PVRIS: “I don’t think I could make a back-to-basics rock album if I tried”

PVRIS‘ Lynn Gunn is returning with an album that refuses to stick to tired old boxes and conform to lazy expectations.

Words: Ali Shutler.
Photos: Ashley Osborn.

PVRIS only released their debut album ‘White Noise’ in 2014, but that hasn’t stopped them from getting swept up in the nostalgia-driven emo resurgence that’s dominated the past few years. 

Things kicked off when Machine Gun Kelly reworked their thundering single ‘My House’ as part of his virtual lockdown sessions, and 84 million views later, PVRIS were invited to play the inaugural When We Were Young Festival in Las Vegas last year alongside the likes of Paramore, My Chemical Romance, Jimmy Eat World and Avril Lavigne. Like those bands, PVRIS made a name for themselves on Warped Tour and are still part of that alternative rock scene. 

Rather than lean into a world of snotty lyrics and big guitar riffs, though, PVRIS’ new album ‘Evergreen’ is a rejection of nostalgia. “I know some people might have a problem with that,” admits Lynn Gunn, but she isn’t bothered. “It’s good to have a bit of pushback.”

“When guitar music felt like it was coming back in a noticeable way, it didn’t resonate with it at all,” she admits. “It wasn’t this intentional thing; I just don’t think I could make a back-to-basics rock album if I tried,” she says. 

Instead, ‘Evergreen’ sees Lynn taking PVRIS somewhere new. “If making a record that sounds like 2004 is suddenly popular, how do you challenge that,” she asks.

Speaking to Dork the day before the grand unveiling of ‘Evergreen’, Lynn is a mix of excited and nervous. “​​I wanted to take risks. If your art feels a little bit scary, that’s a good thing.”

It’s been a messy few years for PVRIS, with cancelled tours, delayed records and issues with labels that took the energy out of dynamic third album ‘Use Me’. Ahead of its release in 2020, Lynn announced that “the heart and soul of the vision and music [of PVRIS] was always sourced from me. I allowed myself to support a narrative I thought I had to support, of PVRIS being a band.”

‘Evergreen’ acts as a reintroduction to PVRIS. “I’m at a stage in my life and my career where I just feel at peace with a lot of things,” says Lynn. “This chapter is all about enjoying myself.”

2014’s ‘White Noise’, 2017’s ambitious follow-up ‘All We Know Heaven, All We Need Of Hell’ and 2020’s ‘Use Me’ gave Lynn “some amazing times, and I went on incredible journeys with them, but there was so much anxiety, stress, pressure and getting in my own way,” she says. In a way, that’s the message of new single ‘Good Enemy’.

“​​I wanted to take risks. If your art feels a little bit scary, that’s a good thing”

Lynn Gunn

She describes the high-energy track as her attempt at “capturing where music is at right now,” but with a playful twist. “There’s been this resurgence in rock, but I wanted to flip that on its head and view it through this hyper-pop lens, which is also having a real moment,” she explains. “It was such a fun song to make.” It sounds it as well, which isn’t something a lot of past PVRIS releases have managed with their pained, vulnerable lyrics and brooding gothic imagery.

“I think we can all relate to being our own worst enemy at times,” Lynn starts before saying how most people find it easier to be self-critical than to offer themselves praise or forgiveness. “It’s about letting go of these things that often aren’t the best thing for us.”

She’s taken the song’s message to heart as well. Instead of worrying about the album release in July, she explains how, “I’m just surrendering myself to it. I just feel very free with this era and want to have fun with it. I’m not really worried about how it’ll be received or how it does; I just want to trust that whatever I felt compelled to make, and whatever felt inspiring to me, will resonate with whoever it’s supposed to.”

Along with her statement about ‘Evergreen’ being “anti-virality, anti-instant gratification”, it might sound like Lynn has resigned herself to failure, but there’s not a moment on PVRIS’ new album that isn’t bristling with confidence.

Opener ‘I Don’t Wanna Do This Anymore’ is a defiant anthem that rallies against treading water, ‘Hype Zombies’ is a menacing, industrial number that isn’t afraid of baring its teeth, while ‘Senti-Mental’ is a soaring, emotional song that flirts with funk. “I definitely think it’s different,” Lynn admits. “I also don’t think it’s for everybody, and that’s ok.”

The biggest difference between ‘Evergreen’ and what’s come before is perspective. “In the past, PVRIS albums have really focused on looking inward. They were about battling personal demons, and there was a lot of doom and gloom in the lyrics. Looking at them in retrospect, they were often from the perspective of victimhood. I just don’t identify with that anymore,” Lynn says.

She goes on to say that ‘Evergreen’ is still personal, but it sees her looking outwards. “There’s more ownership over anything negative. There’s more empowerment in it,” she promises.

That shift came about after a year-long hiatus from being online. “I wanted to process my life and the world around me without the influence of social media. Ironically, that attempt to calm my nerves left me feeling more anxious and more on edge, the longer I was away,” she says. “I was scared I was ruining my career.”

