Photo by Shervin Lainez
Celebrity Etc. presents Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum, with special guest Man on Man, at Skully’s on Wednesday, July 27. Door are at 6:30, show at 7:30. Tickets are available now for $25.
I joined an early Saturday morning Zoom call last year to find notorious, vigilante serial killer Dexter Morgan smiling at me. Of course, Dexter Morgan is the title character in the Showtime series played by Michael C. Hall and the interview was not about the series that would return later that year but, rather, about the release of the new Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum album, Thanks for Coming, that had just been released.
Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum formed when two music industry vets, Pete Yanowitz (The Wallflowers, Natalie Merchant, Morningwood) and Matt Katz-Bohen (Blondie), got together after being part of the Hedwig and the Angry Inch touring musical and started writing songs. When they decided the things they had been writing needed some vocals, they reached out to Hall, who had played the lead role in the Broadway production of Hedwig, who was ready and willing to join his first rock band.
We’ve all seen and heard bands with actors and actresses behind the microphone. Many times, it’s a bit of a vanity project and more of a gimmick that a sustainable thing. Not the case with Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum. Given all 3 members’ experience performing in the Hedwig musical, and Hall’s stint in the stage production of the David Bowie creation, Lazarus, this is a serious band whose album was good enough to earn a spot on my “Favorites of 2021” list. The album is full of gothy, glam-pop with some pretty obvious, already mentioned (Hedwig, Bowie) influences.
At the time of the interview last year, Princess Goes to the Butterfly had played very few shows outside of New York City and, in Hall’s case, had a fairly busy calendar. When I asked if they hoped to tour, all three emphatically said they couldn’t wait. As is often the case when talking to bands, I mentioned that it would be amazing to see them in Columbus believing that, in fact, a tour for a band like this probably meant shows only in Boston, New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Yanowitz told me that they would definitely be playing in Columbus but I was skeptical. And then, just a few months ago, an email dropped into my in-box with late July tour dates and, much to my surprise, a Columbus show was, in fact, on the schedule.
The trio was kind enough to hop on another Zoom call earlier this week to catch me up on the last year and talk about the first-time touring experience for Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum.
We talked last March, just as vaccines were becoming available and rumors of bands touring were getting closer and closer to reality. When did you make the decision that it was safe for you to start touring?
Pete: Since we last saw you, we did link up with some booking agents overseas and here and an opportunity came in November to go to the UK which was really a dream for all three of us. We went over there and did a couple weeks of shows all throughout England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales and then that triggered a Spring West Coast tour in ’22. We’ve been to Texas and now we’re hitting some dates on the East Coast and in the Midwest. It’s been really nice to have a chance to go play a string of shows, it’s the first time we’ve been able to do that in the last year and we look forward to more.
You’re doing more one week runs rather than hoping in a tour bus and going coast to coast. Is that because of your different schedules or is that just the best way to tour in 2022?
Matt: I think it’s scheduling. It’s satisfying and nice to go hit the West Coast for 10 days and then come back and be in our studio and record and not feel like we have to put everything on pause for a month or longer.
Mike: We’re men of a certain age, we have lives that aren’t so easy, nor do we want, to walk away from them for more than a limited amount of time.
The upcoming tour that will bring you to Columbus is one where you’re playing 8 shows in 9 days. Although it’s a short run of dates, there’s very little down time and lots of driving. Was the idea to pack as many shows into the time you had available?
Matt: Yeah, there was some of that. And, also just the romance of being in a van, being 21 and being in a van and just close our eyes and image that’s what’s happening.
At no point were all 3 of you in Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the same time but, at points, different combinations of 2 of you worked together. And, you hadn’t done a ton of touring as a band before the pandemic. So, what’s it like being a band together? Lots of fruitful conversations and listening to music together or do you throw headphones on and zone out?
Mike: I actually don’t allow Pete or Matt or anyone else to look me in the eye, let alone talk to me. That’s just my thing.
