When PWR BTTM came to play a show at Wesleyan following the incredibly successful release of their first LP, Ugly Cherries, they brought the queer punk energy our campus desperately needed. The duo, made up of Ben Walter Hopkins and Liv Bruce, met during their time at Bard College and bonded over their mutual love for RuPaul and theatre. The two then began to play together, crafting a sound that is unapologetic and refreshingly sincere. They don’t attempt to tone down or cover-up their personalities; they embrace everything they are and infuse it into their glittery, grudgy, thrilling performance.
Not surprisingly, PWR BTTM raised energy levels of the crowd at the BuHo concert to new heights with roaring, tantalizing guitar riffs, upbeat drums, and loud, catchy vocals. PWR BTTM is not your "play a set of songs and get it over with" kind of band; they banter and joke with each other on stage, and engage with the audience and the space they are in. They're incredibly personable in their performance: they make the audience laugh, try to create a safer and more respectful concert environment, and build connections with people in the audience as they sing fun and honest lyrics about being queer and feeling unloveable or misunderstood.
Before their set, Aural Wes’s lead editors, Michelle Rosen ‘17 and Kelsey Gordon ’18, got to sit down and chat for a little while with Liv and Ben.
What you would you do with a baby?
Liv Bruce: This is the best interview ever! We would teach it how to play bass...
Ben Walter Hopkins: We would teach it how to play bass and put some makeup on that bitch! What else would I do with a baby? I would kill it… by accident. Here’s the thing, I’m very much in love with my girlfriend. And all of the time when we’re together, I’m like “you know, if we were to produce children, I would kill them by accident". Cause I’m just like the most negligent person of all time.
Liv: He really is.
Ben: Yeah, it’s bad.
Liv: My baby would be perfectly taken care of in the logistical sense. I would drive it to band practice, or ballet. I’d remember to change its diaper. But, emotionally, it would just be like “what are feelings?”
Ben: Emotionally though- I’d be really good at that.
Liv: During the three weeks that your baby survived this Earth it would be so in touch with itself.
Ben: Well, the funny thing is that we’re basically just suggesting that we raise a child together.
What’s the story of how you met?
Ben: I was having some people over to my apartment, not really, but it was stupid weather and they all came because I had beer. It was the first weekend of my sophomore year and I had this apartment with a little window. All the sudden, in comes this fucking femme-y person, into my apartment. And I’m like “Hello?! Can I help you?” and they were just like “Hi, I’m Liv! What’s up?” and I said “Um, there’s not much of a party in here”.
Liv: Yeah, I was just walking around campus my first year, my first weekend at college.
Ben: Just feeeeling it.
Liv: And I saw an apartment with an open door and about three people inside and was like “That’s a party! I’m gonna go walk in!” And then we were acquaintances for a year and a half, until we first played together. I had been holding onto the band name “PWR BTTM” for a while and then asked Ben to be in that band. This band.
Ben: [They asked me] at the gym.
Liv: Yeah, at the gym. I was spotting him.
Ben: We like Rupaul's Drag Race; it was sorta our way into friendship. And we were in a play together.
Liv: Also at Bard there’s this thing called “Four Square”.
Ben: Yeah all the queer kids would gather and play foursquare.
Liv: You always say that, but it was not all the queer kids. It was like me, my friend and . . . bros.
Ben: But they were stoner bros . . . it was kinda like as much of a kiki we ever got at Bard.
What play were you in?
Liv: We were in "The Bacchae" by Euripides- it’s a Greek tragedy. I was in the chorus and Ben was . . . the villain?
Ben: I was the misunderstood closeted guy wearing a dress. We’ve never stopped that dynamic.
Liv: Yeah that dynamic has been going ever since.
Ben: I have a really weird dress for tonight. It has birds on it.
Liv: I’m wearing the one I wore last night, it’s really good.
Ben: I’m still on that what would we do with a baby question…
Maybe think of a real definite answer and then get a baby and come back here with a baby. But it doesn’t have to be your baby. It can just some baby you found, you know? Or a baby band. You could just manage a baby band.
Ben: Yeah, a band of babies!
What was the spookiest thing to happen to you on tour?
Liv: Oh my God, Ben’s entire life is haunted.
Ben: Well I grew up in Salem, Massachusetts so pretty much. But spooky is... like we ate something called “scrapple”, where? In Pennsylvania?
Liv: Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Ben: [Scrapple] is like meat that’s deemed unfit for hot dogs that they press into cubes. And we got that. That was spooky as fucking hell.
Liv: I’m trying to think if like, if...
Ben: If there’s been anything paranormal?
Liv: I mean like, our gear breaks all the time. It’s probably the ghost of our old bass player.
Liv: Just kidding she’s not dead. I think our gear is haunted.
Ben: My guitar is definitely haunted. For sure.
Liv: No your guitar is fine, it’s your pedal.
Ben: Well definitely the scrapple is still haunting me to this day, I would say.
Liv: It’s still working its way through.
Is it a giant block of meat?
Liv: It’s a flat sponge made of meat, dipped in grease.
Ben: Liv ate all of it.
