Queen Zee Sound Like the Future of British Rock
Part Marilyn Manson, part Dead or Alive, the Liverpool five-piece and their self-titled debut are pure, joyous energy.
It’s a beautiful, bleak day in February and the white sun shines through the cemetery, making everything look bright and flat. Dogs are digging their paws into soil. Teenagers are sneaking solitary smokes behind gravestones. And through the branches, which haven’t grown leaves yet, are five people dressed in shiny silk shirts, paisley blazers and upturned trousers. Three of them have neon pink hair, which, against the backdrop of grey concrete and winter trees, make them look as if they’ve been superimposed from somewhere else. They seem like cut-outs from an alien planet, glued onto an austere, gothic background.
Queen Zee are a band from Liverpool – made up of Zee, Ash, Frank, Jason and Dave. You may have heard of them after they released glam-rock anthem “Sass or Die” back in 2017 (a song which begins with singer Zee squealing: “am I making too much... noooooise?”). Or maybe you came across their song “Idle Crown,” which sounds like a hookier, more glittery Marilyn Manson. Most likely, though, if you’ve heard their name, it will be in reference to their live shows, which have created a kind of old school word-of-mouth ripple affect. Personally, I hadn't come across them online before their debut (they haven't done loads of press). I heard about them because friends said I really ought to; their shows are pure energy, their singer is wild, their music is worth turning up.
In person, the band are polite and considered, thoughtful and articulate. As we crunch through the leaves and chat, keyboardist Ash tells me she's always wanted a dachshund puppy, but they can't take it with them while they're constantly touring. Zee says her mum runs a sanctuary for unwanted chihuahuas, and they get all the ugly ones – with bulging eyes and weird tongues – which are her favourite of them all. Frank, the bassist, tells me he didn't even mean to be in this band. They just fell together, in that way bands sometimes do when musicians go to the same venues in a small city, know each other's friends, have interests that overlap and a chemistry that works.
In some ways, Queen Zee are a rock band of the classic variety. Their self-titled debut is filled with riffs, power chords and lyrics that I would have definitely scratched onto my school desk as a teenager (“I'm the chlorine dream of a teenage queen, as I bleach my scalp just to feel clean / Do you know what I'm saying? / Fuck god, hail satan” on “Lucy Fur” is a personal fave). But they also reject the toxic masculinity that exists within much of rock's complicated legacy. Their songs deride misogynists (“I Hate Your New Boyfriend”), tackle male violence (“Sissy Fists”) and, as a band fronted by a trans woman being loud and taking up space, act as a welcome antidote to the transmisogyny that seems to have infected so much of British public life lately. It's not their job to be political mouthpieces, but they don't shy away from these themes either.
Eventually, we settle on a big gravestone to speak properly. Some of them aren't sure whether it's OK to lean on people's gravestones – what are the rules in this scenario? I reckon it's fine if they're really old. Besides, if I'd been dead for centuries, I'd want a bunch of pink-haired Liverpudlians to gather round my resting place and chat about the legacy of Pete Burns and Lily Savage. Here's everything we spoke about:
Noisey: How did you spend your morning before this cemetery hang?
Frank: Waking up.
Zee: Yeah, that’s always a relief.
Frank: Eating a Greggs.
Zee: We got up super early, glued fake eyelashes on.
Did you try the Greggs vegan sausage roll?
Frank: I’ve tried it before today. It just tasted like a sausage roll, ya know.
Zee: I didn’t like it. We’ve got Pound Bakery in Liverpool, which is really good, and their vegan sausage rolls are 2 for £1 as well. When Greggs released their sausage roll, Pound Bakery tweeted theirs being like “this is for the OGs”.
Okay I'll publish that to get the word out. So you lot grew up in Liverpool, mainly. Tell me about what it was like living there, making music, existing in that town.
Zee: It’s a weird scene, a microcosm. It’s doing its own thing. Because on one hand it’s got this really lefty art scene, and on the other, it’s got this rampant Beatles tourism which is horrendous. So even though there’s all this cool stuff happening, it’s squashed by this other stuff.
Let’s talk about the DIY scene over there, which is in many ways the world you emerged from.
Zee: We were almost part of the DIY scene that was against the DIY scene, that’s how DIY we were *laughs*. There’s a really good punk scene – there’s this label called Antipop that’s had a monopoly there for quite a while. And we had a really good venue called The Kazimier, but that got shut down to make flats. There’s also a pop-up venue called Drop the Dumbulls which used to be a brothel, and we grew out of that.
It's weird because all of the other bands who used to play there were all these crusty, grindcore bands, so we were playing with Venom Prison and Dawn Raid and all these really heavy bands and going on in pink spandex, playing Basement Jaxx covers. But it was quite cohesive in its vision and weirdness, and I think everyone there grew up with bands like Chrome Hoof that were always a bit strange. So that’s what we came from. It was quite easy to get involved in.
I feel like, especially in recent months – and now you’ve released your debut album – you’re moving away from that sphere. How does it feel to be crossing over into a more mainstream space?
Zee: Even though we came from that ‘Dumbull’ scene we were never really part of it. Liverpool is so weird in that way. There’s a garage rock scene, a hardcore scene and classic punk scene and a queer scene with lots of drag queens and stuff, and there was never any crossover between them, but Queen Zee was one of the few bands that did.
