PVRIS' brilliant debut album made them superstars in a world of their own design. Now they're stripping it back and exposing the bones underneath.
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PVRIS' brilliant debut album made them superstars in a world of their own design. Now they're stripping it back and exposing the bones underneath.
Words: Ali Shutler. Photos: Max Fairclough.
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset="vc_col-lg-offset-2 vc_col-lg-8 vc_col-md-offset-2 vc_col-md-8"][vc_column_text]A couple of years ago some friends made a weird little record. Wide-eyed, driven by a newfound belief in themselves and the want to create something they believed in, ‘White Noise' was the start of the fairytale. Otherworldly, ignoring the rules and with an eye on dark escape, it took PVRIS around the world. Several times. Created with zero expectations it quickly morphed into something else. Lights shining, platforms raised and with their art embraced at every turn, it was a whirlwind that focused on the happy ever after. "We couldn't have written a more ideal story," offers guitarist Alex Babinski. "We got to tour with our favourite bands; we got to travel the world."
"We weren't expecting anything from it. That's not to say we weren't happy with what we did but when us three just went into a room in Florida, we weren't expecting to meet the people we met or see the places we've seen with that record," continues bassist Brian MacDonald. "It's still mind-blowing. When we're in it, we're going day by day. We're living in that moment and not taking a step outside of it and viewing it for what it is. Once we had time off, we got to decompress and look back on all the places we travelled, all the people we met, and wrap our heads around it. It truly was a fairytale; it was just an amazing experience we had."
And now they're back with another fully realised block of art. ‘All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell' is fuelled by the same three friends. There's still a belief in their abilities, a want to create something beautiful, and there are no expectations or pandering to their audience. It's a different sort of PVRIS album, though. Darker and more exposed, it's replaced the supernatural stories with something more intimate. It's wrapped them into a turbulent new world. Existing somewhere between good and evil, right and wrong, it sees the band try and make sense of a universe that's much more complex.
Since the comeback of ‘Heaven' introduced new shades of red to their world, PVRIS have continued to explore, change and grow. "It's been crazy, but a good crazy," smiles singer Lynn Gunn. "I'm feeling stressed, just because we're in the middle of tour dates and one-offs and festivals at the moment, between filming more videos and everything else that comes with the release. It's all good work though; it's all for the greater picture," she promises.
‘White Noise' was written when PVRIS were gazing out of windows at the endless horizon. Now they've seen what's out there. It's part of them. Instead of the daydreaming possible, ‘All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell' deals in reality's touch.
"We had great hopes when we made ‘White Noise', but we had zero expectations," offers Lynn. The thing about not expecting things is that there's no time to prepare for what's to come. No one who worked on ‘White Noise' had a clue what to expect. "They had no idea what was about to come from it. It was honestly really confusing and just so overwhelming, it didn't allow any of us to process what was going on until afterwards, and it was finished, and we had time off to fully process everything. I got pretty lost, especially towards the end of the record cycle, just in dealing with my own stuff."[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="44634" img_size="full" alignment="center"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset="vc_col-lg-offset-2 vc_col-lg-8 vc_col-md-offset-2 vc_col-md-8"][vc_column_text]That journey from being sure of yourself, to having the carpet ripped out from underneath as you're swept up in a whirlwind of new demands and sudden exposure can be felt across PVRIS' second album. There's a pause, a sudden realisation of how did I end up here? Lynn's found her answer. "I mean, I know how I ended up here. Over the past few years, all the chaos, stress and pressure of being in this band and the record doing so well and having to perform it for three years, I dug myself into a ditch. I became self-critical and put so pressure on myself. I became so attentive to the little details that anytime the little details were skewed or thrown off; it would throw me into a little black hole. I just really, really became my own worst enemy over the past few years. I'm trying to work on that now and eliminate it."
