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An Interview With Queens County Roots

A brand-new release from Queens County Roots and Jesse Maxwell delivers a colorful and vibrant combination of soundscapes and textures that blend together and give an atmospheric explosion that combines Funk, pop, and plenty more all rolled up into one addictive and danceable single.

"Fantasma" has hints of edginess that lurk just beneath the surface but on the Forefront it's a bold and bright track that boasts elements of disco along with funk and even rock that just work so well together that it's almost ridiculous.

You have this soul in terms of the vocals but they also deliver so much character and persona that you get wrapped up in them but then you also have these guitars that add such cool rock element to it along with horns that deliver that funk and so all of these things melt into each other.

I think one of my favorite things about this song is the Lush vocal harmonies and how these textures were able to work together without a hitch because it sounds immense.

When I listen to stuff like this sometimes I think about the mix of the song and how difficult it must have been to take all these different elements and make them work together so well because there's so much going on but it all comes together in one forward moving flow so that you're able to really just get down with it.

It's also been quite a while since I heard a track that really made me want to get off my ass and dance and this truck really pulled that off with a quickness.

New elements come in and out of the song the further in you go and the intensity seems to rise as well so that energy is just infectious.

Cuz also this sort of underlying honesty in the song in terms of lyrics and if you really pay attention to that it kind of opens your eyes to what the song is actually about.

In my opinion, this track checks all the boxes and is something that will work for anyone who wants to listen to something that's going to make them feel and move.

I also kind of love this semi-cinematic undertone that it gives off because you can see it in the scene of a quirky action film.

It's got that posse montage vibe and the whole track is just alive and breathing.

Not only was this a damn good time from beginning to end but came through as an absolute pop soiree blending genres together with a touch of genius.

With such a well-woven single, we wanted to have a sit-down with Queens County Roots to find out where this actually came from and what might be coming up next.

Here's what happened.

Buzz Slayers: Okay, let's start with “Fantasma”! This track had so much color along with a cinematic and classic rock undertone! How did this release come about?

Marlon here from Queens County Roots, semi-official spokesman for both me and Jesse Maxwell. “Fantasma” is the first release off our new EP called Liminal. The idea for the song was tied to the quarantines in 2020. The little motif that the guitars play had been stuck in my head for a while and it seemed like a true-blue classic rock riff. But the worldwide shutdowns got me thinking about the things we took for granted, like, you know, gathering indoors to party and blow off steam. And also about the people who were struggling to make ends meet, maybe especially the ones who were still compelled to go to work. Eventually, that stew of thoughts gave me the story of “Fantasma” – a hard-working woman whose life “only feels alive at night” when she escapes work and hits the dance clubs. But in terms of process, it was when I met Josh Clark, the saxophonist on the track, that I got a full sense of what the song wanted to be. So Luke Gefell lays down a sick disco beat, Dominic Farnan snaps out a 70’s-style line on the bass, Hope Johnson kicks in some organ, Josh Agulnick and I hold down the rhythm guitars, and then Josh Clark’s sexy f***ing sax takes us home. And of course, Jesse’s amazing vocals are what give it all meaning. We’re so very happy with how it turned out. Not least, Jesse and I would like to thank Sony’s The Orchard team for all their work in getting the final product out to the world!

Buzz Slayers: How did this all start for you as an artist?

Funnily, I had a few pieces of poetry published and I always fiddled around on guitar but it wasn’t until fairly recently, life-wise, that I had the head-slapping moment about putting the two together as a songwriter. Some promising songs fell out of my head almost right away and I never looked back.

Buzz Slayers: So, this is a collaboration between Queen County Roots and Jesse Maxwell correct? How did that happen?

Yes! Not too long after my head-slapper moment about trying songwriting, I met Jesse. He was coming to NYC from Toronto and Queens County Roots needed a singer. Jesse is the most delightful kind of person – not just crazy talented but also a genuine delight to be around. He has the kind of joyful presence that makes you think, “hey, maybe this life ain’t so bad after all.” We started working together after he got to NYC and it was total simpatico. He gave my music this energy – like, polished and raw at the same time. But there was a twist! We’d only ever done my tunes, but one day he plays me some songs he’s writing and I’m floored. I told a musician friend, in all seriousness, “right then, Jesse went from being a colleague to a peer.” Jesse and I have been collaborating in one way or another ever since.

