Artist on Artist: Benjamin Violet x Eric Braden

It has been said by many people that one of the greatest aspects of the Austin music scene is how communal it is, with artists regularly coming together to collaborate, boost each other and admire each other’s work. In the spirit of that, we’ve decided to launch a new series inviting artists to interview other artists from the scene. Our second installment in the series brings together two pillars of the new wave of Austin indie music: Pelvis Wrestley mastermind Benjamin Violet and Big Bill vocalist Eric Braden.

Pelvis Wrestley are hard at work on releasing their debut album Vortexas, Vorever but their most recent single “Try Your Hardest” can be found on the Slack Capital 3 compilation, co-curated by Eric Braden. Over the span of this in-depth interview, Violet and Braden talk about everything from Courtney Love’s approach to vision boards to finding hope in Steven Universe episodes to the importance of occasionally seeing your musical peers in the daylight. Please enjoy!

Eric Braden of Big Bill: You were just telling me that you’ve been playing in bands since you were in high school. I’m just curious, what was your experience playing in clubs as a high school student?

Benjamin Violet of Pelvis Wrestley: It was cool. It was mostly just at [now defunct Red River venue] Red Eyed Fly and the old Emo’s, back in 2005, 2006. It felt very sweet and very safe. It was just a bunch of high school kids showing up. 

Mike Boudreau was the booker there at the time. It doesn’t seem like he is too active in the scene anymore but he was really sweet to us, kind of took us under his wing and would be like “Play here, don’t play here.” He’d book shows and go out on the road with us from time to time. It was a sweet, special time.

That band was called The Still Life and we were playing with this other band called El Guapos who were more recently called SPHYNX and it’s cool that a lot of those people are still playing music all around town. We still see each other, even if there was a 10, 15 year gap in between playing shows with each other. 

A photo of The El Guapos playing their first show, long before their members went on to form SPHYNX

EB: Were you playing with other high school bands or were you able to play with older bands?

BV: Yeah, there were some other bands. The one I remember playing with the most back then was called Ivory Class. I don’t remember a lot else. There was always older bands around. Not a lot of them wanted to spend time with a bunch of high schoolers, which I get [laughs].

The funniest memory I have is this one time– I mean, it’s just funny in terms of it being connected to things that are still happening in Austin– but after my first year of college I came back and played a one off show and we opened for Mother Falcon, which was really amazing, it’s cool to see everything they’ve done since then and all of the spin off projects, they’re very inspiring.

EB: It’s interesting to me because when I was in high school I was not playing music at all…

BV: Oh, really?

EB: I think I went to a few, I called them “concerts” back then, shows in downtown Houston. I was living in the suburbs. It just did not seem like a thing that was accessible to me at all. 

Where did you get the courage to make shows happen? Did it just seem like a normal thing?

BV: It was something I always wanted to do, I had a very clear vision that that was what I was going to be doing. 

EB: From what age?

BV: From like the time I was a really little kid. I think I saw The Beatles’ movies, like the silly ones, like Help! and A Hard Day’s Night. I was homeschooled, too. I had social outlets as a homeschooler, it’s not like I was totally isolated or anything. I think I had an idea that being in a band was how you had intimate friendships [laughs]. So I kind of formed that narrative. 

Then what ended up happening was I stopped homeschooling and went to a public high school and I had some friends who were in a band but they were wasting so much time, it drove me crazy. I was just coming in as a keyboard player but I got mad and I took over and wrote the songs and started giving them orders. I think it was actually some of them that started setting up the first shows so I guess I am kind of indebted to them for building that norm when I was 15 years old.   

It wasn’t really the DIY experience that started things for a lot of my friends in music. They didn’t have access to venues so they just made them themselves. They had that DIY community thing. My experience with it was always kind of an outsider looking in. We were more focused on playing clubs. Sometimes I wish I’d had more of the house show experience. But what can you do?

EB: Now you just play arenas and it’s too late…

BV: [laughs] Arenas and Bill Ball!

