by Jon Jardine
Brian MacDonald leaned onto the wall of the dressing room. He was flustered but engaged. He was busy but ready. An observation in his presence highlighted this – there was sweat on his forehead but not a speck of dirt on his Vans. He was in his prime. The work was hectic but the delight on his face showed his passion, his drive, and his engagement with a young journalist.
Brian is the bassist of American band PVRIS, who have seen a surge in popularity in the last few years. He and fellow bandmates Lyndsey Gunn and Alex Badinski took centre stage in Glasgow on 27 November at the O2 Academy; a much more populated venue then their previous venues of the O2 ABC and the Garage.
The upgrade in venue lit Brian’s face up. He was slanted with his arms folded, keeping his rock star image and vibe in tack whilst glimmering with glee when reminiscing about their continued success in the UK, a far travel from their home of Massachusetts in the States.
“For me, it was last year in the UK tour. It was big in the sense of ‘wow this is actually happening.’ It made me realise what we are doing is actually paying off. I would say it hit me when we were in Manchester; it was our biggest show so far [in the O2 Academy] as a band. It was surreal to walk out and see a sea of heads. We walked out to our intro and I was shaking. I made sure to play everything perfectly.”
The band has not always had the glamour of touring Brian explained. Shuffling up the wall as though he was rattling his brain for recollections, Brian grinned at the thought of California.
“When we did our first tour – it was very eye opening. A tour is every band’s dream, and I remember we were driving our van to California from Boston, which is like 3,000 miles, and we had that moment where we were like ‘wow this is actually happening’, where it was turning from a hobby into a career which was a great feeling because we love jamming, so when it turns into a career it is awesome. We are very lucky to be able to do this.”
At a glance of Brian, a tattoo behind his ear became a focal point. A designed P popped out of his flesh. The P is notoriously associated with the band, a symbol of their music. The P symbolised how far the band had come, from “sleeping in the van in Walmart parking lots. We did all the rough stuff but it was great. They are memories that we hold on to and we cherish and we did it with the people we love being around.”
Brian, Lyndsey and Alex are now bandmates, but once upon a time they were classmates who shared a passion of music as well as friendship. The spelling of the bands name has always been a talking point. PVIRS is pronounced Paris. There is always the rock and roll connotations of changing the name up, which Brain laughed out loud at. The small holding room in the Academy was awash with past nostalgia for Brian. He looked away and examined the walls as though he was searching for something, much like the inspiration for the bands name.
“So Lyndsey was in our class and [she] and her friend were passing notes backwards and forwards thinking of a band name and she came up with Paris and it was originally spelt the same way as the city. A little bit down the line when the band became more serious we had to trademark the name and a lawyer got back to us that Paris was already trademarked by Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac, so then we had to figure out what we were going to do. Do we keep the same name or change it? In the end we decided to turn the A into a V and tell everyone it is still pronounced Paris but spelt PVRIS. On the plus side it is a lot easier to find now because the city would obviously come up first if you searched it, so it worked in our favour.”
Before the release of their second album, All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell, Brian and the rest of PVRIS performed only the 10 songs from their first White Noise which was released “three years ago, and being able to put this record out and have an assortment of music where it is not just playing ten songs for three years is a lot nicer.”
Brian continued to detail the difference throughout the years, exclaimed that touring has “changed drastically. The comparison is amazing with the new record. We played the Garage with Lower than Atlantis a few years ago to being here playing the Academy, which is a dream of mine because my dad’s family is Scottish. Being in Scotland is really cool for me – being a MacDonald I have got to represent. It is really cool to watch where we came from year to year. I was sitting on stage earlier and let it sink in.”
The Scottish routes make the being in Scotland that more special for Brian. There was a sense of comfort in the long, narrow dressing room. Brian twiddled with the ends of his hoodie as he began to look back at the changes of the band since their success. His eyes light up as he went right back to their first EP.
“Basically, Lyndsey, Alex and I were recording an EP and our producer at the time had our now-manager come in and do solo work, and he heard a track our old producer was working on and he was like ‘I want to help this band, I want to help them get going and get the wheels turning’ and he contacted us and said ‘I’ve never managed a band before, but I really believe in you guys and I want to help you as much as I can’.
“From there luck was in our favour. We were able to build the great team we have now. His name is Matty Arsenal. He saw us and picked us up; we believed in him and he believed in us, and now we are here touring in Glasgow which is crazy to me.”
The echoes from downstairs vibrated through the old O2 Academy building. The goosebumps from Brian could be transferred to anyone in the room. The song ‘Fire’ ignited just that in him – fire. It was evident this was his song, the song he resonated with.
“We all have different favourite songs, so for me I would pick ‘Fire’. From the second record I would pick ‘No Mercy’. Very hard-hitting songs. We never really think of it that way when we release music like thinking ‘This is going to be big’ because you can’t set your expectations too high for that release because you are aiming for something that you want to be very humble about.
“We just like playing and recording music and sharing it with the world. We keep the same mentality with all the music we put out, we hope people like it and get what they want from it. We never go ‘this song is going to be massive’ because then if it is not the reaction you are expecting then you are going to get down on yourself whether it is to do with the writing or the musician.”
He looked down to check his phone, just a quick glance but a straining glance – his neck leaned more forward as he had a text from Lyndsey. He shined the phone forward, showing the other two people who made this happen, who inspired fans across the globe. But what inspired them?
“We find inspiration from all over. Like I said before, Lyndsey, Alex and I, we are all different musically – Lyndsey is such a great lyricist and writer herself, and Alex is such a great guitarist. I like more old soul, funk music and to incorporate it in myself. I like to mesh it with everything we produce.
“We like to play visual stuff like mountains, landscapes – all the beautiful things. We like to write sad music, so to say. I find beauty in something that holds that passion and realness. For me personally, I love Ben Howard. We are worlds apart but I like the passion in his songs and how he puts them together. You can really feel something with his music which is what we like to do.”
His face was a picture, a picture of appreciation. He stood engaged and enthusiastic. Brian felt the fans emotions and their excitement.
“The fans are unreal. They are not our fans; they are our friends. They have a great sense of humour. Everyone that is with us, they seem like they are there for the long haul. The people that have been there since day one are so great and loyal. Anytime I can, I’m out saying hello and interacting because they are such great people and they love what you love doing, and bring a great energy which rubs off on us and makes us perform and give that love back.”
The time slot drew to a close. An observation from Brian that his time in the UK had brought a sense of achievement. His ten-minute conversation with a Scotsman reminded him of his roots and gave him a sense of comfort in a place so far from him. His passion and love for Scotland was electric, much like his music.
“The UK is our second home. We love every spot we’ve been too. We have been able to walk around and travel for a bit. We made that a point with this tour. We have spent an hour or two at the beginning of the day adventuring the places and seeing new things and learn some history. I love it here; I want to live here so bad.”
Brian stuck his hand out. The appreciation was real. He was ready to show Glasgow their music and hear the adoration for their hard work.