INTERVIEW: Queen Kwong

I arrived at Rough Trade East on Friday 27th July a gross mess, dripping in sweat, hoping the thunderstorm I’d just walked through was a decent excuse for my sloppy appearance. I was there to interview Queen Kwong (aka Carré Callaway) and to see her perform live for the first time. After being introduced, we sat in a corner of the record store, and fortunately for me – when I asked Carré how her support slot with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club went at The Forum the night before – she seemed to understand the discomfort the temperature caused: “It was hot. Really, really, hot. I guess they don’t have any air-con or filtration or anything here?”

When I asked if the heat affected her performance, she provided an unusual insight: “It gives more desperation I guess. There were definitely some points in the set where I was like “I’m gonna pass out right now” – but I’ve played a lot of shows like that, so I should be used to it. I’m used to misery”. We laughed at the quotability of her last sentence, before I changed the subject to her recent support slots with Nine Inch Nails in Las Vegas. She played three consecutive nights with them, and I asked how the shows went, and how they compared to the time she played with the band in 2005 & 2009:

“Well to be honest, I thought that it couldn’t get worse than when I opened for them in 2005. I played by myself with a guitar I borrowed from Trent. I didn’t really even have songs, so it was really stressful, really hard, and people were throwing stuff at me. It was crazy. I was only a teenager at the time, and I was like “Okay, if I can live through this, I can live through anything…” and then it got worse in Vegas…

The drummer I’d been using for a year basically went crazy and had some kind of mental break down. He ended up having to be removed by security because he was on the floor of the dressing room face down, crying. That was the second show in, then he disappeared and I didn’t know if he would even come for the third show. I thought I was gonna have to play the third show as an acoustic set because I thought he’d actually left town. Then he showed up, played the show, and it was really rough – I don’t think he played one song correctly – but we pulled it off. I fired him as soon as we got off stage, and he just laid on my floor and cried. It was a very, very bizarre situation.

So…that was pretty stressful! But in terms of how the actual shows went and how it was received, it was better than ever. I was surprised actually. It’s crazy because I’ve been lucky enough to open for NINs so many times, but they’re always the most stressful types of shows. When I opened for them as a teenager, it was first show they’d played in years – many, many years. And then, I opened for them for the last shows of their Wave Goodbye Tour, so these shows were both very exclusive, limited ticket shows with the most hardcore NINs fans ever. So, in Vegas I wasn’t expecting anything good, but we ended up making some new fans, so that was great”.

Her musical baptisms of fire are pretty full on, so I voiced my own awe at her ability to push through despite these setbacks. I asked her about her anticipations for the headline show she was set to play at Rough Trade in a few hours: “I’m just trying to keep an open mind because I’ve never done an in-store gig that’s actually, literally in the store. I’m curious to see how it goes because our set is pretty loud and aggressive, and it’s kind of funny when it’s in this setting. You feel like you should tone it down, but we might as well turn it up. Go from one extreme to the other”.

I broached the subject of her latest album, Love Me To Death, which she was in town to promote, and asked what she was most proud of on this record: “It’s actually one of the only records I’ve really been proud of because it was a challenge for me. I wanted to make a record that pushed me in terms of my own personal goals. My first record Get A Witness was all improvised and a concept record. Nothing was pre-written or edited, it was just like – record, release – which made it very hard to listen to. For a debut EP, I think I drew a pretty hard line in the sand. I wanted to take more time on this new record and make sure it was a bit more polished. People were like “Can you even write a chorus? Do you even know how to write a song?” – I never really cared about that stuff – but I was kind of curious to see what I could do as a songwriter, and to see what I was capable of. I think all the goals I set for myself, I reached, so this record is definitely the most well-rounded record I could’ve made. It represents every facet of who I am and what my interests are”.

I briefly interrupted to ask what her favourite track was, and why: “My favourite song is probably ‘Sun of Life’ which we aren’t playing tonight. It’s the least listener-friendly song, and it was the last song I recorded on the final day in the studio. It took about thirty minutes, and it was like my first record because it was improvised and heavy, but we’re not playing that tonight because our drummer that we’ve only just met (Sara from The Pearl Harts) only knows so many songs because we literally just met her, and ‘Sun Of Life’ is a really hard song to play if you’ve never played with us before.”

I asked about her new video for single ‘Raptures’ which features Carré running through a dimly-lit corn field. She explained the process that brought the footage to life: “I wanted to do a video of just one continuous shot of me running, with the camera tracking me. We needed to find a place where there was enough space for that in New York, so we went up-state and found this place that was a Halloween maze. I come up with concepts that really test people’s patience. I was like “this is gonna be great!” and everyone was like “No-one is going to be able to sit through this”. But I thought it was really cool, so we tried it, but the Director couldn’t keep up with me when I was running and it was really cold, and I had this whole contraption strapped to my chest which was shining light in front of me. The whole “one shot” thing didn’t really work, it ended up being a real disaster and it took me months to edit it. I had to be really creative with it because there was actually not enough footage, so I used a lot of tricks. I really do like the video, but it definitely strayed from what I wanted it to be. I think for the song it’s really appropriate and fitting. But as per usual, it didn’t go as planned”

We both laughed, and I asked her if this was a common theme when it came to her ideas and how they materialized: “Yeah, It’s a thing. I’m used to things never working out. I’m very accepting of it now”

I moved away from questions about her own music and asked who she was currently listening to: “Everything I listen to is the super opposite of the music I make. I’ve realised I really love Billie Eilish. She’s a 15 year old pop-singer who is amazing. I feel like I’m kind of a creep because I’m way older than her and super obsessed with her music. I’m like her biggest fan, so if she ever comes and plays in town, I’m not sure if I can go to her show… there’s gonna be a bunch of kids with their parents there, and then there’s just me…” Carré laughed at the prospect of this. “She’s super talented, and she seems to have a great attitude. She’s gorgeous, but she dresses in clothes 20 sizes too big. I’m in to that! I listen to The Weeknd a lot too, but aside from that all the stuff I listen to is pretty old. Swans are my favourite band – Oh wait – I’m really looking forward to the new Spiritualized record actually”.

Before she left to begin sound-check, I asked what the rest of 2018 held for Queen Kwong. Carré said she had “no idea”, which prompted me to ask if that was code for “I have an idea, but it’s not going to work out the way I want it to”. She laughed and replied “Why even talk about plans when they’re clearly never going to happen? Hopefully something good will happen though. I was thinking about releasing an EP next year”. I jokingly asked if she’d have time for a holiday: “Maybe? Do you know what, that’s great for press – “Hey, I’m quitting for a while to go on holiday, thanks for the interview, I have no plans to continue this bullshit!” she laughed before setting off to tear up Rough Trade’s stage as the inimitable Queen Kwong.

Huge thanks to Carré for answering my questions.

Love Me To Death is available to order here.

Follow Queen Kwong on Facebook for more updates.

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

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