One month after sexual misconduct allegations torpedoed a promising new chapter in PWR BTTM's career -- resulting in the cancellation of a 36-city tour and the removal of the band's catalog from digital and physical retail and from virtually every streaming platform -- the gender non-conforming punk duo has re-emerged with a new manager and the distribution rights to its 2015 debut album, Ugly Cherries. But the band's lawyer says the group has so far been unable to reach an agreement with Polyvinyl, the indie label that released -- then withdrew -- PWR BTTM's well-reviewed second album, Pageant, to make it available again.
PWR BTTM singer-guitarist Ben Hopkins and drummer-singer Liv Bruce have been working with new manager Lisa Barbaris, who reps Cyndi Lauper, and attorney Jeffrey Koenig of Serling Rooks Hunter McKoy & Worob, to reclaim the band's music. In May, an unnamed person and an acquaintance speaking on their behalf -- accused Hopkins of sexually predatory behavior just days before Pageant was released.
Although the band contested the claims, within days of the accusations, PWR BTTM had been dropped by Salty Artist Management, Father/Daughter Records -- which had released Ugly Cherries -- and Polyvinyl. Although no charges or lawsuits had been filed -- and, to date, no additional accusations have been made -- both albums were withdrawn from distribution, effectively wiping out PWR BTTM's entire catalog.
New manager Barbaris, a major label vet who was director of press and artist relations for Elektra/Asylum/Nonesuch Records before opening So What Management in 1994, said she was not familiar with PWR BTTM or Polyvinyl prior to learning of the band's predicament. "But to see Polyvinyl derail and potentially destroy the band's career in such an impulsive manner is very troubling," Barbaris said in a statement provided to Billboard. "I've never seen a label respond in such an irresponsible way in the 30-plus years I've been in the music business."
"Polyvinyl has been in contact with PWR BTTM's team to work out a separation, and is waiting for details necessary to make that happen," a spokesperson for the label told Billboard. "Polyvinyl wishes to make the transition as easy as possible and has no desire to prevent the band from releasing Pageant once an agreement has been reached."
Father/Daughter Records did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
As of June 13, PWR BTTM's first album will be restored when Ugly Cherries is slated to become available again digitally for streaming and download. (As of press time, Bandcamp had already made the album available on its platform). “We're happy Ugly Cherries is available again and thankful to Father/Daughter Records for their cooperation in transferring the record's distribution rights to PWR BTTM," Barbaris said in a statement provided to Billboard. "We hope we will be able to reach an arrangement with Polyvinyl that satisfies their needs as a business and allows listeners to access PWR BTTM's music."
So far, however, Polyvinyl and the band's camp have not been able to reach a viable agreement that would make Pageant available again. According to Koenig, the band's lawyer, the Champaign-Urbana, Ill.-based label wants to be reimbursed for the unrecouped money, which includes the band's advance, it gave PWR BTTM to record the album before it will transfer distribution rights to the group. "PWR BTTM put a tremendous amount of time, effort, love and resources into creating and recording the body of work that would eventually become Pageant," Koenig said in a statement provided to Billboard. "It is important that their former label allows their fans to hear this album."
A source close to the band tells Billboard that Hopkins and Bruce don't want to sue but do believe that the label has done harm to their reputation and livelihood.