Album review: PVRIS – EVERGREEN
Lyndsey Gunnulfsen takes PVRIS to the next level on brilliant fourth offering...
All things considered, Lyndsey Gunnulfsen recalls the process of being buried alive quite fondly. Not too long ago, on a freezing night in Los Angeles, she was wrapped neck-to-toe in plastic – layers of it wound so tightly around her frame that she couldn’t move her feet or hands. When PVRIS’ singer was lowered into her shallow grave on a property on the outskirts of Sherman Oaks, all she could do was gaze upwards to the heavens. The night sky above was crystal clear. The chirping of nearby crickets enveloped her. She took it all in. And then the actual burial began – the rhythmic scraping sound of soil being scattered over her body punctuating a familiar song playing in the background.
“It was great!” Lyndsey laughs today, recounting her own premature internment for the compelling, oh-so dark video of PVRIS’ single LOVE IS A… “It was really calming, peaceful and cathartic to not have any control. Just from living in a city and being unrooted from travelling so much, I have this weird urge a lot of the time – whenever I see a field I just want to lay down in it. It sounds so silly, but I just want to fall asleep and be covered.”
Clearly, she’s been having a grand old time faking her own death lately – so much so that people may well be accustomed to seeing Lyndsey cark it. Simply consult the cover of PVRIS’ excellent new album EVERGREEN depicting her freshly decapitated head. It was the last of five possible images shot for the album and, she confesses, the concept she was initially least keen on. Until she saw the end result.
“Metaphorically, you constantly kill off different versions of yourself,” Lyndsey explains of its appeal, pointing out that the tattooed arm brandishing her severed head on the artwork is, in fact, her own. “It feels like facing yourself. I'm very self critical and always trying to grow – to me it represents taking ownership over yourself.”
She immediately anticipates K!’s question about what all of this fatalistic imagery says about her headspace in 2023.
“I don't want anybody to be concerned,” she grins, followed by a quick sheepish laugh.
Indeed, when K! joins Lyndsey on a balmy London morning she cuts a relaxed figure – sporting a bright white T-shirt, her hair tucked neatly behind the ears, and a warm smile. She’s eager to talk about EVERGREEN, and not just because Linkin Park legend Mike Shinoda sprinkled his production fairydust on TAKE MY NIRVANA. She never thought he’d be up for collaborating but showed him some skeletons of songs anyway. “He was like, ‘Let’s work on this one!’ and we went flying with it!” she beams. “He was just so sweet, disarming, amazing and lovely.”
EVERGREEN is the cumulative result of both a deep dive into her psyche and some judicious editing, admitting she scrapped at least “another album’s worth” of material in order to settle on its final, razor-sharp 11-track incarnation. But while Lyndsey insists she doesn’t want anyone to be concerned about her, the lyrics do little to alleviate lingering worries.
‘Tell me can you feel a break down? / Does the pressure ever phase out?’ she sings a cappella at the start of opening track I DON’T WANNA DO THIS ANYMORE. Is she alluding to wanting to give up on music, or just fatigue with humanity in general?
“It was both of those things,” she nods. “Knowing where I am internally, and what my boundaries are as a human, as an artist living in 2023, as a woman, and seeing how that's not really reflected or supported in the world. I'm sure a lot of people feel like that. It was this big, ‘What the fuck is going on? I don't really know how to operate within this’ sigh.”
In terms of coping with the “pressure”, Lyndsey insists she’s been keeping herself in a good headspace of late. She journals regularly, makes efforts to get out into nature – not to be buried alive, FYI – and stays off her phone as much as possible. Except this morning, when something on social media chimed with EVERGREEN’s opening song.
“Ironically, I was watching a TikTok this morning about how normalised therapy is,” she explains. “It’s great that we're talking about mental health in that there's so much access to it, but you need to have privilege and wealth to access therapy. And this is not me being anti-therapy at all. We just live in such a world, in such a culture, that is further and further isolating us from each other and what's really integral to happiness as people.”
Also registering a high score on the worry-o-meter is EVERGREEN’s second track GOOD ENEMY, which has Lyndsey claiming she’s in the middle of ‘world war me’. Let’s press play, shall we?
‘It’s a funeral ’cause now my ego’s dead,’ she sings.
