Shebeen Queen interview with Jess and Fenda

February 11, 2014

Shebeen Queen interview with Jess and Fenda

Discordant harmonies abound in the rusty jagged beats and
erratically hypnotic guitars of Shebeen Queen. 
The quietly escalating demur belying the devastating power that runs
like an electrical current through their debut cassette tape.  It’s not all the time I hear a band where the
low fidelity approach actually adds something to the music.  In other words, I hear a lot of jive talk
from a lot of people about the warmth of cassettes and stuff but not a lot of
bands know how to harness and control that blown-out distorted beast.  While The Mummies instantly spring to mind,
Drew Owen of Sick Thoughts is another member of the afore mentioned camp.  Never did I think I would come across an
Aussie power house like Shebeen Queen on such a small and unassuming cassette
tape, it’s like someone dosed La Luz out on acid and Heather Hussy was sitting
in on drums while Ty Segall or Mikal Cronin helped strum some tunes or
something.  This shit is the real deal.  Seamlessly transitioning back and forth from
calm melodies and soft handed crooning into these raved up frenzies of action,
Shebeen Queen is one of the rare bands that draws you in with the calm and
collected sounds of tunes like “Devil On My Back” or “June” and then right
houses you in the skull with stuff like “Calm” and “Seven Days”.  Minimalism at its finest, the self-titled
debut EP is an exercise in musical discovery and experimentation.  You can almost hear the band learning what they’re
doing throughout the production of the album and it comes from such a deep and
sincere place that all of those aspects really add to the feeling and ambiance
of the album.  While Australia might be
cranking out killer punk bands and garage rock super-groups all day long
Shebeen Queen is something new, fresh and different, a radical change of pace
to say the least.  Just check out
“Catherine” from the EP at the link below and make sure to let me know if
you’re lucky enough to score a tape cause these mothers are gonna go quick,
rest assured!
What is Shebeen Queen’s lineup? Is this your original
lineup or have there been any changes since the bands started?
Jess:  We are
essentially a three piece.  The guts of
the band are Fenda and I.  We’ve played
with three drummers so far, but at the moment Tony is our drummer and he also
helped record the tape.
Fenda:  I’m on
Guitar/Vox, Jess does Guitar/Vox/melodica/tamborine and Tony Mcyeh plays
Drums.  We had Craig Rossi, Box Of Fish,
drumming for us on most of the recordings and he played live with us once.
The more musicians that I talk to the more I realize that
most musicians are involved in at least one other band, at least in their spare
time or something. Are any of you in any other active bands at this point? Have
you released any music with anyone in the past? If so can you tell us a little
bit about that?
Jess:  I have been
doing home recordings for years, but there’ve been no releases until now.
Fenda:  Nope, and
nothing worth mentioning.
Where are you originally from?
Jess:  I’m from
Horsfield Bay on the Central Coast, it’s over an hour from Sydney.
Fenda:  New Zealand,
but I grew up in Sydney and a small town called Mullumbimby.
What was the music scene like there when you were growing
up? Did you see a lot of shows when you were a kid? Do you feel like the local
music scene played a large role in your musical tastes or the way that you play
at this point?
Jess:  The Music scene
was pretty much nonexistent.  If there
was a show on, it was mostly in Manly or the centre of Sydney.  All ages shows were few and far between.
Fenda:  It was pretty
good actually.  They used to put on a lot
of underage gigs in Sydney and also when I lived in Mullumbimby.  The festivals were cheaper and allowed for
young people to see a lot of great bands at once.  The local scene definitely influenced my
tastes at the time, but not the way I play now.
What was your house like when you were a kid? Were your
parents or any of your relatives either musicians or extremely interested or
involved in music?
Jess:  My eldest
sister Holly is a really good singer, and she used to play in clubs in
Sydney.  My older brother got me into
grunge and punk when I was thirteen.  My
dad got me into Bob Dylan and a lot of 70’s bands.
Fenda:  I’m half
Maori, so there was always someone in the family playing guitar or singing at
gatherings as it’s a pretty big part of our culture.  Growing up was pretty normal for me.  My parents weren’t musicians, although my mum
could play the Ukelele and my dad was a massive Elvis fan and had a great
collection of 50’s and 60’s music.  He
gave me my first Kink’s album on tape.
What was your first real exposure to music?
Jess:  There was no
first, I just slowly discovered that your music doesn’t have to sound a certain
way and it doesn’t need to have a particular structure.
