PVRIS Lynn Gunn 2020 Use Me album Issue 384 interview
[Photo by: Sasha Samsonova]

In the last few years, PVRIS frontwoman Lynn Gunn has experienced significant ups and downs. The period around the release of the group’s second album, All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell, was marked by her experiencing fatigue and vocal problems. In the wake of these concerns, she was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases: ankylosing spondylitis and Crohn’s disease.

Gunn finally receiving clarity around her health problems coincided with the multi-instrumentalist/songwriter/producer also firmly defining her role within PVRIS. In fact, with the release of their third album, Use Me, Gunn is confidently stepping forward and staking her claim as the project’s sole creative lead. Although bassist/keyboardist Brian MacDonald remains an integral part of the PVRIS live experience, Gunn was Use Me’s driving force. Not only did she produce beats and write all the songs, but she also handled playing guitar, drums and bass.

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“It’s not a band, but it’s not a solo project,” she says. “I don’t know what it is—but it doesn’t matter what it is. This is what it is.”

In many ways, Use Me is a logical progression from All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell: Both albums merge sinewy pop beats and starry-eyed synths with hints of guitar grit. But just as the rigid divisions between pop and rock music have fallen away, Use Me also shape-shifts between genres—songs reference mainstream pop, soulful R&B, dance-floor-centric electro and gothic synth-pop—while boasting impeccable dynamic arrangements.

Gunn checked in with Alternative Press from Los Angeles, where she’s spent the last few months of downtime focused on reconnecting with herself. “I’ve been doing a lot of trying to break old habits as far as being productive and staying inspired [goes]—trying to get back into a creative writing mode and take advantage of what’s happening right now as far as being forced to be in one place,” she says. “I’m trying to crack open the creative little kid brain again because I feel like I got knocked out of it for a bit.”

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As I was reading the bio for Use Me, the line that really stood out to me was when you said, “I’m finally allowing myself to take credit.” I thought that was such a powerful statement. How difficult was it for you to get to that point where you were able to say that and back it up with action?

The whole majority of our career was battling with that. Brian and I are very much a unit when it comes to going on tour and playing onstage and every other aspect of what PVRIS are. But as far as creatively, it’s always been really singular; it’s just been me and whoever is producing our music. 

I had such a weird guilt, and a weird shame, around that for the longest time. In the last year or two, I finally noticed how much I’d shrink myself because of that. Comparing where I started—[when] I first started making music—to where I felt now, in a lot of ways, I felt a lot stronger and wiser. But at the same time, I also felt a lot smaller.

My ultimate intention with everything, not just music and career, but life right now, is to feel [as] free as possible, and just be, and be what I know I am and what I’m comfortable being. That’s very different from what I felt like I needed to be when we first started playing music.

Especially with making this album, I was flying around constantly and traveling around and going in different sessions alone and tracking alone and doing everything really singularly, just due to circumstances and how things are playing out within our scheduling. This album has been the most…I’m putting air quotes around “solo venture.” And so it felt the most appropriate to finally have everything align with that and to be real and open about it.

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I felt like I could never really actually talk about the creative process. When we first started out, I’d always sugarcoat things or fluff it and dumb it down. Creativity, and the process of making an album, making music [and] coming up with anything, is my favorite part of it. And it doesn’t feel good to not be able to talk about that and to be shrinking something that’s so important, exciting and valuable to me.

That’s another component. I want to be able to speak about it openly. And I also just think right now culturally, a lot of women are stepping forward and owning up to what they deserve now, so it’s been like a big building snowball of events to get here.

I totally get that. When you’re making something, sometimes your natural inclination is to say, “I couldn’t do this without help. I had help from other people.” You almost deflect the fact that you’ve really done a lot of it. But when you step back from it, you’re like, “What am I doing?” And you don’t even realize you’re doing it, I think. It’s almost like a habit you have to undo.

Especially as women, there’s so much of this wiring built into us for our entire lives that’s like, “Be quiet. Don’t make too much noise. Don’t be labeled as a bitch and don’t upset anybody. Even if you need to speak your truth or stand up for yourself in this situation, do it nicely, or don’t cause a scene.”

I think I’m fed up with it, and I think a lot of people are fed up with it at this point. It’s ironic: I put most of the pressure on myself more than anybody to shrink. And I think that’s [true] for a lot of people.

Musically, Use Me is a logical next step for PVRIS. It makes sense in terms of where you’ve been creatively, who you’ve been working with and what you’ve been exploring. What’s your take on it now that it’s done and you have a little bit of distance from it?

I’m really, really proud of it. I feel like it captures where I’ve been musically for a long time. Even on our second record, [2017’s All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell], it was what it was, but there are a lot of things as far as production that I think—pigeonholed is the wrong word, but leaned it to be a lot more rock-sounding. It still wasn’t totally where I envisioned our sound going. 

And working with JT [Daly on Use Me] was just amazing, because he fully gets it. He knows how to produce rock and organic, gritty sounds but also is great at creating this polished, dreamy atmosphere. He bridged it together really well and how I’ve always wanted it to come across.

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I’m thinking of Use Me as the new baseline of, at least sonically, where I want PVRIS’ music to be, which leaves it open to go anywhere. There’s a lot of different dynamics on the album. There are different routes you can go—there’s pretty downtempo [moments], as strict as it can be. We’ve never done an acoustic song with just vocals, and it has that. And then it has pretty explosive [songs] with big, gritty sounds, like “Dead Weight.” So there’s something for everybody.

That’s really what I want PVRIS to be. I don’t want it to really be any type of genre or something people can label. I want to make music that I want to listen to.

As PVRIS have evolved and progressed, how have you seen your connection to fans change? 

When we first started out, I was really, really engaged and always wanting to interact and connect. And then on our second album, when I started having all the vocal problems and being not in a really good place, I really shied away from everybody and was really distant—not from anything that they had done, but [I] felt really stuck in my head. I don’t know—I didn’t feel like I was the best version of myself. And so if I can’t do that, my tendency is to hide away and try to figure it out so I can come back out. [On] the second album cycle, I feel like I was really nervous and hiding and just afraid to connect with anybody and really sad. 

And I think this album cycle—and with the EP [Hallucinations] too and the most recent tours we’ve been doing and having my voice back—having that built back up and in a better place with that and performing and life in general, I’m so happy to be seeing everybody again and connecting again.