As months of relentless touring reached its' cosmic conclusion at Leeds' Pie Race Festival, I was able to talk to Zee about all things past, present and future. Endearingly warm, stark and quick-witted, here is a character quite difficult to portray accordingly in words and do her justice. Undeniably, Queen Zee & the Sasstones are an incredibly special kind of band, and not only because of their flair for immersive, gripping and unequivocally fierce punk rock... it goes far beyond that; they are a band for the modern age, celebrating diversity, equality and humanity through their artform.
How and when did you all first come together as a band?
I met Jay in 2015. I was writing poetry and he was doing black metal type guitar stuff. I was going to put poetry over it... it was awful! We had a gig and he didn't turn up, and then six months later I put the demos of Queen Zee online... he was like 'I don't like the demos, but lets do a band anyway!' 2 days later, we played a gig... it was horrendous but yeah, that was the start of it.
What did you grow up listening to, and how did it influence you?
My dad was in a hardcore punk band called Moth Fucker! I think that influenced me a lot. I grew up around punk music but I always loved 80's stuff, like The Human League, Dead or Alive and all of that. I think I liked the bands that kind of merged all of that together, so post-punk type bands like Joy Division. Then I discovered Manson, Placebo... I latched on to that in terms of gender issues and stuff like that. I was a big Placebo obsessive!
You recently released the 'Sass Or Die' EP... what sort of reception has it received?
We kind of just slipped it under the radar and didn't really do too much press around it or push it, so it's been quite nice just to road test it and just go out and play it every night. The response to it in terms of the single, and 7-inch as well, has been great. It was on the footy... it was on Scotlands' World Cup match! To have a song about gender violence appear on Soccer AM or whatever it's called was cool! To get that little nod from the mainstream was flattering.
Were there any particular themes, topics or emotions that you wanted to explore creatively whilst writing it?
We didn't really write it as an EP... we've just written songs freely for like a year and a half and then we were planning on doing three 7-inches. We did one, and then instead of doing the second and third one we decided to do four songs instead of two. Some of them are old and some of them are new so there's not really a coherent theme. I think we just write from experience about what are lives are like at that time.
You've spent a lot of time on the road over the last few months... is there anywhere you always particularly look forward to playing or have had good experiences in the past?
Leeds is great! The last time we played in Leeds really was one of our best shows. We've always really struggled in London. When we first played there, we had a really bad reception but then more recently, our last three London gigs have been really great. We played at The Garage and it was one of the best nights of my life. It was amazing. London is really fun, but then it's also fun to play in little towns too... my favourite place to play is Scotland. It's just fun to be there and I always enjoy it. It's just so hospitable, and whenever you go there you feel really welcomed.
Music aside, have you got any interesting hobbies or strange talents?
We recently discovered that I'm really good at jumping really high. There were all these steps so we were trying to see how many we could jump up, and I managed to jump up eight steps! Everyone was really impressed. On stage I do a lot of climbing.
There seems to have been a bit of a resurgence of punk into the music industry, and it is a word I see attached to your name quite often; how do you feel about that?
I hate it when bands are very obviously part of something, you know when Korn were like 'No, we are not a new metal band!' Yeah, you are... just accept it. So if people think we're a punk band, then yeah sure. We don't try to be a punk band... we don't sit down and all listen to the Sex Pistols and think they're great. There's different influences in there and I don't think any of us actually listen to that much punk music. In terms of DIY ethos, I think that's where we all came from and that's the scene that we're from so I think I'm quite proud of it... but I think proper punks might be offended!
You recently posted a statement on social media thanking people for their love and support in the year that you've been performing as a transgender woman. Have the experiences that you've had in this last twelve months had an impact on your concept of music, making music and of the industry as a whole?
I think I was very scared when we first started this. I even lied to our manager. It's very obvious when you listen to the songs how I think, feel and what I've got going on in my head, but my manager asked me some really blunt questions about it and I lied to him because I think I was really worried that I'd be judged or singled out as I have been in the past. It's actually been incredibly welcoming. We've got a really great team around us who are very supportive and comforting, so the industry itself has been really great. Obviously we are alienated from certain aspects of it and I am maybe treated with a little bit of disrespect here and there but as a whole, it's been really nice. Going on stage every night and connecting with people is something that makes me feel a lot less alone, which is an amazing feeling. I don't think I would have been able to go through my journey in the same way if I hadn't been playing music.
