In September 2015, one of Houston’s most celebrated indie outfits abruptly called it quits. The New York City Queens were no more following a performance at Untapped Fest on a cool summer evening in Discovery Green.
Nearly a year and a half later, the Queens have returned...sort of. Late last year, the local quintet premiered a new single, “Coming Up Daisies,” and have since scheduled a concert at the hottest venue in town: White Oak Music Hall.
So far, the group has been coy about whether Friday's show is a reunion or a farewell, so the Houston Press caught up with vocalist and guitarist John Stephens to set the record straight.
“Friday’s show is — for the foreseeable future — a good-bye of sorts,” Stephens says. “For me personally, I never say never. But Queens is the five of us — those five people specifically. I have zero intention to continue with the band without each person involved, so we’ll just have to see about future dates.”
Stephens attributed the band’s sudden breakup to issues with their then-label, which have since been resolved, providing the Queens an opportunity to give fans a proper farewell.
“We pursued our music relentlessly,” Stephens says, mentioning billings on CMJ and at South by Southwest. “I was obsessive about taking the band to that next level…Once we crossed a few of those things off the list, we wanted more out of the project.”
The Queens hoped to set a course for national exposure, but there were roadblocks.
“We didn’t have the right pieces to finish that part of the puzzle,” Stephens says, noting the brutality of working in the music industry full-time. “You form relationships with people and sometimes they end badly. They can end really badly, and that takes a toll on you as an artist and a person.”
Over time, those ill-fated relationships soured the group’s outlook, and the ugly side of the music business engulfed everything Stephens and his bandmates had come to love about the music itself.
“We were so young when the band started,” he says. “I was naive. You assume everyone in the business thinks about art and music the same way you do, and they just don’t. That’s the reality we kind of were shaken into accepting as the band progressed.
“For each of us, though, I think music is so deeply ingrained in our personalities that, without it, something feels off,” Stephens continues. “I personally don’t feel like myself when I’m not writing and recording or performing.”
Which is why, on top of being a reunion and a farewell show simultaneously, Friday’s performance will see the Queens debuting new material.
“We’ll be playing three or four songs from our third and unreleased album, Glass House,” Stephens says. “Some fans may or may not have heard this material live before, but it’s the newest material we’ll be showcasing.”
Since the group’s breakup, the former Queens have kept busy with other musical projects. Stephens is planning to reissue some previously unreleased Queens tunes alongside newer music through his latest project, Vas Deferens.
Daniela Hernandez, the Queens’ bassist and co-vocalist, plays in Rose Ette and TeeVee. Guitarist Kitty Beebe performs with Molly Church and has her own side project, SaND DUNES. Drummer Isaac Chavez-Garza plays with Camera Cult.
And Vas Deferens is made up of Stephens, Hernandez, Chavez-Garza and guitarist Tom Guth, one of the five original members of the Queens.
“We pushed hard for three years; touring, releasing, repeating. That gets to you after some time,” Stephens says. “Our goal was always to take the band as far as it could possibly go and – considering our circumstances at the time – I think we all felt the band had run its course.”
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Stephens and his bandmates were exhausted when all was said and done. But they had developed as songwriters and musicians, so it was with heavy hearts that they decided to pursue those endeavors separately.
“We are good friends,” he adds. “I love everyone in the band like they were family.”
So for at least one more evening, Houston fans will have the chance to say hello again to the Kingwood natives turned darling children of the Houston music scene. They know it’s been a while, and they’ve surely missed us so.
New York City Queens reunite this Friday, January 20, at White Oak Music Hall. Also on the bill are Young Girls and Camera Cult. Doors open at 8 p.m.