EB: Thank you for that. You mentioned The Beatles’ movies and I always loved that imaginary “they all live together and they’re this gang of people all looking out for each other.” They’d always convey that in interviews too, with different jokes and stuff. A lot of it was obviously an illusion. But I also get the sense that when I’ve seen Pelvis Wrestley you all like each other, and you’re all friends. You’d think that was more common, but it’s not, really. That whole thing of smiling at each other and “this is so fun!” I love to see that. Does that make sense? Has that been your actual experience?

BV: That makes me really happy to hear! The only person in that band that I was actually friends with in a way where I would consider us close was Hannah McVay, our keyboard player. I had just admired the rest of the band from afar until I started the band. I was kind of shocked to hear they wanted to play music with me [laughs]. It made me feel really cute! 

We started out as, well, maybe not exactly strangers, but the day I first met Sarah [Schultz] was our first practice. Sarah’s our drummer, also of Sun June. Behnam [Arzaghi], our violinist, dated a good friend of mine for a while and that was how I knew him, I’d met him a handful of times. We started dry, a little bit, but I’ve certainly grown to love them so much. I always appreciate their generosity with how they participate in the band and show up prepared. 

I had this strong feeling in our first year of being a band that everyone was gonna quit [laughs]. I was just waiting for the shoe to drop. People kept on being excited about it, though, and that makes me very happy. I feel very honored that they’re all into being in this band together.

So you’re totally right. We all have a great time. I feel very lucky for that.

EB: Does that impact your songwriting, knowing it’s such a positive dynamic?

BV: I’ve always been kind of an overbearing bandleader, and band participant in bands where I wasn’t the leader as well [laughs]. 

I had this really special experience with our very first Pelvis Wrestley show, which was a contrast to every other experience I’d had with music before, where every practice as we got closer and closer to the show I started feeling more relaxed instead of more nervous. It speaks to not only the skill of everyone playing but to the nurturing attitude that they all have and whatever we played I knew it was going to be great. I could rely on them. It also made me feel relaxed about not overwriting my songs, which I feel I have done in the past. 

EB: You mean with writing all the parts?

BV: Yeah, exactly. 

EB: So you feel more comfortable letting them write their own stuff?

BV: Exactly. It’s mostly with the arrangements, like I feel comfortable having a more general idea of where I want the “fun” to go, and can communicate that and then have the experience of being more surprised by what they do, of not knowing exactly what I was going to hear. 

I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve experienced that because in the years leading up to that I’ve been a lot more closed off to collaboration. I felt like I needed to do it myself. I did a lot of ANDY stuff myself, I think I ended up learning the limits of my skills, and learning my mortality in a way, if you know what I mean [laughs].

EB: I think I do [laughs]. It does come across. It feels like you’re very confident and relaxed when y’all perform. This gets into a question I was going to ask later but it feels like you aren’t thinking about yourself, you’re more embodying the character you are as a performer, if that makes sense? Everybody is in a character, whether they’re the folk-y with their head hanging over their guitar, or whether they’re jumping around, there is a theatricality to performing…

BV: Inherently, yeah…

EB: When it feels forced it’s never a fun thing to watch. When it feels natural, somehow, like I get from y’all, people want to lean into it. Like they see it in themselves, you know?

BV: Well thank you! I’ll take that as a compliment!

EB: You should! It’s cool! There’s something different when it’s like “Oh, there’s that member over there, that’s the brooding one…” they’re not all present. You just get on the stage right away and are like “here’s our song” and it’s great. 

BV: That’s so great to hear. Having an immersive experience is a big deal. RuPaul has this thing he says “You’re born naked and the rest is drag,” and that gets exactly at what you’re saying. It really doesn’t matter if you think you’re an authentic person, every time you step outside you are portraying yourself as somebody, that gives you the opportunity to show people who you want them to think you are. 

It wouldn’t be completely true to say who I am on stage is who I am in real life 100% but it gives me a break from who I am in real life and an opportunity to be someone who is maybe a little more positive. 

EB: I always feel like the person I am on stage is who I want to be. I feel like in real life there are so many constrictions and politeness and all these things going on. But when you’re on stage it’s like that rawer, realer thing can come out. Like you said, in real life, that is already drag, that is already a costume…

BV: It’s very aspirational…

EB: That’s a good word for it. 

