In the Middle with Queen Zee

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“Clash covers Scissor Sisters”, is how Zena, the ‘Zee’ of Liverpool rabble-rousers Queen Zee, describes the band she fronts in as few words. The description perfectly summates the weird-and-wonderful aesthetic that Queen Zee possess. It is difficult to categorize the band in any other way, as every reference to a genre I make in conversation, Zee is quick to shut down. I call them punk; Zee dispels that she doesn’t want to be “banded in” with the punks who can’t appreciate other music. “In terms of songwriting, we have no punk values; I’m not against autotune, I’m not against digital guitars, not against pop. I love ABBA.”

Who are Queen Zee? In the band’s own words, “A pop band writing punk songs, or a punk band writing pop songs.” Named as a play on Beyoncé’s nom de guerre ‘Queen B’, the band have been around for a few years existing predominantly in DIY music. The 8th February marks the release of their debut album, only a few days ahead of the opening night of their headline tour at the Hyde Park Book Club – a tiny, somewhat intimate building with a low capacity. With the energy that comes with a Queen Zee set, it’ll be a sweatbox.

The notable feature of a Queen Zee performance is the content of their songs; often tackling hard themes like homophobia and transphobia. “take off that lipstick and that pencil skirt//they’ll cut you down if you don’t cut that hair,” “Just be my boy, just be a boy.” They scream out on ‘Boy’; a track they performed at Reading & Leeds.

“I’m watching some pride shows and these people are all being told ‘Fuck Homophobia’, but of course they agree. That’s why they’re at a pride show.”

Do these issues inspire their lyrics, or do they use their music to deliberately raise the issues? “I feel it’s almost accidental,” Zee laughs. “I just write about my life…It’s a by-product of being a trans person in 2019. It’s sad that it is. I’d love a day we didn’t have to talk about it, but whilst these issues exist we need to talk about it.” Zee has experienced physical assault at the hands of the scene, as well as homophobic chants from audiences. “I don’t know many trans people that haven’t,”, she says when I ask if she’s experienced abuse in public. “But I’m fine with it, that’s what Queen Zee’s about. It’s about creating the ethos and energy coming out of the queer scene and preaching to a mainstream.”

That said, Queen Zee don’t want to be reduced to just a queer band; they’re a band first and foremost, with a queer person in it. “I’m still quite pre-emptive of identifying as a ‘queer act’.” They’re serious about what they do, with Zee ‘protective’ over the art and vision of the band for years to come. From speaking to Zee, it would seem that her view for the future would entail dealing with their newfound accidental status as some sort of agent of change. “Not try’na be an icon, we’re just making music,”, but Zena is firm in her belief that any artist with any platform needs to be vocal, needs to take advantage of their position of influence, however small or large.

This doesn’t mean the band don’t have serious fun, though. Whilst the band are still only small, having supported a few medium-sized bands like Cabbage and Marmozets, they’re well known around the scene for being loud, energetic, and glamorous on stage. “We keep getting told to calm it on stage,”, and understandably so; Zee herself having broken her wrist and ankle during performances, and even fracturing her eye socket in Leeds supporting Dream Wife last year, ending the set with blood streaming down her face.

“How do you feel queer representation in music has changed in recent years?” I ask, the phone line quite garbled. Years & Years and Gaga are namedropped as favourites, ‘shouting from the rooftops,’ but at the same time Zee feels that what we see are only “drops in the ocean of an absolute wave of hatred”. With the POTUS demonizing trans people, and mainstream celebs “being openly transphobic and being rewarded for it,”, there is definitely a long way to come.

The key to change perspectives towards transgender people is to humanise them, apparently; “I just want someone who likes Liam Gallagher, who just likes music, not a part of the punk or queer scene, to go, ‘Oh, I like Queen Zee, oh by the way the lead singer is trans.’; and just become exposed to that, to realise you’re a human being, not what the Daily Mail said about you. The more of that we see, we just realise that we’re all equal, we’re just as boring as you are…it’s not big or scary or weird to be trans, it’s just a part of life.”

There are still some tickets available for the Leeds date of the Queen Zee tour, and as someone who has non-purposely seen them twice as support acts, I cannot recommend them enough. The hope is here that we will see Queen Zee on some big stages in the next few years, building on the kindling promise they’ve already shown, and that hopefully they might inadvertently become a much-needed icon, and influence something fresh, energetic and inspired.

Tom Poole

Header Image from Dork