FPSF 2014 Preview: New York City Queens
In our preparation for Space City Rock‘s coverage of FPSF 2014, I realized that New York City Queens were holed up in the studio tracking their third LP, tentatively titled Glass House, set for release this fall. What a great chance for me to make an excuse to sneak in to hear some tracks in progress!
John Allen Stephens, the lead singer and “studio mastermind” of New York City Queens (not to lessen the input of the rest of the band, mind you, because each one of them is integral to the NYCQ sound), works at a recording studio in downtown Houston called Studio 713.
In addition to NYCQ, Studio 713 has recorded many acts, including Slim Thug, Paul Wall, Devil Killing Moth, and Josiah Hill, just to name a few. I met John at the studio to listen to a few tracks and get a feel for Glass House.
After a quick tour of the relatively small but well-equipped (digitally for now — no analog tape just yet) studio, we sit down to listen to some songs. I’m excited to hear them, and John is glad to have an outsider listen.
The first one up is called “Glass House”. John tells me it will end the album and is the tentative title track. Traces of their previous album, Burn Out Like Roman Candles, remain, but my immediate reaction is that this is brand new territory for NYCQ. On “Glass House,” John seems to be embracing his R&B side — I hear elements of a Prince ballad, along with some Midlake-esque Prophet synth sounds and St. Vincent influences.
After the song, John tells me he is very much a fan of St. Vincent these days. We talk for a few minutes about her stunning House of Blues show. On this song, there’s not much evidence of an acoustic drummer, so I ask John if that’s a direction they’re going in.
“We made a conscious decision to use machines in our music this time. A big theme in the album is the relationship people have with each other through machines.”
Next up was a song called “False Idols,” which John mentioned contains some Nirvana references in the lyrics, as Nirvana was one of his first favorite bands. He tells me the song is about the idea of getting the chance to talk to your idols and having the idols tell you that they’re not really all that great.
This song has a surprisingly synth-y sound, very little like the NYCQ live band we’ve grown accustomed to, but that’s fine — I’m all for growth and experimentation.
Between songs, I asked him when the album will be released and if it will be on vinyl, and he tells me that to pay for a vinyl release, they plan to raise money through crowdfunding (get your credit cards ready, people). He also says that family matters (family members passing on) have required the band to postpone some of the work on the album, but they’re on the other side of that now, so he’s glad to say it’s full speed ahead from here on out.
Next we listen to “Flowers,” which is more like what I’m used to from the band and similar to their sound on Burn Out Like Roman Candles. Three tracks into a barely-mixed listening session, and I’m already starting to get very excited about the feel and flow of the album.
“The High” follows with a similar sound. It’s instantly familiar, because the band has been playing it live for about a year now. The male/female vocal harmonies are especially “honey-thick” on this song.
“That’s the single,” I tell John (its guitar riff is an instant earworm), but maybe I just say that because I know the song from hearing it live a half-dozen times in the last year.
“Whale Fall” is next. John tells me the idea of the lyrics came from a conversation with Kenny Hopkins from the band Featherface.
“Kenny told a group of us that when a whale dies, it sinks to the bottom of the ocean and can feed and sustain sea creatures for years — so I had to write a song about it.” Indeed, the song has a liquid, oceanic, and cinematic feel to it, with echoey guitars and synth pad sounds.
Last, John plays for me the likely opening track, “A House Divided,” another excellent piece of music which also seems to reiterate the band’s love for St. Vincent, along with Radiohead’s Kid A album.
Unfortunately, it was then time for me to bid adieu to John and let him get back to work. It’s very exciting, though, to see the growth New York City Queens is achieving! Make sure you set the alarm to wake up early Sunday morning and catch their set at Free Press Summer Festival! END
(Photos [top to bottom]: John Allen Stephens at the helm; New York City Queens. Studio photo by Jason Smith; band photo by DO Photography.)