Fenda:  Because I had
to share a room with my sister, I listened to everything she liked which was a
lot of pop music.  And pretty much
everyone in my family listened to Bob Marley and Fleetwood Mac.
If you had to pick on defining moment, a moment that
opened your eyes to the infinite possibilities of music and changed everything
for you, what would it be?
Fenda:  When I first
heard “Venus In Furs” by the Velvet Underground.  It just floored me.  I must have listened to that a hundred times
that week.  Its cliché, I know…
When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and
performing your own music and what brought that decision about?
Jess:  I started
writing when I was about ten.  Then I
started learning guitar when I was about thirteen.  I liked doing it and it just naturally became
my hobby.
Fenda:  When I went
through puberty.  All of my favourite
albums got me through that.  I thought I
should repay that debt.
What was your first instrument? Who gave it to you and
when was that?
Jess:  My dad got me
an acoustic guitar when I was about thirteen. 
I still have it.
Fenda:  Technically it
was a 12-string acoustic my uncle left at my house.  When I was fourteen I got my first electric
guitar and amp which my parents bought for me.
When and how did you all originally meet?
Fenda:  I’m in a
relationship with Jess’ cousin.  I think
we met at a family BBQ.
Jess:  Fenda started
dating my cousin.  I met her a couple of
times but we didn’t really speak that much. Then they moved in together and we
all started hanging out.  We just started
playfully jamming and it went from there.
What led to the formation of Shebeen Queen and when was
Jess:  After a few
jams with friends, we decided to try just jamming together.  I started catching the bus every Friday to
Fenda’s house and we ended up coming up with eight or so songs in a couple of
Fenda:  We were both
sick of not playing the music we liked. 
I listened to a song Jess wrote and just loved it.  We realized we were on the same page
musically and just started writing and recording really quickly.
What does the name Shebeen Queen mean or refer to? As an
American I feel like I’m missing out on a joke or some slang here for some
reason. Who came up with name and how did you go about choosing it?
Fenda:  A Shebeen is
an illegal drinking shack where they would sell homemade alcohol.  In Zimbabwe and South Africa, these places
were usually run by women called Shebeen Queens.  I bought this amazing record by a guy called
“Rikki Ililonga” who’s from Zambia and he wrote a song called
“Shebeen Queen” which is easily one of the best songs I’ve ever
heard.  I showed Jess and we just fell in
love with the name and thought it had a nice ring to it.
Jess:  You’re not
really missing out on a joke, we just wanted a strong name with a strong
meaning.  I like what these queens did,
they offered a space filled with illegal drinking, a place for bands to play
and writers and poets to exchange ideas. 
I like the history of it.  Alcohol
was their only form of income.  They were
strong woman and out of their struggle they managed to create a sense of
Is there any shared creed, code, ideal or mantra that the
band shares or lives by?
Jess:  We’re pretty
much just making music together because we love doing it.  That’s it.
Fenda:  Not
really…  We just don’t like anything
shitty, so we try to make music that we think isn’t shit.
Where are you all located at these days?
Jess:  In Newtown in
Fenda:  We both live
in Sydney.  I live on Bondi Beach which I
can’t wait to get out of.  If anyone is
reading this that wants to come to Sydney and thinks that Bondi Beach is the
place to go, think again.  You’ve heard
How would you describe the local music scene where you’re
at now?
Jess:  Its fine, it’s
like every other city.  It’s very
cliquey, it’s very trendy; the bar isn’t set that high in Sydney.  But on the flip side you can meet real people
that are amazing and are just playing because they want to.
Fenda:  It’s kinda
bubbling under a surface of shit right now. 
I think in the last year a lot of good bands have formed.  Sydney is generally shit if you’re in band,
venues only care about dance music.  But
I think that will change in the next year.
Are you very involved or interested in the local music
scene? Do you book or attend a lot of local shows? Do you help to record and or
release any local music?
Jess:  I’m interested
but not really blown away by anything.  I
think Melbourne has a better music scene then us, but I guess the grass is
always greener.
Fenda:  Not yet, but
we will be.  We go to our fair share of
Do you feel like the scene has played a large role in the
history or sound of Shebeen Queen, or do you feel like you could be doing what
you’re doing and sound like you do regardless of your surroundings?
Jess:  No, the scene
has made no effect.
Fenda:  Not really.  I think we’ve always just wanted to play what
we like and not think about it too much. 
So I guess we would still be doing it regardless of what was happening
in the scene.
There’s a lot of things that I love about my job with
Psychedelic Baby and there’s a lot of things that I’m very good at when it
comes to my work. Describing bands to people who’ve never heard them is
unfortunately not one of those things. Rather than me making some bizarre and
awkward attempt at it, how would you describe Shebeen Queen’s sound in your own
words to our readers who might not have heard you before?