But that fear sparked something inside her, and she ended up taking a long look at the world, the industry and her place within it all. “It was this feeling of ‘this isn’t working, this does not feel good’,” she says. “To me, everything right now just feels a little unnatural, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.”

‘Evergreen’ doesn’t have any exact answers, but it gave Lynn space to “meditate on that feeling of unease” as she asked herself big, intangible questions like, “how do you stay strong at a time that goes against that? How do you stay present and true to yourself in a world that’s doing everything it can to pull you out of that mindset?”

The record goes on to cover topics of “fame, control, technology, social media spectacle and where we place our attention as a collective of humans. There’s also talk of female autonomy, the industry and societal focus on youth.” She pauses for a second. “I guess there’s a lot weaved into it.”

As Lynn promised, it’s never bleak, though. She describes ‘Evergreen’ as “an ode to longevity, resilience and staying unjaded towards creativity, but also life in general.”

“Take the risk, have fun and follow whatever you feel compelled to make”

Lynn Gunn

The first two songs written for the record were the ferocious ‘Animal’ and the pretty, escapist ‘Anywhere But Here’. Released together last summer to announce the arrival of a new era, the tracks also gave Lynn the confidence to really lean into the different sides of PVRIS. “I didn’t know they’d be reflective of the album when I wrote them, but I did start thinking about how they both felt so different but also so true to me. Both of those sounds felt really natural, so I decided to not shy away from either world.”

That battle between dreamy ethereal and harsh, stark aggression gives the whole of ‘Evergreen’ its tension. That push-and-pull is carried over into the visuals and dominates the David & Goliath-inspired album cover which sees Lynn hold up her own decapitated head.

Pulling influence from everything she was listening to, including hyper-pop, hip-hop and “weird, gritty, harsh music” but aware of the band’s roots in guitar-driven music, Lynn would occasionally worry about ‘Evergreen’ being too much but the fact she’s involved in every aspect of its creation gives it a fiery sense of cohesion.

“If we had more time, I would have gone even crazier with it,” she adds with a smirk. “But it’s good to close it out at this point because we will only grow from here.” Later, she confirms she’s already starting work on what comes next (“I don’t know if any of it will make it, though”) and hopes to have another new single or two out later this year because she’s feeling so inspired.

She admits that walking the line between what PVRIS used to be and what she wants it to become is a “tricky subject”, though.

“That’s where a lot of the album’s energy stems from. If there is this resurgence, how do we flip it on its head? How do we make it a bit more interesting?”

When the band broke through in 2014 after replacing their hardcore roots with something more stylised and synth-driven, PVRIS were quickly heralded as one of the most exciting rock bands around at a time when the genre was a little lost.

Lynn “never fully resonated with that scene,” though. With those early records, “we felt confined to that bubble and were trying to make interesting pop music within the context of rock,” she says. “Y’know, something that actually felt reflective of what I listened to.”

“I don’t want anyone to think that I’m ignorant to where we came from or that I’m ungrateful for those opportunities,” she continues. “I think this resurgence is really amazing” – for both iconic bands and the newcomers toying with the rules.

“I’m fully allowed to celebrate that, while also posing questions about what I think could have been different. I think the purpose of running from one’s roots is the hope of creating something better for yourself or to set a new standard,” she continues saying that any “rejection” of the scene isn’t out of spite. “It just feels like survival for me at this point in my life, as a woman and as an artist.”

In recent months, Bring Me The Horizon and Fall Out Boy (both bands PVRIS supported early on in their career) have spoken about how much of a struggle it was to straddle the worlds of rock and pop in the years leading up to the pandemic. Oli Sykes revealed just how much of a responsibility he felt with his band being one of the few in the mainstream that still made heavy music, while Pete Wentz recently told Dork about FOB’s “fuck-it” attitude, post-hiatus. “People were saying we couldn’t do music like that anymore. So, we just wanted to make anthems. We were trying to make [rock music] undeniable,” but it led to things feeling “frustrated” around 2018’s ‘MANIA’ and a five-year gap between records.

Being a quote-unquote rock group “always felt like a double-edged sword,” says Lynn and that hasn’t changed in recent months either. “Part of the magic of that scene was that it was a reaction that challenged what was happening at the time. It’s important not to forget the intention behind it, creatively and politically.”  

She hopes the new generation “takes bigger risks and rewrites a lot of the wrongs that existed in the past. It needs to be better for women, it needs to be better for people of colour, and it needs to be better for the LGBTQIA+ community.”

“For me, I felt paralysed early on in my career. I felt like I couldn’t grow or take creative risks. ‘Evergreen’ was me trying to acknowledge that and stay growing regardless,” she continues.

“There’s a new energy around the band”

Lynn Gunn

As if to prove a point, Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda worked with Lynn on ‘Take My Nirvana’ while Y2K (who’s previously worked with Doja Cat and viral rapper bbno$) helped out on ‘I Don’t Wanna Do This Anymore’ and ‘Headlights’.

