With a sense of optimism and a slice of ethereal escapism, Lynn Gunn is taking a bold new direction. A record of connection and catharsis in a world increasingly distant and dissonant, new album ‘Evergreen’ is PVRIS in full bloom.
Words: Ali Shutler.
Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett.
“I don’t want to be that vibe killer,” says Lynn Gunn. “I don’t want to make people feel even more horrible about everything because the world feels very dark and scary right now.” PVRIS are midway through an acoustic tour of UK record stores that’s restored some hope and happiness in Lynn’s heart, which has only reaffirmed her decision not to make another album of gloomy, brooding rock. “At this point in my life, that just doesn’t feel good,” she admits.
Instead, fourth album ‘Evergreen’ is flecked with ethereal escapism and a resilient sense of optimism. “When PVRIS started, we obviously existed in this male-dominated world where everybody was so serious all the time, and it felt like we had to match that. It never felt completely natural,” she continues, now perfectly happy to crack jokes onstage or, in the case of Slam Dunk, launch bananas into the crowd so fans can replenish their energy. “It all feels a bit more free now,” she smirks, with goofy humour a big part of her and bassist Brian MacDonald’s longstanding friendship. “It’s how we’ve coped.”
Despite fans hankering for long-rumoured tracks like ‘MVDONNA’ or ‘Blood On My Hands’, Lynn approached PVRIS’ fourth album with a clean slate, but only after a lot of soul-searching. Instead of touring their fiery third album, ‘Use Me’, COVID forced Lynn to stay home, and it wasn’t long before she was asking questions about the world around her. “Everything just changed so much and at such a rapid rate, which was exciting, but it also felt incredibly uncertain and scary.”
She started getting overwhelmed by the unspoken pressure to maintain a connection across a variety of social media platforms until she had a light-bulb moment of clarity. “I’m here to make music to connect to people. If I focus on that, the rest will sort itself out.” Still, ‘Evergreen’ didn’t happen overnight, as Lynn still needed to figure out how she wanted to engage with a world that was rapidly feeling more distant.
“I just retreated from everything for a bit,” she explains, unable to write for the band or herself until she’d processed what was happening. “I did a lot of waiting, journaling and dissecting thoughts.” It’s why the lyrics of ‘Evergreen’ are far more grounded than the otherworldly musings of previous PVRIS albums.
“It definitely feels very earthly, instead of floating off somewhere,” she explains, with flowers and nature a big part of the visual world for ‘Evergreen’. “With everything that’s happened in recent years, it doesn’t feel like you can just run away to your little dream world anymore. You can’t escape the world,” she explains, instead focusing her efforts on questions about community, connection and how she relates to the world at large. “Politically, socially, environmentally, technologically, it feels like everything has changed and not for the better,” she explains. “How we consume art and how we connect with each other has changed. How are you meant to take care of yourself and others around you? How can we continue to carry on?” she asks.
“The answer is, I don’t know,” she admits. “There’s a lot of I don’t knows, and I think it’s okay to feel that.” It’s the launch pad for ‘Evergreen’’s furious, frustrated opening track ‘I Don’t Wanna Do This Anymore’, which could easily feel like a resignation. Still, Lynn found enough hope to continue – otherwise, there wouldn’t be a new PVRIS album – and by the end of the vibrant record, Lynn’s singing about an ever-growing legacy.
“This might be happening around us, but we’re still here, and we’re still alive, so we just have to keep going until we can’t,” she says of the album’s lust for life. “I wanted to send out a message that felt a little more pleasant, empowering and free, despite everything.”
“The world feels very dark and scary right now”
Tracks like ‘Love Is A…’, ‘Anywhere But Here’ and ‘Headlights’ feel like a balm, all expansive beauty and intimate storytelling. “They felt like going home,” admits Lynn, who wanted to make something that would remind her of Massachusetts. “Whenever things feel scary, and I think about being anywhere else, I always just want to go home. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. They feel like the escapist component of the album,” she continues.
Still, ‘Evergreen’ isn’t ignorant, either. As well as beautiful, hushed songs about romance and finding peace, PVRIS’ fourth album is driven by an almighty fury. The groove-driven ‘Animal’ sees Lynn hitting back at the idea of control, a shuddering ‘Hype Zombies’ sees her striving for freedom, while the hammering ‘Take My Nirvana’ sees her with fangs bared. “That felt freeing,” she grins.
Lynn goes on to call the creation of ‘Evergreen’ liberating. “It felt like a do-or-die thing. Either don’t do it, or go for it 100 per cent and not worry about the outcome.” We all know which side she came down on. “It feels like the walls are down, and now, I just want to run with it and have fun.”
For as long as PVRIS have been a band, they’ve jumped back and forth between pop and rock. In their early days, though, Lynn would argue that PVRIS made pop that sounded rock, or vice versa, depending on who she was talking to. Back in the mid-2010s, those battle lines were fiercely maintained. “I cringe when I think about old interviews,” she laughs. “Back then, it really did feel like you could only exist within a box, and if you strayed outside of it, you confused or angered people. It was such a heavy and real thing at the time; I felt like any type of creative decision had to be defended, which is so silly, isn’t it?”
That defensiveness came from being a woman who came up in the pop-punk and hardcore scenes but was happy to play outside of those genre boundaries. “I had a chip on my shoulder from specific men online asking where the guitars were, why we didn’t use real drums and who was really playing what,” she explains. “It was such an archaic view of how music should be made or produced, but it weighed heavily on my mind.”
