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