Black Queen Speaks is, on the surface, a band we should detest. Their sound resembles much of what killed rock and roll deader than all the drugs, plane crashes and vomit-clogged airways combined. At first listen, you can just chalk them up as another Buzzworthy act, in the end just one more voice screaming their constant victimization through a cheap mask of strut and Hollywood imagecraft.
All that, though, is a mirage. As hard as we try, we cannot unhear what we have heard.
Sure, Black Queen Speaks probably stiffens the meathoses of fratheads, too, but that's not their fault. With the release of their seven-song EP Campeador, they are exploring a whole new level of honesty and rawness, as well as the lyrical twists of phrase that made listening to Guns N' Roses such a life-changing experience.
Indeed, it's the deep cuts from the Use Your Illusion albums that we most found kinship with in the album. We're talking about tracks like "Dust and Bones" and "Bad Apple" here. Whatever combination of inherent songwriting talent, good production, and voodoo wizadry made those albums iconic is drizzled throughout the mix of Black Queen Speak's latest release.
For our money, "Son" is the album's crowing moment of glory. Anytime you open a song with the line "I am the son of the devil," then you've pretty much won our vote for whatever Most Awesome category you're currently in the running for. It's got this wonderful, hopeless rage. It's the scream right before you have to, yes have to, punch a hole in a wall or just explode from the buildup inside you.
Most of the album echoes these sentiments. Don't get us wrong, we're not saying that listening to Campeador is like putting in a Joy Division album before opening up a nice bottle of wine and an even nicer vein in your wrist. It's very much alive, throbbing actually now that we think about it. It pulses with rapidly exploding guitars, some of the most solid drumming we've ever heard on a rock record, and maximum enjoyability through sonic evacuation.
In short Campeador is to modern rock what Dan Trachtenberg's Portal short is to cinematic video-game adaptations... a chokehold and two quick backhands to their respective industries while saying "Like THIS, fuckers. Do it THIS way."
By the Jolly Green Giant's Verdant Ballsack, will somebody please throw Black Queen Speaks into the petri dish of Houston radio and hope they cure some of the more unfortunate infections?
If you want to catch Black Queen Speaks live, Saturday at 2016 Mainstage is when you want to do it. Not only will they be playing cuts from Campeador, but they are using the concert to raise money for the Fire Fighters Foundation of Houston in honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The FFFH provides benefits and assistants to the families of fire fighters killed in the line of duty, as well as equipment used by fire fighters to save lives.
Bearing in mind the recent wildfires, it would be a very decent thing to do to join with Black Queen Speaks in trying to raise some scratch for a group of heroes fighting a desperate battle as we speak.
We sat down with the band via email to talk about Campeador. Check out Page 2 for their words.
Rocks Off: Honestly, if we had to peg this album's influences, we would guess G N' R's Use Your Illusion I and some Stone Temple Pilots. Are we even close?
D2 Day: You are very close, especially from a production standpoint. Our producer, Eric Jarvis, definitely brought a lot of the STP vibe in terms of background vocals, complimentary and unique guitar parts and overall production quality. We actually discussed having Mike Clink help out on the production of some of the guitars (he's the guy who engineered and produced most of G N' R's stuff).
Overall, I think this album is a natural progression from our first EP, but it definitely has more attention to detail and more focused songwriting and arrangements.
RO: Damnation and hopelessness seems to play a big part in the lyrics on this album? What kind of a place are you coming from that makes you have to sing such desolation?
Josh Skiffington: Personally I find that the lyrics are about funding peace through adversity.
Mike Blas: Thanks for the buzz kill, Jef. I'm thinking, "Oh fun, I get to answer some cool interview questions," and now I'm psychoanalyzing myself. I have felt alone before. I think we try to save people in the ways in which we've felt saved. If I can relate with listeners then I'm kind of getting the chance to tell them that they're not alone. I think of it as a fun little torch to pass. If you didn't know, Jef With One F, torches are usually passed in the dark.
D2D: I think all those themes - damnation, hopelessness and desolation - are prominent in the lyrics, but they're not the main points. They come from Mike's very personal experiences throughout his life. I think redemption, overcoming and triumph - and I know Mike, as we all have, travelled on some pretty dark places - would be the take-aways from most of the lyrics.
You have to also be careful on where you're picking those themes from. For example, on "KFC," Mike is putting himself in the position of abused and under-appreciated women. He's not condoning or accepting that reality - he's merely describing it.
To put it bluntly, I think there's a lot of pain in the lyrics throughout the album, but I don't think the resolution is to wallow or be a victim. Nihilism is definitely a part of Nietzsche's philosophy, but to call Nietzsche a nihilist is to miss the point.
RO: Best song on the album is "Son." No doubt about it. Can you tell us a bit more about the song's creation and meaning?
Blas: "Son" is patterned after the character Hellboy. I found myself relating with him a lot. He's got a lot of stuff going for him but he's stuck with this sense that somehow he's going to ruin everything if he lets out the "real" him. It would basically be the end of the world. I laugh and think, "Who can't relate with that?" but maybe I'm weird.
There was a point in my life where I wasn't sure if I was going to have a great relationship with my father. I wrote "Son" after we worked hard and became friends again.
D2D: The lyrics and idea for the main riff were written by Mike. The way he originally had it was much more poppy than the final product. Something with the music wasn't sitting well with me. Mike came over to my house one night and we jammed out acoustically to try to come up with some new ideas. I decided to mess with having a more haunting, "In My Time of Dying" vibe to the song and tuned the guitar to A and started playing slide.
We created the main riff and breakdown within five minutes, and the next day at rehearsal, presented it to the guys and we all knew we had something special. We still had issues cleaning up some of the middle sections which our producer really helped us focus and made sure the song didn't drag. In general, you can't be a hard-rock band from Houston, TX and not have a slide guitar... It's like part of the code you take when you try to show off in a music store.
RO: You guys have never been a soft act, but this album has an edge even for you. Do you feel like you're becoming a harder band? Is it on purpose?
D2D: I don't think we're necessarily becoming a harder band. The first EP had a much more diverse set of influences - rock, grunge, funk, etc. This album is much more focused effort and reflects our desire to write much more hard-hitting, no BS music.
Gabe Lopez: I think this album is heavier than our first EP. Our first EP was really diverse - we had elements of rock, metal, hip hop and funk and we wore those influences on our sleeve. However, 4 of the 7 songs on this EP had their genesis during the making of the first EP. When we were putting together the tracks that we wanted to include on this album, we wanted a more straight-ahead, driving sound.
RO: If this album had to sum up its message in one sentence, what would that be?
Skiffington: We should all go and be eaten by a whale.
Blas: And suddenly in my head Michael Jackson starts up with, "You are not alone."
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D2D: It's a focused effort by a group of friends not afraid to make music that we love.
Black Queen Speaks plays with Gunslinger, Sheila Swift, The Tyburn Jig, and Tyranny of Bella Saturday at 2016 Mainstage .