Since dropping their debut album last November, PVRIS have been heading to the top at warp speed. With a massive UK headline tour to come in 2016, Ali Shutler gets up close and personal with the breakthrough band of the year.
Photos: Sam San Roman.
“Thanks for letting us get weird,” smiles Lynn Gunn as she steps behind the camera to fetch some more candles. A debate about lighting them and getting wax on the studio floor is quickly extinguished when the band, Alex Babinski, Brian Macdonald and Lynn, offer to clean up any and all mess. Defiant to the last, PVRIS are a band with a vision. From the electro-soaked dreamland of debut album ‘White Noise’ through each and every one of their live shows down to the entirety of their merch, it’s a vision that is wholly theirs. No shadowy figure behind the scenes, PVRIS is the brainchild of the three people in the spotlight. This year, their vision has shone.
In 2015 alone the band have played over 150 shows and next year, with dates lined up with Fall Out Boy alongside their own headline tour, doesn’t look to be any quieter. “We’ve got most of next year booked up,” Lynn offers, casually. PVRIS, raised on a diet of hard work, are more than happy to put the hours in to have their music heard. It’s the reason 2015 has belonged to them. It’s the reason why their ascent shows no sign of slowing. It’s the reason that when PVRIS talk about being one of the biggest bands in the world, you nod in agreement.
Since the release of ‘White Noise’ near the close of 2014, PVRIS’ journey has been incredible. Their world: gritty, soaked in hurt but unrelentingly hopeful, has taken them from unknown, through the treacherous worlds of buzz and hype and out the other side. They’ve risen to every challenge thrown their way with style. Their grand vision is becoming bigger and more encompassing by the second. As sudden as their rise has been, the trio have been preparing for it since they were in school.
Alex and Brian started playing in bands when they were in their freshmen year while Lynn got involved during her junior year of high school. “We all played in metal bands,” says Alex. “I had to get that anger out somehow,” offers Lynn, while Brian describes his early foray into music as, “just a bunch of nothing, it was just sound.” They all still listen to metal but “it’s refreshing to not make that.”
“The scene we were involved with was like a family,” he continues. ”It was close knit and we’re always about that. We were raised with that so it was nice to have that community, but also the music is a lot more real and raw. It’s not bullshit.”
“Yeah, let’s not talk about that stuff,” says Lynn when her old band is mentioned. It’s the only time they seem reluctant to talk. “We don’t really like to bring it up. I don’t think it has any significance to us now.” It’s a venture that didn’t work out because of “the dynamics of the people within it. It wasn’t really a good chemistry like we have here. We just wanted, at least Alex [who joined the band towards the end] and I just wanted to make good music and not fit ourselves in a box. We just wanted to expand from there, do our own thing and here we are.”
Along the way they crossed paths with Brian through mutual friends at a party. “We were both like, ‘We need this kid in our band’. We hadn’t heard him play the bass, we didn’t even know if he played an instrument, but this kid is so awesome, we need him.” Alex, having “never played the bass before,” switched instruments and joined the gang. Paris, as they were known back then, started off as a five piece that sounded very different. “Yeah, that music wasn’t the direction we wanted to be going in or what we wanted to do now. Certain people were in it for the wrong reasons. We had this one kid who was like, ‘I just want to be famous’ and would openly say that. Why would you? What’s the point in doing this if that’s all you want. You should want to make something. You can actually make a difference, make something that other people can feel and inspire them. That’s the shittiest reason to want to be in a band so we were like, bye.”
Built on friendship, a shared vision and powerful chemistry, PVRIS are now a solid movement. “I feel like the three of us are the three musketeers,” says Lynn. “The core of PVRIS, we don’t want to touch or mess with. We don’t want anyone to throw off the dynamic of what we are because I feel like we balance each other out really, really well. We’re a good trio.”
“We’ve been together from the start. From day one in a basement saying we want to do this, and for all the right reasons. We’re slowly getting there and we wouldn’t want to deal with anyone else,” adds Brian.