But that doesn't mean ‘All We Know Of Heaven' is full of resolution and journey's end. All that self-discovery, it's still going on. "It's interesting, as soon as we released ‘What's Wrong', I felt very, very vulnerable and very exposed and I got scared. I genuinely didn't know what to feel, it was just this overwhelming feeling of being pulled in so many different emotions but none of them felt relieved or, ‘Okay, we can move forward now'. It felt really scary to put ‘What's Wrong' out. I didn't think this was going to happen but a lot of the subjects on the record are still close to home. There are things I'm still dealing with and things I'm not ready to share or discuss yet. It's going to be interesting when the whole record is out," she offers. "The fact I felt really scared, vulnerable and exposed is good. When you do anything that scares you, that's good for you. If you're doing something that doesn't scare you, you shouldn't be doing it. There's something in me that feels that once the record is out, it'll be a really big part of being able to process everything and heal."
It's easy to paint PVRIS as a gloomy band, all serious work, monochrome business and no play, but they wouldn't hustle as hard or endure everything they have done if they didn't enjoy it.
"It's all for enjoyment," starts Brian. "We're doing this with our best friends and we're grateful enough to create music and put it out to the world with our best friends. It's a fun experience. For Alex, Lyndsey and I, we take the image of the band very seriously, but we do love joking around with each other and being funny here and there. It's a fun and amazing experience and we're super grateful for it."
The three of ‘em are joined for life. Constantly impressed by one another and quick to make jokes, they're musketeers and mates. "We all experienced tour differently," reasons Lynn. "We all handle ourselves differently, but it bonded us. Our humour and not taking everything too seriously gets us through everything that's put in front of us."
Despite everything, PVRIS have never stopped working towards the new. The touring for their debut was a gruelling three-year trip. The break before heading into the studio for the follow-up was two weeks. "Times were ticking and that's when we had planned to be there," offers Lynn. "When ‘White Noise' was still rolling, it was moving so rapidly that we wanted to keep that momentum going. We had to go straight into the studio to keep it going and have a release that was moving with that momentum. I was a little opposed to that because I don't think anything we do should be rushed, especially in the creative process. There was a little debate in my mind at the time but it all worked out the way it was meant to and it was perfect."
"My favourite thing is recording," starts Alex. "We went to the studio pretty much straight away after tour, it was so nice to be settled into one place and to create new things and record them. It was my favourite experience I've had with music."
"The studio was amazing," continues Brian. "When we did the first record we didn't have the same resources we did when we made the second record. When we first stepped into the studio in this church in New York, I remember seeing all these amps and looking over at Alex who was pointing at them saying, ‘I can't wait to use this one, this one, this one. It was like a kid in a candy shop."[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zj4iQItsJSY"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset="vc_col-lg-offset-1 vc_col-lg-10 vc_col-md-offset-1 vc_col-md-10"][vc_column_text]
“If you're doing something that doesn't scare you, you shouldn't be doing it.”
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset="vc_col-lg-offset-2 vc_col-lg-8 vc_col-md-offset-2 vc_col-md-8"][vc_column_text]Teamed up once again with producer Blake Harnage, the band returned to someone they trusted as changed people. "The recording process was amazing. Blake was a breath of fresh air when we're recording. He lets you step out of the box; he's there to guide you through your musical talents, what you can achieve with a song, what you want to hear in a song and what you want to see with a song. He opens up the door for you. A lot of the time people feel like they're boxed in and they have to record a certain way, but with him, he's all smiles and let's try this, let's try that."
It's easy to imagine PVRIS as a meticulous band. Yes, everything about their art is deliberate but there's spontaneity to their music. The growth, the twists and the exploration on ‘All We Know Of Heaven' weren't meticulously planned, "It just happens," Brian explains. "We don't go into it overthinking or analysing it too much because that throws a wrench into the whole process of recording. We just went in and did it. It was just organic. It happened the way it happened. It just panned out. There wasn't any formula to it. It was just natural."
Take ‘Walk Alone'. It's the most sonically outlandish song on the record. "I had that instrumental for such a long time and was just waiting to get to the studio to see how it would shape up," says Lynn. "I didn't have any vocal ideas for it so when it came to it, I took the vocals and melody of another demo that we didn't end up using, and put it over this. It fit perfectly. This one was a funny Frankenstein one in a way. Little bits and pieces of everything thrown in, which I think gives it a left of centre feel."
