When you've spent years honing your craft and carving out a loyal worldwide fanbase, you could be forgiven for playing it safe. Few authentic alternative bands are willing to roll the dice and risk it all to stay true to themselves artistically while on the brink of cult status. However, there are a few bands on the fringe blurring the boundaries between alternative and pop like a bartender blends flavours in a cocktail.
One such group is Massachusetts synth-poppers PVRIS, who've slowly been drifting away from their electro-stained alt-rock since the release of their 2014 debut 'White Noise'. On album number three, 'Use Me', the band put their tongues firmly in cheek and wrap their musical arms around pop music.
"I've always gravitated towards pop," muses Lynn Gunn, the multi-instrumental frontwoman, creative director, and lifeforce of PVRIS. "And I've always wanted to create music that I want to listen to as a fan. It's always me trying to find that and being like, 'What would you want to listen to? What would you want to make?' and embracing that.
"I've always wanted to focus on what feels good to listen to, and what's good on the ears. That, to me, has always naturally been in a more pop direction, in what is the most basic terms of pop."
When you've built up a fanbase hailing predominantly from the remnants of your pre-PVRIS post-hardcore act's fans and an alternative rock scene all too affiliated with being 'authentic', challenging your own artistic integrity on a scale as grand as theirs is something PVRIS are not afraid of doing. It appears that alienating any element of their fanbase is simply part and parcel of the production process.
"It's unfortunate if someone's not on board, but I can't and won't sacrifice excitement or risk-taking for someone's nostalgia or people's comforts. A lot of people are afraid of change, especially in themselves, and I think when an artist you really like isn't staying familiar and isn't going in what you think is the right direction or what you had hoped for, it's going to seem like a gamble.
"My intention all the time with whatever we create is to make sure it's real and follow that feeling. If it feels right, I go with it and take that risk."
It's a risk that Lynn began to take on last year's 'Hallucinations' EP, where they married dreamy synths and explosive choruses to create a unique blend of modern-era pop music. Three of its tracks – 'Death Of Me', 'Hallucinations' and 'Old Wounds' – can be found smack-bang in the middle of 'Use Me' as if they have always been the creative lynchpin and blueprint of the entire operation. Opener 'Gimme A Minute' pulsates with electro-explosive riffs that rattle the rhythm in your feet, while closer 'Wish You Well' wouldn't feel amiss on a Dua Lipa or Halsey project, lending your ears to a dreamy-club vibe.
Lynn has been spending every minute of every hour of every day searching for the spark to ignite the true creative fire in her belly like London lights up on New Year's Eve, and somewhere between putting out 'Hallucinations' and recording 'Use Me', she found it.
"I did this all with JT Daly [frontman of indie-poppers Paper Route and producer for alt-hip-hopper K. Flay] – he's a great teammate, there was never any butting heads or miscommunications on how I wanted 'Use Me' to sound.
"We were very much on the same page the entire time, and that's something I had trouble finding before we were working together. I've been in a transition phase in finding the right people and finding someone who I can communicate really well with, and with JT it was very effortless, and I got to just run free."
Utilising Daly's Lego-like studio for a pick-and-mix take on writing and recording, Lynn ran free creatively like she'd been given the keys to the kingdom. Taking ownership of PVRIS in every possible sense, 'Use Me' has ultimately taken the form of the definitive sound of PVRIS.
"This is very much how I've pictured PVRIS going, but I've never had the right tools or the right collaboration to be like that, so JT's been a great fit and a great teammate for finding that and dialling that in."
Lyrically, Lynn continues to divulge the details of her personal life, particularly her battles with not one, but two, auto-immune disease diagnoses and the dissolution of a long-term relationship which had come to define her in some ways. Whereas 2017's 'All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell' was a hauntingly cynical well-oiled misery machine, 'Use Me' is a colourful explosion of phoenixes rising from their ashes, representing the new-found hope that comes out of taking on the tiredness in your mind.
"There's an underlying theme of cutting ties with old relationships and toxic patterns and wanting to make peace with those and send them off and wish them well.
"But there's also a sense of just being really tired and feeling apathetic and resentful at the same time and wanting to honour that and express that healthily and in a thoughtful and slightly cheeky perspective."
It's a perspective that needed pitch-shifting for Lynn to continue her personal development both as a writer and as a human, every moment of her life is a learning curve whether in the public eye or behind private lines.
"In the first two albums, there's a lot of stirring and feeling lost, and not really knowing how things are going to turn out. There's a perspective on this album that very much knows, there's a trust in it, there's a little bit more hope to it and a little bit of cheekiness in it. And some winks are thrown in throughout the album, which I've never really done before."
Juxtaposition has always been front-and-centre in PVRIS' aesthetic and is no stranger on 'Use Me,' cropping up throughout no matter how hopeful Lynn has become over the last few years, there's been a lot of dark moments before the dawn.
"There's definitely tiredness and resentment towards being pushed around and trying to hold it together for a lot of people, and that came from experiencing a lot of health issues while making the album. I was constantly battling with whether I needed to rest or whether I needed to go into work. I was feeling pressurised, I was worrying that not everybody was looking out for my best interest."
The pressure of putting on a performance to the public eye interested in PVRIS continuing to produce chart-breaking music played a role in making a once wide-eyed woman weary of the industry that they're carving their career in, which reflects lyrically as much as it does personally for Lynn.
"It's scary in general. Ignoring the political climate, the cultural climate, the Coronavirus, the obvious – even without that. The industry and the way music is being consumed and enjoyed and shared these days is kind of like the wild, wild west, and no one really knows anything anymore, so it's absolutely terrifying.
"I have a hard time saying no to things and setting boundaries, even if my body is not aligning with where my brain is. There's a lot of learning to do, like to listen to that more and to not be as much of a people pleaser. To do what I need to do for me, and to do that unapologetically, and confidently. There's a lot underlying it."
That rebellious nature, that desire to turn the tables on the industry that has taken so much innocence away from Lynn, and PVRIS, has led to a move that was as unexpected as much as it was expected. On 'Use Me,' Lynn has taken the stage front-and-centre as the de facto leader of PVRIS, a step which is as freeing as it is empowering.
"Nothing has really changed from a creative end, but everything has changed at the same time. I think it's my mindset in approaching it because it's been like this since the beginning, but with this album, it was the full across-the-board transparency. I said to myself, 'Just go for it, and own it'. I was making sure I didn't feel like I had to hide behind anything or shrink anything and doing this allowed for a lot more freedom and excitement on my end. It felt really freeing, and that's what I hope this next chapter can be too."
'Use Me' is at the sum of its parts an album about growing, whether that's personally or professionally, socially or culturally, however you must to continue to evolve through life's ever-changing playing fields. It's an album that for Lynn, and for PVRIS, had to be made no matter who was lost in the fire.
"No change is ever to disrupt anything or make anybody feel excluded. This is what feels exciting, and I want to share what feels exciting to me, and I always hope that translates to our fans, and if it doesn't, that's unfortunate. That's just the risk you've got to take, but I do believe every step of the way you need to do what's best for your growth no matter what."
Taken from the May issue of Dork. PVRIS' album 'Use Me' is out 10th July.
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