A sense of mystique filled the air of D.C.’s 9:30 Club Tuesday evening as Indie group MOTHXR, led by actor Penn Badgley, took the stage, opening for synth pop band Poliça in front of a devoted following of passionate fans.
Badgley converted his fan base from those rooted in his long-time acting career to those who have a love for the band’s music, successfully changing his image from television heart throb to talented, suave musician.
MOTHXR, having released their first studio album Centerfold earlier this year, played songs from the record such as “Stranger,” “Centerfold,” “She Can’t Tell” and “Victim,” and finished the set with “Easy,” their first single ever released on Soundcloud.
The group controlled the energy of the venue with each and every crescendo: the swelling of trill guitar riffs, resonating synth and tight percussion all perfectly accompanying Badgley’s impressive vocal range.
We had a chance to speak with three members of the band: lead singer Badgley, lead guitarist Simon Oscroft and keyboard and synth player Darren Will about musical influences, their upcoming tour, acting, Prince and their growing fan base.
Jordan: What has been the most memorable show for you thus far?
Penn: Munich. Munich was a good one. I think we started to deliver and the crowd was responsive and young and fanatic. And it was in Germany.
Simon: It was just like a blacked out bunker, just full. It was like electric. It was such a dark room that the lights were lit for effects.
J: What do you hope the audience will get out of tonight’s set or respond?
Penn: Music, you know? I’m not disrespecting the . It’s a valid question. I hope they hear something they like.
Darren: Maybe it sparks something in them.
Simon: I hope they haven’t potentially heard us before and it will spark them to hear us and the record. This tour so far has been full of really cool demographics: young and old and people who are into very similar music and realms that we listen to also. So it feels like we’re playing in front of our peers in a way, which is cool.
J: Is there a particular kind of message you’re trying to convey with this album [Centerfold] you just released? Is there a theme throughout it?
Penn: There’s certainly a theme, but there’s not really a message that’s being conveyed. It’s not like there’s an urgency to the world or anything like that. It’s far more personal and intimate, and in that sense, it’s not time dependent. This is just a record unto itself.
J: Whom or what would you say is your biggest inspiration? Either musically or lyrically.
Penn: When we were recording, I was reading a lot of Rumi. Rumi is a name people love to drop, but I have to say, the Coleman Barks translation … he’s a scholar—I don’t know if he’s a Sufi scholar or an Arabic scholar or Persian—but his translations of Rumi’s poetry truly are … they’re intoxicated. They’re world renowned for being the best English translations, and I had a book of that poetry.
Simon: We always say in the music industry that we’re influenced anytime by each other and each other’s influences and the instruments that we’re using because it was like a self-imposed restriction. Like, this is just a guitar or bass or a couple of synthesizers, so what can we do with that? It’s like we’re put in a room that we have to get out of. There are clues, little pieces of things, to get yourself out of the room.
Penn: One night we were directly influenced—I mean, everyone was—there is one song where we straight up … the idea was just taking the drum from a Prince track, because we were dancing to it the night before. It completely became its own thing as any song does, but we were like ‘Oh, let’s take that.’ And you hear it. You think Prince [when you hear] that song. And I think now, we’re proud to say that. He was a very real influence.
J: With that being said, how did you react when he passed away last week?
Penn: We were all emotional. We played a show that night in Montreal, and we had to pack up our gear on stage as Purple Rain was playing.
Simon: And the crowd was singing it.
Penn: It was cool. It was beautiful. But at the same time it felt like molasses. Really emotional.
Cassie: Penn, for your role in Greetings from Tim Buckley as Jeff Buckley, you took vocal and guitar lessons. How do you think that experience influenced your music style now?
Penn: Not that much, to be honest. The truth is, I didn’t take many vocal and guitar lessons. I wasn’t aiming to … I wasn’t slaving over mimicking [Jeff Buckley]. No one could do what he did. I could just sort of bare my soul in a similar way.
I think what I did more than anything was find a place emotionally, creatively, spiritually where I was just striving for that same energetic level. And to be quite honest, the singing and guitar playing was an afterthought. If you watch the movie, it is a fairly humble portrayal of him: It’s not him in his greatest; it is him in the beginning.
As far as the influence, I don’t think it influenced me any more than he had already influenced me, and he did influence me greatly as a teenager, as he probably did all of us. I know at some point, we all love that record, “Grace,” and his style of singing and playing. If you listen to his record, I actually don’t sing like him ever quite at all on it. I think Jeff is the kind of influence that if anybody has an intimate relationship with him, he kind of sticks with you, stays with you.
C: Going along with that, where do you personally see yourself with your acting career? Are you making more of a shift toward music?
Penn: At the moment, the momentum is here. The band makes sense. We’re really excited about this project. At the end of this run, we’ll have played around 150 shows, not on this tour but total. We’re all excited. It’s very real. We’re the ones who control it, we’re the ones in the driver’s seat, we’re the ones who record it, we’re the ones who keep it going, we’re the ones who play live. In a way, as an actor, you’re a glorified session player, and that happens to be less interesting at this point, unless you’re working on a really great project, and those are few and far between. Right now, music takes the forefront, but that’s just circumstantial.
C: How do you think your fans from your acting career have received your music?
Penn: Pretty well. We’re extremely grateful to them because they support us. It seems like a natural transition. Less and less do I feel like I’m singled out for [acting] and more and more people come out for the music.
J: I saw on your Facebook page that you have a small tour with The Neighbourhood coming up. What are you anticipating from that?
Penn: We toured Europe with them recently. They’re great guys and we have a lot of fun with them.
Simon: We wanted to do a lot more dates, but we have some other stuff that’s happening, which is cool, too. The thing is, they’re big shows. Like six big shows.
Penn: It makes a lot of sense for where we are right now. It’s a step forward. We’ll be playing in front of a big crowd, even if it’s not all our crowd, obviously. But it’s great. For both this tour and the last, a lot of people have been coming for the opening act [and] they don’t have to, which means that they’re really there for the music, and that’s a great feeling.
Darren: That’s what it’s all about.
MOTHXR will be on tour with the Neighbourhood June 7 – 16.
Featured Photo Credit: Penn Badgley, lead vocals for MOTHXR, opens for Poliça at 9:30 Club. When Badgley, an actor and singer, was asked about his future with acting, he responded, “Right now, music takes the forefront, but that’s just circumstantial.” (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Photographer)
Jordan Stovka is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.