Buzz Slayers: What kind of things really inspire songs for you?

Honestly, other music. Seeing all the creativity swirling across the various platforms like Spotify, not to mention the artistry happening in countless venues every night in NYC (and Toronto!), reminds me that there are so many meanings left to explore and so many facets of experience that can be transformed into song. My favorite kind of inspiration happens only rarely though—that’s when you hear a radio playing somewhere in the distance but it’s just garbled enough that your mind fills in the gaps. This might only be possible in NYC, where everyone’s outside and we all walk everywhere, but I’ve had a couple songs emerge that way. I eventually tracked down whatever it was I was hearing and the source was nothing like the product. Our minds are so cool.

Buzz Slayers: This single has some interesting approaches to it! Can you give us some of your biggest influences musically?

Thanks! I’m big into blues and Americana and Jesse loves soul and alternative R&B, but there was a time in my life when I listened to dance and pop music. (Actually, my best friend listened to dance and pop music and therefore I did too.) I remember artists like Kylie Minogue and Björk, for example. My takeaway was that it’s not all empty calories; some of that dance pop stuff sticks to your bones. I’m also reminded of the disco strain in classic rock songs like The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You.” More broadly, I suspect I often draw from the same well that animates songwriters like Brittany Howard, Dan Auerbach, Marcus King, and folks like that, a well which includes artists like Freddie King and John Mayall, for example, all the way back to Chuck Berry probably.

Buzz Slayers: What are you doing when you’re NOT working on music?

I don’t like to cross the streams, but I have a PhD in forensic linguistics. When I’m not songwriting, I work as an expert linguist (and sometimes as an expert witness) in criminal and civil court cases where language is the evidence under dispute. Language and music actually have a lot in common, so it’s not too far-fetched despite probably sounding totally random. In fact, I often use linguistics to clear my head of music and vice versa. They balance out nicely.

Buzz Slayers: Who’s in your headphones right now?

Let’s see…at the moment, it’s The Arcs. But on this playlist, I’m also looking at Gary Clark, Jr., The Heavy, and Fantastic Negrito, just to name a few. But Jesse’s hipped me to incredible artists like Two Feet, Nick Hakim, that kind of thing, so I sometimes wander through those fields too.

Buzz Slayers: Are you doing any live performances right now?

We will be! QCR plays around NYC often enough and Jesse plays in Toronto all the time. In fact, to my eternal jealousy, he just played the legendary El Mocambo, where Stevie Ray Vaughan did a career-defining show. At some point, Jesse will tour through the U.S. and then we’ll have us a genuine hootenanny, all together.

Buzz Slayers: Do you record these at a big studio or do you have a home studio set-up?

It’s sort of a New Age blend of the two? QCR tracks as much as humanly possible in a studio, especially drums and tube amps. Lately, we’ve been working at Greenpoint Recording Collective with Dylan Mckinstry, who is a great human being and an inhumanly great musician, engineer, and producer. (He’s also the guitarist for a killer band called Upstate—check ‘em out!) But inevitably there are other tweaks and additions, like little fills and percussive stuff, so we do those piecemeal with home DAW set-ups. Jesse, though, has a professional-grade home studio where he’s at in Toronto which means he can track all his vocals in-house. So the instruments are from New York and the vocals are from Ontario. Really cross-border or, dare I say, liminal, wakka wakka.

Buzz Slayers: What can your fans expect from you in the near future?

“Fantasma” is the first release from QCR and Jesse’s new EP, which is called Liminal, being distributed through Sony’s The Orchard imprint. Liminal is five songs altogether, so expect four more tunes to drop before the end of 2023!

Buzz Slayers: Before we go, what would you like to say to fans of the music?

Jesse and I love collaborating whenever we can – like with “Fantasma” and the other four songs of Liminal – but we do our own things separately too, so check those out! Jesse has another LP due out in 2024 and he plays some great shows around Toronto. As for me, along with the bandmates I mentioned before (Josh, Luke, and Hope), QCR recently started working with Marcel Hamel, who’s simply stellar on bass, Katie McMurray, who adds golden harmonies on trumpet, and finally a jaw-dropping, soul-flavored vocalist named Shakar Brumfield. QCR has some fresh tracks with these new additions in the mix set to drop early next year. And of course, Jesse and I have one or two more collabs in mind for the future. Stick around!

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