So I think for us to move on and tour nationally like we do... it was the logical step for us. I’ve always wanted Queen Zee to be taking what we believed in from Liverpool’s queer scene, and the ethics that were in that echo chamber of 20 to 30 people, and actually saying them to an audience of 600 people who didn’t necessarily agree. It feels good to make that vision start to happen.
I feel like the DIY and queer scenes have always been quite interlinked for some reason – they culturally have made sense together. Would you agree?
Zee: I think in lots of ways the queer scene is seen as quite radical. The ideas really aren’t – trans people are people, LGBTQ people are people; they’re not revolutionary ideas, they’re basic human ethics. And yet if you say it out loud you’re treated as if they are.
Frank: You’re often forced into a DIY space because the mainstream is unaccepting.
Zee: On the flipside – there’s a great festival in London called Bent Fest – and I think a lot of the artists involved in that scene don’t want to go to mainstream spaces because they’re either intimidated by those spaces, or there aren’t many roots in for them, and I can totally sympathise with that. You have to have a pretty thick skin to be able to sit in a room with someone who doesn’t look like you and doesn’t understand you and have them tell you how you should act and what you should do.
And how do you stand on that? How do you try and gel that dichotomy?
Zee: It’s hard. I won’t say that it doesn’t upset me at times because it does, but at the same time, I just find a way of doing it. I’m quite driven and I absolutely love Queen Zee, and that overrides any fear I have about not wanting to do anything. I remember when I first did an interview being asked about queer topics and I was really hesitant and worried that I was going to be criticised and it was going to go against my name. But over time, I’ve been able to grow faith... like a Disney film.
Let’s speak about your new album. It’s amazing, like Marilyn Manson and Smashing Pumpkins but more glam and future-facing. I wanna know what records you were obsessed with growing up.
Zee: I had a punk dad who was into hardcore, and my first gig was a band called Gay For Johnny Depp who were a queercore band that put things into motion. I grew up loving anything loud and visceral, I didn’t necessarily care about music or the scenes or whatever, I was looking for something with shock value. I loved Dead or Alive and when I found out they were from Wirrell, Pete Burns became my icon. Then I was drawn towards T-Rex and New York Dolls and that glam element, but I also loved stuff like Nirvana because they were super chaotic. They were just as much of a big show as those glam acts, it’s just they didn’t have loads of lippy on.
Ash: I was into a lot of pop. Then as I got into my teenage years I got into grunge. I was always in a weird spot in the middle, and this band made sense of that.
Zee: Ash’s music taste has been really important in the band. When Ash joined, understanding pop music became important to us, rather than “hi I’m Pete Burns I’m going to sing two notes and get my butt out.”
What about films? Were there any cult movies that affected your sound and vision?
Frank: I think we share a common interest in John Waters. The DIY film world and music world are so hand-in-hand and influential. I got a degree in film before joining the band–
Zee: Oooooh, dropping that in. Me and Jay have no qualifications. I dropped out of uni after four months.
What were you doing?
Zee: I tried to do philosophy, but I dropped out. I just really wanted the student finance.
It’s crazy! That was a big reason why I went to uni. Suddenly you have all this cash in your bank account…
Zee: Yeah I got the student finance, bought loads of guitars, started Queen Zee and quit uni.
Siick. So you’ve got such a good reputation for your live show. Do you feel like that’s where you especially come into your element?
Zee: Definitely. I don’t know what it is, but I think we’ve always had it – our first show was more like a fight than a show. It’s similar to Liverpool’s drag scene – which is quite chaotic and weird, and definitely quite punk, it’s got nothing to do with RuPaul. If you mention a drag race queen over there they get very offended. It’s more like Lily Savage and Paul O’Grady, it’s very rude and offensive and not very politically correct. And I think Queen Zee has come from that. It’s quite fun and I think people can engage with that.
Would you say your crowd is quite a young queer crowd?
Frank: It varies.
Zee: I’d say it’s quite an old crowd.
Frank: One of our biggest fans is 70.
Zee: Yeah we’ve got a superfan called Doreen. We played at her 70th birthday party. She’s coming to five out of eight of these tour dates. She had Dead or Alive and Frankie Goes to Hollywood play at her other birthday parties. And she’s worked with The Cramps and Iggy Pop.
Loooool, amazing. What was her 70th birthday like?
Zee: It was one the best gigs ever. It went off. It was OAP punk.
Jason: We ended up playing half of our songs twice, because they couldn’t remember.
Ash: She’s really popular. She used to run Planet X in Liverpool…
Zee: Which is this legendary New Wave club. So it was all these 70-year-old goths in PVC with their hair slicked back. It was one of the most best experiences of my life… I think kids have gotten into us more recently because of the album and radio play. But through word-of-mouth it’s tapping into the old punk community, who look at us and see The Damned and Misfits and stuff like that, and then there are the younger queer community who also like G.L.O.S.S. and Against Me! and stuff like that.
You’re in good company. Thanks for chatting to me, Queen Zee. Is there anything else you want to add, before we go?
Zee: The album is for sale online.