Pete & Matt: (laugh)
Mike: We get along, pretty drama free. We enjoy each other’s company. We’re comfortable going off into our own interior spaces during long trips but we socialize as well. Pete’s the glue, he’s the guy in the band when I did Hedwig and then he was there with Matt when Matt and Pete went out on the tour for Hedwig so he’s the common denominator as far as the Hedwig experience goes.
I’ve never been in a band so it’s hard for me to know what to compare it to but I do think that being a threesome is nice. We all bring something unique and vital to the trio and if there’s ever something we need to vote on, we know there’s not going to be a tie, so that’s nice.
What about favorite rest stop snacks while touring?
Matt: Our sound engineer would just pound chicken, gas station fried chicken.
Pete: I would say Pringles are up there.
Mike: Pringles is actually good because once you finish the Pringles, if somebody is really desperate to go to the bathroom, and we can’t really stop, you can just excuse yourself to the back of the van and make it happen with the Pringles can.
Pete: And you’ve got the lid you can put back on.
Mike: We should get an endorsement deal with Pringles.
Did the West Coast tour feel like a test run since you hadn’t really toured a lot as a band before or, given your other experience, were you confident going into those dates and performing like a veteran band?
Pete: I think it’s all good experience to our show evolving and growing. We’ve been traveling without a lighting person so that’s been interesting to get different takes every night on the visual aspect of the show. Sometimes we’ll hit a city, like in Colorado, where the lighting person – or this happened in Oakland as well – where they got our logo and projected them all over the walls behind us and around the space. Certain shows feel more like we’ve got fully realized live show. And then other shows it feels like we’re just winging it with somebody new. Any time you get to play 8 shows in 10 days, you come out of it different on the other end and that’s been the case for us. We feel ourselves growing and the setlist is always up for debate because we have a lot more songs now than when we started. We have a new record that hasn’t been released yet so figuring out which ones to play from that and which old ones to play is something we think about.
The Mercury Lounge in New York City is your unofficial home base. When you get out on the road, you’re putting your trust in hands of people that don’t know you or your music and haven’t been working with you on a regular basis.
Mike: Yeah, it’s nice that some of it, at least to this point and hopefully, to some degree, will always be left to chance, to fate, for every show to have it’s own unique flavor, and elements, and curveballs. You’re playing a live show in front of a live audience, it doesn’t really feel like a testing ground for the future. It’s just what’s happening right then in that time.
There’s the old saying that if it plays in Peoria, it’ll play anywhere. When you toured the West Coast, it was mostly bigger cities. The one that stuck out to me was that you played in Idaho and I read a review that said that those lucky enough to get a ticket to the show were treated to “one of those once-in-a-lifetime memories.” So, it sounds to me like it does play in Peoria.
Matt: It’s interesting. We did two shows in New York, back-to-back, and it was a totally different energy. It’s super weird, every energy is different, every show is different no matter where it is. Boise was an incredible show, we have very fond memories of that night.
Man on Man, Faith No More’s Roddy Bottum’s new band, is opening the upcoming dates. Did they do the West Coast tour with you as well?
Matt: They did the LA show.
Are they a hand-picked opener or do you share a booking agent or something with them?
Pete: Our booking agent, I don’t think she books them, but she knows them and they had a date that canceled and they were available for LA. We love Faith No More and we love Roddy. They kind of blew us away in LA, they were super loud and their songs are really cool. When we had a chance to pick an opener for this tour, we were lucky that they were available.
Matt: I don’t know if we knew that Roddy was in Faith No More. I mean, I knew it and then it was sort of mind blowing to be hanging out and watching them play. Faith No More was kind of an integral part of our youth.
You mentioned there’s another album done. What’s the deal with that? Any release plans?
Matt: It’s pretty much all done. It’s mixed but we also are adding little things here and there. We’re really proud of it and we can’t wait to release it in early 2023.
Mike: It’s possible there might be some singles released in the interim.
And we’ll get to hear some of those new songs when you play in Columbus?
Pete: Oh yeah.