Gimme Your Answers: An Interview w/ Jamaican Queens

Jamaican Queens
Photo by Leah Edwards

With a sound vaguely reminiscent of David Bowie, Jamaican Queens, hailing from Detroit, brings a certain level of surreal glam to the Handlebar set. Sunk deep in the narrow bar perched the tiny stage, on which the musicians precariously stood, their equipment and instruments spilling out over the edges. The atmosphere was intimate; audience members could reach out and touch the microphones, some even stepping across the stage to bypass the crowd and make it to the bathrooms, located at the very back of the bar.

Ryan jokes at the beginning of the set, saying “Normally we’re a folk band, but tonight we’re electronic,” in regards to his guitar breaking and his use, for the night, of an electric guitar he’s not quite used to.

Singing songs about interpersonal relationships, Jamaican Queens’ lyrics provide a relatable backdrop to their psychedelic sound. The band played songs from their record, Wormfood, including Can’t Say No to Annie and Kids Get Away. Most, if not all, songs on this record are about love, break-ups, with a dash of ephemeral eeriness, as in Wormfood.

The sound is an indescribable, incomprehensible mix of glam rock and electronic, resulting in an incredibly new and refreshing genre that beats a path away from mainstream music.

With excellent studio songs that, with their multi-layered complexity are hard to play live, Jamaican Queens nevertheless brought their unique sound the the venue, relying on their reggae influence bass to bring the crowd to dancing.

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AMBY: So has this whole “Detroit’s Bankrupt” thing effected the band in any way?

JQ: [Ryan] We’re not always in Detroit, but when we are we do fantastically. We are so poor, as people, that the art community stays the same, regardless of the economic fluctuations.

AMBY: Where did you guys come up with the name?

JQ: [Ryan] I just thought of it and thought it was a cool name. And I like Jamaican music and Jamaican culture. [Adam] You needed the name of a solo set, right? [Ryan] Yeah I did a solo set called Jamaican Queens and then we were trying to think of a band name and Adam really wanted to call it Community Crack Party… [laughs]

AMBY: Are you influenced, then, by Jamaican music in the making of your own music?

JQ: [Ryan] I definitely am, I  think that Adam doesn’t listen to it as much as I do, and even when I write songs I even use the same sound, but we always change it. I like writing songs in that style; slow and mellow pop songs that  exist for a few minutes and then they’re gone.

AMBY: Do you make most of the songs or is it kind of a group effort?

JQ: [Ryan] It’s a group effort. I always come up with the initial idea, or he’ll [Adam] come up with the beat. It’s always different. Adam is more the production side, I’m more the song writing side.

AMBY: How did the band form? How long have you guys been together for?

JQ: [Clancey] We played our first show about a year ago on June 9. But these two used to be in a band called Prussia and I used to play in bands that toured with Prussia, then I moved away and when I came back they needed a drummer, and we sort of came together that way. [Ryan] Yeah it was kind of natural. As the old band was stopping, Adam and I started writing new songs. [Adam] I thought, this is a smarter way to work, just two people writing the songs. It’s a lot easier with two people writing the songs. [Clancey] Adam is actually a recruit from Illinois, he’s not from Detroit. He came to Detroit to join Ryan’s old band, Prussia.

AMBY: For me, there’s a weird sort of Tim Burton-y feel to your music. Are you inspired by anything like that when you make your music?

JQ: [Ryan] That’s Adam. He’s the Tim Burton of the group. Our last album we wanted to make it epic, like really big and really dramatic, really exaggerated. Any emotions we express we want to make it an exaggerated emotion. So if something bad is happening it’s got to be the worst thing.  We try to exaggerate something that actually happened in our lives so that people can kind of get how we were feeling.

AMBY: I’ve heard you compared to such bands as Hunx and his Punx. Would you say this is an accurate comparison?

JQ: Well they’re very glam-y, and we’re very into glam. Like David Bowie, T-Rex. I love David Bowie.

AMBY: Do you like being compared to bands?

JQ: [Adam] I like being compared to David Bowie a lot more than Animal Collective. Our last band was always Animal Collective but David Bowie makes me so much happier. [Ryan] I like good songs rather than “Oh they’re breaking new ground in sound.” [Clancey] A song’s a good song, regardless of genres.

AMBY: Is this your first big tour, or have you been touring before?

JQ: We’ve been pretty much touring straight. The longest we’ve had off is a little over a month. [Ryan] But it’s only been a band for a year.

AMBY: Has it been tough, touring that constantly?

JQ: [Ryan] [laughs] Ben was asking me the other day, “Do you guys ever just want to kill each other?” I was like “No, we’re cool.” Because we’re just very sensitive towards one another. [Clancey] Yeah, we learned a lot about another’s sensibilities in a short amount of time, and I think we work well off each other. That’s rare.

AMBY: Was there a point in your life where you decided you wanted to make music?

JQ: [Ryan] It was a slow realization. I was like, I’m going to go to college, I’m going to get a job, I’m going to be a professional hockey player, I’m going to be a cook, I’m going to get into music, I’m going to be a guitar player, I’m going to be a song writer, and then I was like ok I’m just not going to have a job. That was a big one, that I’m never going to have a normal job. [Adam] For me I remember distinctly saying, no I’m not going to that college I signed up for already and I’m going to do music. [Clancey] I went to college for Film and Fiction Writing and one year after that I got asked to join a band that I really wanted to be in, so I just quit college, joined a band, and kept touring. I like school, but I like drumming more, I’m better at it.

AMBY: Would you ever consider going back to school?

JQ: [Clancey] If these guys both die tomorrow or if the band breaks up I’d probably go back to school and study something stupid like Philosophy that won’t give me any money anyway. I’d have to marry up. [laughs] [Adam] I’ve got no fall back at all. If you both die, I’m fucked. [Clancey] You’re going to make beats for rappers, you’re fine. But just to be safe marry up. [all laugh]

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Thank you Jamaican Queens, for giving us your answers!

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Emily Fox

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