As uncomfortable as the band are with discussing the early years of their music, on reflection, the sparks that make them so special now were ever present back then. From their single minded desire to create music and not chase fame to Brian’s admission that “when I joined I was used to playing metal music. Being able to do something outside of that world was like a breath of fresh air,” their desire to do whatever they wanted has always been there. They just needed a gentle nudge.
“I was good at school but I didn’t like it,” explains Lynn. “I did like all the different activities, marching band, art class but I also did a lot of sports so I didn’t fit anywhere. I was a little chameleon. I stressed out way too much. Three weeks before I was supposed to go to art school, I was driving with my mom and I was like, ‘So, that school thing. I don’t really want to do it.’ She said, ‘As long as you can take care of yourself and make whatever you want to happen, happen. Go for it.”
“My parents have been so supportive about it,” continues Brian. You would think just coming out of the gates of high school, they’d want you to go right to college but our parents told us, just go for it and have fun. It’s going to be a good experience and you’ll be able to tell your kids in the future. You only get this chance once.” The band break away from the reflection to work out who’s having kids first. (Alex and Brian, if you were curious).
That sense of reckless adventure, of dreaming big and grabbing every moment douses ‘White Noise’ and pits it against its own lyrical shadow. “I’ve always been drawn to dark, sad and angry things. Anything in that realm especially paranormal, I think we’re all super into that. When I was in a crib, I slept with a blow up skeleton. I used to pick out the skeleton books at the library whenever my mom took me,” explains Lynn.
“We’re all drawn to the creepy, sad and the dark,” says Alex. “We’re all happy-go-lucky people, but that’s just what we’re drawn to.”
“It’s an outlet,” adds Lynn. ”We are very outgoing, happy people but I think the darkness is in us internally. Deep, deep, deep down in the core, as much as that is sad to think about but,” she pauses and looks over to her right. “I don’t know if you guys feel that way?” Her question is met with nods of agreement. “Absolutely. We’re happy but when we get to play that 30 minute set, you get to get it really out in the open. That’s the real us.”
With the band their escape, it’s little wonder PVRIS “think the coolest thing about music is that you can create your own world, in your own imagery, through sound. You can literally paint a picture with sound. I like how everyone’s perception of it is different. In a way, I always picture a place, colours or certain actions. They’re things I wouldn’t be able to draw so I always have some sort of atmosphere, vibe or place in my head, then I try and make that through sound. The best thing about this style of music, with electronics and programming, is that you can really create a vision that’s not restricted to three or four instruments. You can literally make any sound you want. You can create any atmosphere you want. The possibilities are endless.”
From the desolate scene-setting twirl of ‘Smoke’ until the outstretched conclusion of ‘Let Them In’, PVRIS’ debut album crafts a world you can inhabit. You can feel every emotion they offer and with every visit, new discoveries are rife. A year after release, it still feels exciting. They’re right, the possibilities really are endless.
The recording of ‘White Noise’ was, “very weird, scattered and abstract. It wasn’t the typical, you all come together, write the song in the room then you track drums, bass then guitar. We did everything all over the place.” Rocking up to the studio with, “a bunch of instrumental demos, some rock and some really electronic,” the band worked through “twenty of thirty” of them while also writing as they tracked. “We did a lot of experimenting. We worked nocturnally so we’d start at 3 in the afternoon and you guys would leave at 9 and then Blake [Harrison, the producer of ‘White Noise’] and I would do vocals or melodies until 7 in the morning,” explains Lynn. “It brought out the best in your ideas. You weren’t afraid because you were so sleep deprived you’re just like, ‘This is cool. I’m not afraid to do this.’”
