May 2016 23

The Black Queen vocalist Greg Puciato speaks with ReGen about the musical and artist concept behind the band – the evolution and rediscovery of the self.
 
The Black Queen

 

An InterView with Greg Puciato of The Black Queen

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Blending elements of various electronic styles from IDM to synthpop with the rhythmic swagger and soul of R&B, The Black Queen is proof positive that the spirit of independent alternative music is still very strong. The trio’s debut album, Fever Daydream, released in January of this year showcases this uniquely infectious combination of musical elements, full of brooding atmospheres and lush vocals, complemented by a strong visual accompaniment that has made the band one of the most popular “new” acts to emerge in recent memory, with vinyl and CD copies of the album completely selling out via Bandcamp. Featuring Nine Inch Nails and Puscifer member Joshua Eustis, former tech for The Dillinger Escape Plan and NIN Steven Alexander, and fronted by the dynamic voice of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato, and aided by a contingent of close friends and cohorts, The Black Queen has been a long time in the works, with the fans’ response demonstrating that good music can find its way to an audience willing and eager to listen. Having produced a number of music videos, with the “Ice to Never” single being a particularly noteworthy release, an upcoming tour of the UK, Europe, and Russia, as well as a high profile gig at this year’s ColdWaves V festival in Chicago, the Los Angeles based band is a definite rising star in modern music. Greg Puciato was kind enough to speak with ReGen about the band’s artistic conception, touching on the initial gathering of three veterans to create a truly self automated musical machine, the group’s lyrical roots in urban culture, and what the future holds for The Black Queen. He also goes into detail about keeping his voice healthy, the thematic similarities between The Black Queen and The Dillinger Escape Plan, the state of the new music industry and the importance of passion and creativity over commercial concerns, and the excitement of new technology vs. the need for humanism.

 

You’ve worked with members of the Nine Inch Nails camp before (Atticus Ross in Error, touring with NIN, and now Steven Alexander being a tech for both NIN and The Dillinger Escape Plan). Would you tell us about how you, Joshua, and Steven came together to form The Black Queen?

Puciato: Steve and I were friends already. We were already working on some demos by mid 2010, and he had eventually set up camp in my living room and we were fleshing things out – melodic ideas and emotions that wouldn’t fit in Dillinger. Josh came in late 2011; I was on tour in Denver and Josh was in Puscifer at the time. They came to our show, we met, we were already fans of one another’s work, from Telefon Tel Aviv and Dillinger, and discovered we lived near each other. We all just ended up hanging out and working together really organically. The musical relationship and friendship developed at the same pace, in parallel to each other. Two years later, we were all living together.

Was there any sort of plan or concept behind it, or was it just a case of musicians having material and coming together on it?

Puciato: Well, we knew really early on that we didn’t want too much redundancy with what we were already known for, if at all, because what’s the point? That doesn’t really serve much artistic or personal goal. The concept? We had the name of the band and the album and the symbol really early on – by early 2012. The vibe among us, creating in secret, largely nocturnally, dealing with themes of hope and seduction and a sort of erotic nihilism or despair, or of love and rediscovery of self; those were thematic connections that developed early on. The musical common ground came from a lot of unexpected places, from movie soundtracks to childhood video games to early ’90s/late ’80s R&B production. Our lives were falling apart/tearing down and rebuilding as we were writing, so the album sort of narrated that over a really long span of time. The writing itself became a sort of life pivot point for everyone, the end goal of a finished album a lighthouse.

You’ve shown a great propensity for melody and songwriting in The Dillinger Escape Plan; what attracted you to the more mellow, electro style of The Black Queen?
Besides synthpop and IDM, there are hints of R&B throughout certain songs. Did R&B have a direct influence on the band’s approach?

Puciato: Yeah definitely. I grew up in an urban environment, inner city Baltimore; Josh in New Orleans, during the late ’80s and early ’90s, so a lot of that culture is in us at a root level. So we found connections there that were largely unmined in our previous output. The production of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had a big influence. Trevor Horn. On my end, I have a lot of R&B influences people would probably never guess and some I’ve never talked about, but once you know, you can hear them really distinctly. Rick James, in my vibrato – his is very similar to HR from Bad Brains. I can hear that a lot. Maxwell, my falsetto; Phillip Bailey/Earth Wind and Fire. K-Ci Hayley. Carl Anderson from the opening number of Jesus Christ Superstar. (Laughter) Donny Hathaway. It all matched really well. We were just constantly going, ‘Whoa, where is this coming from?!’, and then we’d realize we had all these crazy similar, largely unexplored roots. It’s hard to tap into all of them in Dillinger, obviously. There just isn’t as much space, plus the music and vibe just doesn’t call for it. I personally didn’t set out to make music that sounded a particular way genre wise; it was more that over time, I knew there were a lot of things I needed to explore that I couldn’t in Dillinger, emotionally and sonically, and those things all kind of ended up playing nicely together and matching really well with what Steve and Josh bring and where they were in their lives personally and creatively. I’m fortunate.

