Princess Comes to Pittsburgh

Proclaiming Earth to be a misogynistic dystopia, the art-pop super duo Princess prepares a rocket ship to find a better world.

Proclaiming Earth to be a misogynistic dystopia, the art-pop super duo Princess prepares a rocket ship to find a better world.

So begins Out There, a series of music videos seamlessly joined into a 50-minute feature telling the tale of an epic journey through space, time, and consciousness itself. The piece is packed with stunning visuals, stop-motion animation, moving collages of found footage, constant split-second costume changes, and a lush and decidedly queer color scheme.

It follows the two band members, Alexis Gideon and Michael O’Neill as they take off from Earth, discover new planets, and encounter hostile aliens. Each of the ‘art-pop’ songs, rich with electric guitars, synthesizers, and rap solos, has its own distinct feel, its own setting in the space adventure, but together they act as one coherent work.

Out There tells its story with heart, camp, and a courage to experiment.

The film will be shown as a video/performance piece, with the duo playing the soundtrack live, in a world premier event at the Andy Warhol Museum on March 1st.

This will be followed by a NYC premiere at New Museum, as well as performances at MCA San Diego, Bass Museum of Art, MOCA Cleveland, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Wexner Center for the Arts, DePaul Art Museum, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Alabama Contemporary Art Center, Rochester Contemporary Art Center, Sarasota Museum of Art, Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh and others.

Out There is the band’s first project since 2006, and represents a reunification. Gideon has performed and exhibited around the world, from Stockholm to Cleveland and has toured internationally and opened for Dan Deacon  and tUnE-yArDs.  O’Neill has collaborated with JD Samson of Le Tigre forming the acclaimed art/performance band MEN. MEN toured extensively including at Coachella (USA) and with Gossip, Peaches and CSS. O’Neill has also performed in a long list of queer and indie-pop bands including The Ladybug TransistorAir Waves, The Ballet and The Aislers Set.

QueerPGH talked to Michael O’Neill about the piece.

QueerPGH: What can audiences expect from this piece?

O’Neill: Out There is a sci-fi feminist rock opera that we will perform live alongside a narrative video.  We describe the music as “art-pop psychedelica”.  It’s a one hour stop motion animated tale of two white men intent on putting an end to misogyny on earth.  Through a series of mishaps and self-discoveries, Princess realizes that their role in this reckoning should not be so actively engaged, but should rather be more passive and supportive towards women’s own voices and actions. 

QueerPGH: Is space travel a metaphor?

O’Neill: Yes! It’s a metaphor for an attempt to expand our consciousness and go beyond our notions of accepted norms and realities. It’s also a metaphor for toxic masculine delusions of our own importance.

QueerPGH: Is this a buddy movie or a love story?

O’Neill: In terms of the relationship between Princess themselves, we think of it as a story of male intimacy that mimics our real lives.  Though we never have been romantically involved, our love for each other runs deep.  I believe the connection you make with other musicians and collaborators is often similar to a romantic relationship.  Affection, trust, connection and at times abandonment and betrayal are all common emotions in both respects.  The song “Far Away” is a heart-wrenching reflection of the feelings Alexis and I went through when we first disbanded Princess in 2006.  And this new iteration as Princess is an epic reunion that has made us both creatively rejuvenated and inspired.

QueerPGH: How does it feel to do a live performance of this video piece?

O’Neill: The Andy Warhol museum performance will be the world premiere, so we don’t yet have any answer to this!  We hope the queer community in Pittsburgh will join us and set the tone for audience expectation as we embark on this tour.

QueerPGH: I felt like the religion/spirituality planet really speaks to a lot of queer encounters with religion. Does it reflect yours?

O’Neill: It’s true that I grew up a confused and closeted queer through 12 years of Catholic school in my childhood and yes, some of the Pious Planet ideas are commentary on the hypocritical nature of the church (hence the Bishop’s robe).  But a lot of that content also came from the concept of “Spiritual Materialism” – a term coined by Chogyam Trungpa, the founder of Shambhala, to describe narcissism and ego within the pursuit of spirituality.  Ironically, the Shambhala leadership has also come under fire for some gross missteps in sexual conduct, exemplifying another example of hypocrisy within a spiritual organization.

QueerPGH: Are there other queer video/performance artists that you’ve been inspired by?

O’Neill: Yes!  We are big fans of Wynne Greenwood’s project Tracy & the Plastics which also rode a fine line between music and performance art.   And I’m always blown away by Christeene, who pushes every boundary you can think of, and then some!

QueerPGH: After seeing the film, I feel like the Andy Warhol Museum was the perfect place to start your tour. Can you comment on this?

O’Neill: The Andy Warhol Museum was one of the first institutions to get behind and advocate for this piece. We are really grateful. Out There definitely has an affinity to Warhol’s work in both the extremely saturated and vivid color palette as well as questioning of gender norms and norms in general.

The world premier of Out There will be at the Andy Warhol Museum on March 1st, at 8pm. 

This article originally appeared on QueerPgh.com. This article is preserved as a part of the Q Archives project. Please consider donating to help preserve Pittsburgh’s Queer history.

Rachel Lange is a freelance writer and editor, a parent, an artist, and a "boomerang" Pittsburgher.