I was listening to your cover of “Rock and Roll Suicide” from 2016, did you record that when David Bowie died?

BV: Yeah, we did that right after he died.

EB: He feels like a big figure for a lot of people. What did he represent to you?

BV: David Bowie represents being able to hold things at bay. I guess that’s a weird way to put it. It’s an interesting story, he was a pretty dark person for most of his life. He channeled a lot of that darkness away from his creativity. Kind of like that aspirational thing we were saying. He was very aspirational as a performer with the characters he brought to the stage; sometimes they were lighter, sometimes they were darker, the Thin White Duke especially.

This is maybe a little woo woo but I think he came out as a very nurturing presence at the end of his life and I think that’s how I hope to be, regardless of what I’ve seen or what I’ve done I hope at the end of my life I can nurture young people.

Do you know about his interactions with Lorde?

EB: No, I don’t.

BV: He was just so kind and sweet to Lorde. He called her “the future of music” and was very kind and encouraging. He had this way of looking at the darkness and making it stay still.

My brother and I used to play this game when I was a kid, where whenever I would look forward he’d creep up a few inches and then when I would look back he’d freeze like a statue. That’s something I have thought about Bowie, is that since he died it feels like something got loose, it’s moving around and I don’t want to look at it but I hope someone does because everything is really spooky and bad. I don’t think anyone could argue that stuff hasn’t gotten way worse since he died. I really do feel like he was a guardian or something. 

EB: That’s interesting. You mentioned his connection to other artists and his nurturing qualities. I remember when he was on an Arcade Fire song [“Reflektor”] and performed with them a few times. You don’t see that with a lot of iconic people from his era, going down to the up and coming bands and boosting them. 

I hear something Arcade Fire-esque in your music too, it’s anthemic…

BV: Mmhmm, most certainly. 

EB: It’s positive, communal. 

BV: I love Arcade Fire, it’s undeniable that they’ve had a huge impact on me. A lot of times, though, I’ll look to the Polyphonic Spree before I’ll look to Arcade Fire. They’re my major root for performing and also a band David Bowie championed early on. He took them out on tour. 

I definitely respond to the shared anthemic approach. A lot of times it’s great to feel like you’re part of something much bigger than yourself and that’s what those bands have in common, bringing in that very large, communal feel and draw in the audience. When you have a band with that many people it’s easy for the audience to feel like they are in the band. That was my experience of seeing the Polyphonic Spree early on. That’s something I’ve always thought about with how I arrange music. They were a big inspiration.

EB: I definitely hear that. I think it’s pretty rare, the typical stance for a band is more confrontational, or very confessional. I think of it as a spectrum of very theatrical on one side to “authentic,” confessional, “this is my heart and soul” on the other side. But that almost feels more phony to me than theatrical, with costumes, big concept music. Do you relate to that?

BV: Yeah, I do. It’s a similar thing to what we were talking about before, as far as what it means to be a person on stage. I don’t think it’s impossible to stand up on stage and make an “authentic” statement. I guess I go back and forth with it.

When I was playing in ANDY, all of that was highly theatrical. We would do monologues between songs, and staged moves and things like that. I was talking about most of the same stuff I talk about in Pelvis Wrestley songs but it felt like hiding in 18 layers of mythology and storytelling. It isn’t absent in Pelvis Wrestley, but with this my goal with what I’m saying in songs is to stay as literal as possible, which is a challenge for me, to say what happened and then what I feel about it and that’s the song versus like “how I feel is this character but it’s a horse that is also a dog!”

EB: [laughs]

BV: That was what ANDY was. It’s still theatrical. It wasn’t my goal with Pelvis Wrestley for it to be theatrical. It’s really interesting to look at what my target was with starting Pelvis Wrestley and see I hit a different spot and liked it more. 

EB: I like that.

BV: It’s a synthesis between literal songwriting and theatrical stuff and some mythology involved. Definitely still a little woo woo.