Liv: Yeah Ben took one bite and was like “I’m full”.
Ben: Which is what I always do.
Liv: Every time. First he’s like “Can we use the band fund to buy food?” and then he’s like “I’m full.”
What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you in general?
Ben: Just like, receiving my student loan bills constantly. Being like, this is real.
What did you study at Bard?
Ben: I studied theater and performance.
Liv: I studied dance and was a computer science major for most of the time then dropped it my senior year.
Ben: but not just senior year like after. . .
Liv: Yeah I did my thesis early and then after I finished my thesis, I dropped the major. I had one more class to take and I’d been double majoring the whole time and it had taken such a toll on me and I was like “I don’t want to take that last class, I don’t want to take Databases in my senior spring. And then, because I didn’t do that I had time to dick around in my punk band and . . .
Ben: . . . here we are, dicking around, in colleges we’d never get into.
What was Bard like?
Ben: Bard was awesome . . .
Liv: . . . Yeah Bard was cool as fuck.
Ben: Bard is dirty, smelly, hippy camp.
Liv: Bard is very over it, as a school. Bard kids are super over it.
Ben: But also like, that’s the thing, they’re also not like everyone else who would be like “WOW! You’re in a drag queen band?!!” They’re like (in a low quiet voice) “cooldragqueenband. I have my own drag queen band” It was fun, it was awesome, I would do it again in a minute. Our baby will go there. We have to give it a Bard person name like Thistle.
Liv: I like Thistle. Thistle’s good because it’s also gender neutral.
Ben: Our kid’s gonna be gender neutral as fuck.
Liv: I know.
Ben: Our kid’s gonna be a beige cube.
Maybe it’ll be that meat thing.
Ben: Oh my god! It’ll be scrapple!!! You’re bringing us all full circle.
Talkin’ about school: What were your favorite bands in middle school?
Liv: The Mars Volta. It was a tie between the Dresden Dolls, My Chemical Romance, and the Mars Volta.
Ben: One of them [referring to Amanda Palmer ‘98] went to Wesleyan. Mine was probably The Shins, or My Chemical Romance, or . . . Green Day.
Liv: I was into Green Day too.
Ben: In middle school, in 8th grade, it was Cursive, I was a big Cursive fan. They’re emo-revial. They have this line [sings] “My ego’s like my stomach, it keeps shitting what I feed it”.
After we all agree that it's a great line, Liv and Ben make plans to listen to the new album on their upcoming tour (which is either two and a half weeks or a month away depending on which one of them you ask.)
Ben: We’re about to go on tour for a month so we’re gonna have to. . .
Liv: Two and a half weeks.
Ben: It’s like practically a month.
Liv: No it’s not, it’s 15 days.
Ben: This is why our kid will have great organizational skills and no soul.
Is it just an East Coast tour?
Ben: It’s weird, it’s like Philadelphia, the Midwest, and up through Canada.
So you just released your first album-how was that? I know for a lot of bands there’s a ton of work that gets put into it.
Ben: Yeah, it was wild. With a couple of the songs on the record, we didn’t realize that we’d be taking ourselves seriously. "All the Boys" was a song that I wrote just before I went to our first practice. It’s like whateverrr. But then we sort of got more and more invested in it and it became this thing like “our first record, this is our first record, we’re writing our first record” and we really began to get into it.
Liv: Yeah, in terms of what it was like recording it, we recorded in the Hudson Valley but in a different part of it than where Bard is. So it kind of felt like going on vacation to record it.
Ben: Yeah, I moved back upstate after I graduated to work more on the band and we were obsessing about [the album] in this weird way, but then we were done and were like “shit we made this record, that’s weird” and now we’re on to our next one. We’re going to play a few new ones tonight. We’re actually going to play something we’ve never played live before.
What's the new song about?
Liv: It’s about things that we shouldn’t say on record.
Ben: I’ll probably get really upset when I perform it.
Well you can cry, I’ll bring a little plastic baby for you.
Ben: I’ll take that baby. (This exchange did, by the way, happen after the show).
What do you think about the punk scene now? What was it like being involved in the music scene at Bard?
Ben: We had a really amazing scene at Bard similar to here where amazing bands would come every weekend, like all these really awesome new bands, and it was really cool, because it made it really casual for me. I would listen to these records and they would move me and mean so much to me. For example, every time I listen to “Electric Balloon” by Ava Luna I’ll have such a specific, important memory of that record. They played at Liv’s house, two doors down from where I lived. It made me want to start writing my own songs. We started PWR BTTM second semester of my senior year. It was my realization of how great bands are.
Liv: Yeah, one really great thing about [Bard] is that there are two student-run music venues that are really well-programmed so that you could actually have people at your first few shows when you’re just starting a band as a student because you’ll be opening for bands that are on tour, bands that you’ve read about, bands that you love.
Okay, our last question is a Kill, Fuck, Marry question. So, kill, fuck, marry: Nickelback, Papa Roach, and Smashmouth?
Liv and Ben (in unison): Marry Smashmouth, fuck Papa Roach, and kill Nickelback!