Monday 13 July 2015

Interview: Beauty Queen Autopsy

All these dirty thoughts...

“It's really different for me because Matt is doing all the writing, including lyrics. So for me it's how can I challenge myself to go as far into this character as possible, really embody her, and record amazing vocals so every song really shines, and tells part of the character's story.”

The collaboration between Erica Mulkey of Unwoman and Matt Fanale of Caustic has, in a short space of time, yielded one of the most interesting and dynamic electronic releases of recent years. Minimal in construction but vast in scope, the duo known as Beauty Queen Autopsy have been making people sit up and pay attention since the release of their 2013 demo 'Roughest Cuts'. 2015 sees the release of their full-length début album 'Lotharia' on Undustrial Records after the culmination of a successful crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter.
Intravenous Magazine caught up with Erica and Matt to discuss the Beauty Queen Autopsy story so far and their plans for the future.

Intravenous Magazine: First of all how did the idea for Beauty Queen Autopsy as a band come about?

Matt: It’s been a long gestating project in a lot of ways, but really came into focus in the last couple years. Erica and I had a few small collaborations previously (I helped her on an Attrition cover and she helped me on a track on 'The Golden Vagina of Fame And Profit') and in there somewhere I thought doing a different kind of project covering different themes and ideas that I normally couldn’t really do with Caustic, with me on lyrics, both of us on the music, and her singing would be fun. As the sound evolved I took more of the reins on everything except the vocals, but that’s what’s been working for us thus far, and we’re really happy with the results.

IVM: The band's moniker is a nice interplay of sex and violence. How did you settle on it and were there any other contenders?

Matt: When I came up with it I honestly just thought it was a provocative name, maybe a subtle nod one of my favourite bands Bikini Kill, who are one of several influences on the attitude and sound of BQA. It’s also open to several interpretations. Like the band itself it’s come to mean something different to us as the album evolved, as there’s a dissection of femininity and what women’s roles are expected to be.

IVM: At what point did you realise that you were onto something as a creative partnership?

Matt: Since we worked together a few times I think we had a good understanding how we already communicated. We’re also in a situation of mutual respect, where we both have a say in the final product as BQA represents both of us. We’ve had very few actual stumbling blocks.

IVM: As you're both primarily solo songwriters, what has the writing and recording process of your début album 'Lotharia' been like and did you take it as an opportunity to approach things differently?

Erica: It's really different for me because Matt is doing all the writing, including lyrics. So for me it's how can I challenge myself to go as far into this character as possible, really embody her, and record amazing vocals so every song really shines, and tells part of the character's story. I definitely have veto power and feel very listened to and respected on my musical and lyrical critiques, and the fact that I don't write the songs myself actually means it's easier to commit to them emotionally, because it's less personal, it's acting, but I can allow myself to feel them very personally.

Matt: It’s been a lot of fun to me to write lyrics that are actually sung. I just tend to scream a lot with Caustic, so it’s been a good challenge writing music with a melody that Erica can appreciate and work with. I just put together the best music and lyrics I can and let Erica knock the vocals out of the park. The layers of emotion and harmony she adds to the tracks does nothing but elevate the music.

IVM: What has the reception been to 'Lotharia' and Beauty Queen Autopsy been like so far?

Erica: I've been so pleased with the response. It seems both Matt and myself have acquaintances who don't like either of our solo stuff who love BQA!

Matt: It’s been surprising to a lot of people, as their expectations on what the collaboration would be is often shattered. People don’t expect me to write this way, especially lyrically, so it’s been rewarding to me to know we’ve been able to pull it off, and also that my instincts were dead on about this being a worthwhile creative idea.

IVM: The album is a diverse and varied mix of genres. What were your main inspirations when writing the album?

Matt: For BQA’s sound I was inspired a lot by EMA, Sleigh Bells, and The Kills in terms of the big distorted sound with a strong female vocal presence, but with a more sultry, femme fatale element to it. The lyrics were inspired by everyone from Jarvis Cocker and Brett Anderson to Liz Phair and PJ Harvey. All of those lyricists talk about people’s relationships in terms of little details to convey the emotion of the song. The poetry and lyrical details were big to me on this album.

IVM: The mixing was done courtesy of Tom Shear of Assemblage 23. What do you think he brought to the songs?

