‘Use Me,’ the latest album by alternative rock outfit PVRIS, sees Lynn Gunn finally owning her story – and the result is quite possibly her finest work to date.
Stream: ‘Use Me’ – PVRIS
The world looks a lot different than it did only six months ago. Change is an irrepressible part of life, but it’s seemed to happen in fast motion this year. For Lynn Gunn, frontwoman of three-piece Warped Tour holdouts PVRIS, it was only the end of a long and arduous road. Since the band’s inception in 2012, she allowed herself to take a backseat to the group’s image as a unit. “Coming from a ‘band culture,’ it’s about how the group is always greater than the sum of its parts, and you’re not supposed to take credit, even if you do everything,” she admits. “I wanted to make everyone else happy and uphold an image I thought we had to.”
Eight years on, a new image emerged. As it turns out, Gunn has been PVRIS’ sole architect the whole time, assuming the songwriting, instrumentation, and production duties from the start.
I was always strong and in the power seat, but I had to own it externally. I made a decision not to shrink myself again and to truly be seen for the first time in my art. I was finally able to take ownership for the things I’ve done and continue to do as PVRIS. It was a new era for me.
Her arrival here didn’t happen smoothly. While touring her previous effort, 2017’s All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell, her health began to deteriorate. Vocal problems, stage fright, and severe pain in her back, ribs, and joints made every show an ordeal. After visits to several doctors on the road, she discovered that her ailments were caused by an autoimmune disease. Only a year later, a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease piled onto an already burnt out Gunn. Battling wave after wave of health issues, along with music industry-related hardships, and the dissolution of a long-term relationship, she channeled all of the pain and energy into PVRIS’ next chapter.
For better or worse, raw emotion bleeds through in art, revealing itself in the labored brush strokes or tortured sounds of a wounded heart. But it also belies power, the drive to excise, understand, and push on stronger than before. Not every artist achieves such catharsis in their work, but for those that do, the result is often sublime. With Use Me, the end result of two years’ turmoil and subsequent triumph, Gunn achieves this tenuous balance. She steps into the spotlight with the assurance of someone who’s always belonged there. She bears her soul with abandon to deliver her most polished and heart-wrenchingly raw statement of her career.
Her exhaustion rings through from the foreboding throb of album opener “Gimme a Minute.”
A year of lows spent so high
Feeling like I’m out of time
Inner peace is hard to find
They’re asking why I think I’m losing my mind.
The pressure mounts until it explodes in stadium-blasting pomp like a roided-out “Knights of Cydonia.” I’’s the antithesis of meditative exhalation, but sometimes an explosion is much more therapeutic.
“I was exhausted, and I felt like shit all of the time,” admits Gunn. “For so long, I’d opened myself up to being used and always had trouble setting boundaries in all areas of life.” There’s a power in saying “no.” We’re conditioned to give until we have nothing left for ourselves. But in stepping away and stepping up for herself, Gunn created an exultant work of self-care. “It made me actualize my strength, resilience, and toughness. I turned hardships into lessons. It was about taking action.”
Use Me is all action from start to finish. Heavy, anxiety-fueled tracks eventually settling into meditative works of emotional exploration. Early anthem “Dead Weight” rides a fuzzed-out, staccato pop groove, while Gunn declares, “So sick of being your giver, throwing my soul away.” Later, the whirlwind gives way to “January Rain,” an acoustic lament on persisting feelings after a breakup. Just because the dust settles, doesn’t mean the pain or hardship dissipates. It becomes a part of us like a tattoo that we sometimes forget about until we see it in a mirror.
Watch: “Dead Weight” – PVRIS
Elsewhere, the pop stomp-along “Good to Be Alive,” lingers on the dichotomy between feeling grateful and overwhelmed by the pressures of life even as the song swings between glittery pop rock and glitchy grunge noise. “It’s good to be alive, but I hate my life,” is a thought more than a few of us have experienced. “We live in a culture and in an industry where so much value and focus is placed on instantaneous results and grinding yourself down to nothing in order to “get shit done,” stay on top, and stay moving to the next thing,” says Gunn, referencing the song. “If you’re in a machine that is moving so quickly, it can be so hard to speak up and ask for it to stop of ask for help. It can be unsustainable. Stepping away to take care of yourself is so powerful.”
If Use Me is the sound of Gunn taking care of herself, it reads like the natural result of everything PVRIS has led to over the years. It’s forward-looking and engaged in pushing the boundaries of her sound – never mired in nostalgia or what the band has been. She owns her position as captain of this vessel and steers PVRIS through uncharted waters with the deft hand of a master of her craft.
