Flipping open the most recent issue of Do Savannah, I was supremely disappointed to see the writer reviewing PWR BTTM made only a partial effort to recognize Liv and Ben’s they/them pronouns, remarking on their genderqueer identities in passing while simultaneously referring to them as “boys” or “men.” I had the pleasure of hosting both the musicians Friday night of Stopover Festival and felt frustrated for these fellow queer people who must frequently share an experience of misgendering in print I could relate to as a genderqueer artist.
I quickly reigned back my frustration after sitting down with Ben and Liv the next day at Foxy Loxy as Ben told me frankly it was more important to bring attention to the policy of gender neutral pronouns and genderqueer identity than to have their individual identities validated in the media.
Liv immediately brought up the fact that the simplest way to say the things hashed over in interviews was by referring to the music. “Like I said on the record,” they said, it's easiest to reference a lot of concepts in a “simple, clear way” by referencing the tracks on their album “Ugly Cherries.”
But the complications that come up when trying to make something universally understood by a “monolithic audience,” according to Ben, are often absolved through conversation. Still, the hope is that the work speaks for itself to a certain extent—and it does.
The album tells a story of the two musicians’ experiences as people (who happen to be queer!) over instrumentally clean, spunky-sad-dancy-pop-punky tunes. I wasn’t sure if it was because I could relate so closely to the album’s sentiment or because the music was just so damn good, but I loved it. On top of their refreshing set, both artists have impeccable style—although I have to give credit to Liv for busting out the best lqqks. During the interview, I laughed as we talked about Paramore and found it fabulously hilarious that Ben was a fan of their music.
It makes sense that they can relate to other artists musically but get frustrated when their work is hailed as original. “People have been queer forever but the language is very contemporary,” said Liv as they contemplated how artists like the Waitresses, the B-52s, or the Scissor Sisters might identify in 2016.
Some of Liv’s most beloved inspirations like Semiprecious Weapons showed them “there was space” for people like them. At that point, we diverged into a conversation about the effects of David Bowie’s death on our respective queer outlooks, both individually and communally. Ben and I commiserated on throwing shade over Bowie’s lauded contributions to the queer identity over his career.
Between the media’s constant need to absorb queerness into the heteronormative mainstream and our own need to compare minority artists to other minority artists for the sake of classification, Ben noted it was annoying to repeatedly be clocked as Bowie-esque “just because I wear heavy makeup.”
The duo could consider themselves “dance punk” (or, at least, used to), but ultimately, their music and identities are their own. Remarking on verbally assaulting comments from show-goers and streetwalkers alike, the “artifice of language” still manages to control PWR BTTM in some articulative way or another—whether it's answering questions about their band’s name or the particular application of Ben’s guitar-picking acrylic nails. The constant need to explain oneself as a queer person can be exhausting, as “wishy washy and meaningless” as language can be, according to Liv.
With a heavy background in dance and movement, it makes sense that Liv feels the way they do about having to talk so much. “Playing is more efficient,” explained both the artists. Ben followed up, saying the “full scope" of feelings like anger and exaltation aren’t nearly as attainable without “playing really shreddy!”
Although they both take pride in their skills musically speaking, Ben still considers themselves a fan as much as a musician and was excited to participate in all that SXSW has to offer. Liv touted that they would be wearing a different outfit for every single show they played—up to three outfit changes a day—and seemed enthralled by the excitement of bonding with fellow musicians over the chaos of the festival week.
After speaking on accessibility regarding institutional events like SXSW, we discussed the mountainous topic of capitalism as an element of privilege. Liv and Ben met during their studies at Bard and are both grateful for the exposure their music has offered them as creative people. Although they accept criticism that as white, assigned male people they are prioritized, they agree that a facet to the issues of privilege and taking up space is that “there simply isn’t enough space to begin with.
Liv optimistically closed the interview with the reminder that there are so many young folx becoming aware of capitalism as the main perpetrator of systemic violence enacted on minorities in the US. “So many people disagree about the specifics, but we’re finally figuring out how to make work without playing into old models that only funnel money up.”
Even playing outside the contexts of identity through their instruments, the struggle to denounce an apolitical stance is real. The duo recently reasserted this by enforcing a policy of gender neutral bathrooms at all their shows. “Being apolitical is just as political as anything you can do,” said Ben as they scrolled down their mobile Facebook feed, pausing mid-point to freak out on a news post regarding Hillary’s erasure of the Reagan’s real part in the AIDS epidemic (“Hillary is a monster!” they exclaimed). “It's about whether or not you’re going with the tide, and the tides are always going somewhere.”
Check out their music on Bandcamp!
Rainé is an agender trans person and drag princex with House of Gunt. They co-facilitate QuoLab, a queer safe(r) space in Savannah, GA.