Tasmania’s Slag Queens: “The start of Slag Queens was really all about trying to play our instruments, eating pizza, commiserating about work and patriarchy”

Original photo by Reece Lyne. Handmade collage by B.

Slag Queens play passionate post-punk with serious groove at times veering into alt-pop, dance-punk territory with an evident ‘90s grunge influence. Their debut LP You Can’t Go Out Like That was on our favourite records of 2019 list and is a well-crafted collection of catchy songs—addictive even. We’re excited for the new LP they’ve currently been in the studio making. We caught up with them to get the lowdown.

What albums put you on a musical path?

LUCY: In my house growing up Mum and Dad really only listened to classical music and a certain kind of folk music (i.e. it DID NOT include Bob Dylan). Hearing the White Stripes and the Pixies when I was in my early 20s was huge. Especially Kim Deal and her bass lines/vocals have been a huge influence. I fucking love the Doolittle album and still listen today.

CLAIRE: In terms of sending me down this musical path, when I picked up the drums for Slags I was binging hard on the first self-titled album by Memphis band Nots. But also Lucy made me a mixtape and that introduced me to Sneaks and I smashed her album Gymnastics too.

AMBER: Some of my parent’s tapes that I listened to constantly as a kid are still my favourites. Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, Bjork’s Debut, Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call and Joan Baez are still very strong for me.

CLAIRE: Oh when Wesley joined the band he got me into listening to lots of Malaria! (Self-titled album) and The Smiths The Queens Is Dead. Wesley has excellent taste.

How did Slag Queens first get together?

LUCY: I was drunk at this venue in Launceston. Strange place; doesn’t exist anymore, like a lot of venues in Launceston. And the smoker’s area is like bitumen with a sort of indoor cricket cage thing around it. The lighting is bad. And I’m there, and Claire is there, and Gracie (our first guitarist and epic legend) is there. Oh man. I had spoken to Gracie previously about being in a band and we were talking about it and Claire was like, “I’ll learn drums”. Our first practice was in my sister’s house in West Launceston. She got me into playing bass in Bansheeland and now Mary is doing her solo thing with Meres. The start of Slag Queens was really all about trying to play our instruments and eating pizza and commiserating about work and patriarchy.

Amber and Claire Hobart Pride 2020. photo by Allysha Fry.

Why the name Slag Queens?

CLAIRE: We came up with the name pretty early on when we were meeting as a weekly jam/hangout. It came about in a bit of a giggle storm fuelled by Boags Reds (the beer you drink in Northern Tasmania). And it really felt right for a number of different reasons. Firstly, we thought it was funny. On a deeper level it references queer and feminist traditions of drag queens and reclaiming derogatory slurs. But also, just as ‘slag’ is the discarded by-product of processing coal, Slag Queens could be considered the sloppy by-product of the clean, hyper-serious musical ambitions of male-dominated rock bands in regional Tasmania.

For me, the name was part of this defence wall I felt like we were constructing around us to preserve the kind of raw and exciting energy of being fresh to playing our instruments and making music together. Well before some rock bro in Launceston anointed us the town’s “Shittest Band”, we had already crowned ourselves with trash tiaras. By doing so I had given myself permission not to worry about being held to particular musical standards by stupid, made-up cultural norms and to just create music with my friends. At the time I revelled in this new-found, self-deprecating freedom. However, I would say that now some time has passed and I’ve significantly improved as a drummer (and as a whole band!) my feelings about my trash tiara have definitely changed and it feels less relevant. Still in love with the name though.

Can you tell us something about each band member?

Lucy: I have a chronic inflammatory bowel condition, and it was really horrible finding that out because it feels really unsexy.

CLAIRE: I have a fake, removable front tooth. Sometimes it goes missing.

WESLEY: I also smashed my front teeth out, on a tow bar.

Amber: I almost rolled a d20 to make up a random backstory to answer this question because it’s so difficult to think of one single fact about myself. I have spent an ungodly amount of time today playing Stardew Valley.

Amber and Jordy Marson recording guitars for new songs. Photo by Claire.

You’re from lutruwita (Tasmania); how does living there influence your music?

