Queen Zee and the Sasstones Interview: punk and politics

We spoke to Liverpool punk Zee of the ever-controversial pink pop punk band Queen Zee and the Sasstones ahead of their performance at this year's Threshold Festival.

Lorna Gray

Last updated: 6th Mar 2017

 Image: Queen Zee and the Sasstones

For a band that started as a bit of fun to pass the time, Queen Zee and the Sasstones have since had BBC Radio One airplay, become one of the in demand and exciting live bands in their home city of Liverpool, as well as being announced to headline a brand new stage at this year's heavy Threshold Festival

Described as 'neu-punk', the band's sound is a clash of polar opposite genres as they combine the fun of pop music with the attitude, mentality and reputation of punk. 

We caught up with sass queen Zee herself, to discuss all things sasstones, gender politics and punk. 

Tell us a bit about Queen Zee and what you do? 

I'd say we're a hardcore band playing pop music, or maybe a pop band playing hardcore music - it's somewhere between there. It's essentially just a noisy, angry, very lame band. 

There's quite a lot of anger behind your music, isn't there?

I think there's a sort of apathy in music, particularly mainstream music, I think more mainstream and further away from the DIY scene, the more watered down it gets. Which is bizarre, because the world is so incredibly fucked up. Especially at the moment, I think if you're a creative, and you're creating music and you're not angry, I think that's really bizarre in itself. I think in this society, why wouldn't you be angry?

Tell us about the inspiration for your songs

I think there's a few main theme within our music. When it comes to lyrics, predominately, like most people do, we write from experience. There's a lot of sort of anti-love songs in there, there's a lot of songs about homophobia and transphobia and feminism and stuff like that. Subjects worth getting angry about.

But then there's also stupid songs, songs like 'Sass or Die' that's just about having a good time. We try to not be one-dimensional and try not to be a sort of Rage Against the Machine style political band - or try to be just a party band - because no one is that, no one is just political or just party. Everyone has a spectrum. 

You mentioned you're anti-love, as it was recently Valentines Day, I take it you don't buy into that?

I find it difficult to join in with any sort of organised fun, Christmas, birthdays, whatever - it always feels fairly forced. At the same time I think it is important to talk about love and to talk about compassion.

There's something kind of punk about love because it's very hard to control, you can try as hard as you want to package it and put it on some fucking roses - whatever people are buying these days for Valentines Day. There is something kind of punk about love, it's very honest. I buy into love but I don't necessarily buy stuff on the 14th February.

Do you feel in a position to talk about the likes of misogyny within your music when your band is made up of male members and a non-cis female?

Yeah! I don't feel like we can't talk about these issues and have some compassion. There's a difference between speaking over voices or trying to claim to be an authority. Even as a non-cis female, as a trans person, I still don't claim to be an authority in that. I have direct experience but I'm still not an authority on that.

Nobody should feel like they have authority. It's more about a little bit of solidarity and a little bit of stuff that angers you. I think objectification of women does also affect trans women as well. As well as the LGBTQ community - I think it's kids of hard to separate all of those issues.

Does it ever concern you that Queen Zee and the Sasstones are getting attention due to your gender identity as opposed to your music and the messages behind it? If you look at Laura Jane Grace from Against Me! before she came out as trans nobody was really aware of their music and now they're selling out shows.

The thing with Laura Jane Grace and Against Me is that they were all part of the American DIY scene, and that had a really big punk following. If you weren't part of that scene then you wouldn't know of Against Me! Particularly being English, we would have no idea. Then when they signed to a major label they were famous for being "the band that sold out". I think the thing with Against Me is it's still good music, and I think that's what comes first.

So the buzz surrounding Laura Jane Grace is okay because she's still good, and she's now a very visible trans woman which is very important. The combination of being on a major record label and coming out as transgender has meant that she's been given that platform. The thing with us - we're obviously a much, much, smaller band - essentially we've played the majority of our shows just in different scenes.

I think if we were part of the Queer Core scene inherently or part of a Riot Grrl scene, I would feel like we were booked just because we were part of that scene, it does happen. It's still not necessarily a bad thing, giving trans people and people from the LGBTQ community a platform because of that. If it encourages people to get involved I don't think booking people inherently because of that is necessarily a bad thing, but I think the difference with us is that we've played with a lot of different bands.

