PWR BTTM’s Ben Hopkins discusses touring in the South, sh*tting glitter, and Kathleen Hanna Ahead of Broadberry Show
“I love Virginia, it’s very gay down there,” said PWR BTTM guitarist and vocalist Ben Hopkins at the beginning of our interview, setting the tone for the what would be one of the best and most eclectic conversations on music and queer issues I’ve ever had.
For the uninitiated, PWR BTTM is the brainchild of Brooklyn-based queer performers Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce. Boasting infectious riffs paired with personal and catchy lyrics PWR BTTM performs like a typical pop-punk group wrapped in an extremely queer and gloriously flamboyant package.
The duo, who use gender-neutral pronouns they/them, refuse to hide their queer identities in any way. This generates a dynamic aesthetic that feels fresh unlike almost anything currently on the scene.
On top of the openly queer message the band almost exclusively performs in thrift store dresses along with slapped on make-up. Hell, Hopkins wears so much glitter they regularly shit it out.
“I literally do shit glitter a lot,” Hopkins said. “Everyone says that as a joke but yeah I do, duh.”
While on the cusp of breaking out, the duo will return to Richmond for the second time this summer, though this time on a larger stage. No stranger to the Richmond area, Hopkins had only praise for the city and the South in general, an area of the country the group had originally been afraid to tour.
“No one in the South is going to like PWR BTTM, we’re going to get this, that and the other,” Hopkins said. “But when we got here [the South] we met drag queens, we met all these gay people, all these queer people. We were like damn we were so ignorant to what actually goes on in the rest of the world outside of our little bubble in New York City.”
The realization of the abundance of queer folks nationwide became one of the duo’s formative experiences and furthered their mission to create safe spaces for themselves and their fans.
“We live in these cities and it’s easy to think we’re the only queer people in the world, and let me tell you, queer people are everywhere,” Hopkins said. “Just go on Grindr, you will see them in the desert honey.”
PWR BTTM has come a long way since those days, and with their ever-growing fan base and musical development, it was only a matter of time until their headlining tour would lead them to perform with some of the punk legends who directly inspired them.
The Julie Ruin, fronted by punk legend Kathleen Hanna, will also be performing with PWR BTTM in Richmond in their only shared bill this tour. Hopkins grew up idolizing Hanna and her band Bikini Kill, who, similar to PWR BTTM, sought to create a safe space for those perhaps ignored by the genre.
“It’s very important to say that there’s no PWR BTTM without Bikini Kill, there’s no PWR BTTM without Kathleen Hanna’s work,” Hopkins said. “I used to wear my Bikini Kill shirt on dates because it made me feel confident and cool. I’m a giant fangirl, I really am and it’s a huge privilege.”
Hanna started the Riot grrrl movement which helped to create a safe environment for women at their shows, something which at the time was unheard of for a punk group.
“The deliberate nature of their policies is as important as their music,” Hopkins said.
One of PWR BTTM’s more recent steps in making their shows more queer friendly is the inclusion of gender-neutral bathrooms on their tour rider.
“A lot of people think it’s this Herculean political effort on our behalf, and it does take work,” Hopkins said. “But the reality of it is queer people are real and we demand respect and we deserve things like gender neutral bathrooms because gender is a spectrum it does not exist on a binary and we deserve a safe place to take a piss at a show.”
Providing an inclusive space for everyone is, in the eyes of Hopkins, the most punk rock thing PWR BTTM can do. Their shows are welcoming to all, and Hopkins shared a story of an Atlanta frat and its straight members who always comes out to their shows decked out in full drag.
“Exclusionary-anything is not something I’m interested in as an artist,” Hopkins said. “If punk is this thing that’s supposed to be anti-capitalist it needs to be inclusive.”
Another facet that makes the duo stand out is the differences between Hopkins and Bruce’s musical backgrounds and styles. Hopkins grew up listening to punk and indie acts while Bruce preferred musical divas like Whitney Houston.
“I think it’s the greatest thing about it, we really disagree on most things. But the things we do agree on are our social values and stuff like that,” Hopkins said. “We have a lot of artistic difference but politically we’re very much on the same page, and I think that’s what really makes a project hold water a lot of the time.”
Collaboration has helped PWR BTTM standout further as something different and unique, truly an amalgamation of its performers tastes and politics.
PWR BTTM gets shoehorned as a political band a lot, and while that’s true it’s a simplification of what it means to be an openly queer act in this day and age.
“Here’s the deal: a queer person just demonstrating that that is an authentic part of who they are is a political act,” Hopkins said. “It’s not like we get up everyday and ask how we can be more political, it’s just to declare the reality of our existence as valid and one that demands respect is a very simple thing actually.”
PWR BTTM will perform alongside The Julie Ruin on Wednesday, August 10th at The Broadberry. Tickets can be purchased here.
Tyler Hammel is a college student who has an unhealthy obsession with comic books. He’s a proud cinephile, owning a sizable film collection that lets you know he doesn't have any friends. An aspiring filmmaker, Tyler currently works with the VCU student organization The Horn RVA, a group of like-minded video journalists with a passion for Richmond based music. When not crafting his own bio Tyler can be found misusing commas,
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