photo by: Colin Lane
Michael C. Hall’s new musical endeavor – a band of creative joy and magic
I walk into a new museum not knowing what to expect. It’s artistic, expressive and open to interpretation, of course, but the most unique element is that as you venture into each room, a different style song plays overhead to accompany the vibe. The genres vary and are exploratory at times, yet the three musicians behind the passion-laced songs are the same.
Welcome to Princess Goes To The Butterfly Museum. Singer Michael C. Hall, (Dexter, Six Feet Under, Lazarus), drummer Peter Yanowitz (The Wallflowers, Morningwood) and keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen (Blondie) formed the trio a little over a year ago – with a series of late-night studio hangs fueled by a shared love of pushing art into uncharted territories. Taking their name from a phrase suggested by Katz-Bohen’s daughter, the group constructed an entire world for their music, imagining the Butterfly Museum as a physical space brought to life.
Prior to taking the stage in New York City two weeks ago, I had the chance to speak with the band who gave me an inside tour of their constructed sonic temple. From the initial jam sessions to the resonance of David Bowie, we discuss all the elements that make up their debut release on April 2.
photo by Lexie Moreland
Given your individual paths, how does it feel to now have this established band and have your music out there?
Peter Yanowitz: It feels awesome. We’re doing this creative project together and it just keep blossoming. We feel like we’re on this ride that’s just getting out of the gate. New songs keep coming out all the time. We just shot our fourth video in New York a few weeks ago. It feels like we have a bunch of guardian angels looking after us. It’s been so fun to be in a creative project with two of my favorite people.
Matt Katz-Bohen: It’s been an amazing project that is like nothing else I’ve ever been a part of.
Michael C. Hall: I agree. It’s been a great experience – especially in terms of playing live.
With the natural formation of the group, you guys just getting together as friends to jam and write, was there ever a moment early on in the process where it hit you that – maybe we have a band here? Let’s get into the studio and record.
Yanowitz: There were several lightning moments along the way. The first time Mike came over to sing on “Love American Style” for example – Matt and I had these jams that were just us having fun, not even thinking they were songs. Mike had some lyrics that he had written, and it was this complete revelation. I thought the jam was good, but he had just put this incredible melody over it. After Mike left that session, I cut the vocal and sent it to the guys and said – “Whatever this is, let’s keep making more of it because it’s awesome.” We never stopped writing from there. I can think of at least five other examples that were like, “Wow, how did that happen?”
Matt, I understand your young daughter played an integral role in the naming of the group. I relate because it’s totally a name my daughter would shout-out as well. How did that youth wonderment inspire more than just the name of the group?
Katz-Bohen: That’s an interesting thought, thanks for that. My daughter is seven and it’s a great age. I think she came up with the name at around five-years-old. Just watching her learn about the world inspires me to go back and learn things from her perspective. She’s taking piano lessons and practices at home. You go through a second youth and it applies to our band because we have a child-like, innocent way of creating. There’s nothing ever cynical about the way we write or record. It’s all about what we feel. We try not to have any preconceptions about what part comes next – we try to hold on to naivete.
In terms of writing, was that the standard process of having music and then Michael wrote the melodies over the top, or did words ever come first? How would you describe the three of you in a room writing?
Hall: Our writing has gone both ways and every other way in-between. Some were flushed out musical ideas and some were more a melodic song idea type of approach. Sometimes, there were musical figures or a lyrical line from which a song emerged. There was never one hard and fast way to construct.
The songs on the record are so different from each other, it’s really an eclectic mix. How important was that to you?
Yanowitz: Yeah, the combo platter was definitely a conscious effort on this first EP. We didn’t want to force ourselves into a particular genre. Our writing tends to take us all over the map. Not everything makes it into the museum. We try to keep it varied and keep people guessing.
Katz-Bohen: I have been touring with Blondie for the past 12 years, it’s a band that I look up to because they fuse so many styles. You hear one of their songs and you immediately know it’s Blondie. We were going for that. We say – “Will this song fit into the museum?” Meaning, our aesthetic and the overall sound.
Michael, as a fellow David Bowie fan, I am curious as to how he continues to inspire you? Especially given your experience with him and performing his Lazarus. What’s something you’ve learned from Bowie that you took with you to Princess Goes To The Butterfly Museum?
Hall: That he never rested. Bowie was always doing new things. He was inhabited or inhabited by new personas constantly – as an artist, musician, performer and a person. He’s looked at as an icon, rightfully so, but over the course of his artistic life he was not busy being an icon, he was busy taking chances and was not afraid to fail. His sustained sense of daring is the most inspirational thing to me, to this day.
I can certainly see an influence with your group in terms of it coming from a place of passion.
Hall: That’s great, it’s certainly our experience with it and if that’s what has translated to the listener, that’s what it’s all about.
All things considered, what does this artistic moment and Princess Goes To The Butterfly Museum mean to you?
Katz-Bohen: For me it’s the moments of going through the metamorphosis and changes of life. Peter and I were recently listening to the Elton John song “Someone Save My Life Tonight” and there’s a lyric that goes, “You’re a butterfly… and butterflies are free to fly.” It’s an incredible song and we felt that emotion sums it up.
Yanowitz: The world is a crazy place right now. It’s important just to have a creative release, and then to get to do it with two of my favorite people, it’s a nice way to combat the insanity of what’s happening everywhere. This group keeps me sane. Playing the drums on this music is super healing.
Hall: It’s been an amazing experience for me to be championed by two people I respect so much. All of us feel that although there are three of us, the fourth thing is something we could only create together, and it could not be done on our own. There’s some sort of alchemy and it restores your faith in the fundamental power of collaboration and saying yes to possibilities. It’s all very serendipitous and unanticipated for all of us. There’s some magic in that and we continue to show up for it.