"There's no path we tried to take," adds Alex. With new ideas and new toys on the table, there was a much wider world available this time around. Even with all the new directions it never went too far. "We got to showcase all our musical backgrounds. We got to play around with a lot of stuff. We did a lot of stuff I've never done before. Let's just do it and if we like it, we like it and if we don't, we'll get rid of it later. It's hard to get weird with us," he reasons before Brian interrupts: "Because we're already so weird. We got to play around and experiment, just like we did on the first record. It's a mixture of everything. Experimenting is amazing. Listening to the full record and hearing it all, hearing how we laid out all three of our experiences through touring and living on the road in these ten songs, I'm so proud. It's better than the record I thought we'd make."
'White Noise' is a confident record, sure of its own voice and more than happy to deal in other people. ‘All We Know Of Heaven' is much more insular. There's discomfort, there's intimacy and at times, it feels like there are parts of the band's soul on the record. Created with the same intentions as ‘White Noise', "there was no part of the record that was about trying to cater to any specific person or any specific situation. I was just trying to cope with very personal things and put them into some kind of song, and then some kind of collection of songs. Whatever people want to connect with is what they'll connect to."
And despite the sparks of the songs coming from the deeply personal and bizarre trappings of life on the road, sudden superstardom and having your whole life exposed with little warning, ‘All We Know Of Heaven' remains human.
"What I've gone through isn't alien," starts Lynn. "At the core of every emotion and every experience I've had, are the most basic and raw human emotions you can experience: sadness, fear, loneliness, anger. No matter what the circumstance or how my personal feelings came about, the core emotions are the most important thing and that's what people will connect with the most. That's what I tried to pull out of those experiences. The circumstances of everyone suffering are always going to be different and subjective but at the core of it are those very, very basic emotions that everybody feels." This record celebrates those; it celebrates "being vulnerable and honouring your emotions."[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="44631" img_size="full" alignment="center"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset="vc_col-lg-offset-2 vc_col-lg-8 vc_col-md-offset-2 vc_col-md-8"][vc_column_text]PVRIS have been working on ‘All We Know Of Heaven' since the release of ‘White Noise' pretty much, writing on the back of buses, in dark backstage rooms at venues and in tattered notebooks around the world. It is a record that spans years. "We had 40 ideas total, a folder of some super short snippets, some full-length demos to choose from. We scrapped so many; we started so many new ones, it was a very freeing process of selecting the songs. It was really about following whatever felt right in the moment."
The thing about fairy tales is that they thrive on the make believe. Rose-tinted and glitter embellished, storytelling is easier when you can write about anything. PVRIS have never been about easier, though. The stories on ‘All We Know Of Heaven' are Lynn's. "It's all me. That was the biggest thing with this record, stripping away metaphors and stripping away imagery to hide behind. It was coming forth with my feelings and putting them out there. Just being a lot more vulnerable.
"With ‘White Noise', we followed the paranormal, ghost theme throughout the record. With this record, there wasn't any theme. It was just write whatever comes to you, write whatever feels good when you're saying it. Write whatever scares you a little bit when you're singing it. That was the internal compass I was following this time around, just vulnerability at its core. Even that, I still feel like I dress things up with certain metaphors and imagery but this was my effort to strip that away. Because the lyrics are not painted with any type of metaphor or imagery, they are heavier and darker because the feelings are staring them right in the face."
All dressed up and with everywhere to go, ‘All We Know Of Heaven' sees PVRIS get personal. At times it feels like a break-up record but instead of personal heartbreak, it sees the band break away from their whole world.