“Y2k does a really great job of mixing things in production that you wouldn’t think of combining and I love that innovation,” Lynn says. As for Mike, “he’s an amazing producer and person,” she continues. “Linkin Park were such a big band for me when I first started listening to music. I stole my brother’s ‘Hybrid Theory’ album and would listen to that nonstop.”

“Linkin Park were a good combination of electronic music, hip-hop and rock, so it made sense to work with Mike because I do think, as different as the bands are sonically, there’s a similar DNA between what Linkin Park did and what PVRIS is now,” she continues.

Likewise, later this year, PVRIS will once again tour Europe and the UK with Fall Out Boy in a “full circle moment”, but only after a co-headline tour around North America with Poppy.

“It’s a good dance between the past, the future and finding a way to stick them together in a way that somehow still makes sense.”

Despite all this talk of anti-nostalgia and shaking up the roots of PVRIS, ‘Evergreen’ still feels like the spiritual successor to their brilliant, breakout debut album ‘White Noise’. Not sonically, of course. And definitely not visually. But both records are carefully curated worlds, driven by a zero-fucks-given attitude.

“I genuinely just wanted to feel excited about what I was creating and what I was hearing. That was the compass the entire time with ‘Evergreen’ and it was very much the driving force behind ‘White Noise’ as well.” She admits that because they felt confined on that debut, there was a degree of compromise to it “but it was also about just making what felt exciting. There was nothing on the line back then. If it didn’t work out, it didn’t work. Oddly enough, ten years in with PVRIS and I feel like there’s nothing to lose now either,” she grins. “Take the risk, have fun and follow whatever you feel compelled to make.”

Speaking of fun, Lynn says “there’s more levity, more humour and more self-awareness” in ‘Evergreen’ than any other PVRIS record. “It wasn’t a conscious thing, and it happened really naturally but looking back at it, it makes so much sense that it’s what we do now,” she explains. “In the past, the music has felt really dark, so it’s an evolution of that but also humour really has been such a big coping method for me, for Brian [MacDonald, bassist] and for the whole crew after everything that’s happened. We’ve never been serious people, so it feels good that it’s represented.”

Recent single ‘Goddess’ has been described by Lynn as a “celebration of femininity” while ‘Evergreen’ is about “reclaiming female autonomy”. That, too, comes from the roots of the band.

“It was such a male-dominated space that I learnt so much internalised misogyny that I’ve been constantly trying to work through since. I didn’t realise this at the time, but everything from the visuals to how I presented myself on stage was rooted in feeling like there was no place for women.”

“Back then, we were in a world of band culture, and as a woman, I felt like I had to shrink myself as much as possible. I couldn’t express my sexuality, and it felt like there was way more pressure as a woman to act a certain way,” Lynn explains, with the visuals for the ‘Evergreen’ era acting as a rejection of that mindset. In the video for ‘Goddess’, she throws up repeatedly while elegant statues are ironically censored. “It feels fun, but it’s also a rejection and a purge of what’s expected from me,” says Lynn. “It’s a lot of the stuff that I wish we could have done from the beginning of PVRIS that I felt too afraid to try.”

Things have definitely changed, though. Earlier this year, PVRIS finally got to tour Europe and the UK for the first time since 2021 and every night, Lynn “noticed such a significant change in the audience” to what she’d been used to. “Some of that’s down to people growing up, blossoming and having glow-ups, but I do feel like there’s a new energy around the band.

“I hope this record proves that PVRIS is more than what some people perceive it as”

Lynn Gunn

Those shows felt like such a big embrace of community and camaraderie. That’s always been part of PVRIS story, but “it felt really amplified on that tour, and that was really beautiful,” says Lynn. “Everybody in the audience just seemed really confident and sure of themselves, and that was very reflective of where I’m at personally as well.”

So far, four tracks have been released from ‘Evergreen’, and Lynn knows she’s pissed a few people off. “I’m cool with it. At the same time, it feels like a lot of new people and old fans seem really excited by what we’re doing now, so I’m excited to see where it goes,” she smiles, refusing to be that ‘Good Enemy’.

The album was never meant to feel deliberately shocking. “It’s just always where I’ve heard PVRIS existing, but I didn’t feel confident to do it before,” Lynn says. If she really didn’t care about the roots of the band, she’d have done away with the PVRIS name altogether.

“To be completely honest, after ‘Use Me’ and within the pandemic, it really felt like this do-or-die moment. I knew I needed to either start over and leave this band where it was or take the leap and see what happens,” she continues of her fierce desire to chase what felt exciting.

“I hope this record proves that PVRIS is more than what some people perceive it as,” adds Lynn. “I don’t want ‘Evergreen’ to just be the sort of record you put on when you’re feeling sad. It absolutely can be that, but I want it playing when people are driving somewhere with their friends or getting ready for a night out. I want people to celebrate with it and feel good when listening to it. I want people to feel empowered.”

“It’s a celebration of evolving with the times, trying to keep things exciting and staying true to yourself within that,” she adds. “The main ambition though is truly just to have fun and follow what feels exciting.” ■

Taken from the April 2023 edition of Dork. PVRIS’ album ‘Evergreen’ is out 14th July.