“I could do a Morrissey…” threatens Queen Zee, as we sit outside of Hackney’s Sebright Arms chatting before the band’s headline gig at the venue that evening (April 26th). Zee’s referring to The Smiths’ front-man’s recent controversial interview in which he makes more weird and divisive statements for seemingly no reason. I know it’s an idle threat, but Zee’s dry wit puts me at ease. I begin by asking Zee about what they’re expecting from the show that evening.
“The great thing with Queen Zee gigs is that you never really know what’s going to happen. Sometimes we turn up and it’s absolute mayhem, and sometimes we turn up and people are ballroom dancing. You can’t predict it, and that’s what I love about it”
It’s this unpredictability that drew me to the band in the first place. I saw them support Marmozets on the 2017 UK tour at The Garage, and I was blown away by their ability to get the crowd stirred up in to a mosh pit with their songs ‘Boy’ and ‘Fly The Pink Flag’. Their combination of pop-punk anthems and activist attitude has laid the foundations for a community of fans to unite and celebrate in style and safety when they attend Queen Zee gigs. I ask her whether fans approach Zee after shows.
“We do have some fans who prefer to message us after the gig on Twitter which is always nice, but I make a point when I’m on stage of saying “come and say hello”, because I love sharing and I see Queen Zee as a collective, not just as an extension of my ego or as my project. I like people getting involved. People have been customising their clothes and getting tattoos…”
I Zee that I saw a fan had posted a picture of a “sass or die” tattoo they’d had inked in honour of the band on the Queen Zee social media accounts. I then asked Zee about the flipside of this, the trolling they’ve experienced on the band’s posts on International Transgender Day Of Visibility (31st March). I ask if shouting back (which Zee always does) takes its toll, or do posts like the one about the tattoo make things easier to deal with?
“Cis people will see these things online and be really shocked by that, but one of the main things for trans people is that you go through things like that every day anyway, it’s just not always online. I actually love people trolling, it’s my favourite thing. I know that I have offended them, and that my existence offends them – and I think that’s brilliant. I don’t want those people to like me, I don’t want them to come to our shows if they’re that bigoted.
Going back to the tattoo though, I absolutely love that. I think it’s bizarre that people would do that. It blows my mind. We played this huge punk show in Liverpool last year, where all the DIY punks get together as a collective and play to about 300 people. We played that and my guitar broke, so we just had to play cover songs, and after that the fan came up to me and showed me the “sass or die” tattoo – and that was the way we ended 2017: it was absolutely amazing. I loved it”.
I broach the subject of mental health too, as this is also an issue Zee speaks openly about online. I ask if she has any advice for other bands who find themselves feeling mentally drained whilst on tour.
“The big thing for me was that I was originally really anti-meds. But actually, just starting on meds has totally changed my life and I feel so much better for it. I don’t want to be ‘pro-meds’ – whatever your stance is, it’s your stance and that’s totally fine – but I would advise people to come to their own decisions, and don’t close your mind off to it. Especially if it’s something that could potentially help you.
General advice and stuff for bands is to eat well, sleep well, and look after each other. It’s dead simple. When we first started touring it was like “Yeah! We’re on tour, let’s go out every night!” and you end up being destroyed by day ten. You get physically ill too.
The thing that made me really ill whilst touring though was that the band consumes your life, so it takes away your social life and even though you’re with your best friends in a band, you don’t see your family, or your other friends, or your partner. And on top of that you’re constantly tired, so it all adds up. I would advise keeping in contact with friends as much as you can. Get your friends to come to shows in the different cities that you’re touring, which is what I’ve done on this tour. A bit of life outside of the band whilst you’re all on tour is great, and it will stop you killing each other.
Our band is formed of five of the most annoying individuals ever. Our bassist is obsessed with meme songs, so on the way here we were listening to Toto – just Toto. It’s funny to start with, you’re like “you’ve played ‘Africa’ a few times, okay” and then he played another Toto song, and another one, and another. He played them for the entire journey – which was an hour. He’s lucky to still be alive. So yeah, no Toto songs on tour…
After establishing a strong “No Toto” rule, I ask if Zee can remember the first time they crowd-surfed or got involved in a mosh pit at a gig, as both of these things always occur at Queen Zee shows.