"When I work on demos, I'll do an intro, a verse, a chorus and maybe get to the second verse, and then I'll just leave it until we get to the studio, so I don't get sick of it or overdo it," starts Lynn. "There are a few songs that you could label as break-up songs but ultimately, I don't feel attached to those initial connections I made with those songs." Instead, the initial flare is lit up, explored, left to die down, deconstructed and then reassembled into something new. "It seems like a break-up record but by the time I returned to the songs, I was so closed off from what they were written about. Normally the second verse tries to make that known and creates that disconnect. There's a cool contrast that comes about through that.
"It's not a break-up record though it has quite a few songs where people might think that, or be curious who it's about. But at this point, it's not about anyone but dealing with my own self and trying to battle with self-love, self-deprecation and everything in between that. I became my own worst enemy over the past few years and this record is mostly about that, and dealing with me trying to dig myself out of that."
Across the record, there's a turbulence. 'White Noise' was a tightly wound record with all the parts moving in the same directions. The highs were high, the lows, low. Fast, slow, it moved as a unit. ‘All We Know Of Heaven' is messier. The lines are blurred, the direction spinning. It's heavy weather, undefined and the music does just as much talking.
"Honestly, I just let everything out. I wasn't going for, ‘I need to let something specific that I'm working through out'. It wasn't forced," explains Brian. There's personality in the music. Stories told without words. "Because Alex and I don't sing, we can express how we're feeling through playing. You can let out your emotions in the playing and in the style. You can hear from all three ends how we were feeling."
"It was just the biggest release I've felt," continues Alex. "We've all gone through the same situations and got thrown into life all at the same time and went through it together. We all understood where we were in our minds. With what Lynn was writing lyrically, it all made sense to us. She's one of the best lyricists I've ever met in my life or heard; she's so talented. The whole experience was a release getting to this record. It's a cathartic thing and it felt refreshing to create again, to sit in a room, to talk music and have that be the only thing you have to focus on."[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJiRx6PTpyw"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset="vc_col-lg-offset-1 vc_col-lg-10 vc_col-md-offset-1 vc_col-md-10"][vc_column_text]
“I became my own worst enemy.”
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset="vc_col-lg-offset-2 vc_col-lg-8 vc_col-md-offset-2 vc_col-md-8"][vc_column_text]From the surprising chime and fall of ‘Walk Alone', through ‘Same Soul', with its eternity heartbreak and torn distance to Half's building separation, there's a sense of impending doom throughout ‘All We Know Of Heaven'. "That was a very overwhelming feeling," starts Lynn. "It was very present throughout the past few years," but rather than making a sweeping comment on The State Of Things, that connection "was personal. I didn't realise this until after Trump got elected but a lot of the feelings on the record are very similar to what a lot of other people are feeling right now, all over the world.
"Somebody asked me if this was record was going to be political or if it was going to be anything to do with the current state of the world. It didn't come from that initially and everything I wrote about was before Trump got elected and before things started hitting the fan, but I believe people will still connect to it." It wasn't created as a mirror but there are reflections to be found. "When you strip it down, strip down these songs to their basic emotions, it's anger, it's sadness, it's fear. It's just general doom, I guess. Maybe doom is a little too serious but there's really, really heavy uncertainty and that's something a lot of people are feeling right now."
Just by being present, by creating, and by embracing emotions, PVRIS are offering an alternative. "With everything going on around us, politically and socially, we need to remember we are all just humans at the end of the day. We are experiencing human emotions. That's what people want to connect with ultimately, no matter what it is. People want to feel connected. People want to feel vulnerable and like they're not alone. Any type of art, whether it's deeply personal or political, is needed right now. As long as it's honest and it's true to whatever the situation is, whether on a grand scale or the most internal, people need that."
Sometimes when Lynn writes lyrics, there's not an instant connection between head and heart. Instead, "it's just ‘This is what I'm compelled to write right now and eventually it will manifest into something completely accurate or something to relate with. This is what it is for now'." It happened a lot on the first record where the songs "weren't drawn from anything deeply personal," but instead captured an unspoken feeling that eventually grew into something much more. It was the same for ‘No Mercy', which sees the bubbling feeling of uncertainty that sits under the record threatening to boil over. It sees the band at their most aggressive, their most vicious and, unsurprisingly, their most unapologetic.