That certainly sounds quite worrying…
‘I hold the knife by the blade, ’cause I know how to take the pain,’ she adds.
Well, that’s concerning, too…
‘I love a good enemy, and baby it’s me,’ she declares.
Right, Lyndsey Gunnulfsen, what is your beef with Lyndsey Gunnulfsen?!
“My beef is that I just can't forgive myself when I mess up,” she grins. “If I do something wrong, unintentionally or intentionally, I just have a very hard time forgiving myself. That's something I've always dealt with: just taking that pressure off and allowing myself to be a human who makes mistakes. That's my biggest Achilles heel: needing to do everything right. Or as right as I can, I guess. That pressure is always there.”
What's an example of that pressure playing out in real life?
“When we first started touring, it was really stressful for me not keeping in touch with friends and family,” she explains. “That's been a huge, huge guilt that I've carried. And I'm constantly trying to make up for it and I probably annoy my family at this point, because I’m always seeing how they're doing (laughs), but I think it's okay. Time is limited, and it’s going faster and faster. I don't want to take any more of my time on Earth or any more of their time on Earth for granted.”
In many ways the ‘world war me’ theme of GOOD ENEMY feels like the pre-destined explosion at the end of a long fuse trailed throughout her many K! interviews over the years. One of the most compelling voices of her generation, Lyndsey is a deep thinker, an overthinker, and, charmingly, a deep thinker when it comes to the topic of overthinking. Across dozens of interviews, she’s weaved a rich confessional tapestry with us, opening up about how she came out to her parents aged 18 by leaving a letter on her pillow before going on tour and bravely detailing her battles with anxiety, depression and the “emotional whiplash” of life on the road.
Even against that candid backdrop, EVERGREEN stands proudly as perhaps her most revelatory statement yet. It turns out Lyndsey has been squaring up to a lot more than just herself lately…
It just isn’t a combination of words you would ever expect to hear Lyndsey Gunnulfsen say. And yet, precisely one-minute and seven seconds into the video of PVRIS’ single GODDESS, she turns to the camera and utters them. ‘I’m a motherfucking brand,’ she says menacingly as the fuzzy bass-driven track cuts out and she fixes a stare that practically flash freezes the camera.
I’m. A. Motherfucking. Brand. It’s hard to equate this statement with the humble PVRIS singer we have come to know, let alone the one who just held a funeral for her own ego on GODD ENEMY. So why on GODDESS is she dropping hyper-confident lines like, ‘I’ve been iconic since I started’?
“GODDESS is actually, ironically, not how I feel about myself,” she smiles. “I was wary of the song, like, ‘I hope nobody thinks this is fully how I see myself’ because I really don't! I feel like a creature half the time (laughs).”
That’s not a very complimentary self-appraisal…
“No, very lovingly, I feel like a creature and I'm okay with that!” she exclaims. “I feel like a fun little gremlin running through the world, and she's beautiful and I love her.”
The song’s roots can instead be traced back to another star, and here we’ll defer to the subject in question’s preferred manner of introduction. It’s Britney, bitch.
“It was really an ode to femininity and being a woman, or a female-identifying person, in music,” Lyndsey continues. “This was around the time when a lot of stuff about Britney Spears was getting exposed. There were a lot of feelings with that involved. GODDESS was looking outward at the world and appreciating femininity, womanhood and that contrast of being divine and entertaining, but it all being so exhausting. I wanted GODDESS to empower whoever is listening, myself included, especially on the days when the world around you makes it even harder to feel that. The track itself is so abrasive, punchy, big and in-your-face – it captures that female rage that we all have.”
GODDESS may have been written before the overturn of Roe vs. Wade in America impacted abortion rights, but it's not lost on its creator how prescient lines like, ‘It’s your body, fuck the man!’ now seem. It’s hard not to wonder how she reflects on the headlines back home in America right now, especially with at least 417 anti-LGBTQ bills being introduced since the start of 2023?
“Really sad and really upset,” she sighs. “There's a powerlessness that a lot of us are feeling, but we need to remember there is power in your direct community, whether that's just your household or the friends you're going to a show with. Even if there are certain things out of our control, we can still control how we walk through the world and treat people.”