There’s a fearless honesty to the words that inhabit ‘White Noise’, but it also deals in a darkness. “I was going through a lot of stuff when we were doing the record. A lot of the lyrics I wrote and rewrote in the studio,” explains Lynn. “It was real at the time of writing it and I caught it in a very raw form. I don’t know if I talked to you guys about it at all,” she glances at her bandmates. “I didn’t talk to anyone about it except pen and paper. And then the world,” she adds with a laugh. “It was definitely very cathartic. It was a good release. I also feel like you guys can relate to a lot of the shit I say as well. It’s not like, ‘what are you talking about?’”
“Oh yeah, totally. I get it,” says Alex, before Brian continues. “Every feeling you try and get across in a song, everything’s so well woven and on point.”
“We’re all cooks in the kitchen, we all have our say,” starts Lynn, with Alex and Brian laughing at her turn of phrase. “You’ve never heard of too many cooks in the kitchen?” she asks, before continuing. “Everyone’s throwing in their spices, a little salt and pepper.”
PVRIS have been living with their creations for two years now. “Sometimes you forget you relate to them and you have to step back. Those are good moments when you’re onstage and you feel it. I do still totally feel this way.”
“We played our home town on Warped and we were playing ‘White Noise’,” starts Brian before all three sigh affectionately. “The chorus came in, it started raining and there were people on shoulders and something hit you like, woah.”
“I could have fallen over,” adds Alex.
“It was a crazy moment because everyone was feeling it. It was one of those ‘oh, shit’ moments. These people get what we’re saying and connect to it. It was fucking crazy,” continues Lynn.
“They didn’t care that it was raining or anything, they were giving themselves to you,” finishes Brian with a smile.
“And we were doing that to them,” grins Lynn.
PVRIS have had countless special moments this year. Every step has felt like a victory and every win, theirs. “We’ve been on the road for a year straight. You grow up really fast on the road. You learn very quickly and experience a lot of things that other people don’t get to. I think we’ve all grown up a lot, we just haven’t realised it. We were thrown into it, ‘Right, how do we do this?’ I think we’re getting closer,” offers Lynn. “I feel more at home with these guys then I do at my own house. It’s good. I think we’ve all grown a lot.”
“It’s hard to sit back and see how much, but we’ve definitely grown a lot,” ventures Alex. “I’m 100% in a happier place. This is the best that life’s ever been. It’s all great stuff, it’s just hard to find words to describe what’s happening.”
Despite reaching new heights and growing into position, PVRIS still offers Lynn, Alex and Brian an escape. “I’m going through some stuff right now with relationships. I think we all did, all at the same time. Life outside of that is awesome. On the road we’re happy and doing stuff but there’s a lot of stuff in our personal lives. They’re not the same. There’s a lot of internal stuff too,” offers Lynn.
“I’ve learned to cope with it and be happy,” adds Alex.
“Being here and doing this now, it’s different if you’re alone and dealing with it because that’s all you think about. When you’re out, doing this, you can’t dwell on it,” continues Brian.
A few days later, PVRIS take to the hallowed stages of Reading & Leeds Festival and fucking smash it. “There was something electric in the air,” and as people slowly walk away afterwards, not quite sure what to do next, there was a sense that this band were destined for much bigger slots. Are we looking at a future festival headliner? “Maybe, that sounds pretty damn cool. We’ll have to find out,” says Lynn, playfully. “Eventually. We have hopes and aspirations but we don’t have any expectations. We’re going to aim high, but we’re not going to expect anything. Hopefully we’ll see ourselves there but if not, it’s ok.”
Coping with the demands has been a huge part of PVRIS’ learning curve. “We try not to think about it but there is a lot of pressure and expectation on us, especially now with how quickly things are going. I keep saying this but it feels like our bones are growing faster than our skin. Trying to keep up with that is hard but I think we’re doing an alright job.” Their day-to-day manager Matty (“He’s like our big brother”), has been with the band from the start and kept them “very grounded. Him telling us, ‘you guys aren’t ready and you don’t know what to expect’ made us prepare, boxing gloves on. We’re ready.”
