With Queen Zee having split up, Sun 13’s’ Banjo spoke to Zee Davine about creating art, subculture and what the future holds.
Zee Davine, ex-singer, guitarist and focal point of the wonderful Queen Zee, is many things. A musician, a spokesman and a role model, definitely. But the first thing that strikes you when you see Zee live is a certain undeniable star quality.
Star quality is a difficult thing to define, but an easy thing to recognise. Some people just have that something extra, something more that means you can’t take your eyes off them. They command, even demand, your attention and you, in turn, are happy to give it.
With Davine at their head, Queen Zee were, however briefly, the best band in the world.
But then, just when things were going well and their rise seemed unstoppable, Queen Zee announced their split, saying ‘It has been an honour to be a voice for the freaks, weirdos and queers for the last three years.
This band has taken us on the greatest personal journeys of our lives so far We are not mourning a loss, we are celebrating our time together.’
Those of us in the know, who had been affected and infected by their sense of purpose, their sense of fun and the sheer exhilaration of seeing them live fell to mourning.
But before too long came notice that Zee Davine was again ready to take to the stage, this time under a new, more personal name.
But what would this new stage show be? What would Zee’s new music sound like? What could we expect from this news?
In Zee’s first interview since Queen Zee split up, we were able to ask these questions, to find out what is going on in Zee’s world and to hopefully have something to look forward to.
We started by looking back and finished by looking forward. Obviously, the first thing we wanted to know about was what happened to Queen Zee.
Why did Queen Zee split up just as it seemed you were about to take over the world?
“That’s kind of been the reaction I’ve had. I think to everyone outside of the band it felt like a weird time, but I think inside the band it made total sense to us. We never really had any intention to do any of the things we did, [Queen Zee] was a DIY local punk band that just seemed to get out of hand.
It was such an amazing and beautiful experience for our last run of shows, playing Brixton Academy and Reading Festival, being backstage with Dave Grohl, it was surreal!
So with all the joy that brought us we didn’t feel there was any more to achieve. To view the industry as this game of milestones, to tick them all off and get to the stage where you’re headlining Glastonbury or Coachella or becoming a multi-platinum Adele type artist just feels really bizarre to me.
With Queen Zee we always had a message that we wanted to put out there, we had some songs that we wanted to do and we did that.
We never even wanted to do an album, we only did the album because we got PRS funding for 500 vinyl copies. I feel like there was always a timespan for Queen Zee, it was five individuals who all had very different tastes and different views on how we should be artists, how we should conduct ourselves.
We were just enjoying each other’s company, enjoying making music and creating and I think everyone just wanted to go and fulfill themselves in some creative way and Queen Zee just wasn’t that way.
It’s nice that the reaction has been that everyone felt we could have done more. I’d rather people had that reaction than ‘about time!’“
Go out on a peak.
“Yeah, how else could you top a great year than go ‘right, that’s it’.”
Have you got a band together for your upcoming shows?
“Yes and no. It’s not so much as band orientated as Queen Zee was, people come and go, it’s more of a collective feel. But yeah, all seven of us on stage.“
That’s a big band for The Stockroom.
“It is, the band are bigger than the stages we’re playing on this tour, but we’ll make it work.
Dave from Queen Zee is still playing drums, we’ve got bass, guitar, keys, saxophone, there’s a lot of electronic elements, it’s a bit more diverse than Queen Zee. A punk bite remains, but I’ve been able to delve into my other loves a bit more. “
So what’s influencing your new music?
“Probably the same stuff, but I’m taking it to a different place. Instead of looking at the energy of a song being created through the distortion and the noise of it, creating the energy through its tempo or its arrangement, clashing keys or creating a dissonance in the song.
I’m getting a lot more into the songwriting of it in this project, getting into creating something that challenges the ideas we have around Pop and what a Pop song should be.
That’s something that’s always fascinated me, how far can we push what it popular, how can we get the weirdest thing ever to be Pop music, get the masses singing along to something that’s really bizarre. That’s what I’m trying to achieve.”
So that’s the plan, to go to Pop music, whatever version of Pop music it might be?
“Yeah. I’ve always had that love of Pop, I think Pop has always driven everything I’ve done. I’ve always tried to make my music quite concise and to the point. It’s just where I come from, its my background. It’s such a bizarre time for Pop, what was Pop in the 70s was very different from what was Pop in the 80s.
But now, there are no subcultures. You can like Billie Eilish and you can like Black Metal or Ska Punk, and that subculture vibe of ‘I’m a mod’ or ‘I’m a goth’, that is so gone. Pop music now, I feel, can be anything.
So it’s Pop in the sense of popular, but Pop in the sense of Kylie, maybe not so.”
I know you’re an Iggy Pop fan, it sounds like you’ve perhaps moved from Raw Power to The Idiot.