 

 

You’ve demonstrated a marvelous vocal range in your past recordings with The Dillinger Escape Plan and your many collaborations.
What sorts of vocal exercises do you do to keep your voice fit for such intense changeups?

Puciato: Wow, thanks. This is going to be both embarrassing for me and probably sound obnoxious to other people, but I really don’t do anything. I kind of just started taking care of my voice this last week, because I just finished tracking a lot of Dillinger stuff and it beat me up a bit at times. I’ve never really maintained a warm up regimen or done exercises. I just sing a lot; like, all the time, I really do. My schedule coming up is really intense over the next year, though, and I’m becoming more aware of the fact that if I got a polyp or seriously damaged my voice, it would be really detrimental, not just to me professionally, but to other people, and it would devastate me personally. I’m not going to get a lot of rest over the next year, and what I do in Dillinger puts a lot of strain on me vocally, especially when I need to be really limber and healthy vocally for The Black Queen because of how nuanced it is. So I’ve started gargling salt water, using this stuff called Alkalol for my sinuses, doing more structured warmups… basically, trying to stop pretending I’m invincible before my body forces the realization upon me that I’m not. My water intake is always really high, and I make sure to sleep a lot on tour – those two things make the most noticeable difference. Up until now, I’ve been blessed with really naturally resilient vocal cords, but I’m aware that that could change at any moment, and I’m trying to start not taking it for granted.

What about the lyrics? You’ve said before that writing for Dillinger is therapeutic and that you wouldn’t necessarily approach it the way you would for other bands – what would you say writing for The Black Queen achieves for you emotionally that differs from Dillinger or Killer Be Killed?

Puciato: Well, Killer Be Killed was barely any connection to the other two to me. That was sort of its own side thing. There were some personal things snuck in there, but it was largely topical and fun; just lighthearted. I liken that to being in a more mindless summer action ensemble movie or something when you’re used to typically being in really serious arthouse dramatic roles that you also write and that are based off of your real life in some way. The Black Queen to me lives in the same universe as Dillinger thematically. I’ve written completely autobiographically in both bands; everything is just on an honest personal timeline, and there was absolutely a complete connection between the last Dillinger album One of Us Is the Killer and Fever Daydream. I knew it as they were overlapping, which is why I referenced the title of the latter in a song on the former. One of Us… was an explosion mirroring one in my personal life – a supernova of negativity really. In the wake of that, there was this barren personal introspective wasteland, which is what Fever Daydream grew out of. In short, I basically had a meltdown and then had to rediscover myself. A lot of things I was unknowingly running from, that had fueled a lot of my prior output while causing a lot of self destructive tendencies, all suddenly became unavoidable, and when they were cleaned up and dealt with, there was this person I had forgotten about. The whole thing, in hindsight, was a beautiful time.

The vinyl and CD copies of Fever Daydream have sold out on the band’s Bandcamp; I suppose then we can say that the audience is pleased with The Black Queen.
How pleased are you with the results of the album, and in what ways would you like to see things develop?

Puciato: Really overwhelming to be honest with you. We worked on this for so long and it became so dear to us and so personal that it was almost impossible to release; particularly for me because of not knowing how a previously built audience would react. But it’s so incredible to see that complete artistic honesty really does find people. It’s a credit to our audience and I thank them for not trapping me in some sort of one dimensional cartoon suit. I’ve never thought of product before artistic commitment. I don’t care about that kind of stuff; marketing or what have you. I just want to be honest and show people something real. What was weird is that we kind of forgot that it wasn’t actually out because of how long it was ‘real’ to us, so actually releasing it and realizing people had heard it took some getting used to; but what a huge relief personally. Develop? I mean we are just starting. There’s a lot of untapped stuff in this relationship.

You’ve been signed to labels like Relapse, while The Black Queen was released independently; I know this is a loaded question, but what are your thoughts on the business of releasing records and how the industry is trying to catch up to the way things have changed?

Puciato: Releasing this independently was one of the most important decisions we made, and really the only one that made sense. By the time we were done, we were so viciously protective of it that the idea of even allowing someone else to put their name on it, to umbrella us under their aesthetic, felt revolting. To sell our masters to someone else? So that they own this, not us? Fuck right off. Not possible. It just felt right to follow through, to have the entire inception be completely our own, to keep all of the relationships, both within and with our audience, direct and untarnished. We created it, we wrote it, lived through a lot to get to the completion of it, mixed it, and produced it. We run every aspect of it. We basically in essence set up a record label and learned on the fly how to completely independently release an album, just for this record, without actually calling it a label, obviously, and then that album ended up being larger than a lot of releases independent labels even have, so there was a period where it all quickly became overwhelming… but so gratifying. I mean, the relationships with the people we work with, those are genuine relationships, not some commissioned artist or graphic design guy from a label. Jesse Draxler, who does a lot of our art, besides being phenomenal, he’s one of our best friends – legit inner, inner circle. He may as well be in the damn band as a visual guy. Rob Sheridan, J. Whitaker, K. Fond (all people we’ve worked with); these people are all our real friends. They know what this is. This isn’t some top down shit where people we barely know and who cannot possibly understand what this is to us sat around having meetings about what we made and how to quantify it and sell it. So it didn’t feel right to treat it that way. I went from only releasing records on labels my whole adult life to talking to vinyl pressing plants and distributors and having a literal ton of vinyl in cardboard boxes in my living room and dining room. An actual ton of them dropped off in a semi. We’ve got someone else doing the mailing now (laughter) because it was all so overwhelming, but it was so important to us for us to do every single aspect ourselves initially. It was all extremely empowering and connected us even more deeply to the record and our audience.
The industry? People talk about it too much. It’s correcting itself now. That’s a conversation for 2009 or so. Everything is going to be fine. Worry about your passion and investing in yourself as an artist. We’re already well through the darkest ages as far as the industry goes. I will say, own your masters outright if you can, or as soon as possible.

