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Interview/ In conversation with Queen Zee

Will Snelling recently spoke to pop-punk band Queen Zee for a conversation on influences, punk-politics and Lady Gaga.

By Will Snelling, Second year English

Will Snelling recently spoke to pop-punk band Queen Zee for a conversation on influences, punk-politics and Lady Gaga.

Queen Zee are not your typical macho rock band, nor are they purveyors of sanitised, commercial pop-punk; instead, they just do what feels good. That’s why their new album veers from squalid, depressive grunge to hand-clapping verses that reference Steely Dan without missing a beat. It makes for an endlessly exciting listen when stale uniformity can characterise so much rock music today. Here’s our conversation discussing influence, DIY ethics, punk politics, and Lady Gaga.

This is one of the first shows on your headline tour; how are you feeling about it? Pumped, nervous?

'A bit tired already! What happens is you have the energy for the first show, then the second, third shows wipe you out, then you get back on the horse.'

You’ve had lots of love from Iggy Pop and Liam Gallagher, and your new album was the Radio One album of the weekend. Do you feel overwhelmed by all this sudden attention?

'On the one hand, yeah, I’m a huge Iggy Pop fan, I’ve got ‘Fun House’ on 12”, my mum’s always playing it, it was one of those households. But on the other hand, I’m not really that bothered; you do it for yourself, and if no one liked it, if Liam Gallagher came out and said it was a load of crap, it wouldn’t bother me. But the compliments, yeah I’ll take it!'

You self released your debut album on your label, Sasstone Records; what drove the decision to take the album release into your own hands rather than going through another label?

'For the entire existence of Queen Zee, we’ve done it for ourselves; even from when we started, we practised from Jay’s bedroom in his parents' house. For the first year and a half, we’ve done all the artwork, the tour, everything, so why would we give that up? It’s allowed us to grow organically, so when we do take up one of the offers we’ve had from labels, we’re in a really good place to say “this is what Queen Zee is”.'

There is definitely a uniqueness to Queen Zee; you’re clearly part of but also distinct from the crop of punk artists that are gaining popularity at the moment.

'It’s interesting that there definitely seems to be an appetite for this type of music at the moment, which seems bizarre when you look at pop music and how tame a lot of it is, but there seems to be an opposite world to all that with Idles having a number three album. And you see the same energy in trap shows and EDM. I think a lot of the punk scene is so bland, it really irritates me. I love Idles because I love the chaos. But there are a lot of bands around them that are so boring, and I just think, how could you start a punk band and be boring? It’s the one thing that you’re not allowed to be! So we wanna be the opposite of anything like that.'

You clearly have an aggressive punk sound, but it is balanced by loads of infectious melodies and choruses. Was pop music a big influence on your songwriting style?

'[Our sound] is hard for us to describe, because as soon as you use ‘pop’ and ‘punk’ in the same sentence, people go like “oh, like Blink-182?” Not that I have anything against them, I love them… but I think its more punk-pop that pop-punk. I grew up obsessed with Kylie and Madonna and Gaga, and punk scene that was very, very aggro: Black Flag, guys taking their tops off and beating each other up. I kinda sat in the middle of that; I wasn’t aggro enough to be a true punk or clean enough or pretty enough to go and be a drag queen… So Queen Zee’s always sat in the middle, and that’s where I think you get the melody and aggression. Someone said it was like The Stooges covering the Scissor Sisters.'

That's a great description. The album has a very live, in-the-moment energy to it; how did you avoid losing your visceral live energy in the recording process?

'It’s really hard! You have to have faith in your imperfections. We went into the studio in the last session we did, and we weren’t allowed to do more that one take. We practised a few times, but once the mic was on, it was like: “Ok, here we go.” Our last single ‘Medicine’ is actually just a demo that we just cleaned up, and it sounds great! I’d rather hear a record that had a few imperfections but real energy and vibe than something overproduced and sanitised. We relate to music because of the catharsis it brings, its aggression, sadness, happiness, joy or whatever… and I think it's hard to get that from perfect music. When someone’s voice is literally breaking up as they scream, it's a beautiful thing.'

Your single, ‘Victim Age’, is pretty explicitly political in how it denounces right-wing politicians who portray themselves as anti-establishment; do you think as musicians you have a responsibility to be political?

'No, and I like it when a lot of bands aren’t, because I want my artists to be artists, I want them to make great music first. The thing is that we live in such a weird world, the guy from the Celebrity Apprentice is President of the United States, so if that’s not feeding into your psyche I don’t know what’s going on. So we’re almost accidentally political, and I feel that lots of our LGBTQ+ politics come from just being queer; I would love it if, with our songs about transgender people, it was thought of as a non-issue, if people thought, of course, I agree with this, but they don’t, and while we have this platform, of course, we’re gonna scream it from the rooftops.'

'But mostly we just try to write a good song. Like Rage Against the Machine have that [political message], but let’s be honest, they’re also a bit cheesy; we get it you’re not a capitalist! I watched Laura Jane Grace as a trans woman, walk onto the main stage of Reading and Leeds, and think, that’s amazing… that was enough. And if you go back and look at artists like Pete Burns, Freddie Mercury, Elton John, just existing, being artists and out in the open, is enough.'

You’re currently on a headline tour; do you feel that headlining requires a different kind of performance compared to being a support act?

'It’s weird; on the one hand, I really enjoy supporting because you feel like you’re part of another band’s story, and I’ve always been really honoured just to be there… watching Marmosets pushing into new territory, that was quite influential… the tour with Dream Wife blew my mind. So the pressure there is to do them justice. On a headline show, you’ve got to do yourself justice which is obviously quite intense! At the same time, you can let your hair down a bit more. And Queen Zee shows always have quite a fun vibe.'

Will you be doing any pre-gig ceremonies as a band before the show tonight?

'Yeah, we sing ‘Hey Ya’ by Outkast!'

And, what’s the first thing you do when you come off stage?

'I shoot over to the merch table straightaway because I like meeting people, people coming over and saying hello, hearing stories, criticisms, that’s the nicest bit. Then we go and pass out. Everyone thinks we go out and party, but we go back to the Travelodge, and watch First Dates.'

What’s next for Queen Zee?

'We were totally consumed with the first album, and now the ball’s rolling, it sort of feels like the machine is running itself. We’ll be writing loads; I want there to be more music out by the end of the year. We reckon we’ve got three or four albums worth of songs right now. The next thing is how do we take this to the next level. But the honest answer is I don’t know!'

Featured Image: Queen Zee/ Domino Records

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