NEW YORK —
This might one day be a trivia question: Which rock band with a celebrity frontman and a very long name was one of the last acts to play live in New York before the city shut down in 2020?
The answer is Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum, and its three members hope they become known more for their music than just as a footnote to the conoravirus.
The indie rockers may be in the unenviable position of trying to launch their career during a global pandemic, but they have a few things going for them — they’re all seasoned musicians and they have Broadway and “Dexter” star Michael C. Hall on vocal duty.
He’s joined by keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen, who has played with Blondie, Cyndi Lauper and Tony Bennett. The drummer is Peter Yanowitz of the bands The Wallflowers and Morningwood.
The trio’s six-song self-titled debut EP is out April 2 with music that’s hard to pin down. “I like it when people come see us. They’re like, ‘I didn’t know what to expect, but it wasn’t that,” jokes Hall during an interview in the band club house, a converted apartment in a Greenwich Village building that’s crowded with instruments.
The band’s origins can be found on Broadway, during the 2014-15 run of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Yanowitz was in the onstage band and Katz-Bohen was a substitute musical director. Hall eventually joined the show as the third German transsexual at the heart of the glam rock show.
After the musical closed, Yanowitz and Katz-Bohen got together to make their own music. “We were like, ‘Let’s do our own thing,’” recalls Katz-Bohen. It was all instrumental at first. Hall was later invited to jam and brought lyrical and melodic ideas.
The first songs they worked on was “Love American Style,” which would become a trippy, David Bowie-inspired synth-heavy track. It was completed and recorded in just a few hours. A band was born. “It was like the first kiss. It went really well — tongue and all,” jokes Yanowitz.
Katz-Bohen admits he was surprised by what kind of music was coming out. “It was not what I was expecting. I don’t know what I was expecting. Whatever it was, it sort of caught me off guard in a good way,” he said.
The band’s unusual name came later, inspired — snatched, really — from Katz-Bohen’s daughter, who was 4 or 5 at the time.
“I asked her what she would name her band of the future. She said, ‘Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum.’ I said, ‘That’s such a cool name, I want to use it for my band.’ She was into that idea.”
The members like long band names, citing The Velvet Underground, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Queens of the Stone Age and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. They like their unusual one. “I can’t imagine it anything else now. We tried to change it and we just couldn’t. We never beat it,” Yanowitz says.
The members defer when asked to describe their sound, preferring instead to say its what you might expect to hear in a butterfly museum. If that’s the case, expect the museum to play a mix of glam, dreamy ‘80s New Wave, acoustic folk, Nine Inch Nails intensity and lots of David Bowie.
“We don’t consciously set out to sound like anything or anyone but inevitable it’s an amalgamation of our conscious and unconscious influences,” says Hall, who has performed Bowie songs onstage in “Lazarus.”
They make music with whatever’s handy in Yanowitz’s converted club house — computers, a Rhodes piano and drums.
“We could have been a totally different band if we were in a bigger city with more room. We just sort of went with this and it became part of our DNA,” says Yanowitz.
They played live only about a half dozen times, growing their brand slowly and drawing curious fans of “Dexter” and Broadway and Blondie.
“I think people initially came to check us out for various reasons but have returned because they’re into the band,” says Hall.
The trio played the Mercury Lounge on the night of March 12, the day the mayor banned all large gatherings. The closing act that night canceled, but Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum played their slot. Then the venue shuttered. “We literally played what felt like the last show in New York,” says Hall. “It felt like ‘This is it for a while.’”
The coronavirus has cratered the live music scene everywhere and members of Princess Goes face the prospect of trying to break into the industry without any live concerts. They hope fans check out their quirky videos — including one with Hall dancing with puppets — and they’re thinking of ways to create buzz.
“Virus is the mother of invention,” says Hall. “In this day and age, there are avenues that allow you to get your music to people that don’t require everybody be in the same room.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits