PVRIS Went Through Hell To Bring You This Album
PVRIS’ long-awaited follow-up to 2014’s White Noise is the most anticipated album of 2017. All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell finally came out today, but Lynn Gunn went through hell to get there. Speaking exclusively to Kerrang! a few weeks ago, she told Simon Young about the break-ups and breakdowns that almost curtailed the album’s very existence…
The morning of August 22, 2016 was a bittersweet moment for the three members of PVRIS. In the days, weeks and months following the release of their debut album White Noise in late 2014, the band found themselves swept up in a perpetual state of transit as they criss-crossed the world in support of its release. The previous day, they’d performed a six-song set at Osaka’s Summer Sonic festival alongside the likes of At The Drive In, Billy Talent, coldrain and Tonight Alive – show number 261 as a band with an album in the shops – a gig which officially marked the end of the White Noise cycle. With their bags packed, the band headed to the airport to make the exhausting 17-hour journey back home for some much-needed rest and recuperation.
“We didn’t really have a break until that point,” says vocalist Lynn Gunn today, looking back from her home. “Even when you have time off, you’re still working. So it was like going from 100 miles per hour to just nothing. It was like emotional whiplash.”
This stasis was perhaps a moment Lynn had been dreading. Without the thrum and bustle of life on the road to provide a distraction, she was left alone with her thoughts and a chance to reflect on what she and her bandmates – guitarist Alex Babinski and bassist Brian MacDonald – had achieved in such a short space of time. And, whether she liked it or not, it was a chance to take an honest look at the blackened shells of broken relationships that littered the roadside of the past few years.
“On tour, you get swept up in a world where you have your game face on constantly and have your shit together,” says Lynn. “There’s no time to ever really process your emotions. In the past, I’d check them off and come back to it later in the day. But it became a snowball of compartmentalising my emotions and hiding them under the bed. I had to be strong for the people around me and would suppress things so much I became numb. I wouldn’t feel anything.
“I really was my own worst enemy throughout the past few years,” she adds. “I was incredibly hard on myself. I didn’t know how to love myself. That all came full-force after we got off tour, because I could really process everything going on.”
As their month-long break drew to a close, Lynn found herself in a “super-rough spot, mentally” as they headed to upstate New York to record their second album.
It was here in Utica, some 240 miles north of New York City, that Lynn Gunn would make not just the most important record of her life, but finally find herself.
There’s an old church at 2317 Genesee Street which is no longer a place of worship. The building was sold in 1998 and transformed into the Big Blue North recording studio. Located on a leafy street, the church – which is said to be haunted – would become the band’s home for the best part of three months as they worked with Blake Harnage, who also produced White Noise at his not-at-all-spooky home studio in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
“It’s a beautiful building, and we had a lot of weird stuff happen while we were there,” recalls Lynn. “There’s a basement where people would hear footsteps and they’d turn around and no-one was there. It was never anything harmful or malicious, though. Places have an energy. Things get imprinted into buildings.
“I’ve never had anything too crazy happen,” she adds of her relationship with the paranormal. “I’ve only had a couple of unexplainable things happen to me, but I’ve always been open to it. I’ve had friends and relatives who’ve had things happen and I feel it’s foolish to rule it out.”
One member of PVRIS who wouldn’t rule out the existence of ghosts is Alex, who spent a lot of time in the basement working on ideas alone.
“I’d hear people coming down the stairs and no-one would appear,” he says. “It was so weird. I didn’t know it was haunted until we got there, so it was a nice surprise that it was spooky – our vibe. We were hoping to capture noises for the record, but didn’t have much luck with that.”
Creepy noises or not, Lynn, by her own admission, was too busy struggling with her own personal ghosts to be particularly bothered by things that go bump in the night.
“I wasn’t too focused on it because I was too wrapped up in my own storm cloud,” she admits. “Working on this record was such an end goal and a light at the end of the tunnel when we were on tour. It was all I was looking forward to. But when we got to the studio, I didn’t want to be there either. You would think that after having the past few years that we did, that we’d be stepping into the studio with full confidence and feel like we’re on top of the world. But for me personally, I felt the complete opposite; I felt completely detached from everything. I felt so small and beaten down.
“I would wake up in the morning and not want to get out of bed,” she continues. “I was actually disappointed when I would wake up. I knew that wasn’t okay.”
Ask Lynn when she feel like the demands of the band began to obliterate her work-life balance and she’ll say that it really came into play in the summer of 2015 during the notoriously gruelling Warped Tour.
“It got wrapped up into personal life things, overlapping and conflicting with time off and seeing family,” she says. “I kinda liked it because I could run away and have an excuse for avoiding certain situations. I understand that it’s not the most noble mentality, but over time, I started to get resentful because I felt I didn’t even have time for myself at that point. I’m still figuring that out and navigating it. We’re constantly moving.”
PVRIS - Heaven
Racked with guilt for having negative feelings towards something she’d worked so hard to achieve was weighing heavily on Lynn’s mind as she entered the studio to begin work. But after two difficult weeks, the vocalist had an epiphany.
“I was on a downward spiral,” she admits. “But I pulled myself out of it. I sat myself down and thought, ‘This is what I’ve been working towards for the past three years, and if you can’t enjoy this, you should not be doing music.’ I felt nothing from what we were doing and need to start feeling again.”
When it comes to matters of the brain, there’s never a quick fix, but, gradually, Lynn found herself enjoying the recording process as she had hoped. But at what point did she begin to feel better?
“It took a while and I don’t remember a specific moment, but being outside in nature was a huge help,” she admits quietly. “It was a big factor while we were recording. We’d go on little day trips and stuff like that.”
While many of Lynn’s lyrics on White Noise “hid behind” metaphors and references to the paranormal, All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell sees her take a different tack.
“At one point, I thought, ‘Fuck it!’” she says, brightening. “That was one of the biggest things for me. I was so sick of finding creative ways to not necessarily water-down ways of how I was feeling, but not fully own it and not fully say it. I was so afraid to admit that and be open about how I was feeling. I don’t need to prove to anyone how I’m feeling. Only I can say that it’s valid, it really doesn’t matter what anybody else says. It’s about taking ownership of your feelings and emotions and mental state.
“Wherever I was when we were making White Noise in a quote-unquote ‘dark place’ was small compared to what I was going through and dealing with when we made this record,” she adds. “This record is a lot more stripped-back, like, ‘Here’s the issues and they’re a lot bigger than they were before!’ It was about removing those masks and facing things head on.”
PVRIS - Anyone Else
A week before our interview, Kerrang! was sent seven songs from the album. The tracks are still unmistakably PVRIS; that shadowy, ominous electro-pop is still there, but it’s quickly apparent that there are also new, diverse elements at play which barely hint at the struggles Lynn was going through.
“We didn’t think about it too much,” says Lynn of the writing and recording process. “We followed our tastes on White Noise and what felt the best or most cathartic or honest. After growing up on the road for three years, developing as humans, that’s a natural progression in itself. We combined that with the same approach we took to making the first record along with having more resources.”
“When we did the first record, it was in a small bedroom in Florida with limited resources,” says Brian. “But we chose this studio because it had a specific console that we wanted to record on; there were different amps and pianos, and it was a great environment to work in – even though it was supposed to be haunted! We weren’t limited as to what we could do this time. It was the best feeling ever when we finished; I want to go back and make another!”
“It has the same heart and soul, it’s just got new clothes on,” Lynn continues with a laugh. “We didn’t want to make the same record twice, but it was important to have the same mindset and just follow your inner compass. A lot of it was about letting go of control for a moment to let things come to you.”
Three years after recording their debut, it’s clear the time spent on the road has afforded the trio a wisdom beyond their years. Lynn’s lyrics are more direct, and the seven songs we’ve heard are shot through with the world-weariness of a young woman who has grown up in public and faced her own personal challenges along the way.
There are themes of love and loss, but they resonate with a quiet strength of someone who has bounced back after mending a broken heart: “The song Lung reflects on that and taking ownership of why things went south,” she admits.
And with the benefit of hindsight, some of the admissions of heartbreak which were written and demoed on tour took on a different meaning entirely when they walked through the doors of that little haunted church on Genesee Street. Take the song Anyone Else, for example.
“The first verse was written when we came off Warped Tour and I’d just broken up with my girlfriend of three years,” she explains. “Everything kinda came crashing down. The first verse is meant to be this really endearing love song, even though we’d parted ways. I wrote the second verse while we were in the studio. Time had caught up and I didn’t feel that way anymore and I realised how toxic a lot of aspects of that relationship were.”
The slow-burning and ethereal Separate, meanwhile, was the result of a stay in a creepy mansion while they thrashed out new ideas in New Orleans.
“It really freaked me out,” she says. “I was too afraid to go to sleep, so I would stay awake until five in the morning when the sun would come up. On the last night, I was especially scared and we started that song and it all came flooding out. Separate is one of my favourite songs on the record.”
There’s also explorations of past lives on a track called Bells, which is a working title and may change when the album is released.
“The idea of past lives was one thing I was obsessed with over the last few years,” she reveals. “Past lives, reincarnation, soul connections and everything in that world. That was a heavy thing for me and I found a lot of comfort in that. It was a beautiful thing to explore.”
Which historic era do you most identify with, then?
“If I had to pick one time period, it would be Victorian London, especially the architecture and paintings,” she says without missing a beat. “The turn of the century ties in with the record and the visuals and overall atmosphere of the songs. I definitely feel this crazy longing for that time period. It became so prevalent to me and I really dove into it.”
It may come as no surprise that the intriguing album title comes from the pen of the late American poet, Emily Dickinson. A prolific writer, who wrote over 1,800 poems that dealt largely with themes of death and immortality, lived and died in the band’s home state of Massachusetts. The title, taken from the two-stanza Parting, presented itself to Lynn quite by accident while she was meditating on the themes of love and loss while watching a video on YouTube.
“It was total serendipity,” says Lynn. “I was staying in Sacramento editing the music video for Heaven with our director Raul [Gonzo]. I was looking for an entire day and stepped back from it. I was watching a TED Talk on love and the woman mentioned the last line of the poem and a lightbulb went off. I looked up the poem and thought it was beautiful. It was a happy accident. That’s another thing that’s present on the album – letting things go and letting them come to you. I love the duality and balance of the words.”
PVRIS - What’s Wrong
Work on the album was wrapped on the day before Valentine’s Day. Five months on and with its release imminent, Lynn says that, for now, the storm clouds that once loomed overhead are reassuringly in the distance. Throughout our conversation, she sounds upbeat and optimistic. She laughs quietly, even when remembering the darkest days. It’s a far cry from the woman who once greeted the day with a sadness she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
Could you tell us what kind of coping mechanisms you used to feel better?
“I’ve been going to therapy and talking with some people, and that’s definitely helped,” she says. “Being able to lay out your thoughts and figure out what’s triggering what. It’s about rewiring your brain. This is the main reason why I ended up where I did – you need to feel your emotions. You can’t bottle them up. You need to be vulnerable with yourself. My body and brain’s defence mechanism was to turn everything off. It’s a process and you have to be kind to yourself. Other people want to help and they do. It’s easier said than done, when you’re in that state, you will push people away because you’ll feel like no-one can really understand it – but some people can.”
Have you learned to take the good with the bad and not dwell so much on the latter these days?
She pauses for a moment.
“That’s the most important thing I’ve learned,” she says. “I actually became obsessed with it. That was such a prominent thing over the past few years. It’s something you always kinda know and hear constantly, but it wasn’t until recently that I got slapped in the face with it and came to terms with it. Almost to a very cynical degree but I’m sitting in the middle now. It’s all about balance, in everything.”
Have you ever considered what PVRIS might have sounded like if you weren’t burdened with sad thoughts?
“I don’t know,” she laughs. “I’m very good at pulling myself into situations if I need to hone in on something. Literally nothing is ever perfect – everything is subjective. We could be having the worst year of our career and I could be the happiest and no-one would ever know.
“But I’m in a much better place now,” she smiles. “I’m trying to apply everything I’ve learned over the past few years to try to enjoy everything fully and be present in the moment. It’s a clichéd thing to learn or come to terms with over time, but you really have to just embrace darkness and learn to honour that as much as the light.”
PVRIS’ ALBUM ALL WE KNOW OF HEAVEN, ALL WE NEED OF HELL IS OUT ON NOW VIA RISE