It never affected the music PVRIS made, but Lynn would tie herself in knots trying to educate people who were never going to listen. By contrast, the stark contrasts between the “pop” and “rock” songs on ‘Evergreen’ are celebrated, with both sides of PVRIS’ sound taken to their extremes. “There’s an equal amount of in-your-face, aggressive, high-energy songs and really chill, dreamier, ethereal sounds on this record.” Why? “It just felt natural,” she shrugs, knowing she doesn’t need to explain herself to anyone.
“I know terms like ‘genre-bending’ have become buzzy in recent years, but the goal with PVRIS has always been to create something that stands on its own and isn’t defined by anything else. I hope it connects with people, but if it doesn’t, I know I made something that I was very excited about.”
Lynn started making music as a school kid, not, as rumours go, because she saw Paramore supporting Jimmy Eat World and wanted to follow suit but because she just loved playing around with songs. “I wasn’t producing, but we had GarageBand on the computers in middle school, and I downloaded this thing called GuitarPro on my family’s old PC, which allows you to input music before it plays it back to you.”
Even if it sounded like a glitching video game, Lynn fell in love with that sense of creation and “it morphed into playing in a band and travelling the world. Obviously, if you’re a young girl and you see a badass woman onstage, that resonates too and definitely opens a door in your brain,” she adds.
As big as PVRIS has got, ambitions have always been rooted in the creative process. “The DNA has always been the same, no matter how it’s dressed up or what it sounds like. That integrity of just making the most compelling thing that you connect to the most, that’s always been the driving force,” she explains.
Everything outside of the music and art has always required somewhat of an adjustment for Lynn, though, from the sudden success that followed the release of ‘White Noise’ (“That album is purebred angst,” she explains today) through the health problems that plagued the touring for follow-up ‘All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell’. “Performing onstage, people saying stuff online, it’s always been a bit confusing and strange.” There’s less worry around ‘Evergreen’. “I’m just excited,” says Lynn, already eager to get back on tour.
“The biggest thing that I was scared about was everybody feeling really disconnected and isolated and how that would translate when we got to go back on tour,” she reflects. Touring and that in-person community around PVRIS shows is a huge driving force behind the band. “It’s vital for what we do, and the idea of it changing was terrifying.”
“I wanted to send out a message that felt a little more pleasant, empowering and free, despite everything”
Over the past weeks and months, though, Lynn has seen that as much as the world feels different nowadays, the energy of a live show remains as powerful as ever. “It’s been really beautiful being able to play songs for people again.”
Despite the very different eras of the PVRIS and the challenges she’s faced along the way, Lynn has always respected the journey. There have been no hard resets or distancing from what came before. “I’m human, so of course I’m going to grow and change,” she explains. “It feels good when your seasons get embraced by others, and It’s really cool that people do want to grow with you.” In the run-up to ‘Evergreen’, there’s been this feeling of giddy intrigue around what comes next for PVRIS. “It does feel like the new has been embraced a lot more than I thought it would,” Lynn admits.
Lynn has described ‘Evergreen’ as a celebration of femininity and female autonomy, with tracks like ‘Goddess’ making that blatantly obvious. “I’ve spent the last decade in a space that’s very male and very straight,” explains Lynn, with COVID giving her space to unpack her experiences. “There was a lot of pressure on me from fans, press and those watching the band from the sidelines to shrink myself down, not stir the pot and just fit into the role that I was expected to play. I realised there was a lot of internalised misogyny that I’d been carrying, so I wanted to grow beyond that.”
“If you’re a woman, celebrating your body, your sexuality and encouraging others to do the same feels political, whether that’s intentional or not,” she adds. ‘Goddess’ was written before the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe V Wade, ending the constitutional right to an abortion, but lyrics like “It’s your body, fuck the man” feel more important than ever.
“There’s immense work to be done as far as there being more women, more queer people and more people of colour in the rock scene, but it’s made me really happy getting to see artists like Charlotte Sands, Wargasm, Scene Queen and Vukovi at Slam Dunk,” she beams.
PVRIS have never been the most outwardly political band but Lynn Gunn, a queer female frontperson touring with the likes of Bring Me The Horizon and Fall Out Boy, has been a longstanding source of inspiration for many.
“Lynn Gunn was the first girl in the scene that I truly resonated with,” said Scene Queen, shortly after Slam Dunk, “because I genuinely thought in my teenage years if I wanted to work professionally, I would always have to hide a part of me [my sexuality] because I grew up listening to iconic queer pop icons, but rock just didn’t seem like the place for it. When ‘White Noise’ came out, and Lynn was the face behind it, it was genuinely the first time where I was able to tell myself, ‘there is a group of people out there that will accept all parts of you’, because I was in the fan base that was doing it.”
“I genuinely just feel comfortable being myself,” says Lynn. “I think maybe people have been able to come to our shows and feel comfortable in themselves by meeting like-minded people or seeing me doing it on my end. Either way, we all help each other.”
So why are PVRIS still connecting with people? “I don’t know if I’m the right person to ask,” says Lynn. “I know what keeps me excited is changing things up and taking risks, so I hope that translates outwards.”
“I’m here to make people feel something, whether that’s escapism or hitting the nail on the head with how they’re feeling. That was the constant driver of making the album,” Lynn continues before calling ‘Evergreen’ a “purge of having fun and letting excitement happen.”
“I hope that whoever is listening to it knows that they don’t have to shrink themselves,” she adds. “I want it to offer empowerment and escape. I want people to know they can exist how they want. Allowing yourself to feel that free without fear is incredibly cathartic.” ■
Taken from the August 2023 edition of Upset. PVRIS’ album ‘Evergreen’ is out now.