That expectation is something the band “try not to think about. We just want to do us and be normal people. Sometimes I’ll read interviews to make sure I didn’t say anything stupid [Hi Lynn, all good so far! – Ed] but apart from that, I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to know. Let’s continue to do what we’re doing and hope it works out. If it doesn’t, that’s our fault.”
“I’m pretty modest,” explains Lynn when talk turns to press attention. “I don’t really like talking about myself or us. I never expect or want people to ask anything. It’s whatever they wish.” Over the past few months Lynn has become something of a spokesperson on gender and sexuality in the music industry. “It’s really just press asking, to be honest. It’s not something I’ve ever seen as a big deal or as a defining point, so I’ve always just been open about it. Because I’ve been open about it, I feel like the press has asked me about it and almost exploited it, in a way.
“I really don’t ever bring it up unless it’s asked because I don’t think it’s something that needs to be addressed all the time, because it doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t make me any different to any other human but at the same time, if I can be open and talk about it, that can be good – it’s kinda contradictory,” she explains. “I don’t want it to be exploited and made into this big deal. At the same time, the more I’m open about it, the more it’s addressed. The more I talk about it, the more people are receptive and accepting towards it. It’s turned into this weird middle ground, but I only talk about it when people bring it up or if I feel something’s absolutely necessary.
“I love being open about that stuff and, theoretically, I can help people out, help people come to terms with themselves and accept themselves and that’s awesome. At the same time, first and foremost we’re a band. I’m an artist and that’s my main focus. If I can help anything else along the way though, that’s cool too.”
As far as PVRIS have come, there’s still an endless horizon before them. They’re working on new music “Every single day. We love ‘White Noise’, but we’re excited to expand on it. Definitely excited to just make more and put more out there. We already have so much shit ready to go, but it’s all just timing. You know how it goes but it’s ready. We can’t release them right now but I just want people to know it’s getting worked on, it’s happening and it’s going to be really cool. Just keep waiting, please.”
“The darkness isn’t going to get lost, if anything there’s going to be more, at least lyrically. I think the sound, sonically might be a more atmospheric and, you’ll find out. You’ll see,” teases Lynn for what seems like the millionth time this year. There’s a glint in all of their eyes when talk turns to what comes next for the band. It’s excitement, it’s knowing but it, for now, is a closely guarded secret.
“We’re never going to make the same record twice but we’ll always keep it honest and real. It’s definitely different. It’s definitely new and exciting, but it’s still very PVRIS.”
“The UK’s been so receptive, welcoming and awesome towards everything we do,” explains Lynn on the decision to kick off the ‘White Noise’ headline run in the United Kingdom, “It made sense that we’d do it first.”
It’s a love affair that started with their first visit back in April and has only grown since.
In April PVRIS toured outside of America for the first time. They supported Lower Than Atlantis on their headline run as well as sneaking in a couple of headline shows of their own at London’s Barfly and Birmingham’s Academy II. “Those first headliners we did over in the UK in the spring were absolutely bonkers. I can’t wait to see a whole tour with that reaction and with production.”
Second on the main stage and the hype surrounding the band is palpable. This is their first proper chance to show off exactly what they can do. While a dodgy mic scuppered Josh ‘YMA6’ Franceschi joining the band for ‘My House’, this set proved that PVRIS can live up to all the expectation all on their own.
The band flew in, performed a live session at Maida Vale as part of Radio 1 Rocks and left. Faultless.
For us, it was the set of the weekend. For PVRIS, “There was something electric in the air that day. It felt so incredible. We had no idea what to expect and we were absolutely blown away. The crowd fucking ruled. Usually I have to kind of egg people on for a song or two to get them into it.” Needless to say they needed no convincing. Reading knows how to fucking party.
PVRIS toured the US, Europe and the UK with Bring Me The Horizon. So, how was it? “They were amazing. We were shocked how receptive everyone was. Being the first band on the bill, we weren’t expecting anything but every single show was incredibly fun.”