"When we went to write it I didn't know what it was about at the time. I remember us pulling up that one part in Macbeth where Lady Macbeth has blood on her hands and she can't get it off. I was obsessed with that section of the play. We built around that lyrically, we loosely followed the idea of blood on your hands, can't get it off, and just being cynical, embracing pain and embracing whatever's about to be thrown at you. It has this very post apocalyptical feeling to it, or pre apocalyptic feeling I guess, but we didn't fully connect to it right away." The band weren't worried about that though. Things have a funny way of lining themselves up.
"I always feel like the universe makes things connect naturally if you let it, and if you sit back on ideas sometimes. We'd finished tracking all the instruments for this song when we were in upstate New York at the church. We waited until we got back to Brooklyn in November to finish up a lot of vocal parts. The day after Trump got elected was the day I had to go and track vocals for ‘No Mercy'. I remember walking a couple of blocks down from where I was staying to Blake's studio and I had my headphones in listening to the demo for the song. The city was so gloomy, it had this creepy doomsday atmosphere to it, nobody was out and I'd never seen Brooklyn so quiet. It was cold, it had a really creepy, post apocalyptic air to the day and so, walking through that and knowing what had happened the night before, knowing what was about to happen in the future, listening to that song, I realised, ‘This is what I'm connecting this song to'." [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="44632" img_size="full" alignment="center"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset="vc_col-lg-offset-2 vc_col-lg-8 vc_col-md-offset-2 vc_col-md-8"][vc_column_text]Other times, one line can mean everything. On the soul-baring ‘What's Wrong', she spits "When did I get so pitiful? Just a goddamn corpse in a centrefold?" and she knows exactly what she meant with it. "It was pointed at being in the spotlight and people putting you up on this pedestal, and you don't see yourself in that. It's about having the perspective of ‘I should not be here'. It was another way of self-deprecating, I'm nothing but a face on a centrefold, and that was a really big thing that I struggled with, especially during the past few years. And I still struggle with it, seeing yourself how others see you ‘cos you know yourself the best. It's hard to see yourself in the light that other people do; especially if you're in the position of being your own worst enemy and self-deprecating. It's a heartbreaking thing but an interesting concept to write about for sure."
'White Noise' focused on the intangible. Driven by feeling and the unknown, there was a shadowy presence to every turn. ‘All We Know Of Heaven' is more physical. It's gritty, leaves dirt under your nail and gets beneath your skin. There's body, bones, blood and guts throughout. It's a record you can feel, touch, fight. Deep breaths and visceral outpourings, "it's a much more physical thing to be grasping," starts Lynn.
"I made this observation listening back; I reference the body a lot. There were a couple of demos for this record that didn't make it that reference human anatomy. It was a common thread with a lot of the demos and a lot of things I wrote. I think it might have been because on tour; I really could physically feel everything. Your mental health, stress and pressure, as much as it can weigh on your mind, it's equally noticeable on your body. Over the past few years, I hyper-focused on how I physically felt and how I looked in the mirror. I could see my face change. I was just fascinated with watching that happen and feeling those physical effects of mental stress. That subconsciously overlapped into a lot of the lyrics."
It gives the record a grit. It gives the band a vulnerability. It breaks them down into their basic parts. There's no arrogance here; just skin stretched over bones. ‘White Noise' was euphoric and every conflict had a resolution. ‘All We Know Of Heaven' doesn't do that.
"Yeah," agrees Lynn. "I'm trying to think if there are any songs on the record where it resolves, even a little bit." The closest we get is ‘Nola 1. "That's one of my favourites on the record, which is a hard pick. That song was the first one I wrote when we weren't finished playing shows, but it was our first extensive break we had from touring. I went to New Orleans with Blake and we posted up in an Airbnb for a week. It was the first time in two or three years that I had time just to breathe, exist and not have any type of pressure looming over me."