LUCY: Keen to hear Amber’s take on this as someone who’s done a lot in Hobart’s music scene and grew up in the far south. For me, starting out in the North, in Launceston there was definitely always this feeling of being expected to be a certain standard/do certain things with the music and Slags was very much a reaction to that. I think other things are about being in a regional place established through violent colonisation and the labour of prisoners. To put it mildly, that kind of stuff leaves a lot behind.

AMBER: I really like the small music scene vibes. For all the problems we have with people leaving the state/very few music venues, it’s really nice growing up and watching local bands and then becoming friends with them and making new bands together. It’s a very close knit community and I think that encourages more people to try things and be adventurous with their music.

You’re in the middle of making a follow up record to last year’s LP You Can’t Go Out Like That; what can you tell me about it at this point? What direction are the songs headed in?

CLAIRE: Perhaps what’s been both the most exciting and most challenging thing about Slag Queens has been that we’ve had changes to our line-up. Each line-up has understandably brought different flavours to the sound, especially because we do our songwriting quite collaboratively with everyone in the same room (currently the shed out the back of mine and Amber’s house).

AMBER: A lot of the new songs have moved further away from the punk-leaning sensibilities of the previous album and into a space that I can’t really put a genre to. I like it. It’s weird.

WESLEY: Because Amber and I are definitely chaotic in alignment, It’s become much more hard to steer the reigns, I’ve got no idea where it’s going, but it’s a fun ride.

What’s been lyrically inspiring the new songs?

LUCY: New songs are mostly about what’s been happening down south in Tassie. The housing crisis in particular. But also, I’ve been writing a bit about fashion – because I love fashion but it’s also really gross for so many reasons that I won’t go into here – you already know how fucked the fashion industry can be.

One of the new songs is based on Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend. I enjoyed that book despite some mixed reviews but I was totally in support of the main character – this little loner girl, angry, righteous, hard to like, focused. I don’t know if Donna Tartt is really a revolutionary writer and she’s coped criticism for the way she writes her female characters but I liked Harriet.

Apart from that, I don’t know. It’s weird times. A lot of lyrics I write by making up sounds that later become words or by automatic writing. So sometimes I don’t really feel like I choose an idea and then develop it, it’s more that I write stuff and then we try to work out what it means.

Wesley, Claire and Lucy recording new album. Photo by Jordan Marson.

You recently helped The Native Cats make a video clip for “Sanremo” the B-side t their Two Creation Myths 7”, I know that they’re good friends and have helped mentor you; in what way?

CLAIRE: I can’t actually remember the first time I met Julian and Chloe, but I think I might have met Julian at our EP launch in the front bar of The Brisbane Hotel in 2016. I learned about Rough Skies Records (Julian’s label) earlier that year when I went to see Powernap at Launceston’s The Royal Oak. The room was pretty-well empty but I loved it nonetheless. When I saw the 7inch they had on them I was just amazed that some guy in Hobart was doing short vinyl runs for bands like Powernap. I probably would have fallen over either from laughter or just straight-up shock if someone told me that I would end-up running Rough Skies with Julian.

What Julian has done for me beyond simply sharing his wisdom of having been around the scene for a long time, is he’s believed in me and consistently made me feel like I can do stuff. I’m not sure if other women in music have had this experience, but since taking on Rough Skies with Julian, I’ve been confronted by comments that I’m bossy or rumours/comments circulating the scene that I hadn’t “earned” that position (I don’t know if these are true sentiments that people hold but hearing them has had an impact on me). Julian – and Chloe for that matter – have always made me feel like my organisational skills and musical taste are valid and valued. And also having them believe in the music we’re making with Slags – not just appreciating our songs but really understanding our context – that’s a massive compliment.

Slag Queens and Native Cats at Gasometer Feb 2019. Photo by Gus Romer.

Speaking of video clips we really love your “Real 1” clip; can you tell us a bit about making it?

WESLEY: We really wanted to do something collaborative and work with some people we knew. We thought that it would be really nice to work with local fashion designer Lychandra Gieseman who makes size- and gender-less wearable pieces, and film maker Caitlin Fargher. Caitlin and I went on a bit of a scout and we found this (semi) abandoned quarry, and agreed it was perfect. After working with Lych to pick and match some of their pieces, we went to the quarry and danced and had some fun. It was a really nice and simple way of getting all the shots and then Caitlin came back super-fast with the edited version.

