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29.7.18 | £8.00 adv (+stbf) | 19:30
Carré Callaway realizes she's created her own dilemma. She knows how hard it is to make a living as an artist these days, especially in the world of music. And she knows that she could make life easier for herself if she made commercial music she knows most people want to hear. But that's not something she ever wants to do. Nor is it something she can do. Because when it comes to her music which she makes with her band as Queen Kwong it's all in her heart, her blood, her soul.
When I make music, I'm not thinking about how anyone's going to take it. It's afterwards when the fears of everyone else's perception start to creep in. And that's because unfortunately, with a career as an artist, if you're really trying to make a living, your success depends on what other people think, not on how skilled, creative or talented you may be. And that fucking sucks.
To that extent, Callaway is a law unto herself. The music she makes as Queen Kwong is and has always been wild and eccentric, disturbing yet beautiful, soothing and visceral. It flickers like a broken light in an old abandoned house, before exploding in an iridescent burst of sinister energy and primal force. It's unpredictable and inventive, music that's truly original and unique. But it wasn't always that way. Discovered at the age of 17 by Trent Reznor, Callaway was thrust into the limelight when still positioned as a solo songwriter she found herself supporting Nine Inch Nails as a teenager. But what that afforded her in exposure was rivaled by an understandable unsteadiness and uncertainty.
In hindsight, she says, I usually lean towards that experience being more of a negative thing on my career and my growth as an artist. To be exposed to that big of an audience opening for him when I did, and to be associated with that big of a name when you don't even know what you're doing is really, really hard. That was a huge first impression that reached a lot of people, and it was while I was still figuring out who I was as an artist. But positive things came out of it too, and I still go to him for advice all the time.
Callaway took two years off from music after that first experience before re-emerging as Queen Kwong in 2009 and off the back of Reznor's guidance to ignore the trends and fads and always be true to herself. I wish I could claim that I've never tried to fit in or conform, she laughs, but that's not true. I definitely did at the beginning of my career. I was told to do things by people around me that would make me more successful. I've been in situations where there have been strong suggestions to write poppier, catchier songs. And for a long time, I tried. And I failed. It just wasn't my thing. Why do something I'm mediocre at when I could do something well that I actually like?
That's something which has taken full form with this second full-length. Because Love Me To Death doesn't just continue Callaway's musical idiosyncrasies and anti-conventions as a songwriter, but takes her songwriting to a whole new level. Its eleven songs don't just reveal exactly who Callaway is, but her very essence is contained within each and every one: she's in the gritty grooves of opener of the title track as much as in One Lung's almost-grungy swirl of pulsating, hypnotic guitars. She's waiting behind the off-kilter, sultry fragility of Third World Girl and also the not-quite-poppy slacker-pop of Raptures. She's hiding in the tender, melancholy ache of Old Faithful while simultaneously bursting out of the rambunctious, monochrome proto-punk of Fool's Gold and the avant-garde no wave noise of closer Sun Of Life. And while each track stands remarkably tall on its own, it all coalesces to form one cohesive whole.
This is a total encapsulation of who I am, she says. if you look at my body of work from when I was really young, there are elements of that in this record. It's all me, but I think I've presented it a lot better than I've been able to do before. I challenged myself and I think I put together a cohesive record that's a really true representation of who I am.
As with every Queen Kwong release to date, the songs on Love Me To Death were all improvised, in LA with longtime collaborator Joe Cardamone (The Icarus Line). But this time around, Callaway revisited her compositions, going back to them once they'd been recorded rather than releasing the demos.
There was definitely more of a thought process behind this record, she says. Writing a song, recording it, going back to it, working on it a little more, adding way more production to it than I ever have in my life. It was really uncomfortable, because I've never worked that way before. But I'm a more clearly-defined artist with this record. That means a lot to me because I think it shows strength and I've never really been able to say that before.
Originally slated to be called On The Mend, Callaway changed the title when she realised that wasn't the case at all. Instead of pretending to be something she wasn't, she decided instead to embrace what and who she was.
I'm not on the mend, she laughs. In fact, I think I was in a better place at the beginning of the record than I was at the end. I've struggled with mental health issues my entire life. And when you're writing and recording something, you're really bringing to light things that you're trying to otherwise keep hidden within yourself. You try not to think about these things in order to be okay and then when you're recording you're constantly having to bring them up and feel it.
Nevertheless, there's a beautiful defiance to these songs, a determined urgency and an fiery resolve flowing through both the music and also Callaway's lyrics. Those, too, were created in the heat of moment, the words flying out of her spontaneously in the studio. To ensure an unfiltered representation of what she was feeling at the time, she limited the process to two takes. The result is an intensity and purity of feeling that courses through the record from beginning to end, but which lets in as much beauty and tenderness as it revels in the mire of nihilistic darkness.
I may sound like Swans and perform like The Stooges, says Callaway, but most importantly, I write like an angel. She laughs after she says this, but she shouldn't, because it's absolutely true.