Don’t be fooled by the fanciful innocence of Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum, the band name shared by Michael C. Hall (vocals), Matt Katz-Bohen (keyboards), and Peter Yanowitz (drums). Though cultivated from the spirit of lively ‘70s bands, fantastical synthesizers, driving percussion, and falsetto vocals, concepts like catastrophe-spurred romance and existential anxiety make the band and its debut LP, THANKS FOR COMING, veer closer to the likes of the Twilight Zone than Disney World.
Hall says of the group’s hopes for the 14-track album, “We would hope people [would] sort of take a ride and go to all these different imaginative places; [have] an experience that feels like it’s facilitated only by listening to the record. Like it takes you to a place that you discover for having listened to it—a place you didn’t quite know about until you took the ride.”
Katz-Bohen highlights that both the band’s art rock style and the history of where the gentlemen’s tastes were shaped, bolster their embrace of musical flexibility. “There’s a lot of noise happening in New York’s East Village, which we’ve all been around now for quite a while. And I think that just kind of seeps into us, this [idea of], ‘We’re not gonna really play in one particular game here; we’re gonna do whatever the fuck we want,’ kind of thing.”
Referencing an indescribable ride or journey suits THANKS FOR COMING, as the path to develop what Yanowitz calls the trio’s “own sort of ‘Princess’ song structure” goes even farther outside musical convention than just dismissing familiar rock arrangement and the use of transformative technology. “[The music] just feels unique to this project. It’s like chasing a lead; it’s got its own buzz,” Yanowitz says. “We’re not [sticking] to the traditional song structure, and that’s actually incredibly liberating.”
While the carefree ethos of Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum fosters unorthodox thinking, the process of making THANKS FOR COMING didn’t lack focused efforts or objectives, even if the results of both were allowed creative liberty. “Whether it’s a fully structured song idea, lyrical idea, melody, or a piece of something, I think we’re all trying to find ways to meet in some sort of middle that doesn’t exist without the three of us—however that happens,” Hall explains.
“As far as how we pursue that [connection],” he adds, “we definitely just rolled with the fact that [the pandemic] necessitated us sharing things more remotely. [Still,] having the memory of what it’s like to be together in the room, we’re able to construct things that way, with the faith that when we did come back together it would feel like it’d all cohere. When we perform live, we’re presenting the fruits of that labor.”
Katz-Bohen points out that beyond having faith in the group’s interpersonal chemistry, even while separated, the deep well of performative memories each of them brings into Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum also contributes greatly to solidifying the presence of authentic live energy. “We’ve also played a lot of shows in front of people: Rock shows and otherwise, the Hedwig [and the Angry Inch] show,” Katz-Bohen says. “So I think that also has informed us. We just sort of can imagine what it’s like to be playing to a room full of people—when it happens again, when we’re writing, or whenever we’re recording or whatever.” One could say therein lies another apropos connection to the band’s relationship with the imagined and the undefined.
Meanwhile, ruminating over what resuming live music will look, sound, and feel like for the band, as well as remembering what the trio set out to do with THANKS FOR COMING is where the imagination of Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum pivots to positive realities. “[The pandemic’s] given us a chance to explore what kind of band we can be. We forgot about what it’s going to be like to play live and just concentrated on, ‘What kind of beauty can we make this year?’ and ‘What songs are speaking to us three?’ and ‘How can we make a statement that’s a fully realized record?,” Yanowitz explains.
“We wanted to make a record that felt like records used to, in the sense that they’re well rounded journeys, like where it’s got a beginning and an end, [particularly] in a day and age where we live on clicks, singles, and TikTok,” he adds.
Ultimately, regardless of what aspects of Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum and THANKS FOR COMING appeal to listeners—its classic album structure, vintage musicality, or rebuffing of trends—Hall savors what he, Yanowitz, Katz-Bohen and their shared vision create together, even amid ongoing adversity.
“I think [THANKS FOR COMING] makes you want to move and is even celebratory. It’s like, look, yeah, things are arguably dire in a lot of ways right now. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy ourselves and dance.”
Photo by Paul Storey