Jess:  Doom country.
Fenda:  Doomed
country, loud and pretty.
I love the melting pot of sound that you all have going
on in your music and am curious who some of your major musical influences are?
What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually?
Jess:  I think Roland
S. Howard is a personal influence.  Karen
Dolten, The Band, Television, etcetera are influences on the band.
Fenda:  We both love
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Velvet Underground, Serge Gainsbourg, PJ
Harvey, Anna Calvi and The Stooges.
Can you tell our readers about the songwriting process
with Shebeen Queen? Is there someone who comes to the rest of the band with a
riff or more finished idea to work out and compose with the rest of the band?
Or is it more of a situation where you all get together, jam and slowly work
the idea into a song?
Jess:  Pretty much
someone has an idea and then we just play it out and see if it’s anything.  Most of the time it will be a partly finished
song by Fenda or myself, and we will just add to it and make suggestions.  We’re both pretty strong headed so when we
have an idea, it sounds a particular way in our head and we just kind of expect
the other to already know how it’s meant to sound.  Luckily enough it works out alright in the
Fenda:  Primarily we
make up songs on our own and then take them to each other to help develop.  There’s only been a couple of occasions where
we’ve jammed on the spot and come up with something.  If we don’t get to work with each other, we
send each other recordings via email and work on them separately.
Do you all enjoy recording? As a musician myself I think
that most of us can really appreciate the end result, holding that album in
your hands knowing that its yours and that no one can ever take that away from
you, it’s a great feeling to say the least. Getting to that final point though.
Getting everything recorded, especially when it comes to having to record as a
band and stuff can be extremely rough to say the least. How is it recording for
you all?
Fenda:  Mainly it’s
fun and exciting.  We kinda rushed our
first recording and learnt a lot from that, but we were very excited when it
was done.  We’re looking forward to the
next one!
Do you all utilize studio environments for recording, or
is it more of a DIY proposition that you handle on your own time with your own
equipment and personnel?
Jess:  It’s DIY.  We recorded the drums first on a 4-track and
then we just kept using the 4-track in my lounge room and did the whole album
like that.  We used our shitty drum kit
and Tony, our drummer at the time, recorded it all, mixed, mastered and dubbed
all the tapes for us.  He’s pretty
Fenda:  Completely
DIY.  We recorded it in Jess’s lounge
room and at our rehearsal space.  Tony
mixed it all for us and did all of the tedious stuff which was awesome.
Does Shebeen Queen do a lot of prep work before you all
record getting things sounding just the way that you want them, all the
arrangements and compositions worked out? Or is it more of an organic process
where things have a little room to breathe, change and evolve during recording?
Jess:  We pretty much
have the songs figured out before we record. 
The only thing that we let evolve during recording is the sound of it,
which pedals we may use on our guitars and vocals.  Recording this tape was just Fenda and I
figuring it out as we went.
Fenda:  Being our
first record we just kinda pumped the tracks out and printed it!  And like I said before we learned from that
and we will definitely take more time on the next recording.

Your debut release was the self-titled Shebeen Queen
cassette which came out the end of last year (2013). Is that release limited at
all? I thought I remembered reading about it being limited but can’t find the
article again and beginning to think I just made it up. Can you share some of
your memories of recording that material with our readers? Was that a fun,
pleasurable experience for you all? Where and when was that material recorded?
Who recorded it? What kind of equipment was used?

Jess:  Our tape was
self-released.  Everything that we’ve
done for it, like get it played on radio and get it into stores here and
overseas was all us.  If you see us on iTunes
don’t buy it, ‘cause the money doesn’t go to us, thanks!  It was a limited release of 50.  We’re sold out now, but I’m dubbing a second
lot now for our shows and to send people who buy them off the Bandcamp
page.  The recording process has its high
and lows.  We did it all in my living
room, Tony recorded it for us as well as mastered and dubbed the tapes.  We did have a lot of fun with it though.  There were a lot of long nights of drinking
and singing.”
Do you all have any material other than the tape that
you’ve released that I might have missed, a song on a comp or anything that I
might have missed?
Fenda:  Nope.
Jess:  No, just the
With the release of the tape not too long ago, are there
any other releases in the works or on the horizon at this point?
Jess:  We have songs
that we want to record and we want to release a record this year hopefully.
Fenda:  Yeah.  We’re currently working on some new songs and
are thinking of releasing stuff on vinyl this time.
