The pronoun-swapping pair will make their way from Brooklyn in a van named Veronica. They are gaining attention on the national level for their excellent album and an over-the-top live show that involves drag and lots of glitter.
The smeared makeup and gender-bending dress are not mere ploys to get attention in a heavily populated Brooklyn music scene. Their methods are more about freeing themselves of conventional performance constructs in hopes that the audience will feel equally unencumbered.
Like many artists who live in a time where artistic conventions are interrogated, PWR BTTM (pronounced with vowels) draws inspiration from eluding any specific confines. The stage presence sets a precedence of imperfection that ultimately allows PWR BTTM to transcend the very idea of “perfection.”
Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce, the people behind the makeup, cite the theater as a catalyst for their ability to go beyond themselves while on stage. Drama taught guitar wizard Hopkins the power of losing one’s self while performing.
“A lot of my ideas regarding performance come from the theater world,” Hopkins says.
Drummer Bruce also draws from the performance world to help make the live show more dynamic. Bruce credits the band’s fearless live show to experiences with new thought on dance performance.
“I encountered a similar strain of thought studying modern and postmodern dance, two styles that renounce the rigid standards of beauty set forth by ballet. When you stop worrying about being perfect, you have a lot more options.”
This idea is the essence of PWR BTTM’s recordings and live shows. When all conventions are questioned, there is no shame in any new idea, thought or method.
The duo performs in drag and identify themselves as a “queer band” but it’s tough to find much about these facts in articles and features about the band. Music journalists mostly want to talk about the lovable 2015 full-length debut “Ugly Cherries,” and the fact that Hopkins and Bruce are extremely accomplished musicians.
The album is packed with relentlessly catchy hooks played flawlessly. Comparisons to The White Stripes are natural because of the electric guitar and drum kit lineup, but also because Hopkins and Bruce can shred on the level of any luminary you can imagine.
It’s no surprise Bruce has been drumming since middle school, but listeners would be shocked to find both are self-taught on guitar. One might assume Hopkins’ chops are the skills of a lifelong guitar slinger, but Hopkins didn’t even own an electric guitar until PWR BTTM started.
Hopkins claims an obsession with the guitar came after graduating college, and the sounds created with the instrument make you understand how strong that commitment was.
“I started by playing the saxophone in high school, and then started to figure out guitar in college,” Hopkins says. “I bought my first real electric guitar when PWR BTTM was starting, and I played for about five hours a day when I graduated college. I would go to shows and take pictures of people’s hands to see what chords they were playing.”
The result is some serious musicians not taking themselves seriously while inviting everyone in on the fun. The classification-eluding duo may be best described by their own lyrics from “1994” off the “Ugly Cherries” album: “These days it pays to be so strange and I’m like nothing.”