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Penn Badgley on Acting, Inspirations, Love, and his band Mothxr

Penn Badgley is shedding all past stereotypes and coming into his own as a musician with his band Mothxr, currently touring the US. You may know him from his scandalous role on Gossip Girl as Dan Humphrey, but believe me, he's the furthest thing from it. At his core, Penn is a creative soul that looks inward and draws inspiration from spirituality and pure joy. With the release of their album Centerfold, Mothxr has been taking the world by storm with US & Europe tours alongside The Neighborhood, Polica, and Charles Bradley (tour dates here). Read on to get the full scoop on his new wave indie-rock sound, inspirations, acting, jazz hands, and the golden question of, "is he single?!"

So let’s start by talking about your upcoming tour and your touring so far, what kind of crowds have you been getting?

A: Well we really started touring in March with The Neighborhood, and continued touring in April and May with Polica and Charles Bradley. Now we have a 10-day break in New York, and we will be getting back out there for 6 days with The Neighborhood right after the festival. You can see their touring dates here. Europe was a lot of fun, we played Zurich, Munich, Brussels, two shows in Paris, one with The Neighborhood, we did Milan, also a few shows in London with The Neighborhood and a show or two on our own. We were on the road most of the tour because we were driving everywhere ourselves, and we can't imagine driving around without GPS. As much as everyone longs for the good old days, I can't imagine trying to get around with a map, and plus the food is a lot better now. As for the crowds, we got a lot of variety because we toured so much as a supporting act. So with The Neighborhood, it's a predominantly young, female crowd. With Polica, you get more diversity and a lot of older white guys with beards -laughs- And Charles Bradley has an insanely diverse crowd and great fans, so that was fun. It's always interesting to win the crowd over as a supporting act, and it's been great getting positive feedback from people that came to see the headliner and loved our music as well.

Q: Where have been some of your favorite shows?

A: We loved Munich and Brussels, both had great crowds. Paris is always fun. We have a pretty good pull in London, our shows are always packed and rowdy with a diverse crowd, and I'd say the same for LA and New York. We really love those three cities for our own shows. Columbus, Ohio is always a lot of fun.

Q: I was not expecting for Columbus, Ohio to be on that list!

A: Yeah, it's surprising but it's always a great crowd! I don't know that much about the city itself, but there is always a great response to our music and very engaging fans. And we're at the point that if we go to the city and there's a strong response, that means these people have their ear to the ground. It's not like we're a huge band yet, at all. So if we're doing a headline show and we get an interesting crowd that's into our work and knows the record, that means you're going to have a great time playing for them.

Q: It seems like those people are more curious to the music scene and more open-minded.

A: Well, I think that just having people hear our work if we're not headlining and not walking out means we're doing something right. We've never played any shut-down shows, and if we get an audience that's not as engaging, we try to get them excited and dancing pretty quick. We always meant this to be a band that plays great live shows. That was always the key, there was never an option to be anything else. All of these guys are incredible musicians that knew how to make that happen. The way that we had to adapt the music to the live shows has been a lot of fun.

Q: How would you describe the sound of Mothxr?

A: To simply put, I would say new wave indie-rock with a heavy R&B influence. I've never really sung anything other than R&B, for better or worse. So just in that sense, as the singer and the lyricist, and co-songwriter and person of influence in the project, it came about naturally. I remember when we were recording Easy, and it started to become this clunky, industrial thing, we all took a break and when we came back in, I decided to re-sing it and fool around a bit to see what needs to happen. Very minor changes that I made, but they had a huge impact on the song, and that's when I knew that my R&B influence really came in and made a stamp on a particular track.

Q: So how long have you been singing for?

A: I've been singing my whole life, but the first time I sang professionally was when I was 24, in a film where I was playing Jeff Buckley. I've always loved it, so I'm very happy that I get to sing almost everyday with the band.

Q: So I'm guessing you really enjoy your karaoke nights, huh?

A: I actually have a funny story about that! One night we went out and I chose to “Get It On” by Marvin Gaye and Jim just went, “woah where did that come from? I definitely want to work with this guy.” The truth is since we met a few years back, we always wanted to work together, it was just a matter of time.

Q: How do you see the sound of the band evolving, and have you noticed any changes since when you first started?

A: Whereas the sound that's going to evolve on record, that's hard to say. Now when I hear our past record, it seems very immature. I think playing the live shows allows us to mature our sound more, and gives us more room to play around. It's tough to say objectively, how we're evolving. The live shows are definitely growing and getting better, so that's continuously evolving. Just me singing, I've grown so much. I think that I will go into the next record with a wider range, and understanding and capacity what it is that I want to do. This first record was all of us getting to know each other, and the next will be exploring how we can push barriers.

Q: Do you plan to release another album?

A: Yes we do! The first record was very synergistic, we just started creating and never stopped until we finished it. The second record will have more deliberate statements, and more range. The first record to me is more of a concept album, and the second record will have longer songs and a wider range. That comes about naturally, as we are getting more older and experimental.