EB: Now that you mention it, when you said “I don’t think it’s impossible to write a song and directly face things,” I tried to think “Who does that?” and I thought of Daniel Johnston, maybe? The people who do that are tapping into something that is so painful, it’s like an amusical quality to them, it’s something beyond the music. Like Elliott Smith or something. There is obviously craft and layers to their music. But there’s this thing that’s hovering there. Does that make sense? If you don’t have that almost open wound, it doesn’t come across to me. 

BV: That’s a difficult thing with vulnerability in entertainment, where the vulnerability and the entertainment become the same thing. Have you seen the Hannah Gadsby special Nanette?

EB: I watched one of hers, I think it was that one. That’s the one that she got famous for it being really real, right?

BV: Yeah. It definitely got real [laughs].

EB: To the point where it’s not even making you laugh anymore, right?

BV: Yeah, it’s almost like a TED Talk. I love that thing that she’s done where as a comedian, as an entertainer, it’s your job to build people’s tension and then manage it for them and she says “I refuse to manage your tension anymore,” which is powerful. 

But the thing that relates to Elliott Smith and Daniel Johnston and them is freezing art at the trauma point, which is what we run the risk of doing when we write songs about things that hurt. We rehearse that hurt and practice those brain paths, of feeling those things. That isn’t to say that when we write songs we have to resolve things, because I think soft resolution is even more damaging. 

It makes it tricky, to have it be something in-between confessional and real about what happens and also giving yourself the flexibility to move in and out of that pain. That’s a hard thing for people like Daniel Johnston and Elliott Smith, the trope of people writing from that place being open wounds, it’s not the responsibility of the artist to continue to hurt. 

EB: It does feel like when I watch Elliott Smith music videos the crowd wants him to be that, but he’s like “I’m also a person who cracks jokes and I want to cover a goofy song now and I hope you accept that part of me too.” It does feel like a trap when people are like “I’m coming to you to relive my darkest moments.”

BV: Conor Oberst comes to mind with that.

EB: Sure. My big complaint with a lot of singer-songwriters, especially men, it always feels like they’re going “Look how sensitive I can be.” It’s almost like a contest of “look how deep and emotional I can be.” I don’t think the people we’ve been mentioning do that but I think a lot of people who try for that fall into that trap. 

BV: A trap of masculine pain.

EB: [laughs] Exactly! You nailed it.

BV: I appreciate that observation. I think it speaks a lot to the evolution of the masculine mindset has been and how much work we’ve offloaded onto the women in our lives to do our emotional work for us, like it’s just our job to identify our problems. 

EB: I think a lot of emo music was “I’m in pain, stay away from me because I’m a broken person…but really, don’t stay away because I need you.” Did you ever listen to music like that?

BV: Oh heck yeah! My high school band was an emo band. We were very much like The Get-Up Kids meets Something Corporate. It’s appealing to indulge in pain too. It’s kind of delicious. I think that there is a component in Pelvis Wrestley too. 

Where I think it has a place for that– and this certainly moves beyond the experience of someone who was male socialized– is when something hurts really bad and people don’t really understand how much it hurts and might make little of how much it hurts, so you have to battle the denial. When people are denying things hurt, you just want to prove it. You get a stage and you get an audience and you get an opportunity to do that. I wouldn’t say that tendency is absent from the Pelvis writing by any means. 

EB: It does feel like it’s there. Listening especially to the record you sent over, it feels like what you’re saying about the nurturing quality comes in, specifically with the two singles that have come out, “Susanna” and “Try Your Hardest.” 

I think about “Susanna” as having a very emotional core but also being very driving, like almost a Bruce Springsteen type thing, where he’s rocking out, there’s a lot of interesting sonic things going on but there’s also an emotional core and it’s not necessarily his emotion but he’s observing someone else. There’s a lyric in there that almost seems to allude to abuse at the hands of a clergy. It feels like the songwriter or the person singing, the person you are portraying, is the person helping the victim to figure things out, or hopes to help them, or wants to see how they get through. Does any of that resonate with you as the songwriter? Is there a story behind that?

