Peter’s trip to Butterfly Museum started at shul
Jewish Telegraph, November 2021
MICHAEL C Hall is used to making a killing as serial killer with morals Dexter Morgan. But he’s now hoping to make a killing in the music business.
The intriguingly-named Princess Goes To The Butterfly Museum sees Michael team up with music veterans Peter Yanowitz, who grew up with the nickname Jew-tah, and New Yorker Matt Katz-Bohen.
The electronic group released their first album, Thanks for Coming, earlier this year — and start their UK tour tomorrow in Bristol.
Other dates include Night & Day in Manchester on Monday, Glasgow’s Mono on Sunday, December 5, and 24 Kitchen Street, Liverpool, on Thursday, December 9.
The trio first met when they were appearing in Broadway musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Michael — who has also starred in Broadway hits Chicago and Lazarus — was cast as Hedwig Robinson, while Peter, who was a member of Jakob Dylan’s band The Wallflowers, and Blondie keyboardist Matt were part of the Hedwig band.
Peter and Matt later teamed up to make music — which Michael heard, leading him to offer his services to sing with them.
Princess Goes . . ., who have a New Order/Black Sabbath vibe, released a self-titled EP last year, before following it with Thanks for Coming.
As the nickname Jew-tah suggests, Peter was raised in Salt Lake City, Utah — although he was born in Chicago. He had taken up the drums as a seven year old.
In 1989, a year before joining The Wallflowers in Los Angeles, he received an English major from Tufts University.
After appearing on The Wallflowers’ self-titled debut album — for which he also co-produced four songs — Peter met Natalie Merchant and moved to New York to work on her debut album, Tigerlily, which sold more than six million copies.
The pair were also romantically involved until 2000.
In 2001, he formed Morningwood with Chantel Claret after meeting her at a party. They released two albums.
Peter’s song New York Girls was also used in the first Sex and the City film.
He has also drummed for Billy Bragg and Wilco, Allen Ginsberg, Andrew WK and Yoko Ono.
In addition, he has written music for children’s TV show Sesame Street and collaborated on the lyrics for the Broadway musical adaptation of Clueless.
In 2013, Peter performed his own show, Walking in Soho, as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
He also co-wrote the rock opera This Ain’t No Disco with Stephen Trask, who is also Jewish.
But the 54-year-old’s first public performance was at a surprise venue — his synagogue.
“My Mormon friends called me Jew-tah,” he said. “And we all thought it was funny. Yeah,Utah is a strange place to be Jewish.
“Matt grew up in New York City, right here in the village, but yeah, we are both Jewish.”
Peter added: “There was one temple. I was barmitzvah, like Matt was, and we had a gay cantor.
“My mom and dad wanted me to date a Jewish girl. But the three that I had to choose from, they all had moustaches. And I was like, it’s just not happening. And it was cool.
“It forced me to be on the outside which, as a middle child, I was kind of on the outside even in my family.
“Our cantor was really musical. And so he brought a piano in on Friday nights and asked me to bring my drums. So my first time playing music for people was in temple.
“And I remember making this connection really early on that was like, holy s***, this is amazing, like the energy and getting all these people riled up. It was really exciting.”
On whether he bonded with Peter over their shared Jewish heritage, Matt joked: “We used to stand outside handing out Torahs and menorahs to passers-by? So yeah, we bonded over that, obviously.”
Matt’s route to stardom started in Manhattan. After learning piano and guitar, he attended Fiorello H LaGuardia High School — the school which inspired the musical Fame — where he studied violin and composition.
As a guitarist, he has backed performers like Boy George, Debbie Harry and Princess Superstar.
From 1996, he performed with his future wife, Laurel Barclay, in the band Variety City. They became Daddy three years later.
In 2006, Matt, Laurel and Guy Furrow formed GoonSquad.
Two years later he joined legendary group Blondie as keyboardist for the Parallel Lines 30th anniversary tour.
