The Motor City’s Jamaican Queens create a cacophony of sounds that is hard to hang a label on, although they call it “trap pop.” For the uninitiated, their music is largely a palate splashed with every artistic whimsy the dudes can throw at it, even if that’s pitchy synth blends, fuzzy bass and 808 drum samples that keep pace with chart toppers from modern electronica and hip-hop.
While the band puts finishing touches on the follow-up to their celebrated 2013 debut, Wormfood, they’ve lined up their a couple of regional dates to preview new material.
Ghettoblaster caught up with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Spencer to discuss the origins of the band, a potential collaboration with the Insane Clown Posse and what his mom thinks of his music.
You and Adam conceived Jamaican Queens in 2011, but you played together in bands before that. What was it about your chemistry with him that made him someone you wanted to continue collaborating with?
We always really got along. We were living together at the time and were in another band. We started writing songs together on the side because we both had a lot of free time. So we spent a lot of that time working on music. It just made sense. So while the other band was breaking up, we started conceptualizing what this new band would be. That band actually may have broken up in 2012. By the time that happened we had already recorded the songs that would be on the record we put out last year.
Part of that band breakup was because one of the members was addicted to drugs. But you’ve been pretty forthcoming about your own experimentation with drugs. Does your mom ever get bummed out when she reads your interviews and sees that discourse?
I honestly don’t think my mom reads any of my interviews (laughter). I’ve played her some of the songs before and she can’t stand it. She really doesn’t like the music at all (laughter). Adams old band did disband because of drug use, but it was a serious problem. It was heroin addiction. The only drug I’m really addicted to is caffeine. Can you even be physically addicted to marijuana?
I don’t know.
I may be mentally addicted to marijuana. I smoke weed all the time. But it doesn’t interfere. I’m not late to work and stuff. If I take other drugs like acid or ecstasy it is always in a safe or controlled environment.
So it is more recreational?
Yeah. Even when I get drunk I usually stop after a certain number of drinks. I have a low tolerance for alcohol and can’t push the limits or I’ll end up puking.
Do you find that the older you get you become less tolerant of doing those kinds of things to your body?
Yeah. That is true. I think my emotional instability grows the more that I do it. If I’ve been drinking a lot, I get really depressed. I never get physical hangovers, but my mental state…my insecurities grow and I begin to feel worthless.
Are you in your thirties yet?
Not yet. I will be next year.
When you get to your thirties anything that you introduce to your body that isn’t a regular is going to make you feel like shit. I’m 38 and drinking sucks.
What about pot?
I don’t do that. I never had the conscience for drugs so I imagine that if I did them it would be 100 times worse now though.
I’ve heard that it gives some people anxiety. But I don’t get any kind of hangover from pot and even when I’m on it, I’m usually as right-minded as when I’m not on it. I wonder if when I’m in my 30s I’ll just lay off the booze and smoke pot. Or maybe I’ll find religion or something (laughter).
When and under what circumstances did you add Ryan Clancy to the band?
The band started out as a recording project before it was a live band. We didn’t play our first show until after the record was done, which was mid-2012 or something. But we knew we wanted it to be a live project after we recorded the songs. So we were looking for a drummer and figured they could do a lot of the percussive things as well and trigger samples and stuff. All of the drummers we knew didn’t really seem to fit with what we were doing. Ryan had moved back from China and we’d listened to a lot of his other bands and he wasn’t doing another project so we hounded him about joining our band.
Your sound is a bit of an enigma and there is an experimental element to it that recalls Brian Eno and Lee Scratch Perry. But it also leans toward southern hip hop and rap, dub and folk that leech into the mix. Is there a grand vision at work here or do you exercise all of your artistic whims?
We really do. I know it is scatterbrained, but that’s what we’re into. Adam and I listen to so many different varieties of music and we create a lot of varieties of music. It wouldn’t make sense to pigeonhole ourselves with one sound. I think our next album is even more scatterbrained to be honest. The album that we’re finishing now offers an even wider variety of genres and influences. I think we try to keep it together by using a lot of similar sounds in the synthesizers and stuff.
So people who know the band will recognize touchstones there?
I think so. The new album is more like our live show. We recorded it with Ryan Clancy as well this time. We also recorded with an engineer that is known for doing live band stuff. He did all the Protomartyr records and he’s done live sound for Liars and The War On Drugs. He really gave us a lot of good energy and helped us to capture the moment more.