BV: It’s a somewhat fictionalized account of stuff that really happened, for sure. I’m going to take a little moment to just choose my words carefully, if that’s okay. 

EB: Yeah, for sure.

BV: It was a group of people, a lot of really wonderful, sweet people, people I thought of as adults and authorities…well, they were adults. A string of really horrible things were happening to me and to my friends and I feel like I did not get the brunt of it. But it has been a hard thing. 

I mentioned denial before and this is actually kind of what I was referencing, denying the fact that this is important enough to be considered a problem. There were a number of incidents of things happening in the community of abuse and whatnot, and at a certain point you just have to identify it as a trend instead of as individual instinances. I was like “Y’all, there’s something a little bit deeper here.” I think there I am writing from a place of “Can you please just look at this and acknowledge that it’s important? Because I feel like for a long time it hasn’t been acknowledged as important.”

I think it’s worth pointing out that it is a song that has caused a degree of hurt in that community and I have to take ownership for that and also be compassionate for my degree of hurt and frustration with that whole situation. 

EB: Thank you for sharing that. It comes across even if you don’t know anything about that. There is something serious at the song’s core that you conveyed really well. Coming back to the theatrical subject, sonically– correct me if I’m wrong– it feels like y’all are riffing on country music, but at the same time there are all these interesting, more modern sounds popping up. Was that a purposeful trait for this record, to wear the drag of country music?

BV: [laughs] Yeah, absolutely. You hit the nail on the head with Bruce Springsteen– I do feel like he has a reasonable crossover of country tropes– but I was also listening to Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn and a bunch of others. 

The connection to the country sensibilities is about feeling very located in America and the American psyche and I can’t think of a better way to represent that than with country tropes. And part of that is feeling very ashamed and sad about the direction our country has gone. Not just recently. Really just since we started [laughs]. We’ve been doing some things for a long time. 

Instead of distancing myself from being American and writing from the American perspective what I wanted to do was write about what happens when you claim an identity. So if these songs are American songs, then that is what America is now, if that makes sense.

EB: It does. When you mentioned Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, talking about taking darkness and turning it into beauty, who better than them? When you read their biographies and what they were going through throughout their careers and then perform such beautiful music, it does feel like a transformation. I think you’ve hit upon something that does go back a long way. And it’s a great song…

BV: Well, thank you. I don’t feel like I have to be as grandiose as saying “Because we made this record through a country perspective, we saved America! We changed the perspective of what being American means!” I think it’s a little more just adding to what’s in the soup. 

Even in the country genre, that genre has been used for some really horrible stuff. Like that beautiful song “Stand By Your Man” comes to mind, it’s a gorgeous song that is deeply disgusting in its sentiment. But at the same time you have Loretta Lynn writing about how contraceptives should be available back in like the ‘70s. And Patsy Cline walking after midnight. It’s a mixed bag. America is a mixed bag. Since we’re in the position of having to be Americans, we should have some say in what that means. It’s very democratic [laughs].

EB: I like that. The other song that y’all have released from this record, “Try Your Hardest,” I’ve mentioned to you before I really love that song.

BV: Thank you!

EB: It reminds me of the best of early The Shins. There’s something so catchy and melodic about it and driving and emotional at the same time. Coming back to what we’ve been saying, there’s a part where the music stops and you say “I miss that world sometimes/But not as bad,” it feels like it hits really hard. I’m curious, what does that phrase mean to you?

BV: I think that phrase is getting at a healing process but not requiring yourself to be done with that. On one hand, I don’t want to revel in sadness, I don’t want to revel in the hurt and steep in it and dwell on it. And on the other hand I don’t have to throw it away and release it prematurely. It’s like “Yeah, that was a bad thing that happened, and the feelings around it are still pretty bad but not as bad as they have been.”

I hate to harp on the same things over and over but that kind of goes back to like how much Nanette meant to me as well, and how much that meant to me seeing that we can talk about these things without glorifying or emphasizing just the hurt and trying to have things be a record of where you are at the moment with flexibility around where you might be ten years from now.

