Queen Zee are rapidly garnering attention, for all the right reasons. Under their recent accolades are a UK tour with grrrl punk trio Dream Wife, and a sold-out hometown headline show. The band weren't made to fit amongst the rest. Instead, their music is bold, brash, and queer, and they're not afraid who knows it.
"Liverpool's got such a history of being a music city, you don't even need to mention The Beatles and Echo & The Bunnymen, but the scene has always been compartmentalised," says vocalist Zena about being queer in the band's birthplace. "It's got these individual scenes that all seem to do their own thing in their own microcosms without crossing over. So, a band like ourselves, there wasn't any one particular group that really sat well.
"Bands like Dead or Alive and Frankie Goes To Hollywood set the path for the current queer scene, and bands like Sonic Yootha [a Liverpudlian queer club night] have just done an arena tour with Kylie, so there is that movement there.
"In terms of guitar bands and being involved in the queer scene, it doesn't exist really. I'd say Queen Zee is the only thing that's come out recently. We've come out the punk scene as a queer band, rather than coming out the queer scene as a punk band."
Listen to the band's single ‘Porno', or any of the tracks from their ferocious debut, and you'll realise that they couldn't care less about what people think of them.
"We haven't had massive difficulties," Zena says regarding what the response has been like to the band's distinct identity and character. "Liverpool is a very left leaning and accepting city, but obviously we have had our issues, and we have had people be abusive in particular ways and so on.
"I wouldn't necessarily say it's harmed Queen Zee, or harmed what we've been doing, but I think it's something every queer artist in every city all over the world experiences. There are particular people who are uncomfortable with the queer identity and are uncomfortable around queer nature, so for someone to come out and be overly queer that makes people not necessarily want to work with you."
Queen Zee seem to be the antidote for the underdogs and the outcasts. Several of the tracks on their self-titled debut address feelings of being different, through empowering punk compositions.
"I don't ever expect my musicians to talk about their ethics in their art, I do always say I'd want an artist to put their art first and what they create is what they create," Zena says with admirable honesty. "You have someone like Peaches who is hypersexual and talks about issues and really gets out there, or you have someone [where] it has nothing to do with their music, to me that's totally fine.
"With Queen Zee, I'd say it's just been a natural thing, whenever I write a song it comes naturally, whether it's from the past or something that's happened recently, or that I'm harbouring. It's almost coincidental that it's LGBTQ+ orientated and it's almost like the fact these issues have come out recently has coincided with Queen Zee happening recently."
As Queen Zee are such a candid band, it's hard to imagine that there's ever been a topic that Zena has been too afraid or wary of addressing.
"When I started Queen Zee there was nothing that I was scared of saying or doing; it was very uncensored. I'd say the more we cross over into a mainstream world, the more I feel the effects. We can play a song and say, 'Yeah, this is for the LGBTQ+ community!' Sometimes you can sense people being uncomfortable and sense the mood change. That being said, it hasn't really stopped us. We're writing for album two at the moment, and it's similar content. We're writing about experiences that affect us. The more the band grows, the more you feel the effects. It happens to everyone."
It's not just the lyrics that are attracting people's attention to the colourful five-piece, but the music itself is hard to pinpoint. There are elements of pop, grunge, indie and punk, all thrown together in an upbeat and triumphant mix.
"That's one of the things that I love about being in Queen Zee, everyone in the band does have a completely different music taste. There's very little that we can agree on. I'd probably say the only bands we come close to agreeing on are The Breeders, [and] we smash a lot of Pixies in the van.
"I'm a huge Iggy Pop fan, huge Stooges fan, I love a lot of the older punk stuff like The Damned, X and Black Flag. That said, I also have this huge pop fandom in my brain, I smash a lot of Britney Spears. I think Queen Zee is the horrible result of mixing those two together," Zena says with a smile.
The band's personality is also translated in their look. Just watch one of their music videos, or go on their social media and you'll be greeted with flashes of pink, garish patterns and makeup reminiscent of the colours in a crayon box, all with a gothic and punk twist.
"I love Grace Jones, even today [she doesn't] care; that kind of power [is what] our current artists lack," Zena says on the topic of pop culture. "Even whether it's indie or underground bands or it's bigger pop acts, I think stardom is fading. Even though I wouldn't say I'm a huge Madonna fan, I can look back on Madonna's shows and the chaos of it in the 80s and go 'that's amazing'. Even if you look towards [Lady] Gaga, I'd say the same; there's been very few recently who have managed to come out and be as outrageous.
"I'd like to see a bit more outrage, and that's why I like Rocky Horror, cause it's almost like it might make your Nan cry, but she might also dance to it, you don't know. That's what we want, to be palatable enough and to be fun enough to gauge people. We're not scary; we're not here to alienate people, it's not Marilyn Manson. But at the same time, it is also not bland, and not totally flaccid."
It's this digestible yet exciting sensation that Queen Zee conjure up with perfect execution on their debut.
"This record is nostalgic in a sense, and it's looking backwards rather than forward," Zena reflects. "Queen Zee had a bizarre backstory; it's not four guys who met at uni, it's been this constant strange existence. As this is our first record, doing it on our own label, we kind of just wanted to chronicle that - everything we've released so far with few new tracks.
"We went into the studio this time last year with the intention of writing an album; I think we did ten songs in total, only one of those ended up on this record. That was a point where we weren't happy with what we wanted the debut to be; we wanted it to be this flag in the ground, this is it from here onwards, we want people to know what we are and what we're about.
"Those ten tracks weren't really doing it, so we looked back at the catalogue we already had out and said this is what Queen Zee is so far, let's embrace that. The two tracks ‘Loner' and ‘Lucy Fur' are the best examples of us right now. Whereas some of those tracks we recorded this time last year might end up on the next [album] or the one after that, they're just a little too different from what we're already doing."
As a band that can be labelled as outrageous and unlike the rest, the thought of the next audacious move always comes to mind. However, what's refreshing is how down to earth they seem underneath it all.
"I'm kinda just happy doing what we're doing," Zena says about what she wants the future to hold for the band. "Every time we play a show, it's amazing, and I love doing it. In terms of politics, I don't mean to be vocal, I think I'm accidentally vocal, but for me, the biggest thing is to give that hour or half an hour on stage, or on a record, where people can forget everything else happening, almost escapism where you can lose yourself.
"To do that on the biggest scale possible would be amazing, and I just want to grow and grow with the band, and get better and better, and just create that experience that we can share."
Taken from the February issue of Upset. Queen Zee's self-titled debut album is out 8th February.
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