“The first time I crowd-surfed was as Queen Zee. I never had the guts as a little queer kid to get down to the front and do it. I can’t remember the first time I moshed really, but I was always in to punk and thrash bands so I definitely moshed at those gigs. It was very macho though, so I didn’t feel very welcome in to any of that and there was never really any girls in the pit. So it’s great now when we play shows that I see a mix of girls and guys in the mosh.
I highlight what a great achievement that is, to have created the safe space that Zee felt was initially lacking at gigs.
“That’s what it’s all about. People know at our gigs that we won’t tolerate any nonsense either. We stopped a show in Nottingham on this tour because our bassist Frankie’s Mum got punched in the face. It was the last song of the set, so I was like “if you want to move about, this is your chance to do it!” and this guy thought it was a great idea to just to swing round in to me, hitting Frankie’s Mum in the face in the process.”
I point out that of all the people that could’ve happened to, what are the chances it would be the Bassist’s Mum?!
“I know! I was like “you need to leave, now”. Luckily she was okay, she actually loved it! Mosh pits are weird though. We had a gig in Birmingham the other day, and the crowd for the support bands were quite young, maybe seventeen year olds? So they were really kicking off, and I thought I’d jump in because you know, it’s only kids – but I just got beaten up! I’m too old. I’m twenty-four this year, and I came out of that mosh bruised and feeling like a fifty year old”.
I ask Zee what new music they’ve been listening too, as GIHEs are always interested in new music recommendations from our favourite bands.
“There’s so many on this tour that we’ve played with. A band from Cardiff called CHROMA are amazing. We shared a stage with them at Reading & Leeds last year and then we’ve played with them on this tour, and they always blow me away. Their songs have a really cool Death From Above type vibes to them.
There’s a band from Nottingham called Babe Punch who play Riot Grrrl-esque punk stuff, and they do a really good cover of ABBA’s ‘SOS’. Salt Bath are another Cardiff band who play really cool queer punk stuff. They’re my big three”.
Now it’s time to talk about plans for the summer. I ask what festivals Queen Zee will be playing at, and if there are any festivals Zee would like to attend just as a fan.
“I hate music…”
It takes me a moment to work out whether Zee’s joking or not…
“No seriously, when we play a gig or we’re watching support bands I’m like “Ah music is great, I love it!” but when I’m at home I never listen to music. I’m chilling the fuck out and watching Netflix, I’m not going to any festivals as a fan! After seeing the inner-workings of festivals as well, it changes your perspective on things. It’s always so stressful trying to get from point A to point B in a field, which you think would be simple but it’s the most difficult thing.
But, having said that, we’re playing quite a few festivals in May. We’re playing The Great Escape, Sound City, Live At Leeds, Neighbourhood and there’s more on the horizon too. We’ve got some time off on June & July to do some more recording though.
To make the idea of Festivals more bearable, I ask Zee what her dream Festival line-up would be.
“Dream headliner would be Me, with a support of Me and just before that it would be Me. Doing slightly different stuff though, maybe even a ‘Toto’ covers set? I dunno, I’d probably give the headline slot to someone who really deserves it.
I have really bad music taste, I love classic rock like Twisted Sister. I’m obsessed with them, and I know I shouldn’t be, and I know it’s bad. Everyone else in the band has really cool music taste like Pixies and Neutral Milk Hotel and I’m like “okay, does anyone like Scorpions?” I’d like to see The B52s, I don’t even know if they’re still going?
I mention that Cindy Wilson of the B52s is doing her own solo stuff now, so that might have to wait.
“I’d resurrect ABBA! To be honest, it’d probably just be loads of little bands in a sweat-box venue. Oh wait – I’ve got my dream headliner – Judas Priest…I’m obsessed with them.”
Little did we know at this point that the next day ABBA would announce they’re releasing new music. It’s as if Zee has a sixth sense. To end our chat, I ask Zee what three words they’d used to describe Queen Zee – aside from “sass or die”…
“Tortured Scissor Sisters…”
Fingers crossed that’s what Zee calls the band’s debut album.
Thanks so much to Zee for answering my questions!
Catch Queen Zee at The Great Escape at The Hope & Ruin (10:45pm -Thursday 17th May)
Photo Credit: Jon Mo