EB: It made me feel like when you come out of a situation that at the time felt normal and comfortable but later on start to reassess. It’s still caught up with good times and even if there were bad things in your life or home or community, it’s difficult to reject your whole upbringing or community.

BV: That’s spot on. I’m singing about my divorce in that song and what happens when you do have these experiences that combine good times and bad times. The endpoint makes you have to reevaluate your whole narrative. If you’re in a longterm relationship, you are in something you want to continue, so you have to tell yourself stories about what you are experiencing in that relationship. Then when that relationship ends, you have to retell the story to yourself. 

You’re right on about the fact that it’s something you have a hard time throwing away and want to forget at the same time. I also recognize that I am much better off post-divorce [laughs]. 

EB: That makes me understand why Tammy Wynette would write “Stand By Your Man…”

BV: I can certainly appreciate your point there. This is the story you have to tell yourself to preserve everything. The gross thing, though, is that she did not write that, though. Can you believe that a man wrote that? [laughs]

EB: Yeah, right as I said that, I realized that. And unfortunately I can believe that a man wrote that [both are correct here, “Stand by Your Man” was co-written by Wynette and producer Billy Sherrill – ed.]. Maybe I learned that in that Ken Burns country documentary series and I forgot. Did you watch that?

BV: I didn’t! I wanted to.

EB: It’s great. 

There’s another phrase in your song that stands out to me, “‘Cause if it don’t sparkle/Then it’s not for me.” That feels like a personal motto, like a really succinct way of looking at the world. It feels like a thing David Bowie might tell himself to get through hard times. Do you feel like you generally put messages like that in your music as a reminder to yourself?

BV: Earlier we were talking about Elliott Smith and how his audience expected him to be a sad boy for them. If people want to expect something from me, I would like it to be a little shine and a little radiance. I do want to represent a positive voice, it’s becoming more and more important to me that that is what I’m associated with, regardless of how I’m feeling or what I am in my heart of hearts. It’s very much how I aspire things to be. 

More specifically this is a song about rebuilding, it’s sort of a statement of not wanting to accept something that doesn’t feel good again. That’s what’s going on there.

EB: I think you wrote a great song. I’m not here to just praise you, but wow. 

BV: Well, I do like compliments…

EB: [laughs] You mentioned Elliott Smith again, there are videos out there of when he was going through bad times and would get up on stage and it’s almost like when you are in that really bad place, you can’t even perform. The beautiful thing is you can transform that feeling into a song or experience but it’s like you have to transform those moments into something you can grow from. In his best moments, he was funny.

I don’t know if you’ve gone down that rabbithole but I have, just watching everything he’s ever done [laughs].

BV: I haven’t, unfortunately. 

EB: There are some where he’s down and the audience is like “Hey Elliott, we’re here for you!” and it’s hard to watch. That’s not really what you want even if you might think that’s what you want from him. 

BV: I have a personal experience of being in the audience for one of those moments. Not with Elliott Smith, obviously. But it’s an interesting case study of audience expectations. It was at a Mitski show. Love Mitski. Love her. She is like a top ten hero. Not just her writing but her skill with performing. She’s somebody I would describe as very precise. I don’t know how she manages to accomplish everything she accomplishes in a song and have it come in at under two and a half minutes. 

So she recently took a sabbatical and I guess I caught one of her last performances on her recent tour. She was frayed. You could tell because as soon as she got on the stage she was just giving everyone orders. It was 97 degrees in San Antonio in a very packed club and the first thing she says, she walks out and points at these photographers and goes “These photographers have to get to the side. I’m sorry, this is my diva moment, I know, but I’m going to kick somebody,” or something like that. Right from the beginning the audience was tightening up.

Then later on in the set, between songs, the lights were dark and she was taking a moment and collecting herself, and someone in the audience yells out “You got this, Mitski!”

EB: [laughs]

BV: And her eyes popped open with a bright fire and she looks over at that area of the crowd and goes “Yeah, I got this, I’ve had this for over ten years.” And everyone gets so uptight and tense. Then she turned to her band and says “Band, start playing!” [laughs] Oof.

