of this secret project that he was working on, David Bowie’s musical Lazarus. I let him know that I knew that he probably wasn’t allowed to talk about it, but that I knew about it and that if he ever got to the point where he was allowed to talk about it, I would love for him to talk about it with me. After that, I was doing Hedwig, and he came to see that and started to think about me to do that show. Other various sorts of powers, the producers and such, came to see Hedwig, and I got offered the job. It was amazing when I got to work with David Bowie in the midst of his final flurry of creativity. I got to live with and perform songs of his over the course of many months and also get to have the experience of being in a room with him and experiencing his, you know, brilliance, his energy, kindness and enthusiasm. He was an amazing artist of course, but also a really amazing person.
mxdwn: I can imagine that it was wonderful. Did the time as the lead in the musical in any way shape what you are doing with Princess Goes to The Butterfly Museum now?
MCH: I think so, you know, one thing leads to another in life and certainly in the business of the performer’s life. I think doing Hedwig certainly had a lot to do with the fact that we eventually found each other, and this band came into being, without any of us really even meeting to start a band. And I think to work on Lazarus and working with Bowie and all that definitely cracked open an appetite to make music and discover.
You asked about influences – I think all of our influences are everything that has influenced us, everything we’ve heard, experienced. Human beings are sort of complicated instruments, so a lot goes into the next. Working on Lazarus was definitely a big part of the progression that let me to Princess.
mxdwn: I have a question more about your TV appearances. There hasn’t been any word on Shadowplay since the shelter in place orders have stopped the work of the entertainment industry. Is there any update on when it might be released?
MCH: Yeah, I don’t know. In fact, I’m supposed to talk to somebody involved with that today, so maybe they’re going to give me some news, but I think it’s going to air in Europe in some way. I’m not sure exactly how or when it will air.
mxdwn: Okay, coming back to music. You were in a lot of shows and films, and on stage, did any of those characters play a role in your songwriting?
MCH: No, not really. When I write the songs or write lyrics, I’m writing them as myself, not imagining that I’m a character and speaking as that character. It’s all me. I suppose I’m influenced by everything I’ve done, but no, I’m not thinking about anybody, I mean people that I pretended to be, while I’m writing words.
mxdwn: Now, my final question for everyone. With the quarantine making the future really uncertain, changes every day. How are you guys handling those times, and are you able to work as a band at all, or are you working on other projects?
PY: We’ve been somehow able to stay creative throughout. We’re all three in different places. I’m in downtown New York City, Matt is in Bushwick, Brooklyn and Michael’s upstate. We just send each other tracks and ideas and little pieces of inspiration and kind of build. Like I’ve been sending Mike [Michael C. Hall] some music, and he’s upstate in his shack or, I’m not sure where you’re staying up there, but it sounds really good. And he sings like a vocal into his cell phone and emails it to me and I can immediately put it into the track, even though it’s not going to be the final vocal. It’s still a really kind of awesome way to create, just which is kind of what we were doing before, But now there’s even more emphasis on just staying creative and keeping each other engaged because it is a strange time. That’s kind of one thing we’re doing, I mean to stay busy, but I’m sure everybody has their own mechanisms to stay sane as well.
MCH: I’m building a rock tower. I’m building a tower in the woods. Something to do.
PY: You have to take a picture, I need to see that! Is it like the bluestone?
MCH: Just whatever is available.
PY: Nice! Goldsworthy, right? That artist makes sculptures outside using whatever he finds. That’s cool! Matt, What about you?
MKB: Yeah, I’ve been playing the piano, doing yoga every day. I’m with the kids, so I’m actually homeschooling every day. So that’s been a challenge as well, cause you know obviously schools are shut down.