With the completely insane international postage rate
increases this past year I try to provide our readers with as many options as I
possibly can for picking up imports! Where’s the best place for our US readers
to pick up copies of your music?
Jess:  The best place
to buy the tape is from our Bandcamp.  I
just sent some out to Volcanic tongue in Glasgow, it’s in at Permanent Records
Chicago and I’ll keep sending them out to record stores over the next couple of
What about our international and overseas readers?
Jess:  Feel free to
email us at Shebeenqueenmusic@gmail.com, we will get a tape out to you.
Does Shebeen Queen have any big plans for 2014?
Jess:  We have some
shows in February, March and April so far. 
We’ve started writing new songs and we want to start recording
soon.  We want to put out a record and be
mighty proud of it.
Fenda:  We plan to
remove the stigma of menstruation being a “curse” and we also hope to
gig more often.  Hopefully this next
recording we do will earn us some money so we can pay our credit card debts.
Do you remember what the first song that Shebeen Queen
ever played live was? Where and when was that?
Jess:  I think it was
“Change My Mind”.
Fenda:  “Change
my Mind”.  We played this weird
little pub called Town & Country.
What, if anything, do you all have planned as far as
touring goes for 2014 so far?
Fenda:  We will be
playing in Melbourne in March and hopefully we get to do that more often and
perhaps some other cities in Australia. 
We haven’t really discussed touring, I think that’ll happen once we know
how this next recording will turn out.
Does Shebeen Queen spend a lot of time on the road? Do
you all enjoy touring? What’s life like on the road for Shebeen Queen?
Jess:  We haven’t
toured at all yet.
Fenda:  I spend a lot
of time on Bondi Road.  In summer the
traffic is shit, and you’ll sit in a packed bus full of sweaty beach heads for
way longer than you can stand.
Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve
had a chance to play a shows with so far?
Fenda:  It’s still
early days for us…
Jess:  No one yet, we
just got asked to play with Ausmanauts who I think have good songs.
In your dream, who are you on tour with?
Jess:  Loretta Lynn,
Willie Nelson or Patti Smith.
Fenda:  Bill Hicks.
Do you have any funny or interesting stories from your
live shows or performances that you’d like to share here with our readers?
Jess:  We played our
very first gig in this little pub called The Town & Country.  There were a few of our friends there but it
was pretty funny to see Paul Mac sitting at the bar eating a counter meal.  He was on the radio when I was growing up, I
thought it was pretty weird that he just so happened to be at this shitty pub.
Fenda:  Not yet.
Do you give a lot of thought to the visual aspects of the
band like artwork on flyers, posters and covers that represent the band? If so
do you have a defacto artist that you turn to for your art needs? Who is that
and how did you originally get involved with them?

Fenda:  Jess has a
great eye for stuff, so she’s been doing it so far.
Jess:  I did a lot of
photo restorations for work, I just used one of the ‘before’ images (with
permission) for our front cover.  I think
Fenda and I are on the same page with our taste and what suits the band.
With all the choices that are available to people today,
I’m always curious why artists choose and prefer the various methods that they
do. Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music? What about
when you’re listening to and or listening to music? If so, why?
Jess:  We released a
tape because that’s what we recorded on. 
It’s what I’ve always recorded on. 
When I listen to music, it’s usually a record or a tape.  I’m not against digital, it’s just that
that’s what I’ve always done.
Fenda:  Tape is fun,
inexpensive and suited the songs we wrote. 
There’s no doubt that vinyl is the best for sound, it’s so warm and just
feels right.  I do love the ease of
having digital files though, especially for travelling purposes.
Do you have a music collection at all? If so, can you
tell us a little bit about it?
Jess:  Yeah, it’s
mainly LP’s.  A lot of Dylan, a lot of
Blue Note jazz, Colin Stetson, a lot of country, blues, Angel Olsen, Jenks
Milner, Bowie, Total Control and I love any tape that is released on Night
Fenda:  You can find
anything in my music collection, from country music to heavy metal.  I listen to anything that’s honest and well
produced.  I also have a lot of music
from different countries and from every era, even classical music.  I like to have music for every mood possible
and to learn from.
I grew up around a fairly large collection of music and I
was encouraged from a very young ago to listen to anything that I wanted. There
was always something magical about wandering over the endless shelves of music
that stretched out in front of me, picking something completely at random,
popping it into the player, kicking back in the beanie bag, reading the liner
notes, staring at the artwork and just letting the experience carry me off to
another time and place. At this point I’m pretty sure it’s become an addiction,
but I love my music collection! Do you have any such connection with physically
released music?