When you decide on a brand of emotional vulnerability, what a decision that is. Her music is a gift to people that are trying to nurture emotional vulnerability in themselves, and to understand emotional vulnerability also looks like that, that was how she was bringing emotional vulnerability in that situation. I’ve got to say, I kind of love it. 

EB: It’s honest.

BV: Yeah, she’s doing things on her terms. I hope she never reads this and gets embarrassed that I told that story.

EB: [laughs] I think it’s a good story. It does speak to her not wanting to fake it. 

BV: That’s her way of showing up authentically.

EB: What is your songwriting process like?

BV: I’m a shower seeder, I guess [laughs]. Not always specifically the shower, though. I will typically have a phrase I’m working from and a small melody and my favorite thing to do is take that and go on a long walk with it and sing to myself while I walk. Once I have a bunch of material from “walk singing,” I go into a more formal pen and paper writing mode, which is also an editing mode, where I take all of the raw materials I have from my walk and boil it down to a more concise thing. Along with the Mitski thing, being concise is my goal at the moment.

This record is a lot of four or five minute songs and I would like to see that become two or three minute songs. There’s something really excellent about being efficient. 

EB: Do you ever use vision boards?

BV: Definitely! Big Pinterest user over here.

EB: What do you use them for?

BV: Vibe stuff. This goes back to what I was saying earlier where I had a target with Pelvis Wrestley and we’ve gone kind of eccentric from that. Early Pelvis stuff was what Courtney Love would call “justifications for the Y chromosome” (I love her too). It was a Pinterest board of Captain Picard and the von Trapp captain from Sound of Music, stuff like that, examples of masculine tenderness that was both strong and nurturing. It was a big board of all those things and also Power Rangers for no particular reason but it made sense to me at the time. I think that’s what it comes down to, they’re useful for me and then when I’ve shared them with other people, they’re not helpful in any way [laughs].

EB: [laughs] Well, it is like a mystifying process. But this is demystifying some things. 

BV: There is also something about that mystical process, where images can kind of be totems in a way. Whenever I’m starting a new project– and this isn’t something I think about doing, it just comes natural– there are things I go back to and look at and hold and listen to. Those things are grounding or remind me of what I’m from or writing towards.

EB: Any that you care to share?

BV: This one book. It’s called Souvlaki Circus [by Amanda Vahamaki and Michelangelo Setola], it’s a very abstract…comic, I guess? It’s about this small town and people’s relationships with the animals that live in the town. 

Another inspiring thing is Palehound’s video for “Room,” I go to it on the regular, and that’s fun because it’s new, and I like when new things start feeling like they’re canon to you.

EB: You have accomplished something that has a clear vision and I like hearing about the process to get there. I love reading about people who put up photos of people who mean a lot to them in different ways on the studio wall or something. 

There is something about music, about songwriting in particular, that is so difficult and that is getting to the vision you had in the beginning. There are so many aspects of the songwriting that can sidetrack you into something that doesn’t really represent you fully. I love when people can see their vision through. 

I was recently listening to this Nina Simone album, Fodder on My Wings, have you heard it?

BV: I don’t think I’ve heard that one. 

EB: She had made an album before that [Baltimore] that basically she had little creative control over. They chose all the songs for her. She was so frustrated with it that she kept arguing with the producers and refused to record her vocals until the last day, in about an hour, which is incredible because that record doesn’t sound bad by any means. But she insisted for her next album on having full creative control. 

She had just come back from a really inspiring trip from Africa and that record is just so Nina Simone. It just takes all of her interests and experiences, whether they were oppressions or good things, and all of that comes out in the record. One song will sound so different from the next song. She sings in French, she sings traditional songs she picked up in Africa. There’s a song at the center of the record where she is kind of riffing on the pop song of the time but it’s about her father. It’s as direct as you could be in a song and it just breaks me every time I hear it.

That, to me, is a record that is so unquestionably that artist. It feels like a Nina Simone vision board in a way. 

BV: Oh my god, that’s amazing. It sounds essential.

EB: It’s so good. I love all of her records but that one is really amazing. That album just reminds me of what you were talking about, with surrounding yourself with creative totems. There are so many artists that have one record that is so them and then never get back to it. That is one of the hardest things.