We caught up with Lynn Gunn earlier in the summer to talk all about Use Me (which unfortunately suffered a couple pushbacks due to the pandemic), keeping sane in uncertain times, and prioritizing yourself in your own life. Check out our conversation below.
Watch: “Hallucinations” – PVRIS
A CONVERSATION WITH PVRIS
Atwood Magazine: Though you’ve always been in the driver’s seat, Use Me is the first album you’re taking full credit for as an artist. What led you to that decision?
Lynn Gunn: Things were naturally leading this direction and with this album, the entire process, from writing to tracking and finalizing the production with JT, was very singular and I was doing alone. Eventually we had a talk about it and my bandmates gave me full support and encouragement for this to be the next chapter.
I’d always felt uncomfortable and afraid to own the amount of work I was putting into the creative, I always felt a huge pressure to shrink and uphold a dynamic that wasn’t really aligned with how things have been. I could definitely feel it effecting my mental health and creativity and was feeling detached. Ultimately I just want to be transparent and feel free, this was sort of a step in order to fully feel that. I also think we’re in a moment in time where these changes are needed, it’s important for me as a woman to step up and be supported doing that and its important to challenge what we’re labeling things/defining things by in music.
Music has always been the best outlet for me to put the hard experiences. It turns them into something positive and something tangible hopefully for people to connect with in some way.
From your various diagnoses, to weathering a shifting music industry, to the end of a relationship, this album came out of a lot of hardship. Can you talk a little about how you started manifesting it all into Use Me?
Lynn Gunn: I felt really run down and felt like my body was self destructing on me for a large part of the recording process so there’s definitely a lot of references to that. Music has always been the best outlet for me to put the hard experiences. It turns them into something positive and something tangible hopefully for people to connect with in some way.
What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome in bringing this album to life?
Lynn Gunn: Honestly, just navigating my health issues and working through the ebb and flow of them. Things were pretty inconsistent and hard to predict, there was a lot of that album process that I just felt really sick and not fully present/unable to show up fully. There was a lot of focus on just working around that and trying our best to capture the good moments when things felt energized and on the right track. JT was incredibly patient and understanding with this so I’m super grateful for that.
'Gimme a Minute' speaks to not only the incredible pressures you were under, but to how modern life seems to impact everyone, and how trauma can reemerge over and over again. Do you think there’s power in stepping away from the madness to collect or re-center yourself?
Lynn Gunn: Absolutely. I think there’s so much power in that. We live in a culture and in an industry where so much value and focus is placed on instantaneous results and grinding yourself down to nothing in order to “get shit done”, stay on top, and stay moving to the next thing. If you’re in a machine that is moving so quickly, it can be so hard to speak up and ask for it to stop or ask for help. It can be unsustainable. Stepping away to take care of yourself is so powerful.
This has probably been an interesting lead up to an album release if for no other reason than that we’ve been in lockdown for a while now. What have you been doing to stay creative during this interesting time?
Lynn Gunn: I’ve been going out into nature a lot. That always keeps me inspired and feels like a reset. I’ve also been really inspired by creating and curating my home! I’ve wanted to get into interior design for a while, so experimenting on my own place has been really fun and inspiring. Slowly putting that together…
Though we create art from a personal place, often that meaning can change depending on a listener’s lived experience. What do you hope people take away from Use Me having gone through such a time of fear and insecurity in quarantine?
Lynn Gunn: I hope they can take away any type of comfort or empowerment or peace from it. Really just as long as it can provide some distraction or joy in a time where that feels hard to find.
I think ultimately, when we know we’re not alone in something it can bring some comfort.
The line “Feels good to be alive, but I hate my life” from “Good to Be Alive” feels especially relevant now. Do you think there’s any sense of relief in knowing that we’re all going through this together? Is there anything you can do as an artist to alleviate that sense of anxiety for fans?
Lynn Gunn: Definitely, I think ultimately, when we know we’re not alone in something it can bring some comfort. I don’t know all the right answers and I myself am navigating a lot of these anxieties that everyone is feeling. I think being transparent about that is okay. My number one plan to try and alleviate any bit of anxiety is to keep creating new material as well as finding ways for us to give back/come together in some ways.
What’s up next for PVRIS? Is the tour with Halsey still on in theory?
PVRIS: We’re hoping it’s still on the books but we’ll see! Biggest focus is working on new music/another release and arranging some cool live-stream type performances.
What’s the first thing you want to do when the Stay Home Orders are finally lifted?
Lynn Gunn: Have a huge dinner party with all my favorite people! Or travel overseas!
What are three PVRIS songs that are perfect for a quarantine playlist?
Lynn Gunn: “Good To Be Alive!” “White Noise!” “Gimme A Minute!”
© Sasha Samsonova
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