AMBER: I was suuuuper hungover and I had in my mind that if we borrowed a BMX I could do cool tricks on it. Turns out it’s actually really hard. I have a newfound respect for BMX riders.

We really love your debut LP You Can’t Go Out Like That; can you tell us the story behind the album cover please? It’s so fucking cool! We had it on our Fav Album Covers Of 2019 list.

LUCY: We were very, very honoured because Launceston artist, Andrew Leigh Green, agreed to do some photography for us. I’d never met him but had some friends model for him. Andrew is one of those incredible artists who no-one’s heard of (probably contributed to by the fact that his insta/fb is constantly being censored).

Anywho, the shoot. We rocked up to Andrew’s house and he came out wearing pyjama pants and carrying a plastic shopping bag and was just like, “I’ve got a great location scoped out!” So we headed up to this place that turns out to be the old rollerskating rink where, as a 13 year old, I would blade around to M People. Now it’s covered in possum shit and there was this bath in the middle of the rink, which Andrew threw this pink shawl over. And then hey presto, it’s not a bath, it’s a vortex, an opening, an arsehole, a vagina, a mouth.

Inside Roller World album art shoot. Photo by Claire Johnston.

I loved working with Andrew. I felt very connected to his experiences of growing up in Tassie and going to outer suburbs schools and being a bit of a weirdo and copping shit for that. I loved how excited Andrew was about the shoot. He was just constantly saying “beautiful” and talking about how “magic” shoots could be. And there was definitely that energy. Like something cool and special and accidental//preordained was happening.

Lucy and Wesley Real 1 shoot. Photo by Claire Johnston.

Slag Queens are on the brilliant compilation series Typical Girls’ 5th edition with the song “Waterfall”; what’s some cool bands you’ve found through that series? We have all volumes, they’re such killer compilations.

CLAIRE: Ah you’re so ahead of me, Bianca. I only discovered this series when we were asked to contribute and they really are excellent! The band I’ve been most excited about finding through this volume is Vital Idles. They remind me of The Raincoats and Pylon, but also sound like they could be a Melbourne jangle band – turns out they’re actually from Glasgow. I also really enjoyed the tracks from Snob, Helene Barbier and Mr. Wrong.  

What’s been the best and worst show you played; what made it so?

AMBER: I think everyone has different best and worst shows. Best is always when everyone is in a good mood, the crowd dances, and we all look hot. Worst is when someone is in a mood or we’re all tired and hungover, we can’t hear each other, and there are no vibes on stage. My favourite ever show we’ve played was at a festival called Panama in March. Transcendent.

CLAIRE: The worst gig was definitely in Melbourne a couple of years back. We had driven all the way from Adelaide very hungover. Instead of being able to get a nap in our accommodation, I had to use our hire car to drive around Melbourne to pick up gear. Lucy’s sister had come over from Tas with her band for their first mainland show and they were due to open around 8.30pm. But the guy bringing a guitar amp was super late and I felt like he was never going to show up. From memory I think he turned up around 8.45/9pm. After a bunch of line-up changes we had unknowingly booked a band that had pissed a lot of people off recently. This, along with there being a couple of big shows on that night in Melbourne, meant very, very few people came. At the end of the night I collected the money from the venue and paid all the bands only to find out after that we needed to pay the sound tech. I had to send my bandmate to the bar to get money out to pay him. I still get anxious thinking about that gig. 

What other things do you do outside of the band?

WESLEY: Doldrums, which is Lucy and I. Doldrums has played half a gig and hasn’t rehearsed in 12 months, but we should because I try to recite poems in German which and sing over Lucy’s porridge-like synth. I also do a solo radio noise project and a multi-media art practice. I also tell people not to touch things at MONA.

AMBER: I have a solo electronic project called, Slumber, and an emo-country band called, Dolphin. I like to garden and plot the downfall of capitalism.

WESLEY: Me too, we also play chess together.

LUCY: I’m doing solo stuff too which feels weird. Slag Queens is also about to start an online Dungeons and Dragons game.

CLAIRE: I’m a social worker and work in the area of sexual and reproductive health. I also run Rough Skies Records with Julian Teakle (The Native Cats) and have started doing Jonathon Van Ness’s yoga sessions in my living room with my housemate, Louis.

Please check out: SLAG QUEENS. SQ on Facebook. SQ on Instagram. ROUGH SKIES RECORDS.

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