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Princess Goes Talks ‘Come of Age’ and the Creative Unconscious

We’ve seen so many actor-driven bands come and go over the years that it’s almost understandable to approach their work with suspicion (even if it’s laced with intrigue). But what if Dexter and Six Feet Under star Michael C. Hall fronted the band and the group were all gifted musicians who wrote fantastic songs?

I’d encourage you to devote some time and energy to Princess Goes, the NYC-based synth-pop band from Hall (himself a Broadway star a couple times over), Blondie synth maestro Matt Katz-Bohen, and Peter Yanowitz, who’s drummed on Natalie Merchant’s biggest 1990s hits and even contributed to Billy Bragg’s and Wilco’s legendary Mermaid Avenue record. They just released their excellent sophomore album, Come of Age, the title cut for which you might have heard when Vehlinggo premiered it last month. It’s an extraordinary adventure through 12 diverse songs that find the band coming into their own — building a foundation of synth-pop and rock-tinged songs stacked to the rafters with cinematic dynamics and catchy hooks.

Generally speaking, the duties split like this: Hall writes the lyrics and sings, Katz-Bohen tackles the synths, and Yanowitz drums, albeit with some guitars and bass making noticeable appearances. However, it’s not that stratified, exactly. It’s a truly collaborative effort and the three sound like they’ve been playing together for decades; even though it was only in 2018 that they played their first show — it was a September set at Berlin in Manhattan, with Vehlinggo friends Bunny X among the openers. The band, then known as Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum, would go on to release a self-titled EP and a full-length album, Thanks for Coming, that has built a strong momentum for album number two.

The project flows from a shared experience the trio had during Hall’s blockbuster turn as the lead in the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch — Yanowitz played drummer Schlatko for the entire run, including the cross-country tour, and Katz-Bohen was the assistant music director and also worked on the whole run. Hall did a memorable three-month stint as Hedwig from October 2014 to January 2015 that yours truly witnessed in awe. (It’s worth noting that Hedwig co-creator Stephen Trask, who wrote the music for the show, guests on Come of Age.)

Putting on a live rock musical at the Belasco for thousands of people over many nights cultivates enough tension and adrenaline to forge tight creative bonds. Interestingly enough, this cohesion flows from a relatively taciturn, almost creatively telepathic disposition. There’s not a lot of chatty analysis among the trio.

“We never talk about how we do or don’t want things to sound,” Hall told Vehlinggo recently during a Zoom chat with the band. “We’re on the same page of a book that all of us refuse to open.”

In this interview, edited and condensed for clarity and house editorial style (mostly to nix my silly asides), the band elaborate on their creative dynamic, the production of the record, and even which Princess Goes album Dexter Morgan would like the most, among other things.

Princess Goes (Michael C. Hall lower left, Matt Katz-Bohen upper left, and Peter Yanowitz. Photo by Shervin Lainez.

Vehlinggo: Before we dive into the particulars of Come of Age, I’d like to pull back and take a look at an element of your origin story. You all were involved in the Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. At what point did it click that you wanted to create new music together and why this genre?

Peter Yanowitz: [Hall and I] started our friendship in a band — a fake band or show-biz band — and we had that strong singer-drummer connection. It was so much fun to do the show with him that I jokingly said, “Hey, we should start a band.” So when he ended his run, we stayed friends and I never imagined we’d start a band together. But it was a fantasy to think about. He’s such a good singer. And, I had no idea that he wrote lyrics. So, I don’t think [a band] really occurred to us at all.

Matt and I went on the Hedwig tour after Matt was the assistant music director on Broadway — we toured the country doing the show together. We were having so much fun just hanging out. We’d known each other for a while, but we got really close on that Hedwig tour and said, “Let’s continue this. When we get back, let’s hang out and make some music.”

We started making instrumental songs. At that point, we had just three or four. Then I went out to dinner with Mike. He heard some of it, and was like, “You guys don’t have any vocals on these. Do you want me to sing on some stuff?” It was casual and sort of innocent.

And at that point, once Mike came in and wrote words and sang on “Love American Style” and “Vicious” — two songs from our EP. It was like, “holy shit!” It felt like something we needed to keep doing. We had maybe 10 songs and realized we had to come up with a name and play a show.

Fast-forwarding to the 12 numbers on Come of Age: Was there any sort of musical theme or lyrical throughline you adhered to when writing and composing the record? 

Michael C. Hall: I think the vision revealed itself. I think one song — was “Let It Go” the first song that we were like, this is going to be on our next record?

Yanowitz: I think we were working on it, yeah, and we got excited about it at first.

Hall: And then from there you find another song that is its own thing, but seems to intersect in some way. It’s the collage you put together, but it’s intuitive. We definitely didn’t sit down and say, “Where are we interested in going musically or thematically with this next group of songs?” It just reveals itself.

