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Polish Removers: Queen Kwong On Embracing Imperfections With 'Get A Witness'

Wednesday, 09 December 2015 Written by Laura Johnson

Queen Kwong might be a distinctive name, but it’s not a household one. In truth it’s never likely to be. As with many great things, this band will be misunderstood by many but truly adored by others. That’s just fine by Carré Callaway, who has spent the last few years battling through the LA scene to get to this point.

Callaway is not concerned with raking in the big bucks, or pleasing anyone except herself. For her, to make music is to be consumed by it. As she says herself on Medicated, from Queen Kwong’s debut, ‘Get A Witness’: “Excess is not enough!”

She’s worked with producers in high places and learned quickly that one size does not fit all. The recording process, she soon understood, was something that she would  have to mould to her needs, rather than adapt her methods to suit someone else.

She did this by holing up in a studio for eight days with friend and producer Joe Cardamone, of the Icarus Line, and recording improvised tracks at the rate of a song a day. The result was ‘Get A Witness’, an erratic, raw and emotional record that is hard to swallow as a debut as a wealth of experience is obvious, both in its content and delivery,

We had the pleasure of talking it through with Carré and guitarist Wes Borland, who you can usually find slinging riffs with Limp Bizkit, prior to their UK tour.

How did Queen Kwong begin?

Carré: It took a good amount of time, several years actually, figuring out what I wanted to do, in terms of the music I wanted to play and how to stay true to myself. In LA it’s really hard in the music industry, to be pulled in different directions and pressured. It took me a long time to figure out what I really wanted to do without anyone else’s influence. When I figured that out I started recording and putting out singles and EPs as Queen Kwong and this latest record, which is my debut LP, I recorded with Joe Cardamone from the Icarus Line and it was just the two of us.

How did you meet Joe and the rest of the guys in the band?

Carré: I’ve known Joe for a long time, about 10 years. We just improvised everything, it was kind of like a stream of consciousness. Nothing was pre-written. We knocked up a song a day. Then I brought it to Wes and Fred and Hayden who were in the band, and they were just friends of mine at that point and I’ve known all of them for years.

Fred and I were acquaintances, he worked at a record store I used to go to a lot. Hayden and I have been friends for a long time. Wes and I are together so it was kind of like: “Oh, let’s try these songs out and see how they sound live.” The first show went really well and so we decided to keep going.

Why record your debut LP live?

Carré: I recorded a bunch with supposedly important, amazing people and I’ve never had a good time recording. It was extremely hard for me. I feel like a lot of it is faking it. Doing the same take over and over again, trying to perfect everything. Doing it this way and improvising everything took away that aspect of it. The vocal takes were done in one or two takes and that was it. There was no going back, no overdubbing. Yeah, it’s risky. I still can’t say it was the best decision.

Wes: It was the best decision. It’s a reaction to the state of music in general. Everybody is terrified to do anything outside of the box and I think what they did, it’s so good, and it’s so perfect because everyone is so worried about making these perfect recordings to try and completely over-polish everything and overthink everything and this is like: “Fuck it, everything’s going down anyway, let’s just sink the ship and do what you wanna do and make a great record.”

Carré: I’m not expecting to make a bunch of money off the record sales, that’s so rare these days. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t care about pleasing anyone else, so I was just gonna make the record I wanted to, no matter what.

Wes: That’s the record I wanna hear too. I wanna hear people go in and be human on a record, you know show their hearts instead of being mechanical.

Carré: And show the imperfections. I’m totally comfortable with imperfections.

What was the process for recording? Were there any pre-conceived ideas at play?

Carré: No, we used pretty much the same formula in every song. Joe would go in, he started on drums and I started on bass. He doesn’t play drums and I don’t play bass, so it was pretty interesting. We would just lay down drums and bass and kind of improvise it as we went along, jam or whatever. Get something we liked, then record guitars over the drums and bass and then I’d record a couple takes of vocals.

The vocals were just freestyled. The first vocal take on every song kind of half made sense and half were jibber jabber. The second time the vocal takes came together and I made lines out of it. But it was very much just off the top of my head. You can tell on the record there’s points of hesitation and not knowing because that’s what it was, there was hesitation, I didn’t know what I was saying.

Wes: In this day and age it’s important to do that. It’s an important album I think, just for going like ‘here’s the line’.

Carré: People who get it are going to really appreciate it. People who don’t, whatever.

Wes, how is it playing songs you didn’t have a hand in writing?

Wes: I mixed the album. You know, whenever I get to play with new musicians, whoever they are, it’s always a growing experience for me. Getting to play parts that someone else wrote, especially ones that I spent so much time mixing, editing and stuff like that, is so great for me. It makes me grow as a musician and challenges me. It’s really cool for me to adapt and change and have to take on new things that I’ve never experienced before and incorporate that into my playing style.

Is it strange rehearsing something for tour that is so improvised in the studio? Or is the stage show improvised to a certain extent also?

Carré: The only time I’d played the songs was when I’d recorded them, so I didn’t even really know the songs, so bringing it to the band as we rehearsed, even more so as we played shows , it started to come together more and more.

Wes: They’re a little bit different live. They’ve solidified into their own thing live to be recreated every night.

Carré, how do you feel performing live? You seem to get lost in the moment.

Carré: I don’t even know what I’m doing at the time. Now that I think back at it I don’t really know what I was doing. I can’t remember really.

Wes: She has a really interesting time with shows, because she doesn’t remember sometimes what had happened during the show. She’s in a trance.

Carré: There’s a lot of adrenaline, a lot of energy. This music, there’s no other way to perform it than just 100%. I think when I get in that mode it’s totally different. It is like a trance, kind of.

Wes: She’s totally emotionally drained after the show and usually really upset and somehow excited at the same time. It takes about 30 minutes to an hour for her to come back to reality and realise what happened.

Carré: That’s a little extreme.

Wes: No, no it’s not. That’s totally what happens every night.

Carré: That’s what they say!

Wes: All of us always say that’s exactly what happens. You’re a force of nature because you totally get in like an instinctual, cerebral mode and you’re not ever thinking about anything. You’re just in the zone. And if it goes downhill, it goes dooooownhill. But if it’s amazing, it’s amazing! You don’t know which way it’s gonna go.

Carré: I mean, I think that’s why recording has been so hard for me, because playing shows is really innate, you know, you’re doing it, you’re in the moment. I don’t think about what I’m going to do next or what I just did. Not until I get off stage do I start thinking about things. With recording it’s thinking, thinking, thinking the whole time.

With that said, will you continue with live recording for the next album?

Carré: I think next time I’ll write it in the same way and use those recordings as references to bring to the band. We’ll rehearse it for a month or whatever and then actually record it.

Wes: We’re opening a studio in Detroit also right now so we’re probably going to do the whole thing there.

Queen Kwong Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows

Fri December 11 2015 - LONDON Barfly
Sat December 12 2015 - BRISTOL Louisiana
Sun December 13 2015 - CARDIFF Globe
Tue December 15 2015 - YORK York Duchess
Wed December 16 2015 - GLASGOW Stereo
Thu December 17 2015 - MANCHESTER Sound Control
Fri December 18 2015 - SOUTHAMPTON Southampton Joiners
Sat December 19 2015 - BRIGHTON Green Door Store

Click here to compare & buy Queen Kwong Tickets at Stereoboard.com.



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