New York City’s Queen of Rock, Queen V, began her career in the musical industry as a songwriter and performer and played NYC’s clubs CBGBs, Don Hill’s, The Palladium, The Bitter End and The Green Door. She has had the chance to tour with rockers Twisted Sister, Billy Idol and Bon Jovi. After performing Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love” at the legendary Viper Room while in Hollywood, CA, she caught the eye of famed rockers Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) and Lemmy (Motorhead) and they all quickly became friends.
Tom Morello and Lemmy can be heard on Queen V’s The Decade of Queen V which was released in June by Royal Noise Records. The album has 11 true rock ‘n’ roll songs showcasing Queen V’s hard rock guitar playing and powerhouse vocals.
Queen V was recently quoted in a press release as saying, “Calling myself Queen V was a way to challenge myself to really raise the game and try to hold my own with the people who I respect so much: bands like Queen, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, and David Bowie. And, of course, being a female rocker, there are inherent challenges as rock is a bit of a boy’s club…but I definitely like to hang out and hold my own with the fellas.”
We had a chance to catch up with Queen V and find out more about her musical influences, the history of her band, touring, and her recent album The Decade of Queen V.
GGM: First off, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to interview with us. I read where the first concerts you ever attended were at the Meadowlands in New York. What was the most memorable concert you ever attended?
QV: Thanks for having me, Tara! My most memorable concert was a festival in Switzerland when I was a kid. The bill consisted of U2, who were headlining at the peak of their Joshua Tree tour, The Pretenders, Lou Reed and Big Audio Dynamite. I’d never been to a festival before, so the whole thing just blew my mind. We were in the very front right by the stage, getting completely smooshed and sweated on (during Lou Reed and the Pretenders) and it was a hot, humid and fierce day. At some point during the U2 set, however, the skies opened up into a downpour and the crowd disbursed a bit, but I stayed put right in front. The music was of course amazing, being a big fan of all those bands, but to see them live on the big stage was nothing short of a religious experience.
GGM: You began playing piano at the age of 5. What inspired you to pick up guitar?
QV: I picked up a guitar really to be able to play all those rock songs I knew and loved, all those riffs and chord progressions that were pure magic to me. As gratifying as piano was, I wasn’t getting everything out of it that I needed musically. So I “borrowed” my brother’s guitar, figured out some chords with the help of Mel Bay, and the rest is history! I should say as well, that as soon as I started playing guitar, my writing changed instantly. All of a sudden I could express myself differently and it opened up so many other doors for me. And I could jump around with it! You can’t do that with a piano.
GGM: Being a female rocker, were there any female artists in particular that inspired you in developing your musical style?
QV: The female artists who had a great impact on me – artists like Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde, Stevie Nicks, Blondie, Janis Joplin, and Melissa Etheridge – they all had a certain attitude that really appealed to me. They were strong and tough in their own ways, total individuals who sang and wrote with fierce honesty. It was important for me to see that you can be that kind of an artist AND a woman, that you didn’t have to fit into a mold, just be who you are and do what comes naturally.
GGM: What other musicians have you been inspired by?
QV: Bands like Queen and Led Zeppelin were probably the most inspiring to me, and it’s no coincidence that their singers (Freddie Mercury and Robert Plant) probably had the greatest impact on my vocals and performance. Those bands were incredibly inspirational from top to bottom – the musicians themselves, the riffs, the shows, the vibe – I never got to see the bands live, but I never tire of their recordings. They stand the test of time!
GGM: Having started as a songwriter and performer in musical theater playing in New York City, what was it that made you decide to form a band and pursue a career as a rock ‘n roll artist?
QV: I always had a passion for rock n roll and always knew that’s where I wanted to be. But there came a point where I decided to roll the dice and go for it and I’ve never looked back.
GGM: How was your band formed and what inspired the name Queen V?
QV: My band is actually like a baseball team with a deep bench – the so-called “crazy pirate ship” – where the musicians are hand-picked for specific scenarios but all have a common goal. I’ve been very fortunate to play with many gifted, incredible players over the years who feel that same spirit I do. When I set out, I didn’t want to do something lukewarm or middle-of-the-road, but rather it was important to me to make a statement and bring as much raw power and fiery emotion as I could… because that’s how this kind of music makes me feel – like I can do anything, be anything I set my mind to. And that’s how the Queen V name came about. It was the perfect way to challenge myself, to set the bar very high and go for it!