Jess:  Definitely, I
just have a couple of shelves of records in the living room and listening to
records is how I listen to music, that and tapes.  I think I have way too many tape
players.  I’ve always done that, ever
since I got into music.  I would listen
to records and always record them on tape players.  I just love the sound of them, the artwork
and when you buy a record you are really going to listen to it from start to
finish and get to know it.  You can’t do
that with a digital album.  You just see
people listening to the first ten seconds of a song and just skip and
skip.  I could never relate to that.
Definitely!  I used to go to my
local library, when I was around thirteen years old, and select random CDs that
I’d never heard of and take them home to digest.  Things like Nirvana’s In Utero, the
soundtrack to “Cabaret”, some classical music and The Beatles.  I also found Bjork’s first band Sugarcubes
there and fell in love with her.  I loved
going to record stores and spending hours in there staring at the covers and
wondering what it would sound like.  I
usually bought things based on the cover back then.  I was rarely disappointed.
As much as I love my music collection, and I’m passionate
about collecting and listening to good music. But as much as I love it there
was always the issue of portability. I was just never able to take enough of
what I wanted with me on the go. Digital music has all but eliminated that
problem over night, but that’s not even the kicker! When teamed with the
internet, the two have exposed people to an entire universe of music that they
otherwise wouldn’t have known even existed. It’s opened people’s eyes to the
infinite amounts of amazing music out there and levelled the playing field
somewhat for dedicated independent artists willing to take the time to promote
and harbor a healthy online presence. On the other hand illegal downloading
runs rampant and a lot of people feel like music is becoming this disposable
thing to be used and then forgotten or erased. As an artist during the reign of
the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?
Jess:  On the positive
side it’s easier to find bands and listen to them and to get suggestions of
other bands, finding out there’s this whole scene that you didn’t even know
about.  I like Soundcloud for that.  I think it makes us more knowledgeable but at
the same time, if you’re not careful, also makes us really fucking lazy.
Fenda:  I think the
pros outweigh the cons at this point. 
Yeah, its shit, people aren’t appreciating music as actual things people
have created and put time and effort into. 
But on the other hand, it’s allowed people to control where their music
goes and to be able to do everything without a middle man.  I think it has uprooted a lot of dishonesty
in the business and made people realize that it needs to be purely creative and
not a corporation.  We still have major
labels, yeah, but for independent artists, the possibilities are endless.
I try to keep up on as many good bands as I possibly can,
but with all the avenues and venues available to me today it’s impossible to
keep up with even one-percent of the amazing stuff going on out there! Because
of this I rely on talking to intelligent and talented people such as yourself
for suggestions on who I should be checking out. Is there anyone from your
local scene or area that I should be listening to that I might not have heard
of before?
Jess:  Our drummer at
the moment Tony is in this noise act called Teen Ax, very intense to see live,
he also does Pleasure Bros. which is working with reel-to-reels.  Anything on Lost Race Records, like the
Cobwebbs, Vacant Valley Records, Per Purpose. 
Mad Nana are one of my favourite bands, they’re from Melbourne.  Love chants are really good, Drunk Elk just
released a tape and it blew me away, they’re from Tasmania.  East Link, Wonderfuls, Treehouse, Bitchratch,
Udays Tiger, White Walls, then Damn Terrain are from Melbourne, Harmony are
good live and Total Control, Amateur Childbirth, Psy Ants and Taco Leg…  That’s all I can think of at the moment.
Fenda:  I just saw a
local band I hadn’t heard of before called Alex Cameron.  I haven’t been able to stop listening to
them.  Check out
Royal Headache are from Sydney and are a lot of fun, Holy Balm are great
too, oh and Raw Prawn.
What about nationally and internationally?
Jess:  To make my
answer simple, at the moment I’ve been playing Afflicted Man, Henry Flynt, Pop
1280, Disappears and Ann Briggs.
Fenda:  I really like
UV Race and Total Control from Melbourne. 
Also Kitchen’s Floor from Brisbane.
Thanks so much for doing the interview, I hope to see a
lot more of you all in the future and hope we hear a lot as well; ah, terrible
jokes, I’m sorry… But seriously, before we call it a day and I let you go, is
there anything that I might have missed or that you’d just like to take this
opportunity to talk to me or my readers about?
Jess:  Thanks a lot.
Fenda:  Thanks!
(2013) Shebeen Queen – Shebeen Queen EP – digital, Cassette Tape – Self-Released
Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2014
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