Besides New York and Chicago, The Black Queen has announced plans to tour Russia, the UK, and Europe. What have been the major challenges for the band in bringing The Black Queen’s music to a live environment?
Is there a possibility of a fuller US tour down the road?

Puciato: It’s much different than a hardcore/punk/metal based band. Obviously, I love both, but this is truly apples and oranges. We are more picky about sound systems because of the frequency spectrum and because we don’t have live drums or amps onstage, so we really rely on the club PA to be able to slam. A lot of rock clubs don’t have PAs of the caliber that electronic clubs do, so we’ve been leaning towards the electronic ones. We need in ear monitors because of how hot I need the mic to be to have such detail and intimacy; that’s new for me. Traveling is much easier, simply because of not needing drums and a lot of amps. The challenges have mostly just been based around planning, scheduling, combating overall exhaustion, not hitting personal burnout, etc.

 

 

There is a notion that since sales of music are lower than they once were a band truly survives only by playing live. What are your thoughts on this based on your experiences playing live?

Puciato: It depends on your band, on your contract if you have one, on a lot of factors, on your standards of living. Playing live is definitely more immediate as far as money goes, but really, it’s a combo of a lot of little things all coming in. If you own what you create, there are a lot more of those little things. Like I said before, everything is correcting pretty smoothly right now. It’ll never be what it was pre-high speed internet, but do you really want to make the tradeoffs that would come with that? I don’t.

The Black Queen is playing this year’s ColdWaves Festival in Chicago. First of all, can you tell us how that came about?
Secondly, having played numerous festivals and shows throughout your career, what do you feel distinguishes ColdWaves from other similar festivals you’ve participated in?

Puciato: They reached out to us. It sounded like something good to do – good cause, good roots in a scene and a city, genuine. Plus Josh lived in Chicago for awhile, so that’s a nice tie in. Well, I haven’t been to ColdWaves yet, so I can’t tell you exactly what distinguishes it, but I can tell from interacting with them to get our appearance set up that they’re very hands on and passionate, and that’s an instant good sign to me.

What is something that you would like to see or hear personally as part of the next evolution of music, the next evolutionary step for the art form?

Puciato: I don’t really think about it. Just be free and do what you want. I think ‘alternative’ is coming back around, thankfully, and when I say that, I mean true alternative. I don’t mean ‘indie,’ I don’t mean a specific sounding genre, I don’t mean music that sounds like ‘alternative music’ in the ’90s definition; I just mean more free, less rules, less genre regulated music – alternative with the meaning it carried before it became a ’90s marketing term. That’s refreshing. But I like all kinds of music. I don’t really care where it evolves to. I care about feel, not technical innovation or stylistic futurism, not that I don’t think those things are important elements. They are. They just aren’t what I mostly hone in on, as a creator or listener.

Similarly, what do you see or would like to see as the next step in the evolution of technology – not just in music, but overall?

Puciato: Everything in that department already happening or on its inevitable way to happening is really exciting. I feel like everyday I see something progressing or coming together that blows me away – an advance of some sort. I mean, we’re for sure headed to an inevitability of incredibly long lives, brain uploading, life without capitalism, mostly 3D printed food, terraforming, colonizing. It’s all really exciting. My main interest and anxiety has become where does death factor in as part of the process of what’s going on here, once decay and aging inevitably becomes a manageable condition. Death and love – the two things that really make us human… what exactly are they? What will happen to them when we are essentially nearly if not completely immortal and transhuman? What will their roles be? How can technology ever answer that question? Aside from that, I think we’re doing fine with technology, with scientific advancement. Everything is moving unbelievably fast. The advances we need to make are humanist, not scientific. That’s really where we’re lagging. The ways we treat one another individually and in mass numbers are heartbreaking. We should be as embarrassed of that as a species as we are proud of the rate of our technological advancement. But… seriously… all international planes need to get WiFi. There should be no cellular dead zones on the planet at this point, and there is absolutely zero reason for the length of time it takes the Slurpee machine to get back to optimal consistency once it runs out. It’s 2016. Cars can drive themselves, but the red light is on on the slurpee machine like 50% of the goddamn time that I want one.

 

The Black Queen
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube

 

Photography by J. Whitaker, courtesy of The Black Queen and J. Whiteaker Studio

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