The Queen’s Head: Pubbing in Purgatory

You are now drinking at The Queen’s Head – a metaphorical pub that straddles the border of purgatory and reality. A strange place situated squarely in the uncanny valley – a place that looks right, but certainly feels, well, not-quite-right.

Or, if you’d rather: The Queen’s Head – your new favourite band.

The band’s latest release, Haunt, a four-track long EP, takes the listener on an intense and almost visual journey. Really, it’s nothing short of cinematic, with its borderline-feverish lyrics set to funky, seventies-and-eighties inspired beats, which (almost) distract you from the hard truths the band is delivering.

According to Joel Douglas, the band’s lead singer, the music is both “fun” and “somehow horrible” – an undoubtedly accurate description of Haunt. At face value, all four tracks are entertaining in that they’re pleasant to listen to. Still, the band is able to create a sense of unease throughout the EP – a sense of something being off. Your senses are heightened, you feel an element of foreboding, and yet you find yourself wanting more. It feels like something akin to a horror film, something you can’t look away from – something that will go on to win Best Picture at the Oscars, despite the odds.

With excellent vocals, courtesy of Joel Douglas and Tom Butler, along with excellent production (some of which was done by Andy Savours, who has collaborated with the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Black Country, New Road), the band creates a very cohesive and highly conceptual body of work, that’s able to effectively comment on the current social and political climate of Britain. 

After all, what could be more reflective of modern Britain than a seemingly post-apocalyptic, purgatorial pub?

With Douglas’ vocal work, and the use of slang within the lyrics, it would be easy to feel comfortable as a British listener; “a recognisable reality,” in his own words. However, the band doesn’t hesitate to flip that feeling of comfort on its head – actively listening to the lyrics, and hearing the unnerving musicality that backdrops them, unveils a brilliant metaphor for the uncertain and troubled times the United Kingdom finds itself in. Gone are the simple days, as many would say – Haunt is a brilliant reflection of this.

Prior to the release of Haunt, their first project, the band spoke to Wax about its conception – as well as working with interesting collaborators, and how being together for so long has helped them find their creative vision.

The EP is very cohesive and highly conceptual – how did you come up with the idea?

Tom and I like to work on song ideas with plotting and throughlines in mind, so giving the first EP an overall direction of movement felt natural to pursue. This whole period of song writing has been about trying to introduce people to our fictional world of The Queen’s Head, a hyperdimensional pub and purgatorial dance floor in the midst of a landscape of seemingly infinite dread and nothingness. The idea was to have the EP start in a recognised reality with a more conventional ‘band-sounding’ setting, and it slowly descends into somewhere less real, more desperate and longing.

You’ve been working together for upwards of ten years – do you find it’s easier to bounce ideas off one another, as a result?

Definitely – our process has steadily evolved over time and it’s more collaborative in a healthy way. We have to approach things with a strong idea already in mind, but the presentation of those ideas is always in fluctuation, as everyone in the group has their own niches that they contribute to round the whole thing out.

The energy of the music is very situated in the zeitgeist – tackling themes that are specific to Britain in many ways. Do you think it’s important to make music like this, rather than provide an element of escapism as so many other artists are doing?

I’m not sure I can talk about its importance, I think escapism has a lot of value, too. I guess any good film or piece of music is a balance of both recognisably real sentiments and some kind of transportation into something new and unrecognisable. I think it’s important to make things in dialogue with your surroundings, and our stuff is just us doing that. I suppose the current British experience at this time in history is a powerfully melancholic and quietly desperate one, so it makes sense that that comes up in how we express ourselves.

You obviously draw a lot of inspiration from many different eras of music in your work, but are there any specific examples of bands and/or artists you find yourself inspired by?

The big two I always think of is probably Talking Heads and Ian Dury & The Blockheads, just because of how they marry danceability with a sense of storytelling and personality. The diversity of both Gorillaz and Radiohead’s catalogues is also pretty inspiring because we try to avoid staying on any one particular genre when writing.

You mentioned that the EP is driven by themes like modern anxieties, and it does feel like a reflection of how strange and difficult to traverse modern society is – do you think it’s important to make reference to themes like this in music?

Yeah, while I don’t think there is necessarily an outright responsibility for pop music to address anxiety and depression – that would make for a very drab musical climate – I do think there is an oversaturation of certain emotions in the pop music world, and of those, the uglier ones are often romanticised or glorified and given sex appeal. It’s healthy for pop to be actually ugly here and there!

The juxtaposition of the lyrics, which seem rooted in these anxieties, with the relatively upbeat-sounding production works well – was that a conscious decision, or did the EP just come together that way?

The uncanny valley, as a form of horror, is something that comes up a lot in our creative conversations. There is a very unique flavour to a palpable anxiety that is dressed in something deceptively bright and colourful. It’s an expression I think everyone is somewhat familiar with – that friend at a party who, despite their crackling outward social performance, you recognise is in fact dealing with intense internal turmoil. That recognition is very potent and moving, and it’s definitely something we try to express.

You worked with Andy Savours on the EP, who has produced for the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Black Country, New Road – what was that like?

A very, very, lovely man. He’s super accepting and supportive of our process whilst furthering it with his own touches. Nothing short of a joy to work with.

How do you think this EP differs from your previous work?

Probably just because everything we released so far has been standalone, we could structure things with the longer format in mind. The instrumental break in ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ is a turning point that makes less sense in isolation than it does in the context of the whole EP. Also, the general feel and instrumentation is more on the digital end of the spectrum than some of the singles we put out.

It’s an interesting concept – is that something you’ll take further as you explore more sounds, sonically and stylistically?

For sure, there is definitely a desire to keep it turning and moving and explore different presentations of these ideas. These first releases are intended to introduce a foundation that we can build continuously on top of in the future, following whatever whim takes us.

Words: Rosie Smith // Photos: Holly Whitaker

The Queen’s Head’s debut EP, ‘Haunt’ is out now. Stream and download the record via Bandcamp.

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