Musician to Musician: New York City Queens

For this installment of SCR‘s Musician to Musician interview series, we sit down and chat with newcomers New York City Queens — aka John Stephens (guitars/vocals), Daniela Hernandez (bass/vocals), Kitty Beebe (guitars/vocals), Tom Guth (guitars), and Isaac Chavez-Garza (drums) — who burst onto the scene last fall fully-formed, with full-length Somewhere Different, Somewhere New already in hand and their sound already firmly in place. Catch them early; it’s worth it, trust us.


SCR: What brought you to each other?
John Stephens: We all grew up in the same town, Kingwood, except for Daniela, who had moved there in high school. I had been playing by myself for a few years and had lost interest in performing alone. I wrote the first album, Somewhere Different, Something New hoping to put a band together and knew I wanted Dani to play with me.

At the time, she and Kitty were working on their own project, and I went to one of their practices and loved the chemistry they had together. The band just kind of fell into place after that. I asked Tom to join the band shortly after and Isaac started filling in on drums, after our original drummer — and my brother — Philip, had his baby.
Daniela Hernandez: I guess the way we formed the band was sort of backwards, just because it came together around an album that was already finished and this idea that John had, and just went on from there. It’s kind of funny looking back, because five years ago I would have never thought I’d be playing in a band with any of them, or even in a band at all.

I believe The Wheel Workers’ singer had his first album pretty much in place and then formed the band around it. Then the band started to evolve, so their new stuff sounds like the full band’s personality. Where do your song ideas come from? A single person, or as a group? What’s it like for you writing music, together or alone?
JS: So far, I’ve had ideas and brought them to the group, and everyone helps to flesh them out and make them into the songs that you hear live and in our more recent recordings.

Tell me about your instruments and what amps you use. Is there a reason you chose it? Was there a particular reason you picked what you did?
JS: I love Fender guitars. I play a Mexican Telecaster and recently purchased an American Vintage ’72 Telecaster Custom that I adore. I play through a 15-watt Blues Junior and I think I’ve stuck with it, even at our larger gigs, because of the way it breaks up without having to play at a ridiculously loud volume.
DH: I have a Fender Precision Bass and an Ampeg BA-115. I think the two complement each other well and give me a lot of options as far as tone goes.
Tom Guth: I love Fender and Gibson, and although I mainly play Fender, I needed the Gibson 339 to balance out the tone of the band. Everyone else plays Fender.
Kitty Beebe: I play a road-worn Fender Telecaster, and I’m in-between amps right now.
Isaac Chavez-Garza: I play an Ellis drum kit that I had custom-built. I love having a strong kick and snare sound. I also have Paiste 2002 series cymbals. They have a classic sound.

Have you had a show that made you feel like you are starting to gain some momentum?
JS: Honestly, I feel like our first show at The Mink last August was a really special night for us. We had already pressed the CD, so we worked really hard to promote everything and we managed to pack it out. Everyone seemed really receptive to the music and the performance. More recently, when we played Roky Moon and BOLT!‘s Christmas party, I felt like we were starting to pick up steam, open up on stage, and figure out our direction, musically.

What is your favorite part of being on stage?
TG: Being elevated and louder than everyone else. [Ed. Note: Drummers!]
JS: For me, my favorite part of performing live has always been how when I am playing, I don’t think about anything else. None of the things that usually distract or bother me matter at all.
DH: Since this is the first time I’ve ever really publicly played music, I felt really uncomfortable being on stage at first. Over the last few months though I think I’ve gotten over a lot of that and just been able to enjoy performing.
KB: I’m growing to love being on stage more and more with every show. It gives me this sense of freedom that I don’t get from anything else.

How has the experience at Sugar Hill changed your attitude as a band?
JS: I think our attitude has been the same all along. The session definitely brought us closer together though; it was our first time tracking live, as a band.
DH: I would agree. I think that our attitude has always been to keep improving and enjoy ourselves in the process.

