Celebrity

Penn Badgley explains the drama behind his “terrible” band name

He and his bandmates discuss how MOTHXR came to be and why they spell it with an "x".

By Kathy Iandoli

Let's get the basics out of the way: Yes, MOTHXR is fronted by none other than Penn Badgley, Gossip Girl's resident Lonely Boy. And while many actor-slash-musicians shun the roles that made them famous, Penn is awesomely cool with it all. The Brooklyn-based band, featuring Penn, Jimmy Giannopoulos (also of the Zoë Kravitz-led Lolawolf), Simon Oscroft, and Darren Will, formed a few years back as first a passion project that evolved into a full-time gig. The group's sound is an amalgam of vintage inspiration (think Hall & Oates) and present-day electro-rock vibes, but their greatest strength is their ability to translate it all live, as they're doing now on tour while promoting their debut album Centerfold. Cosmopolitan got a chance to sit down with the band over coffee and beer, and they broke down their genesis and where they plan to go from here.

You started MOTHXR as, in your words, a "fun project." So where was the part where you guys were like, "OKAY, we've got to start taking this seriously"?

Penn: When "Easy" came out. I mean, sometimes people are like, "Your hit, 'Easy!'" And technically, it's not even released. It wasn't a hit. We have a couple hundred thousand listens on SoundCloud, but even nowadays, it's like, what does that mean? But we knew well enough (that) there's interest. There's a reason for us to take this out of the realm of us just being really into it, and seeing if we can share it. What does sharing music mean? It means playing it for people.

Initially, you guys didn't have any intention of signing a deal. When did you decide that you wanted to sign with a label?

Jimmy: We talked to a bunch of different labels that were interested at first, and the song got a lot of hits on SoundCloud … and we basically had a few meetings. Then we told our manager, "We're not going to sign to any label that wants us to redo the record." We made this record as a Polaroid. It's a snapshot of what we did. This is it, this is what actually happened, here's the record. It was written while we were recording and we were all in the room, and that was between friends, a magic that we sort of created and we appreciate.

So are you planning on releasing more albums?

Penn: We'll all be making music for the rest of our lives, and we're certainly going to record more as a band that we have and we're gonna release more. I just think that the way the industry is changing and the world is changing, it might make more sense in two years for bands to have a different band name every time. I mean, who knows? It's like at this point, everything's so fluid.

Jimmy: Yeah, maybe for our next record, we'll replace all of us with other people and we'll write the whole record. Like, 17-year-old girls from Japan, and we'll be like, "Alright, you're going out as MOTHXR now." We'll make the dopest thrash record!

Penn: It's almost a terrible idea, but if you commit to it and do it, it's a brilliant idea. So the chances are we won't do that, but what the fuck if we did?

Speaking of band names, you had a lawsuit for MOTHXR?

Penn: We got a cease and desist from another MOTHER, but the funny thing is that there are actually many MOTHERs and they just chose to pick on us. Not pick on us; I shouldn't say that.

Jimmy: No, they fucked with us because they were thinking, "Well, Penn's in the band and Penn has had some success on television!" So they're like, "Oh cool, we're gonna go and hit them up for money!"

Penn: I don't think it was that. I don't think they were grabbing for money, to be honest. As a credit to them, I think they were just like, "This is our band name. We don't like that someone's poaching on our thing." And that's understandable; but quite frankly, it's a name that exists in many other places and many other arenas. They weren't trying to sue us; they were just trying to sue us from being called MOTHER.

Jimmy: Maybe they just hated the band. But they just didn't want us to use the fucking name. So we changed a letter. But I said this before and I'll say it again: Those guys are fucking morons and so are we because we all chose the name MOTHER. It's a terrible name!

A Google nightmare!

Jimmy: None of us should be MOTHER! It's true. They're dumb because they chose MOTHER, we're dumb because we chose MOTHXR. We both chose bad band names.

Penn: Yeah, we can go on record saying it's a terrible band name.

How do you all know each other?

Jimmy: I was on tour with Darren, and we said when we get to L.A. when the tour's over ... let's record. I'll bring some gear. We were broke. So we got there on a free ride because we toured there, we got paid a little scratch from doing the tour, and we're like fuck it, we can stay here at an Airbnb and record for three or four weeks. Then Simon lived down the block, and I was like, "Let me call my friend Simon, he lives down the block." He was gonna come over for maybe a couple hours to play, but he just came and never left.

Penn: And that way there was no preconceived yes or no. It was just kind of like, it is what it is, and we were all so comfortable and natural with it.

Simon: Yeah, we did a song in the first night, done. The first track on the record! It was the first song, the first night of ever really meeting each other, especially for me and Darren in a proper setting.

Penn: I knew Darren pretty well but did not know Simon well at all. Simon and I had hung out like twice.

Simon: And now we're best friends!

At your shows, what's the gender breakdown of fans? You're all pretty hot.

Jimmy: Different cities, different crowds.

Penn: It's a healthy mixture, I'd say. We have to be and are grateful for the fans that Gossip Girl might bring in. In the beginning, there was probably a predominant thing there, depending on the city. If we were in some random place and all we were getting were the people I was tweeting at, OKAY, fine, great. Sometimes we'll almost sell out a little club that way. And then sometimes, when we play in (a place) like Brooklyn, there's a lot of music listeners there, a lot of mature, smart music heads. Not that Gossip Girl fans aren't, but there's obviously a dichotomy and a dynamic. I think increasingly, our audience reflects the music, which is actually diverse and actually musical.

Simon: You also gotta understand, a new band spends half their time playing for people (who came to see) other bands. So we've done that, and it's been funny seeing us play in front of the headliner's crowd and win them over, and them not know who we are or even who Penn is.

Penn: Our first show, literally, my sister and her husband were two of the five people there in Baltimore.

Penn, in your opinion, which is harder — filming a TV show or cutting an album?

Penn: They come with the exact same set of difficulties that take a different shape. So making a record as we did it, the only problems come from within. There was no one in our way except ourselves. When you're making a show or a movie, there are a million people and things in your way. As an actor, you're like a glorified session musician or player. You really are. And so to me, having come from that world for a long time professionally, this is way more active and engaged, so that's why I've been devoting my time to it.

Were you concerned at all that you weren't going to be able to escape the acting, going into musician mode?

Penn: No, I was never concerned. Maybe I was fucking delusional to think that I wouldn't get pigeonholed, because who's to say that I'm still not? But I know who I am at the end of the day. I'm aware, and at my most insecure, there have been times where I'm like, "Wow, what if I never stick with this?" Those days are over I think. Those long nights are gone. Now the nights are long for a different reason.

Sourc: Cosmo US