That space let Lynn start reflecting on everything that had happened for the first time in years. She started to dig into herself. "It was a very lost period for me. That song has the perfect blend of upbeat summer vibes with a very underlying sadness and melancholy, which is what that trip was. It was so relaxing, a breath of fresh air, but it was also very sad with that reflection. It offers the most resolution out of all the songs," and takes the story full circle with its ghosts and mirrors. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="44633" img_size="full" alignment="center"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset="vc_col-lg-offset-2 vc_col-lg-8 vc_col-md-offset-2 vc_col-md-8"][vc_column_text]Normally when a band immerses themselves in as much sadness, loss, confusion and vulnerability as PVRIS do with ‘All You Know Of Heaven', they offer plenty of shining lights for the audience. Explicit reminders that things will get better. Resolutions out of the suffering. There's none of that here. "I never really think about that," admits Lynn. Instead, "'Okay, this is the emotion you're feeling. How can you get as deep, down and dirty with that feeling as you can? I never really think about resolutions. It's just reckless abandonment with most songs."
It's a brave stance, but Lynn isn't convinced. "Is it? I don't know," she admits. It shows a belief in their story. An adventure behind the mask. A truth that music is art, and not just a tool. Of course, that wasn't the plan going in. "With anything we do, we just want to be as real and honest as we can make it. Lyrically, we never really give resolutions for some reason. Sometimes it won't help. Sometimes it won't add to anything that people could take away from it." Its power doesn't lie in making everything fine; it's in admitting that it's not.
Instead, PVRIS write the music they want to make. They tell the stories that need to be told. ‘All We Know Of Heaven' is a record about balance. "Everything in life is about balance and honouring both ends of your emotional spectrum. Honoring the good just as much as the bad, and the bad as much as the good. Realising the importance of balance was a huge lesson." Heaven and hell. Needing and knowing. "It's like walking through the middle of that," explains Lynn. "The boys and I deal with things differently. For me, the past few years on paper probably looked like heaven for a lot of people and something a lot of people would kill for but what I was going through internally was my own personal hell that I don't think anybody would have ever known about. I was just standing between those two things. Dealing with the most internal things and the utmost external influences you can have, and just standing in the middle of that and trying to navigate between the both of those at the same time. It's less about heaven and hell and more about the weird paradoxes that could exist between those."
A couple of years ago some friends made a weird little record. Now they've made something completely different because their world is completely different, and that weighs heavy on their shoulders. As much as everything has changed, a few things remain constant.
"I'm still the same," admits Lynn. "I'm still the ultimate perfectionist and really controlling of our art and trying to make sure it's the best it can be. I still feel the pressure of trying to stay level headed and not get out of line and stay around good people, which happens naturally anyway but, I constantly feel pressure, mostly from myself. With this record, there's been a lot of circumstances outside of our control, which has been a true test of our patience integrity, but those have been held down for sure. We've done so much hustling, and so much work, just because that's what on the cards ultimately but now the main intention is to stay inspired, stay vulnerable, really be present in the moments that we're in and not get in my own way. It's about the fine balance of being vulnerable, practising self-love and staying inspired."
There's no happy ever after at the end of ‘All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell' because it's not about escape, it's about confronting the things that scare you. It's about finding peace in the chaos. There are stories to be told and lessons to be learnt through. There's a heaven, a hell, and everything in-between. It starts with a loud admission of doom. It ends with a quiet whisper of hope. The opposing ideas weren't planned. "That's one of those things that the universe naturally let's happen. I don't think there are coincidences but sometimes things line-up." Sometimes things work out.
"I think we were cursed from the start," sings ‘Heaven', a surrender to the end, but by the time ‘Nola 1' rings out, there's a flickering determination to carry on. "But I keep singing," promises Lynn. It's a message for no one but herself. As always though, that doesn't matter. That whispering defiance resonates far beyond the walls of the band and carries forward. "That was the biggest thing of the past few years, to carry on. It's going to get better; it has to."
PVRIS's album 'All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell' is out 25th August. Taken from the September issue of Upset. Order a copy now below.