Michael C. Hall spent years stabbing miscreants in the heart; these days, the eminently watchable Dexter and Six Feet Under star has a different MO. A mic in hand is his weapon of choice as frontman of Princess Goes, the NYC-based avant-rock trio releasing their second full length, Come of Age, on October 6.
The live stage is familiar to the versatile North Carolina–born performer. He was in a cover band in college—The Reptiles—that played one gig. More prominent music roles have included his star turn in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway (where he met Princess Goes bandmates Matt Katz-Bohen and Peter Yanowitz). Hall also starred in the David Bowie Broadway musical Lazarus. Indeed, a Bowie influence of futurism, freedom, and reinvention is present in the dozen songs on Princess Goes’ haunting Come of Age.
Ahead of that album’s release—and in the event of its latest single “Jetpack” debuting here today—we caught up with Hall by phone from North Carolina to talk songs, stage, and strikes.
Do you remember the gestation of the lyrics for your new single “Jetpack”?
I honestly can’t remember how much of the lyric existed before the music. I think the general notion of the opening lines is that we’re collectively on the other side of this promise of technological progress, that instead of flying cars, we all have outsourced brains that we carry around in our hands. There’s something people collectively recognize that’s pretty insidious about becoming increasingly dependent on and defined by that stuff. This idea of swapping out our lifeblood for something that connects us to a machine—it’s far from an original idea, but that was kind of the raw initial impulse for the lyric. I think musically it came out of a jam based on a progression that Matt had.
As an actor and creative, did you have visuals in your mind as you were working on “Jetpack”?
I think there were certainly a lot of images that were ugly. Lyrically, things are often a collage of images. They go along with different passages and sections, and that was definitely the case with this. “Jetpack” [has] a lyric video that features some of our new iconography. We don’t rule out the possibility of having a more visually expansive video for the song at some point. It could go a lot of different directions…some sort of claymation, [there are] artists that we’re talking to. And just the idea of looking into the mirror and not being completely confident that what’s looking back at you belongs to you.
After seeing Princess Goes live several times and watching you on TV, I feel like you have a restrained gravitas in your roles, and onstage with the band as well. Is this 100 percent you? Is it a character? Is it both?
It’s definitely me the whole time—I’m not possessed, and I’m not being impersonated by an imposter, so it’s 100 percent me. But there’s definitely some sort of way of being or characterization that emerges as the band evolves and as we perform live that’s unique to that context. I don’t have some sort of backstory for this fictional character that I’m embodying when I’m performing—it’s me, but it’s a sort of me in a very specific context. I don’t comport myself that way, not onstage fronting the band. But I think that’s true for all three of us. As I do shows with Matt and Peter I can see ways in which they are, or spirits of themselves that they embody that are unique to that context. It’s definitely not something that’s consciously considered or mapped out. It just evolves.
Were you a teenager in a basement playing in garage bands and listening to Rush, bouncing off the walls, doing mosh pit stuff?
I think any music or any bands that you really love, you in part love because you fantasize about being in the band. Being inside the creation of what you’re listening to. It lives in you, and then you can sort of imagine it coming out of you. So that was definitely how I enjoyed music when I was a kid, and probably still do. I didn’t do a lot of mosh pit stuff. When I was younger, crowds created in me a sense of discomfort and anxiety or aggression. I’m not an agoraphobic or anything, but I never did trust myself [laughs]. But I definitely had an impulse to collide with people and found ways to do that with athletics and stuff.
“We don’t have a charter or a mission statement, we just continue to collectively and individually make time to give this our focus when we’re able.”
I never had much of a talent as an instrumentalist, so I never really imagined I’d be in a band. There are plenty of examples of people who front bands and don’t play an instrument, but I got into the acting thing. I never really imagined this would be a part of the story but it’s one of the great pieces of luck of my life that I happened to hear those instrumental tracks that Peter and Matt had been making—and only heard that because I happened to do Hedwig, which led me to the Bowie thing in a way, and maybe gave me some sort of sense that I wouldn’t have otherwise had that I could do such a thing.
A lyrical phrase in “Whatever Whispers” haunts me: “What kind of glory are you looking for?” Can you tell me about that?
That didn’t seem to be in sync with the broader lyric that that song already had, which is a sense of the sacred, a sense of the divine, a sense of something that’s completely elusive, but closer than your tongue’s taste. That dichotomous thing. I think the question is haunting. I’m sort of haunted by it, too. It reminds me of that Bob Dylan line, “You gotta serve somebody.” Who are you serving? What are you serving? Is it a lesser glory, or a greater one? There are many defined and prized glories in this world that maybe aren’t ultimately glorifying if you pursue them above all other things. But all of that is sort of something I’m coming up with after having that phrase just occur to me.
You were filming Dexter: New Blood while in the band, correct? And Matt and Peter are in other bands as well. How do you guys prioritize?
We released the first full length record (2021’s Thanks for Coming) while we were shooting. We don’t have a charter or a mission statement, we just continue to collectively and individually make time to give this our focus when we’re able. I think we’re almost afraid to talk too explicitly about all that for fear that will extinguish something. I think we all appreciate and recognize that it’s a rare and special thing to find that sort of easy collaborative relationship with other people. So we continue to invest and reinvest our time and focus on doing it. The pandemic was an invitation to zero in, focusing on that first record. Right now, for me, there’s this ongoing writers/actors strike. Everything is shuttered, and broadly speaking, it’s pretty unfortunate. But it certainly makes the logistics of planning a tour to Europe easier.
I didn’t even think about that and your “other career.” Did you have acting roles upcoming that are now on hold?
There were plates that were spinning, and when all is said and done, I’ll find out whether or not they’re still spinning or if they’ve just crashed to the floor.
“I never really imagined this would be a part of the story but it’s one of the great pieces of luck of my life that I happened to hear those instrumental tracks that Peter and Matt had been making.”
There does seem to be more to come in the Dexter franchise—if that’s the right word. It feels sort of dirty to call it that…
Well, I think that’s how the people who maintain ownership over that intellectual property think of it. I think they have some different ideas in the works, which I think could be interesting. My involvement would be necessarily limited if it were to exist at all. All those conversations are suspended at the moment. I think it’s reasonable to expect that something drawing on that subject matter may…emerge [laughs].
Do you feel you’ve escaped the Dexter stereotype at this point?
Probably not. It depends on who you’re talking to and the context. For people who know me primarily or exclusively for that character, probably not. But time will tell. I couldn’t have dreamed Dexter up before it happened. The same goes for the band, and I’d like to think there are things on the horizon that I couldn’t possibly tell you about that I’ll look back on in the same way. But Dexter is a pretty big phenomenon in its way. I think plenty of people will associate me with that show and that character until I’m dead. And then afterwards, when they put it in the first paragraph of my obituary. FL