GGM: How has the band transformed over the years and can you tell us a little about the current members?
QV: Depending on who’s doing what, the touring line-up tends to go through certain eras, and in this current one, we’ve got what I think is a special combination of people. To start, we’ve got the 1-2 guitar punch of Jimi Bones and Derrek Hawkins, who alternate the heavier meat-and-potatoes riff work and blistering, gut-wrenching solos. Chris Altenhoff has played bass with me for the better part of the last decade, and is a co-writer on most of the material and an all around phenomenal musician. On drums we have Aaron Brooks, who is one of the loudest, heaviest drummers I have ever had the pleasure of playing with. You know when Aaron is in the room! They’re all great guys and tremendous players and I’m excited about this next series of shows in NY in October!
GGM: You’ve had the opportunity to open for some rock legends like Twisted Sister, Billy Idol and Bon Jovi! Can you share with us how you got those opportunities and how that helped advance your career?
QV: All of those experiences came about very organically, for lack of a better word. Someone in the band’s camp either caught my show or heard the CD and offered to let us open for them. The shows with Twisted Sister and Billy Idol were my first big shows, so it was an eye-opener and very educational to say the least. From there, we won a few Battle of the Bands contests and as the prize, we got a few more opening slots, one of which was for Bon Jovi at the Meadowlands. THAT show was surreal, because, as you mentioned, I saw so many concerts there growing up, and all of a sudden the tables were turned and I was the one on that stage. Opening for well-known bands was helpful because we were exposed to a much larger audience, who had never heard of us before. But the opening slot also forces you to get your act together, real tight, real fast. When the audience has no idea who you are, they can get restless QUICKLY, so you need to put on the best show possible with your best songs and leave it all onstage. But that’s what you always want to do anyway, right? Pour out every bit of your guts and heart and soul and leave it on the stage.
GGM: Absolutely! Female guitarists are often times criticized as not being “serious” guitar players. Do you feel you have had to overcome any obstacles in terms of proving yourself as a serious musician?
QV: Of course! I’ve always thought that the obstacles are the naysayers, whether it’s some condescending dude in a guitar shop, or an industry exec who doesn’t believe that modern female fronted rock can be successful. Their opinions don’t matter much to me, and I never let them derail me. The only person I need to prove anything to is myself, because I will always be my greatest critic and motivator. Ultimately, I like to let the music speak for itself. Let the shows speak for themselves. So yes, I don’t think I’m the “greatest” singer or guitarist in the world, but “serious” is one word I’m well acquainted with.
GGM: On your new album The Decade of Queen V, Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) and Lemmy (Motorhead) make appearances on several of the songs. How did that collaboration come about?
QV: Tom and Lemmy both happened to be at the Viper Room one night when we were playing as part of the NYC Rock N Roll Compilation tour, and they happened to catch our show. We were opening for Metal Skool (now known as Steel Panther) so as you can imagine, it was a fun, raucous evening. Mutual friends introduced me to Tom and to Lemmy, and we became fast friends and stayed in touch. When it was time for me to head back in the studio, I asked them if they would be willing to collaborate and fortunately they agreed. We had a song called “My Machine” that need a signature guitar solo, which Tom was perfect for, and I was very familiar with his work, being a Rage Against The Machine fan. “Wasted” ended up being Lemmy’s and my collective repudiation of certain soulless types, and we had a blast writing and recording it together in LA, with a mandatory little stop at the Rainbow before and after the session, of course!
GGM: Love the Rainbow…been there many times! The album spans almost a decade of your music. Do you feel that your music has changed over this period of time and what was your inspiration for putting together this album?
QV: The album tells the story of this incredible journey I’ve been on for several years now, and every song on this album is an important stop along the way. With all the new fans who are discovering us now, I wanted to be able to hand someone a single CD or point to a single album download and say, “Here, this is Queen V. This is a good place to start if you want to find out what we’re all about.” I think the music kept evolving but at the same time got more focused. It’s been quite a ride and it’s still going! The “decade” is yet to come!
GGM: Can you share with us a little about the background on some of the songs on the album; how they were inspired, what the recording process was like, and the time spent in the studio.
QV: Songs like “Revolution Baby” and “America” were very much inspired by wanting to find our people, other rock fans, in a time when rock was not particularly in vogue. They have to do with feeling alienated and almost lost on your own island but finding a way to empower yourself to get out there, lay it all on the line and CONNECT. Jon Paris came in the studio and played the harmonica solo on “Revolution Baby” which STILL blows my mind, he’s amazing.
