Queen Elephantine Interview
20th February 2009
Queen Elephantine could be described more as a collective than a band and are certainly not one to shy away from experimenting, not only with their sound, but also with their constantly rotating line-up which see’s members, past and present, come and go with every new release and with it brings a whole wealth of influences and ideologies to the mix. Intrigued to know more about the enigma that is Queen Elephantine, I caught up with their main protagonist Indy…
Hi Indy, hope life is treating you well in New York, right lets get this interview started by digging a little deeper into the world of Queen Elephantine as although you’ve only been around since 2006, you’ve have quite an illustrious history, so can you give a brief introduction to the band and your current members at the moment?
Hey Lee. Actually I’ve just moved from New York to Providence, so this is the second time the band has been completely displaced. Danny Quinn and I formed this group in Hong Kong. After recording our first full length album Surya I moved to New York, where with a new line-up we recorded a couple of EPs and our second album, which is called Kailash, and that is being mastered right now. Musicians on that were Raj Narayanan, Brett Zweiman, Andrew Jude Riotto and Chris Dialogue. But I’ve just moved to Providence so I don’t know what’s happening. I guess if I find the right people in Providence, Queen Elephantine will go on. If I don’t… who knows? Perhaps Queen Elephantine will be less active and will meet only periodically. Actually no one ever becomes a former member, they always remain members… You can’t leave, it’s a cult! Danny and all aren’t former members, they’re still members, they’re just not playing in the active line-up right now.
In 3 words, how would you describe your music?
Lethargic, loose, and hopeless.
What’s the meaning behind the band’s name?
Actually it’s meaningless, but if you want to read too much into it, you can easily make up a bullshit story about Satis, the goddess queen of Elephantine.
And what have you released to date?
We’ve released a self-titled demo, splits with Elder and Sons of Otis, our full length Surya, and some internet-released EPs, namely Yatra and To Tartarus. Also some compilation tracks here and there, including the Catacomb Records’ record from early 2008. They are also going to put out a split 7″ featuring Alunah and ourselves, but that’s been pushed back since its original release about a year ago because of some name issues Alunah have been facing. We have a few more recordings but don’t really know what the best avenue for their release would be.
Did you have any overall aims or ambitions when you first formed Queen Elephantine?
The first band Danny and I were really in was Allaluminumcan, and it was kind of noisy, dirty, messy rock with no rules. At the time Queen Elephantine came about, I was playing in some other bands, Molten Lava Death Massage being the one I spent the most time with. That was great fun, but it was too structured and too fast and I missed the anarchy. Danny and I played in another band called Fashionista which was already doing slower stuff, like that’s the band we first played Battle of Massacoit live with, and we also did an Earthlings? covers live – Big Hairy Spider. I wish I had a recording of that, it was opening for a French group on tour in Hong Kong called Vialka. Anyway, so Danny and I were ready to play slower, and Queen Elephantine seemed like the natural final product after all the bands we were in growing up.
You originally started life in Hong Kong, but now reside in New York, so can you tell us why you made the move stateside and how this affected the output of Queen Elephantine?
The move was because of studies. I came out here for university. Danny trusted me to keep Queen Elephantine going, and I think the band has retained its original spirit, but the output has changed in several ways. The lineup we had settled with in Hong Kong – which means Danny Quinn, Mike Isley, and Alex Buck – was made up of four best friends, and that made for the really organic feeling that Queen Elephantine always had in those days. Half the recordings we did just unravelled without any forethought. Danny and I have played together in bands since we were twelve. For example on the first track from our demo, Plasma Thaw, which we later redid for Surya, we hadn’t played a single note till we hit the record button, and then somehow Danny and I came in on precisely the same riff.
You’ve also had a lot of members come and go since your beginnings, can you tell us why this is, as you do seem like the kind of band that likes to experiment with different musicians and will you continue to follow this route in future or will you one day settle on a more stable line-up?
Yeah, even on our first demos the drummers change from track to track. We always believed in the looseness of the band. There is a spirit of the band that we all try and tap into, and as long as a person can feel it, they’re in. That said, by the time we got to the line-up I mentioned above with Danny, Mike, and Alex, we were pretty set. All of us were in the same space, and unless something spectacular happened, the four of us would have remained the core. But we all went off to university. Although even then we had second guitarists join us from time to time, like Arthur Uriquola and Kabir Hingorani. Will we ever have a stable line up? Maybe!
When you recorded the tracks Ramesses I-IV as part of the split release with Elder it was completely improvised, so when you entered the studio, did you have any preconceptions on how you wanted the recording to sound, or was it just a case of plug in, mic up and just go where ever your creative flow takes you?
For that album we didn’t. We recorded about an hour’s worth of material, each of the three members of the time leading a jam of their own. This one was mine. The other one’s ended up quite different in feel, so we certainly didn’t have any fixed ideas!
