Downtime from Dexter: Michael C Hall brings his band to Dublin 

The New York star also had a role in David Bowie's play, and discusses his dual worlds of acting and music 
Downtime from Dexter: Michael C Hall brings his band to Dublin 

Michael C Hall as Dexter: his band, Princess Goes To The Butterfly Museum, 

“Bowie had a sort of alchemical power and I got the benefit” 

In the aftermath of David Bowie’s death in 2016, Michael C Hall was described as the late singer’s “representative” on earth. The quote was often repeated during Hall’s stint as the lead in the science-fiction musical Lazarus, written by Bowie and Irish playwright Enda Walsh, during runs in New York and London.

The main character, Thomas Jerome Newton, created by Walter Tevis for his 1963 novel The Man Who Fell To Earth was first played by Bowie in Nicholas Roeg’s 1976 film version. When Bowie decided to return the character, who partly inspired his Thin White Duke persona, Hall was handpicked for the role, having already garnered much acclaim with TV roles in Six Feet Under and Dexter, while also treading the boards on Broadway during a run of the glam rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

“It gave me some sense of licence to embark on this journey with these guys,” says Hall referring to Princess Goes To The Butterfly Museum, the New York art-rock band he fronts alongside drummer Peter Yanowitz and keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen.

“Not that I knew we were going to do this,” he says alongside the rest of the band on Zoom in advance of a European tour that also takes in Dublin. “It just sort of happened to us as much as anything. The man (Bowie) had a sort alchemical power and I got the benefit of absorbing or ingesting some of that. I think along with being reverential, as far as iconic status, I was also very much affected by the fact that he didn’t lead with that in his interpersonal life. As an artist, he was not of this earth but as a person, he was very down to earth and I was struck by how natural he was.

“Maybe he made some decision not to hold his status over people, he would diffuse that and look you in the eye with his genuine kindness and enthusiasm for collaborating with other artists,” adds Hall, who had announced in 2010 he was receiving treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma.

 It would appear the displaced character of Newton, as much as Bowie has acted as a catalyst. Stills of Bowie as Newton graced the artwork of Station to Station and Low, the character’s influence also spilled over into the work. Low’s shift away from rock towards synthesisers, Brian Eno’s ambient textures combined with unorthodox methods in the studio, a lean towards instrumental music and minimalist composers helped create a new musical landscape while being considered as the first record in Bowie’s Berlin trilogy.

“It’s fair to say that Low, Bowie in general and Eno are huge for us, also Berlin as a city and a state of mind”, explains keyboardist Katz-Bohen, also a member of Blondie

. The band’s debut album Thanks For Coming, released earlier this year, won critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. “It’s gratifying,” admits Hall of the overwhelmingly positive reviews, “but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves, we put the music first and are glad people are responding.” 

 A shift from one practice to another can have mixed results in the arts, while Hall suggests “these are my first shows outside New York, I’m a newbie”, the band have been together for almost four years. His theatrical work and some memorable performances alongside various Bowie alumni in his home city have provided notable succour, particularly with saxophonist Donny McCaslin from the Blackstar band. 

Michael C Hall with Peter Yanowitz and Matt Katz-Bohen in Princess Goes To The Butterfly Museum.
Michael C Hall with Peter Yanowitz and Matt Katz-Bohen in Princess Goes To The Butterfly Museum.

“I love Donny, we’ve done some tribute concerts where I was three feet away from him when he played the sax solo on Lazarus, it’s a transformative experience; he’s brilliant.”

 Peter Yanowitz who has previously worked with Yoko Ono adds: “We all stayed friends and kept the conversation going after being part of the Broadway show Hedwig and the Angry Inch, eventually we started making some music.”

 Hall adds: “I offered to sing and that was the beginning, we started making a whole bunch of songs and one thing led to another.”

 Unlike the characters he often portrays, the experience of writing lyrics has allowed Hall to draw upon personal experience and ideas. “What I do [in acting] is maybe predestined, where I’m coming from (lyrically) is not pretending to be someone else, these songs come from an unconscious place. Angela Peacock is about my first kindergarten girlfriend.” 

For Nevertheless, Hall drew upon “alien abduction” and “being injected with some kind of serum”.

Katz-Bohen, a graduate of the LaGuardia performing arts school where the film/series Fame was set, suggests: “We like to dress up with a bit of makeup, we appreciate a bit of glamour and wildness. Bowie is a great example of how he changed his image, we like to play with that and also in the way we write which is all evolving all the time. The fact we’re from a theatrical background lends itself well to the experience.” 

Michael C Hall and Sophia Anne Caruso in Lazarus, the David Bowie play directed by Enda Walsh. Picture: Jan Versweyveld
Michael C Hall and Sophia Anne Caruso in Lazarus, the David Bowie play directed by Enda Walsh. Picture: Jan Versweyveld

 Some late additions to the album were written when the world went into quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time Hall finished lyrics while considering the reprisal of another significant role in Dexter: New Blood.

 “There were many things that came together that created a circumstance where it made sense to go back. I was thinking about it while living with my wife and our dog in the middle of the woods, considering Dexter and what his life might be like. It was easy to absorb it from the setting I was in with him in mind living an isolated and monastic existence and more so at the height of the pandemic when I was putting the record together; it was all grist for the mill.”

 The character was reintroduced running through the woods chasing a white stag to the soundtrack of Iggy Pop’s Passenger from another Berlin album, Lust For Life. “One of the writers was interested in not just using score music and Passenger was suggested. It’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek nod to Dexter’s Dark Passenger, the song is whimsical, laid-back and badass like anything Iggy Pop does. It cuts just at the 'la-la-la' chorus Bowie sings on, it was fun that his voice worked its way in.” 

Hall gravitates towards the shared themes of “self-imposed exile” that manifest through both Dexter and Newton. “It’s a phenomenal coincidence, there’s something about Thomas Jerome Newton and Dexter but maybe there’s no such thing as a coincidence. I’m fascinated with someone who has the impulse to impose that on themselves and whatever frailty or trauma inspired such a choice, also the strength that goes with executing such a choice, all those things are interesting to me.” 

When not playing an alcoholic alien in his time away from the vigilante serial killer, Hall voiced the role of Batman in Justice League: Gods and Monsters. Was it a pleasurable distraction to play a less morally ambiguous character?

 “Dexter could be interpreted by some as Batman,” suggests Hall, “but he’s not interested in fighting the good fight; it’s more about managing his Dark Passenger. The Batman I voiced was in a different universe rather than the customary one but yes, it was a little less heavy with him.” 

  •  Princess Goes To The Butterfly Museum will play the Workman’s Club, Dublin on Wednesday, December 8
  •  Dexter: New Blood continues on Sky Atlantic 

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