Did the Queen Zee persona emerge from your experiences in this last year?
In terms of a band and what makes it up, I do think the band is always going to be an exaggerated version of yourself... so when I'm on stage and I'm really angry, I don't walk around being that angry all of the time! When I'm really sad, over dramatic and a bit of an emo, I'm not like that at home. It's a way of getting it out but at the same time it is still you. It's a bit like theatre. Queen Zee is very much myself but exaggerated!
In terms of the bands' creative process, are you the primary songwriter?
Myself and Jay kind of share the heavy lifting. Jay typically turns up with songs that are done and he's like 'This is it, this is where we go,' and I'll write the lyrics on top where as when I turn up with an idea it's half finished... it'll be like a riff and we'll just jam it out but that was when we were a two-piece band. Since new members have come in, it's more of a jamming process. Franks' bass playing is amazing, same with Daves' drumming. The song's not done until everyone has had their input. I'd say myself and Jay write most of it, but everyone else has their moment!
Would you rather be able to travel back in time or see into the future?
See into the future. You can have an idea of the past from books, photos and so on but the future... you just don't know. I think maybe there's a manipulative part of me that would love to know what's going to happen and then use that to my advantage! If I know something horrible is going to happen, I can stay out of it!
Have you got any guilty pleasures? (At this point bassist Frank and drummer Dave join in)
Zee: I love Pointless. I'm obsessed with Pointless. Frank, do you want to get in on this?
Frank: What's going on?
Zee: We're talking about Pointless!
Frank: Oh yeah, Pointless is well sick.
Zee: Guilty pleasures though... we watch endless Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares.
Frank: I wouldn't say that's a guilty pleasure! It's really good.
Zee: I don't feel guilty at all.
Frank: I really like Bargain Hunt.
Zee: There's another one... we feel kind of bad about liking Undercover Boss.
Frank: Undercover Boss... I think it's a bit crap.
Zee: It is crap, but we do enjoy watching it. I love the really shit makeovers they give them! They give them highlights and no one recognises them which is brilliant!
Frank: What about you, Dave? Is it smooth music?
Dave: It probably is smooth music. Storage Hunters, as well.
Zee: With touring, people think you're in a van and you're partying and having a great time. Touring is spending at least 12 hours a day in a Travelodge with Channel 4 watching Kitchen Nightmares and that's it... and Pointless. I watched one with Dick and Dom in it and they turned out to be really clever. Pointless is just the most punk-rock thing going... you heard it here first.
Dave: What's the guy called that presents it?
Frank: Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman.
Zee: He's just done an album just called 'Xander'. I know this because we've got a single coming out and we have to look at what's being released on the same day and it's Bradley Walsh and Xander. That's what we're up against.
If you had to sum up 2017 in one definitive emotion, what would it be and why?
Dave: Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares... but all one word.
Zee: Exhausted. We're very exhausted but it's been-
Dave: Good. It's been alright.
Frank: I'd say 'testing'.
Zee: I do think this year has been a 'show us what you've got' kind of thing because we did our first bit of touring, our first single came out and then the EP. We were going out with bands like Marmozets who are really serious and slay it every night and it's like 'Can you keep up with them?' So yeah, it's been a test... and I'd like to think we did okay!
Frank: I think we did really well.
Zee: We've cried a few times!
Frank: You've cried a few times...
Dave: You cried at Monsters Inc a few days ago!
Frank: It's pretty emotional. The ending where Sully has to say goodbye to Boo...
Finally... what are the hopes, dreams and plans for the future?
Frank: Just carry on, really.
Zee: We're really hoping to open a restaurant that fails so that Gordon Ramsay can come in.
Frank: He can shout at us a little bit.
Zee: You know when it's like three in the morning and you feel like you should be asleep? I was googling what his favourite song was and I found out that it was 'Yellow' by Coldplay and now I feel like he might appreciate what we do! But in terms of seriousness, we're gonna release some more music and we're gonna play more shows. We're going to keep doing that until people stop wanting us to do it... or until one of us dies. Although if one of us dies, we can just replace them... until at least four of us die.
Listen to Queen Zee & the Sasstones below:
Where to find them...