Queen Zee // In Conversation
I met with lead singer Zee before the group’s gig at the Hyde Park Book Club, to discuss the newly released album, music culture and Queen Zee’s explosion onto the scene. I was feeling quite intimidated about meeting someone with such a powerful stage presence, but I was quickly put at ease by her friendly smile and comfortably relaxed manner. “We played one of our first gigs in York, at the Fulford Arms!” Zee told me upon asking where I’d come from. There was something strangely reassuring about knowing that the band had roots in our very own Fulford Arms. We took a table and Zee smiled across at me expectantly.
So, how are you doing? It’s been 5 days since your debut album dropped, how have those past few days been for you?
“It’s been so busy! The week leading up to the release day, and then starting the tour now, it’s just been not a lot of sleep. But it’s just amazing, the response to it, it’s so good. We’ve done everything ourselves, it’s all DIY, and we really didn’t anticipate how big the reaction would be to it. Yeah, we’ve been really overwhelmed.”
Yeah, I saw that the album was rated 4 K’s in Kerrang, you’ve had BBC Radio coverage, it’s exciting.
“Yeah it’s amazing; we got 4 K’s in Kerrang, 4 stars in NME, it was Radio 1 track of the weekend…”
Let’s talk the album first then. Did you have a vision for the album when you started, and did that change as the album progressed?
“So it’s a bit weird, because the album was kind of recorded over a year or so, in different studios with different producers and stuff, and they were just done as tracks, because we were just going in to work on a handful of tracks. So I think the vision for it has actually always just been the vision for Queen Zee, more so than like the vision for that album in particular. But I actually think what’s interesting is that now, looking back at the album we go “Okay, that is what makes up Queen Zee”, and that actually influences us now to be like “Okay, that’s what it is”, because we’re not so sure ourselves! We’re just writing quite freely as we create.”
So, Raise Your Sissy Fists is a favourite opener for you guys when you perform, and it’s quite a provocative and angry song, in sound and in lyrics. I was wondering if you could tell me about what inspired those lyrics?
“Um. It was something my stepdad used to say to me quite a lot. I used to go boxing when I was a kid, because he was very aware that I was gonna kind of get beaten up and stuff, which he was, y’know, right about… Yeah, it was something he used to say when I’d go boxing. That was actually gonna be the name of the band – ‘The Sissy Fists’.”
Oh really? What made you end up going with Queen Zee then?
“I think I wanted to put my name in the title, just to be… egotistical?”
Was that part of the reason for dropping the “and The Sasstones” as well?
“Yeah, it was annoying me on festival posters that the name was really small because it was long. So Queen Zee, in a bold font. It’s happening, it’s popping.”
So who is Lucy Fur then?
“Lucy Fur is a fictional character, but the song’s based on how people at one point were so confused by lesbian love, that it had to be Satan; that was the only explanation, that it was Satan. So it’s basically playing on those images of “well, okay, if I’m a lesbian maybe I am a Satanist”. I don’t know, it’s a bit tongue in cheek.”
So how does the band’s creative process come together? You guys are a DIY band, doing everything yourselves, but when it comes to the music do you write collaboratively, or is more of an individual process?
“I mean, when I met Jay, who’s the other founding member of the band and plays guitar, he was writing instrumental music, kind of like instrumental black metally type stuff, and I was just writing kind of poetry, so that’s how the band started really. He was basically saying “put your lyrics to my music”. But as we’ve gone on, it’s more kind of someone just turns up with an idea, whether that’s a riff or a lyric of sometimes just a full song, and we just kinda jam until it’s all done. I’d say myself and Jay are the main songwriters.”
One thing that the band is known for is their electric, eccentric and energetic stage presence. Do you have any influences or inspirations when it comes to performance and image?
“Yeah! Not so much other bands, or anything, I think it’s more… Y’know, I’m very kind of visually focused, so I love a lot of films like the Mad Max films. For a long time I loved kind of how all their outfits were always sort of pieced together because they’re meant to be like scavengers and I really liked that. Also I really like a lot of superheroes and comic books, stuff like that.”
And besides the visual element, the other frequently noted thing about your gigs is the diversity of the audience members. You manage to draw in old greying punks alongside young queer kids and seemingly everyone inbetween. What is it about Queen Zee that attracts such a diverse audience? Did the diversity of your audience surprise you at first?
“No yeah, I wasn’t expecting it at all. And y’know, when we first started it, it was such a bizarre band that our drummer Dave saw us before he was in the band and he said it didn’t even feel like a show it felt almost like an art installation where there was very little music, there was just gear kinda being chucked around. So we thought “okay this is just going to be relegated to the fringes of music, and only be the weirdest people into it”. But I think as we’ve grown we’ve kind of crossed that boundary between punk and pop and queer culture and even just mainstream indie fans can kinda get into it as well. We did a show in Liverpool and there were kids there who’d seen us at pride in their rainbow makeup and stuff, and then there’s like old punks in their leather jackets and their mohawks and stuff, because they’ve seen us play punk shows. It’s really nice to see that intersection.”
I’ve heard you say that you feel that it’s your “duty to become a mainstream band” and I couldn’t be more supportive of that sentiment, Why do you feel that it’s so important for Queen Zee to be seen and heard?
“I think it’s because people… There’s two attitudes. The first attitude is that mainstream bands have to be bland, and that’s something I hate, because there’s loads of music out there that’s absolutely brilliant, do you know what I mean? For a long time, pop music was the realm where you could be eccentric and punk was where it was quite minimalist, whereas now that seems to have swapped. And the same with punk, I’d say that, as much as I love punks, and I love the punk scene, and I love my DIY crusty friends that I grew up with, I felt like there’s a bubble around it a little but, y’know, in terms of politics.
So for example, I would watch an anarchist band perform on stage to a bunch of other anarchists, talking about anarchism, and it would never leave that bubble because they all already agreed with them. Whereas it would have been brilliant if that band went and headlined Reading and Leeds. Y’know, let’s say, that 50,000 people in that 100,000 audience went ‘okay that isn’t for me’ but then 50, 000 people walked away and went “alright that’s a brilliant idea” then the world’s changed a little bit.
So I’m not necessarily saying Queen Zee as in me myself, I think bands like Queen Zee, artists that embody the same ideals and stuff, it would be beautiful to see them headlining Glastonbury.”
So what can the world do to better embody the ethos and energy of Queen Zee?
“I think, the main thing that everyone can do is, 1, look after yourself. That’s the first thing I can say. Y’know, if everybody checked themselves, and made sure that they were living their life the best they could, we wouldn’t need any messages because everybody would already be doing it.
The second thing I’d say, if people just got out a little bit more. At times I see people and they’re like “oh this is the first gig I’ve been to this year” and it’s like May or June? If we support artists and we support not just bands but artists, photographers, any creative, doing a poetry night or whatever, even just going to a small café like this (she gestures around the room) where it’s quite DIY. Spend your money. Don’t spend your money on amazon, give it to the people!”
Check out Queen Zee’s music here: https://queenzeeuk.bandcamp.com/