What do you like about Houston? What can be better?
JS: Houston is home. The music scene here has been picking up so much over the last several years, and I think it’s a good place to be right now. The new sound ordinance has been awful, and we’ve been made to turn down or play softer at a few shows.
TG: This ridiculous “noise” ordinance they have established could be thrown out. Other than that, no real complaints.

Do you have a favorite place in Houston to play?
JS: Fitzgerald’s and Walter’s, for sure.

Other favorite Houston bands and National bands?
JS: Houston bands: Featherface, Buxton, Fat Tony, Josiah Hall, The Tontons. As far as national bands go, I’m a huge fan of Delta Spirit, St. Vincent, Arcade Fire, The Strokes, Fleet Foxes, Radiohead, Grizzly Bear, Portugal. The Man.
IC-G: Im a big Fat Tony fan. Cage the Elephant, Young the Giant. I wish Brand New would put something new out.
DH: Local bands: Wild Moccasins; I’m looking forward to them recording their newer stuff. Also looking forward to new music from Featherface. Buxton‘s latest release was great. Sundress, from Denton.

Been to any great shows lately?
JS: We recently played with Shakey Graves from Austin. He was amazing. I’d love to see him again soon, strictly from an audience perspective.

Any great albums you’re listening to, of any era?
JS: The People’s KeyBright Eyes, AnglesThe Strokes, a lot of Nirvana, Let It Be, Funeral, and The Suburbs, History from Below by Delta Spirit, and the bits and pieces they’ve released from their upcoming album.
DH: I’ve been listening to Strange Mercy by St. Vincent for a while. Also plenty of Delta Spirit, Innerspeaker by Tame Impala, some Cardigans lately.
KB: Innerspeaker by Tame Impala, Twin-Hand Movement by Lower Dens, Delta Spirit, and Led Zeppelin IIII.

I think I’m probably the first person to compare you guys to the 1970s cult icons Big Star… Did you understand/appreciate the comparison?
DH: I could see a comparison between certain songs of theirs and songs of ours like “Hello Again,” or “Symmetry.” For example, similarities in some of the harmonies and chord progressions.

Are you nervous/excited about your first “unofficial” SXSW? Or did you play last year? Any particular goals or wish list you want to get accomplished at SXSW or in the next few months?
DH: We’re all excited to play, we love playing out of town. As far as SXSW, we don’t have any real agenda beyond playing and checking out other shows.
TG: SXSW always features some of the greatest local and touring acts around. I am definitely excited!
JS: We just started recording the full-length followup to our first album. So far, we have 11 or so new songs that we’re tracking, and I think we’re all really stoked about the new stuff. We’re planning on releasing it around June and doing our first tour around the same time.

Thanks, guys! Now everyone, go see this band as soon as you can! END

(Photos: Daniela Hernandez, Kitty Beebe, & John Stephens; Daniela Hernandez; John Stephens & Tom Guth; Isaac Chavez-Garza; Kitty Beebe. All photos by Jason Smith.)

Interview by . Interview posted Friday, March 16th, 2012. Filed under Features, Interviews.

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3 Responses to “Musician to Musician: New York City Queens”

  1. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. (Belated) Weekend: St. Patty’s at Fitz + Southern Backtones + Andrew W.K. + Dana Buoy (MP3!) + Emmure + More on March 17th, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    […] St. Patty’s Day at Fitz, featuring Crocodiles, Miniature Tigers, The Chain Gang Of 1974, The Watermarks, Geographer, Pretty & Nice, New York City Queens, Wails, Vipers, Pelviq Thrust, & DJ G-Wizz @ Fitzgerald’s This one’s a darn good consolation prize, though — I freaking love Miniature Tigers, and locals The Watermarks, Wails, and New York City Queens are all very, very cool themselves. (Wails, glad to see you’re still alive & kicking, btw.) Heck, our own Jason Smith interviewed the Queens earlier this week — check it out here. […]

  2. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. (Very Late) Weekend, Pt. 1: New York City Queens + England in 1819 + Art Institute + Lotus Effect + More on March 23rd, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    […] either, as evidenced in part by Jason Smith‘s very cool interview with the band, up over here. Then there’s Featherface, whom I love — I seriously can’t want to hear something […]

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