Driving on the lonely highways in West Texas is daunting enough, but for PWR BTTM, traveling through the barren land carries a different significance. While we’re chatting, the queer-punk duo of Liv Bruce and Ben Hopkins can’t help but let out a loud laugh mid-sentence. They both exclaim that they see a billboard for a "crazy sex shop for truckers," which breaks up the monotony of long drive. But the experience of seeing strange things is nothing new for the duo.
Bruce and Hopkins met in college and bonded over a shared love of shredding and writing songs, which inspired them to form PWR BTTM in Upstate New York. Moving that project to Brooklyn, the duo’s chemistry is unmistakable when you speak with them.
“We decided the next step is to have separate tour bus so we don’t have speak to each other all day until we get to the venue,” Bruce jokes as Hopkins chimes in the background as he’s driving. “That’s what will happen on the next album cycle.”
In nearly a year since their debut album, Ugly Cherries, was released, the duo has seen their profile grow exponentially. They’ve been on tour with bands like Ra Ra Riot, Pity Sex and Mitski, with each performance getting tighter and grander. Fans beyond the queer community have become instantly attracted to their smattering of unapologetic brand of punk. Their explosive riffs and pulsating drums have turned curious onlookers into devoted supporters.
Yet, they continue to have the same DIY spirit that started in New Paltz. While their stage show is as glamorous as ever, recalling many of the ‘70s glam rock greats with modern sensibilities. What’s been most rewarding at the band’s shows, however, has been their newfound connection with queer people outside of their Northeastern hub.
“People will ask us what it’s like to tour in the South as if there’s only four gay people,” Bruce says. “What we’ve been really excited to discover is all these queer people everywhere. We feel like, if anything, there’s heavy queer presence in areas where we may not expect it.”
“Those people have different perspective of what it’s like to be queer than we do and it’s more valuable,” Hopkins adds. “There’s a high commonality of people in the Northeast, but when you go to places like Alabama and Iowa, you see stuff that we don’t get at home.”
It’s been normal to encounter fans that are more open about their sexuality there, such as the South, which is where they’ve seen their message become even more empowered.
“Violence against queer people is nothing new,” Bruce says of the current climate in the country. “It’s become a struggle that’s more in the public conscious in the past few years. I feel like it’s not a new thing.”
Their current tour saw them play three shows in Florida within a week of the Orlando massacre. Bruce wrote about the fallout in a publication, and a move that was more meaningful than Congress grandstanding by singing “We Shall Overcome,” PWR BTTM played three raw, heartfelt versions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” As moving as those versions were, those songs are retired for now, and the band are continuing their spread their message and expanding the burgeoning community that their music continues to foster.
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“No one ever told us we could be anything,” Bruce says. “No one ever said when we young we could be the Beastie Boys or any of that rock'n'roll shit. When a straight boy wakes up in the morning, he picks up a guitar and thinks he could be Rivers Cuomo. That’s amazing. Queer people aren’t told that. It’s a revelation to think that that kind of community can exist for us.”
Despite a relentless schedule, the duo have found time in between tour dates to start working on a new album. Seeing “a lot of crazy shit” from touring has allowed them to gain a different perspective beyond their New York hub. In particular, they’ve been effected by being on the road for the better part of the last year, and fully understanding how their music and message has impacted their growing fanbase.
“Through touring, I’ve found in my writing that I’ve been inspired by meeting other people,” Hopkins says. “You write about your own experience in a way that’s truthful so you feel less alone, and inherently other people will too if they relate to that material. It’s been amazing to see people relate to it in their own way.”
PWR BTTM performs with Pity Sex at The Constellation Room tonight at 9 p.m. $15, all ages. For full details and tickets, click here.