He has subsequently co-written — with Laurel — songs on recent Blondie albums.
But he told me: “Blondie is my side project. This is my main project 100 per cent.”
Peter added: “I’m not in any other bands. I never imagined I’d be in this band. You know, it’s sort of a pleasant development in all our lives.
“But I don’t plan on having other bands at the moment. Matt, Mike, you guys better not have any other bands . . . other than Blondie.”
Michael also said Princess Goes . . . is his main priority.
“I don’t have anything else. I finished doing that Dexter reboot. This is what I’m up to.”
The trio do all interviews together to get across the point that they are not just Michael’s band.
“I’m happy for the focus to fall on me,” he said. “And as much as I’m in the group, but it’s inevitable that people will ask some questions about the other things I have been up to.”
Matt added: “I’ve toured in Blondie for years. And I’ve noticed a lot of times people refer to Debbie as Blondie. ‘Okay, Blondie’.
“But I haven’t heard anyone refer to Mike as ‘Hey, Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum’. Maybe this tour?”
Having spent his career in rock bands, Peter found the group’s sound unique.
“That’s what initially attracted me to this project,” he said. “We spent a lot of time jamming in my studio in Union Square and it’s in an apartment, so I can’t really play live drums; I have to play electronic drums and we can’t plug in an electric guitar.
“Matt is a multi-instrumentalist. He can play guitar, bass, keyboards, but we kept it to just electronic drums and keyboards in the beginning. And just because we had to be sort of quiet and use headphones.
“So that became something of an aesthetic accident. It was conscious too where we were like, ‘let’s try to avoid electric guitars’. We’ve since added guitars on our newer stuff, but in the beginning, it was mostly we were attracted to this idea of doing something a little bit different.”
Peter revealed that he left The Wallflowers because Jakob Dylan saw it as his band.
“I was like, s***, this is your band, but we’re calling it a band,” he said, adding that Princess Goes . . . . is “just a breath of fresh air. Three is a great number because there’s always a tiebreaker”.
Matt agreed: “I love the fact that we are all equals creatively and in the band, so it’s not like anyone’s handing down decisions from on high. Some bands are more dictator oriented.”
Michael added: “It genuinely feels like this band belongs to all of us or the three of us belong to it.
“And we write in all kinds of ways and songs emerge in all kinds of different ways and come from different people and start in different places.
“I hope that continues. We don’t really talk about it that much because we don’t want to mess it up.”
Peter believes Thanks for Coming wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic.
“We were planning on going out to LA before the pandemic and working at this studio in the desert called Rancho De La Luna with Dave Catching, because we all love desert rock bands like Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age.
“And we were going to make a desert rock version of a Princess Goes . . . sort of EP, and that got cancelled.
“So we found ourselves in New York with a lot of time on our hands. And at some point, we said, let’s make the full length right here in New York City, so it definitely was a product of that time.”
Matt and Peter are pretty enthusiastic about sharing a stage with North Carolina-born Michael.
Matt jokingly says that as a frontman he “obviously towers above” the likes of Debbie Harry and Jakob Dylan, before adding: “Michael is an incredible force. Brilliant lyricist, brilliant singer. He’s an icon.”
Peter described him as a “renaissance man”.
He said: “His acting only enhances what he’s allowed and capable of doing as a writer and a performer.
“It’s a kind of an incredible energy to be around and also being Michael’s first band, I think it’s allowed Matt and I to have a sort of born-again virgin band experience where, from the first song to the first show to now the first tour, everything has a first to it, and you can’t escape like the first ‘kissness’ of this band. It feels really amazing.”
The trio have already mixed and mastered their next album, but are looking “for somebody to partner up with,” Peter said.
“Maybe we’ll meet somebody in the UK who wants to help us release the next record, but it’s finished and it’s pretty awesome. We’re excited about it.
“And we want to tour the States. So we hope in the new year to do some little short bursts of touring in America and maybe do some festivals in Europe next summer.”