Dance

20 Questions With Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum: On Astrology & Quitting the Wallflowers to Date Natalie Merchant

Princess Goes To the Butterfly Museum
Paul Storey*

Princess Goes To the Butterfly Museum

There's a sort of palpable theatricality in the music of Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum. That's not an accident.

The New York City-based trio -- vocalist Michael C. Hall and instrumentalists Peter Yanowitz and Matt Katz-Bowen -- met while performing together on Broadway in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Since gelling on that production then coming together to make music, the guys have merged their love of rock (Katz-Bowen has played keyboards for Blondie since 2008, while Yanowitz played drums for The Wallflowers and Morningwood and Hall played David Bowie in the Broadway production of Lazarus) and electronic music in the vein of '80s outfits like Eurythmics into the spacious, often moody, "rocktronic" sound heard on their February debut album, Thank You For Coming.

That LP's most recent single is the sparse, spooky, thumping "Nevertheless," the video for which finds Katz-Bowen and Yanowitz stuck in a digital simulation while being tormented by Hall, who delivers the same sinister flavor as he did in his breakout role as the titular serial killer in the mid-2000s hit show Dexter. (See exclusive behind the scenes footage of the making of that video below.) Hall will bring back the role in the series reprise, Dexter: New Blood, which premieres November 7 on Showtime.

That appointment TV will happen a week after Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum (a name dreamt up by Katz-Bowen's young daughter) performs a pair of shows at New York City's Mercury Lounge on October 30-31, where their penchant for theatricality will be in full force for Halloween weekend. The band then launches a 16-date European tour in late November.

Here, the trio reflect on their name, their influences, their astrology and more.

1. Where are you in the world right now, and what's the setting like?

Michael C. Hall: I’m in my New York City apartment. Sitting by the window, listening to the outrageous wind.

2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?

Hall: Styx's Cornerstone. Second grade. Vinyl with the fold out.

3. What's the ideal setting in which to listen to your music?

Hall: Any place where it’s safe to close your eyes.

4. What else is inside this butterfly museum?

Hall: A basement. Attic skylights. And a food court.

5. And who, exactly, is the princess?

Hall: Whoever you want her to be.

6. You guys are all part of other bands and projects. What's the secret to juggling multiple gigs at once?

Hall: Living in the same city helps. Getting together feels like coming home.

7. Who was your greatest mentor, and what was the best advice they gave you?

Hall: Mom -- “Keep showing up.”

8. What was the first song you ever made?

Matt Katz-Bohen: It was called "New York in the Rain", I was 6 or 7, on a Casiotone.

9. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into electronic music, what would you give them?

Katz-Bohen: Kraftwerk, The Man-Machine and Eurythmics' Touch.

10. What's the first electronic music show that really blew your mind?

Katz-Bohen: Split Me Wide Open, NYC, 2002.

11. What's your guilty pleasure music?

Katz-Bohen: Mid-2000s Euro House.

12. What's the most effective way to not get burnt out on tour?

Katz-Bohen: Conversations with the ones you love.

13. Finish this sentence: the most exciting thing happening in dance music right now is _____.

Katz-Bohen: Bomba Estéreo.

14. What does success look like to you?

Peter Yanowitz: Success looks and feels like right now. I don't mean to sound self satisfied or anything, but to still be doing what I love with people I love, feels... successful, especially in an industry that gets tougher every year to make a living in. Success is what you make of it, and I wouldn't change a thing about Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum and the course we have charted.

15. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you do for a living now?

Yanowitz: My dad Frank is a badass jazz pianist and composer. He was also a cardiologist for his day job. Now that he is retired he is full time into jazz and hiking. My mom Betty had a PhD in psychology and she focused on school psychology. Both my parents love what I do and have been incredibly supportive for my entire creative life. I’m blessed to have them in my corner.

16. What’s the first non-gear thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as an artist?

Yanowitz: I bought a ‘68 ford Bronco off a surfer dude in L.A. when I was in The Wallflowers. I’ve always loved old instruments, drums, basses etc., but this was the first antique car I bought, and the last! I still have it and drive it every week. It sits in a garage in Soho. You can see it featured in Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum’s video for “Armageddon Suite.”

17. Your music seems to be an amalgamation of a few different styles. Who are your biggest influences?

Yanowitz: Personally I’m influenced by tons of different stuff. When I was growing up it was my dad’s jazz records, and my mom’s Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel records mostly filling up the house with music. Also Broadway musical cast recordings like Hair and even Rocky Horror Picture Show. I took drum lessons at the mall and had to learn how to play drums to Rush, Boston, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath. So I love all that old stuff. More recently I have obsessed over a band from Osaka, Japan called The Boredoms, and specifically their masterpiece Vision Creation Newsun, it’s the closest thing to musical prayer I’ve found. I am influenced by electronic bands like Justice, Daft Punk, arty bands like Low, and Khrungabin -- oh, and all my classic rock/pop 45s keep me going.

18. What's one thing you'd like your fans to know about you?

Yanowitz: I’m a Virgo sun, Capricorn moon, Capricorn rising. I love animals and have been a vegetarian most of my life. I love painting and photography, and do a lot of both. I love my rockstar wife Lisa, who is studying at NYU to become a midwife. I’d be lost without her. For a drummer who likes to beat the living shit outta my drums, I’m a very sensitive soul and can really feel the energy in a room.

19. What's the best business decision you've ever made?

Yanowitz: I quit The Wallflowers right before their huge record on Interscope called Bringing Down the Horse. I was an equal member of the band and stood to gain a lot -- but I walked away, all because I fell in love with Natalie Merchant and she asked me to move to New York and start working on what would become Tigerlily, a record we co-produced together, and which went on to sell five million copies.

Quitting The Wallflowers, a band I wasn’t that into, to move to New York City, was actually an easy decision. At the end of the day, I always go with love. Natalie and I made three records before we split up, and it was only after that that I started writing and producing my own music. Natalie taught me a lot and opened me up to my own creativity. Also it got me to New York City, my home to this day, where it feels like magic still can happen around every corner. In fact, I live between 5th Avenue and "6th Avenue Heartache."

20. One piece of advice you'd give to your younger self?

Yanowitz: Invest in Apple.