BV: Yeah, absolutely, it’s hard to find that center and what feels true. 

EB: I’ve got a couple more questions for you.

BV: I’m ready!

EB: Obviously right now no one is performing and you mentioned you hadn’t been able to get with your band for a couple months. How are you coping with that?

BV: In some ways it’s kind of been a positive thing, in that the day-to-day of normal life before covid it was really easy for me to get in a mindset of out of sight, out of mind. Like if I wasn’t going to every show, people were just going to forget and I wasn’t going to matter. It was like an object permanence thing. It’s been kind of nice to remember that’s not where anyone’s value as a person comes from, being visible. It has been nice to be a person and not be visible by a lot of people. 

Like I said before, I like compliments a lot [laughs]. But I have been okay on a less steady diet of that. That’s not directly tied to seeing my band. Just what it looks like being out and about in town.

In terms of the band, we’ve been hanging out on Zoom where we can. When we feel like there is the emotional capacity, I mean. Because there’s the other side of the coin, where we have all this time, but so little space in our minds and hearts. So the coping has been like that. 

I’ve been doing a lot of writing, for Pelvis stuff. We’re going to be doing an artist development program so I have a good amount of stuff to get ready for that.

EB: What do you see for Pelvis Wrestley in the next, say, two years? And if you could make a vision board for the next two years as a band, what would be on that?

BV: Mmm I love that! It’s really difficult to think about what the future is because so much of that is dependent on what the world looks like. We’re in a very communal pot, in that way. But if I could say what I hope it looks like, I hope we get to put out our record For Texas, Forever as soon as possible. I hope we get to take it on tour. I’d love to take it on tour opening for a larger act and have a nice go of it. 

I want to keep recording. We’re doing the artist development program with Austin Music Foundation and House of Songs and a bunch of other people involved in it. We’re excited to start getting into some different territory and reassess whether we’re going to let people keep calling us a country band or not [laughs]. Everything is pretty sketchy at the moment but those things feel precious and hopeful and hopefully possible.

In terms of a mood board…hmm…Steven Universe comes to mind. Are you familiar with Steven Universe at all?

EB: No.

BV: For viewers at home, in the universe of Steven Universe these alien beings are able to combine with each other to become larger beings and I think that is something I’m excited about, when we don’t have to be so isolated all the time. Collaboration and really leaning into what Pelvis Wrestley meant to me at the beginning, which is allowing people to bring their full force and make something better than any of us could do on our own. Also to continue to learn what my limitations are and what my strengths are and learn that in others.

I’ve got to put The Beatles back in there because I have been on a Beatles kick lately. They’re so interesting in so many ways. And that goes back to the narrative of friendship there, in their movies. And obviously we know that in real life things were more tumultuous. In the music community especially I am looking to less prioritize affection and more prioritize intimacy. Currently I feel like I have a lot of high affection, low intimacy connections, so I’m looking to bring the sweetness a little bit! Knowing and being known. And to bring things full circle, that concept of we’re born naked and the rest is drag, what does it look like to take off the costume from time to time. So that’s the vision for late 2021, we’ll say. 

EB: I like what you’ve said about intimacy. As a performer in Austin, there’s way more people that I recognize and say hi to than there are people that I actually know and they know me, and hang out. I always wish there could be more of that but it’s so difficult. Everyone has their own lives and everybody’s just running around. It feels like after years of seeing these people though it does feel like there’s a lack of connection deeper than that. 

BV: It does feel like that. Another experience I have is not knowing what people look like in the daylight [laughs]. So a lesson I am learning in quarantine days is when someone seems special to you, someone you see a lot but maybe don’t know real well, maybe take the opportunity to make some plans during the day sometime, go to lunch sometime.

EB: That seems like a good positive note to end on!

BV: I think so too!

Be sure to check out Pelvis Wrestley’s contribution to the Eric Braden co-curated compilation Slack Capital 3 here and keep an eye out for Pelvis Wrestley’s upcoming debut album Vortexas, Vorever!