And is this something you’ll adopt again for future releases?
Probably for some. We’ve approached all our releases slightly differently with regards to the writing and recording. Surya was largely improvised, but around themes already constructed. Kailash is… a combination of all sorts of things. Parts are written, parts of improvised. Actually a lot of it was improvising in layers. For Search For The Deathless State, for example, we recorded just Brett playing the tabla. Then over the next few days we did the guitars and vocals. Then the drum tracks, and finally Andrew lay down bass and we added some of the drone elements.
Tells us a bit more about your split release with the awesome Sons Of Otis, how it came about, who released it and what have the reviews/feedback been like?
I don’t remember how the idea came about, but I just wrote to them one day and asked them if they wanted to do it. I wanted to release it on my own Concrete Lo Fi Records. And they said okay. We got a lot of favourable reviews for that record, though a few people said it was boring. I mean, if it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. Personally I like the record a lot and I think it feels like an album rather than a split, it works.
Your latest album ‘Kailash’ has now been recorded and is currently being mastered by engineering guru Billy Anderson, why did you chose Billy to master the album & what extra do you think he’ll bring to the Queen Elephantine sound?
I’m very picky and very weird when it comes to mixing, so I did most of that myself, with the very duly noted technical help from Andrew and Brett. I held a deep cynicism about mastering because of bad experiences with Molten Lava Death Massage. It had come back sounding like shit, and I had to finally do it myself. Almost every Queen Elephantine recording till now has been recorded in fairly controlled recording environments – in a studio with the equipment and levels all set the same. With Kailash things were recorded in all different ways, at all different times, so I knew it was finally time to get over my fear of mastering. So in light of that fear, I thought of which of my favourite engineers I wouldn’t have to worry about overproducing with. He’s made some albums which I consider close to ideally engineered, like the Art of Self Defence. Of course it’s only mastering, but I’ve heard how much mastering can solidify the tone of an album. I trust Billy Anderson’s ear.
Following on from that, what can people expect from ‘Kailash’, what tracks will it feature, who is releasing it and when will it be available?
Kailash is… less rock based. A friend said that it was “all stoner, no rock; all doom, no metal.” I don’t know if I completely agree, but I am guessing a lot of people will feel that way. We were trying to access the heaviness that comes from beyond the level of distortion or volume and trying to connect with the emotional heaviness behind the sound… so I suppose people will find the influence of drone and noise a lot more prevalent when compared to Surya. There’s a lot less to bang your head to, it’s more depressing and melancholy. Our artist Adrian Dexter said it picks up where we left off with the Sons of Otis split.
The tracklist is as follows… The Search For The Deathless State, Gloaming, The Vulture and the Creed, Priest, Godblood, and Khora.
The only release we have planned so far is the cassette tape version, which is 11 minutes shorter, through Abandon Ship Records, and that’s out late February. We’re going to send it to a few labels for a vinyl or CD release, or maybe one we like will get in touch with us, but if we don’t find a good deal by the summer I’ll release it myself. Waiting for Surya to get released more than a year after it was recorded was irritating.
You’ll also be releasing a split with the UK’s Alunah on Catacomb Records, it seems to have been in the ‘pipeline’ for a while now, so any news on when it’ll be released and what tracks will it feature?
Yes, I think it’s finally coming out! Alunah had a lot of stuff they had to unexpectedly deal with so we had to put that off for a bit, but it’s coming now. It’s got a track called Mephistopheles on it, which was recorded by the lineup that did Yatra. That’s myself on guitar and vocals, Raj on vocals and effects, Brett on bass, and Chris on drums.
What’s your involvement with Concrete Lo Fi Records?
I basically am Concrete Lo Fi Records. Adrian has done most of our art, and a lot of friends have participated and helped in many ways, but I’m the only one actively working on it. That said, it really got halted once I got to the States. I still haven’t really settled down to work on it. But we released Surya, and there’s a good chance we’ll do Kailash. Honestly as soon as I have the resources to do it, I want to get back to releasing other bands. I want, when the time is right, for this to evolve into a label that can really focus and get behind a few bands and work with a family kind of feeling.
You’ve also made past and unreleased Queen Elephantine recordings available via Concrete Lo Fi Records website as free downloads, so why did you make these available this way and will you make future recordings available this way?
Honestly I think in an ideal world all music should be available for free, as well as available on other formats which you pay for. I’m more interested in people hearing the music we’re making than making any money. That’s all secondary.
Thanks Indy for the interview, and please use this space for any final words…
Thanks so much Lee. Final words… to those who have pointed out that Surya is really messy… We already know, that’s how we made it.
More info on Queen Elephantine at: queenelephantine.clfrecords.com
Interviewed by: Lee Edwards
Published on 20th February 2009 at 9:19 am and has the following tags: