Queen Moo. From left: Nick Charlton, Kevin O’Donnell, John Rule, Oscar Godoy
After Sorority Noise played the Golden Tea House in Philadelphia on October 3, 2014, bassist Kevin O'Donnell and drummer John Rule stayed up all night at a friend's place. Come sunrise, they started drinking—heavily—as they pondered their destiny and the band's diverging paths, just months before their album Joy, Departed would generate critical acclaim and bring Sorority Noise national attention. The two were the only rhythm section the band ever had at that point.
"We sat on the porch in Philly and drank for a few hours," Kevin says. "John was like 'I'm gonna quit Sorority Noise. I can't do this, I need to write my own music. If I'm gonna do music, I'm gonna do it my way.' And I just said, 'I'm there with you. We're gonna do this together.'"
They tell me this as the origin story of their new band, Queen Moo, over beers at their house. While Sorority Noise is known as a Connecticut band, Kevin O'Donnell and John Rule are known as Connecticut people: legendary party punk band Two Humans featured John on vocals and guitar and Kevin on bass, indie pop act Zanders features Kevin on bass and John on drums, post-hardcore act Crag Mask has John on drums, Kevin used to play bass for White Savages, they run a DIY venue named Capetown out of their house, and so on and so on. They've been friends since high school and have been in every sort of band imaginable.
After two summers of fucking around as Queen Moo, they finally started taking themselves seriously (though not so serious as to not put a naked man on their album cover). Putting in their notice with the Sorority Noise didn't harm their relationship: they ended up recording with frontman Cameron Boucher as producer and guitarist Adam Ackerman as their drummer, moving John to guitar while finishing the debut album release last month.
"The first time I recorded anything from this Queen Moo," Boucher says, "[Rule] came in alone, laid down the drums for 'Hook Sox,’ no instruments, just drums, and it sounded like the most bogus shit I'd ever heard. Then he added guitar on top by saying, 'Hold up, you haven't played this before, let me figure out the chords.' And I was like, 'There's no way this is going to turn into a bearable song.' After he added bass, he went in, did vocals, and it all came together perfectly. He's such a fucking freak."
With Ackerman focusing on Sorority Noise, they replaced him and expanded the lineup to include the members of free rock (you know, instead of free jazz) duo Lovely, drummer Nick Charlton and guitarist Oscar Godoy, forming the band's now-stable lineup. It's this lineup I decide to get drunk with. John, a tall lanky guy with tattoos covering his arms, drinks red wine and beer. Kevin—who routinely describes things by saying "It's not that weird, it's pretty weird"—drinks beer. Nick is quieter than the others and uses the largest bass drum I've ever seen, and also drinks beer. Throw me in the mix and we're all drinking beer.
Three of the members—all except Oscar—went to Hartford Arts Academy, a high school for those gifted at the… uh, the arts. It was like a normal high school, except instead of jocks ruling the school, it was the upper-class jazz kids, and instead of dating cheerleaders, they dated music theater girls. OK so it wasn't a normal high school at all, but they still came out as normal dudes, except Kevin took a class where he practiced one-note jazz soloing over game show music, John and Nick can both do one-handed drum rolls, and they sometimes crap on untalented bands to the melody of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps."
Once drunk, Nick gets hungry and, with some prodding and my offer to throw in five bucks, he gets a meatball pizza delivered. After four beers, it becomes clear: these are half normal-punks, half music masters. They're equally likely to debate of Montreal's drum tracks as they are Brad Mehldau's soloing techniques, and are planning to see The Bad Plus together. (They watch Rational Funk religiously after every practice.)
Even down to the band name, they're part genius and part madmen. "I'm really into conspiracy theories," Kevin says. "I don't take them incredibly seriously, but I love reading about it. I was reading a book by David Icke, Human Race, Get Off Your Knees: The Lion Sleeps No More." This is an actual book about Reptilians that live underground and rule our world like illuminati lizards. "It's like 700 pages; I made it through most of it. It's all about Reptilian-human hybrids that come from hollow earth. There's a chapter in it about the very real city of Atlantis and how it was a landmass called Lemuria off the coast of South America, and the Queen when it sank was Queen Mu." Why is it spelled “moo?” "It has nothing to do with cows."
Three nights after drinks and Reptilians, they headline a basement show, cramming 100 people into the damp, sweaty armpit in East Hartford, and people already know every word. The lone unifying theme across all their bands—more than the party atmosphere, the personal lyrics, the bare honesty, and the hectic shows—is a high standard of musicianship.
"People hold a lot of political aesthetic and social stigma that they think they need to uphold through music," John says. "If you want to use your music to voice those views, I don't discredit that. We're very outwardly trying to make accessible music that still leaves room for clever changes and rhythms. I don't want to be 'good enough.’ I want to be good."
I left some of my beer here from the other night, and I stay in the back during the show, finishing off what I left in the fridge. They're part of a scene here, and they're at the forefront; the kings of it, even.
"You can play it for people invested in music or people invested in the lyrics," John says. "That's what I want. That's the gap that needs to be bridged by everybody. I wish more people would recognize that as important. All we can hope is that people are open to that, and we're not owed anything."
Well, I still owe Nick five dollars. But outside of that, everything's in its right place. Everyone else agrees that they already are “good.” When Queen Moo perform, suburban kids are stoned and dancing like no one’s watching, wiggling and jumping despite sticky time signatures, hollering and cheering over strange jazz changes. None of that matters. People still sing along.
Dan Bogosian is a freelance writer currently gentrifying Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter -@dlbogosian