And the stuff you guys did didn’t throw him a curve ball?
Definitely not. He was all about it I think.
Your first record, Wormfood, was called “the coolest debut of 2013” by L Magazine. Was it validating to have so many tastemakers and critics embrace the record almost immediately?
I don’t know if that was a good thing. I’ve been talking to people about this, whether or not reviews and music journalism is something you should pay attention to. The length of time that people pay attention to a record is shorter than it has ever been and it is making everything so disposable. So if you put too much stock in what other people think about the things you’re making, it’s just going disappointing in the long run.
If we had blown up with the last record, right now we’d be losing our minds having to put out a new one to an adoring fanbase that wants something very similar to the last record. We’re lucky that we have a very small following now. It means we have room to grow. Maybe if this record gets super big I’ll have a mental breakdown at 30 and I won’t have booze to lean on (laughter).
I know you guys like Marc Maron. Has he ever tweeted about the band?
He never has, no.
That’s a good question. I should tweet that at him (laughter).
Having such a diverse sound has probably allowed you to play with a wider variety of artists, right?
Absolutely. When we play at home we play with a lot of electronic artists, weirdo electronic groups that aren’t just house or techno or something. We play with rap groups, rhythm and blues groups and a lot of indie rock too. It is weird when we play with garage rock bands. In Detroit I feel like there is a lot of resentment towards newer bands that aren’t faking garage rock in a scene that is largely garage rock. It is a bummer because I’m definitely friends with some of them. You know that Morrissey song, “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful?’ That’s so Detroit. But even in the garage rock scene when one of them gets popular they all hate each other too.
I think that might happen in every moderately large city…
It’s unfortunate because if your friends are getting successful, people will start paying attention to the city.
For your videos for “Caitlin” and “Water” you enlisted friends to help you bring those to life so it seems like the overall scene in Detroit would be tighter knit. Are there people that inspire and antagonize you to greater ends?
We definitely have some artists that we are fans of and work very closely with them. We’ve become friends because we’ve been going to each others’ shows for so long. Most recently we were working at the Bruiser Brigade studio, which is Danny Brown’s studio, with a couple of the other Bruiser Brigade guys and Nick Speed. We did a collaboration with them. Christian from Coyote Clean Up and I are in the midst of finishing a record that will come out on Valentine’s Day.
Danny Brown is in tight with the Psychopathic Records guys. What’s the chances of you working with them?
That would be a dream come true. Mike E. Clark who made all the beats for the Insane Clown Posse records and did a bunch of stuff in the ‘90s that were awesome did three remixes of one of our songs and has invited us to come and record at his studio if we want. I don’t know if that is really the direction we are going though (laughter).
The Juggalo community goes crazy for anything with ICP ties…
When we were hanging out with him he explained how diehard their fans are. All of their records still go Platinum and shit.
I think Detroit is an amazing city. We’ve toured all over the country and been to Europe and I still think that Detroit proper is one of the greatest cities in the U.S. It is unique and interesting. It is changing a lot now, but I hope that it stays the way it is.
Is gentrification something that you as an artist are worried about?
I think so. Artists can’t afford to live in the neighborhoods that become the art districts. It’s ironic because artists make a community really interesting and cool. When it becomes too expensive to live there it just becomes a place that people remember as a cool place and everyone that used to live there complains about it (laughter). Right now I’m just broke and worried about how I’ll pay my $200 a month rent.
In October, you released the “Bored + Lazy” single. Was that to pacify fans while you finished the full-length?
Yeah, pretty much. We’re nearly finished with it. The engineer gets back from his current tour later this month and we’ll spend a few days finishing it up. We’ll get it mastered in December, release a single and a video in early 2015, and put the album out right around the same time we put out Wormfood last year.
Did I read that some of the record was written in France?
Yeah, well recorded. We kind of write and produce as we record. We had five days in a studio there and wrote 20 percent of the album there.
What are your plans for the support cycle for the record?
We played a lot when we released Wormfood. We toured relentlessly and really liked being on tour. So we’ll probably tour the U.S. and Europe pretty hard when it first comes out. Then when we’re not recording we’ll do our third record.
(Visit Jamaican Queens here: http://jamaicanqueens.com/.)