Erica: I was really excited to have his mixing talents as his releases are incredibly polished and impeccably mixed. Since Matt's tracks for BQA are a little noisy and though there aren't too many elements, if mixed badly they could easily turn out muddy, and we really wanted a delicious pop flavor. He definitely brought out some of Matt's more unique elements that needed spotlight, and overall made the tracks cohesive and glossy. I'm really pleased with the end result.

Matt: The joke I made early on was that we needed a Butch Vig to Nirvana type of mixer, or just someone who could clean up my sound and make it more palatable to a larger audience; to make it pop. Tom’s production chops are so honed that we knew that, even if this was different than what you’d normally hear Tom mix (I’m mostly familiar with his mixing more EBM/dance stuff), I knew his sensibilities would be dead on. I’m not a major audio nerd, but my friends that are conveyed how flawless his mixing was on this.

IVM: There's also a very strong sense of narrative thanks to the evocative lyrics and strong vocal performances. Is there a unifying thread at work and if so is this likely to be typical of future albums?

Matt: This is the story of one woman, and there’s a definite plot structure that came forward as the album developed. I’m not sure in terms of the next album continuing with the same story or we dive into another person’s life. The only thing I am sure of is that I have a pretty high standard of what I now expect from us, as does Erica, so I look forward to seeing where inspiration takes us.

IVM: You've previously covered The Sex Pistols 'Submission', and Placebo's 'Pure Morning' adding new dimensions to both tracks. Is this something that you will carry on on future releases, and if so what songs could we expect to get the BQA treatment?

Erica: We actually have two cover songs we're going to do for a couple special Kickstarter backers, and I'm pretty excited about those choices. We'll probably go ahead and release them once we've finished them, if not publicly at least to our core fans.

Matt: I tried to pick a few covers that wouldn’t be expected of us—doing tracks that originally had male vocals added a different element when Erica tackled the lyrics made the covers a lot more interesting to us than us covering something more, for lack of a better term, common. It’s fun to noise up a song that’s not typically heard that way, too.

IVM: The album was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign and released via Matt's Undustrial Records label. Is this DIY ethic something that will continue with future releases and how important do you feel it is to maintain that independence in this musical climate?

Erica: I feel there's not a ton a label can do for us that we can't do well ourselves, especially since we're both so comfortable with self-promotion and crowdfunding; given that I'd just as soon maintain complete control of our image and music and I think Matt feels the same way.

Matt: Erica and I decided early on that we can handle this ourselves. In some ways it’s easier since we both know the drill and how to do this, so unlike our normal self-released material we can divide the duties better and know the other person can do their share. Like Erica said we wanted to control our own image, and we already received a decent amount of traction with the first EP and subsequent single so we knew there was an audience for our sound.

IVM: So far you've released a music video for the song 'Spread'. Where did the concept for that come from and are you happy with the end result?

Matt: The video is a fairly literal representation of the song itself. I came up with the concept and talked it over with my pal Maggie Snyder, who shot the video with me and did the editing. We both liked the thought of using elements of the Dogme 95 manifesto, which worked well with the scenario we were portraying and also within our tight budget. I think the end result was exactly what we were looking for, too. The video is sexy and visceral. It’s hot, and it’s heartbreaking. What more could we ask for?

IVM: Are there plans for any more videos in support of the album?

Matt: We’ll be putting up a few lyrics videos in the next coming weeks and have another one shot, but it still needs editing. That will hopefully be out in the next few months, as we’re trying to stagger them to keep some momentum going.

IVM: You've played live as Beauty Queen Autopsy once so far. Are there any more live dates planned?

Erica: I'm definitely hoping we play live again but nothing concrete is planned at the moment.

Matt: Yeah, we had a great time but with our schedules, especially mine with having another kid on the way, will have to open up for us to rock out live again. Our first show went amazingly well though, so hopefully something will happen in the future.

IVM: What are your plans for the rest of the year?

Matt: I’m finishing off my new Caustic album called ‘Industrial Music’, which will be out later this year on Negative Gain. Other than that just preparing for the next kid and trying to get all the Kickstarter rewards out the door.

IVM: Finally, going back to the subject of Kickstarter, do you think that glorious day will come when someone will finally pay you to punch Eric Gottesman in the balls?

Erica: I'll do it for free if we ever end up in a dark alley together, but so far he's managed to avoid that scenario.

Matt: I’ll take a quarter at this point. I just want to profit off that little man’s pain.

'Lotharia', the début album from Beauty Queen Autopsy is available now through Undustrial Records. For more information on the band, including upcoming liver performances and new releases, please visit their official website.  

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