The notion of female rage that Lyndsey mentioned is interesting to consider in a wider context. We’ve witnessed some incredible expressions of it recently, be it Scene Queen calling out predatory behaviour on 18+ (“I am obsessed with Scene Queen,” hails Lyndsey) or Hayley Williams telling fans at a Paramore show, “If you vote for [Florida governor] Ron DeSantis, you’re fucking dead to me.” Yet listen to the charts and it’s quite hard to detect many songs with the indignation of, say, PVRIS’ new song ANIMAL (sample lyrics: ‘Quit acting like you own me, saying that I’m yours to control but I’m not’). Where is all the rage?
“I think it's coming,” ponders Lyndsey. “I'm speaking from my experience, but I'm sure a lot of other artists are feeling this – especially other female artists. There's a lot of processing happening right now. For me, it's taken a second. Obviously, rage and a general, ‘What the fuck?’ is the number-one feeling, but it's also like, ‘Okay, how do you put that into a song?’ I think there's a storm of rage coming from a lot of artists, and I'm excited for it.”
To clarify, Lyndsey is not insisting all songs need rage. The escapism afforded by romantic songs has a role to play, too, she believes. “To be able to love in these times is not something to take for granted,” is her rather beautiful observation. Perhaps that’s why EVERGREEN has not one, not two, but three gorgeous, yearning love songs in a row: ANYWHERE BUT HERE, HEADLIGHTS and the aforementioned LOVE IS A… The latter song would be easy to view in the same vein as ANIMAL with lyrics like ‘Treat me bad like I’m no-one’s daughter / Body bag, baby I’m a goner’ quite possible to misinterpret as detailing abuse.
“I had that same concern initially,” Lyndsey admits. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I hope nobody takes it this way or feels like it brings up something that they went through.’ It's really not glorifying or talking about that. It’s about love and how dark, consuming and beautiful it can be.”
The murderific concept was achieved by riffing on a famous expression for an orgasm.
“There's that French phrase, I'm gonna butcher it…” Lyndsey says, a nervous look spreading across her face.
“La petite mort,” she winces.
K! only got a C in GCSE French, but can confirm the pronunciation sounds [opens Google translate] parfait.
“That was the theme we ran with on this song,” she continues of how she presented intimacy as a loving murder. “Like, ‘Okay, how do you come up with all these metaphors and live within the world of that concept?’”
It’s brave songwriting, and emphatic proof that – beyond her concerns about interpretation – Lyndsey trusts PVRIS fans to listen deeply to EVERGREEN. But that’s just what we hear in the final product. Does she ever actually censor herself before that?
“I try not to, honestly,” she says. “There’s a degree where you have to elevate what is real and dress up the feelings to make art. That is what you do. For me, it doesn't ever feel like, ‘Oh, that's too personal!’ Even if it's stuff you might not want your mom to listen to, somebody else in the world will hear that and take something from it. There's power if you're being real with stuff.”
No-one could accuse Lyndsey of not being real on EVERGREEN. Especially not when they hear the title track…
The goal was simple. It was pungent. And it was inscribed in the liner notes of PVRIS’ outstanding debut White Noise. “I’d like to thank Mom, Dad and Nathaniel for always loving me and supporting my dream of living in a van with smelly boys,” wrote Lyndsey. It all seems so long ago now.
Last time Lyndsey graced the cover of K! it was at a critical moment. PVRIS’ 2020 outing Use Me was an album of firsts: their first on a major label and, crucially, the first in which Lyndsey revealed a big secret. Yes, PVRIS emerged as a trio, but it was on Use Me that she admitted she had always been their sole creative force. She came across as someone seizing control not just of her art, but also her real life – putting up boundaries to make sure she could manage her Crohn’s Disease and ankylosing spondylitis.
If this was a film it would wrap there. Happy ending: obtained. Only EVERGREEN is coming out not on a major label but rather PVRIS’ new independent home at Hopeless. Likewise, listen to some new songs and it seems some scar tissue is being revealed. On HYPE ZOMBIES, Lyndsey sounds like an avenging angel when she sings, ‘I’ve been taking notes of everyone who went and slept on me / Dug a couple graves / They got their names out by the mausoleum / Kiss them all goodbye.’
