We at Collider are happy to exclusively premiere the music video for “Ketamine” by the band Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum, which boasts award-winning Six Feet Under and Dexter actor Michael C. Hall on vocals alongside fellow band members and musicians Peter Yanowitz and Matt Katz-Bohen. But while Hall is best known for his work on stage and screen, music has been in his blood since he was a child. “I’ve been singing since before my voice changed,” said the actor in an exclusive interview with Collider. He obviously performed onstage as the lead of Broadway’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and that in turn led to meeting David Bowie and performing in the stage production of Lazarus.
As the band describes it, Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum formed almost by accident and entirely organically. Hall was performing in Hedwig on Broadway and met Yanowitz, who was also performing in the show, and Katz-Bohen, who was subbing in from time to time. Yanowitz and Hall became fast friends, and after Hall heard some of the instrumental tracks that Yanowitz and Katz-Bohen had cooked up on their own, he offered his vocals if/when they were inclined. “I heard some of the instrumental tracks that they did,” recalled Hall, “and just casually, without any sort of aspiration beyond just messing around and having fun, said to Peter, ‘If you ever want somebody to sing on these, just let me know.’”
Peter extended an invitation, and in the room, on the spot, Hall wrote the words to an upcoming song titled “Love American Style.” As Yanowitz recalls in a separate interview with Collider, Hall gave their instrumental track “body and words.” Hall continued writing lyrics and even recording vocal tracks in his bathroom, and Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum was born. “Some switch flipped,” said Hall recounting how he came to be part of his first-ever band, “and it was basically the switch of ‘Oh, I don’t do that.’ to ‘Why not? Maybe I do do that.’”
There was “an explosion of creativity,” Yanowitz recalls, and Hall describes the band’s formation as “alchemic.” “The next thing we knew,” said Hall, “we were writing songs, and just, in spite of ourselves, realized that we needed to come up with a name for the band that seemed to have seemed to have found us.”
Yeah, about that. The name “Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum” was a full-bodied suggestion from Katz-Bohen’s daughter after the band had been throwing around suggestions. Hall likes that it’s a name you have to say twice. “You say, ‘Princess Goes To The Butterfly Museum,’ and people say, ‘What?’ and you get to say it again.”
As for “Ketamine,” the track featured in this music video, the song began with a simple baseline that was enough to inspire Hall to write the lyrics. Hall says the words were inspired by an experience he had with his then-girlfriend, now-wife about “the phenomenon of being on your own trip in life, [but] also taking a trip alongside someone else, and the struggle of honoring the times when those trips are very different.” It’s a song about relationships, and “trying to maintain whatever is of value to you without completely abandoning the trip you’re creating with someone else, and vice versa.” The deeply personal lyrics are backed by the haunting, almost ghost-like music.
In crafting the song, Katz-Bohen says he took his 60s upright piano, recorded it, and made it go backwards. “[I] put a ton of delay on it, distortion, and reverb so it just sounds like a ghost choir,” said Katz-Bohen, “but it’s very hallucinogenic as well.” The entire process was collaborative, as it is with all of Princess’s songs. Yanowitz likens their songwriting process to the drawing game Exquisite Corpse, “where you start a drawing and then you fold the paper and you hand it to the next person, and [they continue it.]”
Visually, the “Ketamine” music video is the brainchild of director David MacNutt, who was sent a number of Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum songs and chose this particular one for their debut music video. “He said that ‘Ketamine’ was the one that captured his imagination,’ remembered Hall, who also liked the idea that the song was open to interpretation. “We were interested in collaborating with someone who had their own take on it, and it seemed that his take on it was one that would crack it open in a new way, but present something that was inscrutable enough; that it wouldn’t pin it down.”
The gothic, surreal nature of the video goes hand in hand with the musicality of the song, and yet as Hall points out, doesn’t present a “be-all, end-all” interpretation of what “Ketamine” is about. Art is subjective, after all.
An EP from Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum is on the way early next year and the band has written, by Yanowtiz’s estimation, something like 25 songs with music that ranges from a heavier track to tracks that are more of a soundscape to a more fuller dance song, and even a more traditional “campfire vibe” at the end of the EP, Hall teased. They’ve spent the last 14 months or so performing live in New York City, but may be playing live elsewhere in 2020 if all goes according to plan.
Does Hall intend to refocus his career accordingly? He says he’s not ready or willing to give up his “day job,” but also admits the band has been his focus as of late and says it factors into his decision-making when presented with opportunities. “I’m definitely giving it a good amount of attention and time, because it’s a blast.”
Hall says he also enjoys the creative freedom that Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum presents: “If you’re an actor, you’re in a line of work where a lot of other people have to make decisions on their own… Whereas this, we just get together and make it happen.” Moreover, Hall says it’s more personal because “it belongs to you in a way that playing a character and saying someone else’s words doesn’t.”
Watch the music video for “Ketamine” in the video player above, and for more on Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum, check out the band’s Facebook page. You can catch the band live at the Mercury Lounge in NYC on February 1st—tickets are available here.