Q: As a lyricist, where do you find the inspiration for your subject matter?

A: Where don't I find inspiration for my subject matter? First and foremost, from spirituality and a reality that no one can explain or understand. So to me, my spiritual grasp on reality influences and changes everything. I was heavily influenced by Persian mysticism and Sufi poetry for the first record. The first record sounds like it's all talking about sex, but the truth is that it's talking about spirituality and god. The truth is, I'm using sex as an allegory because it's easier to relate to, maybe? Personally on the second record, I want to use a wider range of allegories. On the first album, I toiled about what I was saying so even if I'm not saying much, there is a lot of meaning behind it. On the second record, I want to be more clear and direct with what I'm saying, more honest.

Q: Who are your musical influences?

A: There are three artists that heavily inspire me and the band, and that would be D"Angelo, Kendrick Lamar, and Chance the Rapper. To me, it's their faith and the fact that they are all deeply religious. It's amazing how well they incorporate faith and spirituality into their music, and I think we need more music that's joyous. Frankly, i find darkness to be played out by this point. And Chance the Rapper is coming out with joyous, childlike sound that you don't hear often nowadays. I feel like we've all been hearing it in our heads for a while, so it's great to hear that in reality. I think it takes real courage to write a happy song and put yourself out there. I think music's job should be to raise us up, and to be a ladder to the soul. The strength of gentleness and the strength of innocence is so profound, that we don't know how to react to it.

Q: Also, how did you come up with the band name? I saw you had a lawsuit over mother!

A: It was kind of a joke that stuck, and I'm kind of glad it stuck. I think the band name starts to sound like the music. I just hope in time people recognize us enough to know how to pronounce it. (mother)

Q: So, obviously you are well-recognized from your role on Gossip Girl, anything you’d like to say to those fans that are now following your music?

A: Thank you, that’s really all. Dan Humphrey is a character and Gossip Girl was just a show, I don’t have any real attachment to them. I’m very grateful for all of the opportunities that being on the show has given me, and who’s to say this band would be anything without that exposure. I just want to say thank you to all my fans, really.

Q: As your tour more and become ‘one of the band’, do you get people that don’t recognize you from acting? How does that feel?

A: That’s very funny actually, because I can tell that people mention the band even though they know me from the show first to get brownie points, or maybe they are familiar with the band and the show, but choose to mention the band. It’s a great feeling. It shows me that they respect what we’re doing, and if they only talk about the show, they’re pigeon-holing me and everyone else. I’ve finally reached a place of neutrality, it’s ridiculous not to acknowledge

Q: What were some of your favorite roles in acting, and do you see yourself acting in the future?

A: My favorite role so far was when I played Jeff Buckley. It was an enormous experience for me in many ways. I’ve done many roles, both roles that I needed, and roles that I wanted. Being on a television show for 6 years and all that goes with it, I hope to act and play music in the future. I loved the Jeff Buckley role because it was the most honest and challenging thing I’ve ever done creatively. It was refreshing to play a real character that made real music. One disclaimer I will give though, is that in the movie, I try to evoke the same things he was trying to evoke. It allows you to not be constrained by surface-level nuances, and I didn’t even know if it was worth it to augment my voice to mimic his pitch. Rather than that, I subtly evoked his tone and cadence instead of the exact pitch.

Q: What would be your perfect role?

A: That one was perfect because I got to play a lot of music and I got to act my ass off. I cannot overstate what an incredible time I had on that film. It was the perfect situation and the perfect role, getting to do everything I want and nothing I don’t. It’s a humble little movie, but it’s very honest and genuine.

Q: Let’s get personal, I’m sure many people are wondering if you’re single?

A: I am not, actually. I've been in a very happy 2-year relationship and more in love now than ever. I don’t know if people are asking, but I’m usually very private about that.

Q: I'm pretty sure I just heard some hearts audibly breaking. Let's do some rapid-fire questions.

10 favorites:

Favorite band: Chance the rapper

Favorite city: Paris

Favorite book: The Seven Valleys of Spirituality by Attar of Nishapur

Favorite car: I’m not too much into cars, but it would be an old-school Volvo

Favorite food: Greek food

Favorite animal: my dog, he’s a Siberian Husky named Ku

Favorite movie: Being There, it’s a Peter Sellers movie.

Secret skill: Drawing and dancing. I took jazz and contemporary classes quite a few years back.

Craziest story: I would say it was more of a chain of crazy events. I got a tattoo, went skydiving, and went to Las Vegas all in the same 24-hour period. None of it was planned prior, and we nearly went skydiving in tailored suits, nearly missed all of our flights, and made no money in Vegas. It wasn’t as debaucherously as it sounds, but it wasn’t wholly innocent either.

Q: Lastly, if you weren’t acting and creating music, what would you be doing?

I really have no ideas, maybe dancing and drawing, or even drawing while dancing. It can be the new craze. But in all seriousness, I would be writing. I’ve always been a very creative person, and I can’t work in a field that doesn’t allow me to express myself.

Follow Penn and Mothxr here:

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