It was written as a joke, she explains, the product of a morning when she woke up full of nerves and mumbled some words. Does she know where her being “slept on” sentiment came from?
“I think so,” Lyndsey says. “It’s people that take me for granted or don't realise what they have till it's gone. It is the ego coming back like, ‘Come on, pay attention!’”
The concept of attention – or lack of it – returns on the stunning title-track which closes the record. ‘’Cause no-one gives a damn shit unless you’re dead or you’re 17,’ is just one part of its remarkable, candid chorus.
“I think our experience on a major definitely informed a lot of feelings,” she says. “But those feelings are scary regardless. Anybody can observe pop culture right now and see that has very much been the trend, and where we place our attention, where labels place their money, and we place our money as consumers. That's a universal observation – there's such an emphasis on youth and that hot new thing.”
The concept further crystallised while Lyndsey was watching the documentary McQueen, the 2018 film detailing fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s life and eventual suicide.
“That's where the ‘no-one gives a damn shit unless you're dead’ line came from,” she adds. “Time and time again, artists who have already been very, very successful before pass away, unfortunately, and then have their claim to fame [again].”
So how do you contend with the fact that, in the attention economy, you’re neither the “hot new artist” toting a debut and, thankfully, you’re also not dead. Where does that leave you feeling about where PVRIS are?
“I feel okay about it,” she says. “I actually am really grateful for the pace that things have gone. To be completely honest, if this went away, I would be very sad, but I would be okay. I would find other things to do that would fulfil me. Every step of the way I've always had very clear intentions as an artist, and I feel like I've upheld them. That's all you can really do at the end of the day.”
Lyndsey is still proud of their major label record, Use Me, but reflects that sticking to her artistic guns so strongly “might have been to the detriment of it in a way”.
As in you didn't jump through artistic hoops you needed to be successful at a major?
“Yeah, mostly on the artistic side and deciding which songs to put on the album and which to not,” she says.
All that matters to her is that her artistic integrity has remained intact. Listen to SENTI-MENTAL, however, and you wonder if there might have been other casualties in her journey so far as she sings, ‘If I was sentimental, I’d go mental.’ Do you ever worry that, be it in your career or matters of the heart, you've hardened too much?
“I always wonder that,” she laughs. “Your defence mechanisms will pop up in different ways and your protection can look different – sometimes that is emotional hardening or compartmentalising your feelings. It's different for everybody. With touring and dealing with a lot of external voices being thrown at you, you have to either take them with a grain of salt or internalise them… You have to grab on to whatever you can to get through it. So for me, it's like shutting down a little bit or just emotional hardening.”
So do you mourn your more sentimental self in that regard?
“I don't think I've lost it,” she counters. “I actually think I'm softening! I just think the last few years was survival mode, which goes hand in hand with hardening – you just have to get through it. Now is a processing period. It's also learning to pick and choose what you're softening for.”
Something perhaps not enough people realise about Lyndsey is that humour is her secret weapon. Look again closely at her decapitated head on EVERGREEN’s cover. She’s not pulling your standard issue RIP face. It’s kind of… Well, we’re not sure if this will cause offence, but…
“It's funny!” she says. “The expression is supposed to be a bit funny. As much as evolution occurs and self-reflection is happening at all times, and as heavy as that can be, I also think life is really funny. It felt like a nice little cherry on the top of the cover, it's like, ‘Here's something really severe, but it's okay’ (laughs).”
We wonder what happens when she confronts an altogether much older image with that same viewpoint, so we produce issue K!1542 of our magazine – aka her first interview with us.
“Oh, god,” she says, taking in the picture of her younger self punching defiantly towards the camera.
What do you think that person would think of who you’ve become now?
“I don't know,” she muses. “She looks fierce. She was fiery. Down at my core, I just love making music and that's still there so I think the younger me would appreciate that.”
And what would the person you are today say to the Lyndsey Gunnulfsen of 2014?
“Everything is gonna be okay,” she replies, like she’s actually speaking to her past self. “And don't stress so bad.”
A small pause is followed by one more bit of advice.
“And don't take it all too seriously, either,” she smiles.
PVRIS’ new album EVERGREEN is due out July 14 via Hopeless Records
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