There are certainly songs that wound up not on the record that we really liked, but we just didn’t feel like they quite cohered in the way the others did. But a lot of any sort of thematic or musical commonality you almost discover after the fact.

That all makes sense. Building off of that, in terms of the musical choices, what type of goals did you have? Maybe, fewer or more guitars; maybe leaning more into the cinematic — stuff like that. 

Matt Katz-Bohen: I don’t think we had any conscious intent.

Yanowitz: But I will say: We have two previous records, our [2020] EP, which has six songs, and our first record, [2021’s Thanks for Coming]. We were a little collagey on those, and I feel like they hang together as records on their own, but maybe they gave you a tapestry of what we love and what we love to create together.

Maybe on this one — in my mind anyway — as we were working on it, I felt like we were answering a lot of questions[, such as] what kind of band are we? And maybe in my mind it felt like a chance to try to explore what pop music means to us three.

I know there are some outliers — “Take Me Home,” I don’t know if I’d call that “pop music” — but in my mind I feel like a common thread was wanting to make pop music. Whether it’s heavy, hard, danceable, or ballady pop music like “Glasswing.” And that seems to be one thing that we got lucky with, because that was something you can’t really force.

What about high points and epiphanies, and things like that, when you were making Come of Age

Yanowitz: Aside from the kismet of meeting and finding ourselves in a band together, this record means so much to me. I’ve made a lot of records and I’ve got lucky enough to have people want to make music with me. To have made this record with these guys at this moment just feels like a gift from the musical universe.

Katz-Bohen: Getting to tour has been incredible. Playing Elsewhere in Brooklyn on the rooftop… a beautiful end-of-summer, breezy show for hundreds of people. Going to England and Europe was wonderful. One of our best shows was in Idaho, which is not a state I’m too familiar with. [Editor’s Note: The band played at Visual Arts Collective in Garden City, Idaho, in April 2022. Katz-Bohen told Columbus Calling last year that the Idaho concert was “an incredible show” that had a wholly different energy from places like NYC.]

Hall: All of it, from the beginning. We didn’t consciously set out to be a band. It just sort of happened to us. We all showed up at the same time. So there’s been something unexpected, magical, [and] serendipitous about the whole of the experience. I think being a relative novice when it comes to being a professional musician — I’ve done singing as an actor, but I’ve never been in a band and anything — and being encouraged by these two guys to bring whatever I have to bring to the table, and feeling empowered to do that, has been an amazing development.

And when we’re on stage playing a song and it’s moving through us all and we’re thinking, “Yeah man, this is a good song. Did we write this song? How did we write this? How did this thing come to be?” It’s a wild thing, really. It’s all just gravy, man.

When you think back to those early moments in 2018 or earlier, and all that’s happened since, what has Princess Goes taught you about yourselves over that time span?

Yanowitz: I would say that I’ve gotten to produce a lot in this band, along with Mike and Matt, and as a producer I’ve learned about myself in different ways. I’m a songwriter who forgets how to write songs, and when you write a song, you’re like, “Oh! That’s how you do it!” And then we write it so many different ways that there is a different realization every time.

I feel like writing with Mike and Matt, I’ve really learned to embrace that sort of mystery of where music comes from and be OK with it. And, for the first time, not try to write music like this or that, but just see what happens in a peer collaboration. That’s probably the most I’ve learned just about songwriting and about producing.

Hall: I found out that I could maybe pull this off. I never imagined that I would front a band. I’ve been a fan of music, and when I really like a band, part of the fun of listening to them is imagining being in the band. So I found out I get to be in the band with these guys. I wasn’t really imagining that we’d find ourselves here and wherever we’ll find ourselves beyond this.

Princess Goes band photo by Alexander Thompson
Princess Goes. Photo by Alexander Thompson.

Before we go, I’d like to ask my typical closer. Anything I forgot to ask about? Is there anything you’ve been wanting to share? Any takeaways you want people to have from the listening experience?

Yanowitz: We’re like every other band: We’re fighting for every listener and fighting to be heard and seen. And I would just say word of mouth is so important to us. There is no more print magazine trade, really, that talks about music. There’s just so much noise online. We’re just trying to cut through that. Our fans and our community that have rallied around the music — that is so important to us. So, if there’s anything we want people to take away from [the album], is just spread the word. If you love this, share it with your friends.

Oh wait. A silly question. Which Princess Goes release would Dexter Morgan love the most?

Hall: He only listens to marching music. He doesn’t like lyrics.

The dark passenger doesn’t dig lyrical songwriting, huh?

Hall: No, he’s got enough internal monologue. He doesn’t need any external jibber jabber.

Come of Age is out now on SO In De Goot Recordings via your favorite streamers and in physical form from the band’s website.