I’m big on self-empowerment as a general theme, and so “Million To One,” is all about going against the odds and the self-reliance and unwavering belief in yourself that you’ll come out on top. It was literally inspired by real-life situations where all those cynical voices in the biz are trying to direct and influence you, and on the other hand, all the self-doubt you inevitably have to squash in order to succeed. The solo on that song is one of my favorite on the album, played by the inimitable Tristan Avakian. “Cry Your Eyes Out” and “Right or Wrong” also touch on the brave face you need to show in the midst of adversity, and how sometimes it’s just about hanging in there.
Other songs bring something a bit more personal to the album, where there is a different kind of emotion at the forefront, namely “Good Enough” and “Cry For A Minute” which are both songs about loss. Sometimes you end up on the short side, and it’s important to me to express that part as well.
The whole recording process as a whole was very detail oriented, and we always took our time to get it right. We recorded at various studios, mostly in the New York area, although the guest spots were done in LA. I even recorded the vocals to “Good Enough” in my closet at home, which doubled as a vocal booth when need be. Ron Saint Germain of course totally nailed the mix on that track, which is probably why I never get tired of hearing it.
GGM: Concerning your charity work, you performed for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America at their 2010 Benefit Gala in Hollywood. What made you choose to support that charity?
QV: I learned about IAVA when I met their co-founder Paul Rieckhoff randomly outside of a Serge Tankian/Tom Morello concert in New York. Like many other people, I have veterans in my family (my father and brother are vets) so I am somewhat familiar with the post-service veteran life, but I quickly realized that IAVA was addressing modern-era vets who were coming home and facing certain challenges like rampant unemployment and suicide rates. They established a community and a network for veterans to connect with each other, share information and support. Although they are not politically affiliated with any party, IAVA also gets it done on Capital Hill, making real changes in things like the GI Bill, VA backlog and Employment Opportunities. They raised awareness of this issue nationwide and got people talking about it, which is crucial in improving the situation for vets. Putting on the “Rock For Vets” show as part of their Gala in 2010 was really the least I could do, to try to give something back to veterans. It was an extraordinary event and it was great to see the vets having a great time and rocking out!
GGM: Our goal here at Guitar Girl Magazine is to inspire females to pursue their dreams. Any advice you would like to offer to aspiring young female artists that strive to pursue a career as a professional musician?
QV: Practice, practice, practice!! Always believe in yourself, and be yourself: no one does it better than you! Be ready to work very hard and be prepared to have a ball, because it is a rewarding career, even if your bank account doesn’t always reflect it. It is a crazy business so stay close to the music and people you can really trust.
GGM: Let’s talk about your gear a little bit. Can you tell me about your set-up and did you use that set-up on your current album?
QV: Haha, how much time do you have? I personally play one of several Gibsons through a Vox, but the guitar set-ups on the album are numerous and varied…. Voxes, Marshalls, and Mesa Triple Rectifier. My Flying V got a lot of play in the studio, and not just by me, because it is a rock MACHINE.
GGM: I’ve read that you have several guitars! How many guitars do you own and do you have a favorite? And, what amps, effects, picks and strings do you use?
QV: I own many guitars but the ones that see the light of day most often is my Gibson acoustic J-185, Silverburst Les Paul, and my Rust Tele. String-wise, on electric guitars I play 11s and then 12s on acoustics. I used Dunlop Tortex picks in the .73 gauge. I’ve got a bigger heavier amp and pedal board for larger stages and a smaller pedal board and amp for smaller stages. I pretty much stick with one of two Vox Amps – love that hot box sound! Not much on effects, the basis of both pedal boards is a tuner, BB pre-amp pedal, MXR Micro-Chorus and an A/B switch for acoustic/electric. My bigger pedal board has a bunch of other sweet boxes that I am experimenting with on some new songs, which is very exciting so we’ll see how it goes!
GGM: Lastly, a fun question. What are the current top 3 songs on your playlist?
QV: HA! As in most often played? Just checked, and I’m kind of shocked! Here it is, honestly:
“Easy” – Commodores
“When You’re a Tourist” – Death Cab for Cutie
“I Believe In You” – Black Dub
For more information on Queen V, visit her site HERE.
Cover Photo Credit: Steve Prue
Queen V in “Cry Your Eyes Out”