“The Idiot is my favourite Iggy record, so probably there’ll be a bit of that in there.”
Do you still have the same message or manifesto as when you were in Queen Zee?
“I think it’s a little more intense this time. The liberating thing about picking up again and creating your own stuff, which I never really intended to do, I intended to not do music but I think it was the message that has motivated me to keep creating, to keep going. “
You’ve been doing this for a while now, you’ve been a mouthpiece for the LGBT scene for a number of years, have you noticed any changes in that time? Do you think Queen Zee made a difference, do you think you’ve made a difference?
“I’m not sure how much I made a difference, but I’m always amazed when I see the reaction to Queen Zee. I’m not sure how much of it was Queen Zee or how much was down to a general movement in music around 2016/2017. There was a lot of queer artists, it was almost like another wave of Riot Grrl and Queercore.
I’m not sure who spearheaded that, I don’t know why that happened, but it did. I think you can feel an undercurrent in the Punk scene at least and that is very much a part of it again.
In terms of the world, the world is in a state of psychedelic flux. Of course we’ve seen great changes, when I first started Queen Zee I didn’t come out, even though it was very much there in the material and the songs, I wouldn’t talk about it personally, about my queerness or my identity.
Non-binary wasn’t a popular term, gender fluid wasn’t really a term and even though I’d grown up with icons like Pete Burns to help me formulate this into some kind of language, people wouldn’t really get it. They would get the reference, you could say ‘gender bender’ and people would get it.
But now non-binary is used on certain passports in the world and can be used for legal documentation and that’s over such a small span of a couple of years, so it’s really gaining public momentum.
And then on the other hand, hate crime has increased, the murder rate has increased, Trump’s attacks on trans people, the Tories have a very minimalist view on the funding that goes into trans help services. We know the rhetoric that Boris Johnson has used before to describe us LGBT people, so I don’t think the climate has changed but I think the undercurrent has.
But that could, if I’m completely honest, have always been there and it was just a different generation taking over.”
You mentioned how there are no subcultures anymore, no one is a goth or anything anymore, but when I would see Queen Zee live, it was like there was a new audience, a new movement. Is all this a grassroots movement that is flourishing despite the authorities and the political climate? Is this where the rebellion is coming from?
“Yeah, totally. I feel that by destroying subculture we’ve almost created a new subculture, one that’s like a youth movement in general. It’s a disenfranchised youth that’s very aware. It’s the most aware young audience there’s been since the 70s.
It’s so politically turned on, it’s living through Brexit, it was raised in austerity and there’s just this mass of young people who want more, that has this aspiration for more vibrancy in their lives, for more colour, just more than the mundane Brexit doom based scenario that they’ve had to live through.
And that’s what Queen Zee wanted to do, we just wanted to inject some colour for 35 minutes and the fact that people responded to that, there’s definitely a hunger for it.
I’m not sure where people are getting it from, or where they’re going to get it from, but if I was going to bet money on the next Beatles or the next band that really, really explodes, I would say it’s going to be the kind of band that can really become the pinnacle of that and become the anti-everything.”
Can we also expect a non-musical direction from you as well?
“Totally. The idea of Zee Davine is not just my musical output, I’m creating as an artist and song is part of it. The shows are just as rooted in performance and rooted in art as they are in music.
That’s something I’m developing more as an artist and exploring more and I fell that’s where the hunger is, that’s where the appetite is, that’s what’s connecting when I see the eyes of the audience at a show. “
How far is this non-music career going to go? Could it be TV, could you become a celebrity?
“It’s everything. I really just view myself as an artist, I create on every platform and in every format, music is just something I’m inherently drawn to.
As a kid, playing around in your big box of toys, music was the one that I grabbed first. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to play with the other toys. It means that that’s maybe my favourite one.
I’m writing a short film at the moment, with a friend, that will come out next year. The album that’s coming out is a series of videos that interlink. There’s 20 minutes in the show that has no music.
So I’d really like to show how far I can push things, because that’s why I do it. I enjoy creating things, seeing what I can do and being that sort of vessel for it. It will be interesting to see where it does go, I honestly don’t know.”
When can we expect the new album?
“I’m being kind of a perfectionist on it, so not really soon, but fairly soon. Definitely 100% this year and probably sooner rather than later but there’s no single locked in, there’s nothing yet.”
So it would seem that, far from Queen Zee’s ardent audience having to console themselves following the split, we are about to experience an amazing burst of multimedia creativity.
Zee’s passion about art and message is as strong as it ever was. What we are seeing is an artist who refuses to let boundaries or pigeonholing define them or what they do.
What we are seeing is a brave and bold move from someone for whom staying true to your vision is more important than being successful.
Despite the highs that Queen Zee scaled and the impact that they had, it would seem that the best is yet to come.