We've played with Cabbage, who are just punks really, we can play with psych bands, and we played with a death metal band Venom Prison. And then we can also play the Queer Core gigs. I don't really think it's happening. We do get a level of people being fascinated by it or more interested, and I'm happy to talk about and be visible but at the same time, I'd like to be remembered for the music, rather than my gender. 

Where did the Queen Zee alias come from?

It was meant to be a sort of punk aesthetic and I think there is something punk about drag. It's tongue in cheek humour, it can be quite crude. I think suffering - I don't really want to say suffering - I was kind of going through a rough patch of gender dysmorphia about the same sort of time I started Queen Zee. It was just something I really wanted to do. I wasn't taking Queen Zee too seriously, I never really intended to do any proper shows with it, I didn't really think I would have to ever make that effort or be that person.

It was more of an online alias, like a little almost like hint to tell people that that's who I was kind of thing. But I think from doing that I gained more and more confidence, and over the year I started to drop more and more hints until the time I came out. By that time I was already out and had started the transition. 

Did everyone have a positive reaction? Your band members and friends and family?

Yeah, nobody was really shocked. I told my parents and I told the band, I don't think anyone batted an eyelid, I don't think there was even an acknowledgment of it. It was all fairly obvious to everyone. 

Would you ever worry about insulting the gay community by using the title 'queen'? Since it's a word the gay community sort of reclaimed?

I'm transgender and bisexual, so that's the B & T in LGBTQ. There's a reason that the LGBTQ community is the LGBTQ community, because it is essentially all queer and it is essentially queering, which just comes from the word meaning different. It just means you're going against the cis; straight, gender norms. 

Which is punk as hell!

That's where punk came from, punk was a word used against Oscar Wilde for being homosexual, that was the first sort of written version of it. Punk has always been explicitly linked to the queer community.

I don't want to confuse people but I do want to encourage expression there and show people that it's okay to be whoever you are, you don't have to justify yourself to anyone and it's okay to not be anything. You don't have to tell people "I am this", "I am defined by this".

How do you react to people thinking Queen Zee is just a stage persona as opposed to your gender identity?

I know I said that those in Queen Zee are characters, but at the same time I don't think they actually are. I think that those people on stage, they are us, it is me. There's nobody else on that stage, I'm not acting, in the same way I'm not really scared to exaggerate points to make a bigger point. I think on stage you've got more adrenaline, it's you on a really good day basically. Which isn't so much acting or creating a character as it is just a form of expression. 

I'm not really scared of people saying, "this is just a stage thing" because ultimately, we're in the age of the internet trolls and people saying whatever they want to say about you, over whatever medium. You just sort of go and live your life and you try to do it with as much integrity as you can and that's the end of it. 

You're quite open about your punk persona and attitude, have you ever got into any trouble with it?

Yeah, and that's probably all I can say about that. There are certain places in the world - which I won't name - where we are no longer allowed to perform at. 

You're not worried about potentially upsetting people?

It's honestly the best publicity we can get! The more 'bad' publicity we get, the more people love the band. We're in an age where music journalists are very scared to write a bad review. So that means that every single review you read - every single band is great. The way music journalism goes these days, with everyone being great, is just factually wrong. Most bands are fine. Even us, we played a show the other night and I felt like it went okay, I didn't think we were particularly great.

Most nights, I think it's fine. Music journalism and how we talk about music now, even just on social media - everything's either great or shit - there's no middle ground with that, and the truth is that everything is middle ground. When someone writes something negative about you, or that word spreads that something controversial has happened, people are more interested.

It's almost as if they're morbidly fascinated. It's shit because if there's a good review about a band it should make someone want to go see them, but they are sort of desensitised to positivity.

Do you think the whole smashing up of a stage is something that fits in with the left-wing punk scene?

It's never planned, most of the time when we're on stage, we're in a sort of trance and it's not until we come off stage that we're like "oh, a guitar got smashed up again" or "my fingernail got ripped off". Some of the best political movements have been just people playing piano or instrumental music because you can hear the heart ship in it. I don't think it needs to be energetic and punk and loud to make a good political statement.

You're headlining Threshold Festival this year, you've been before. What is it you like about Threshold Festival? 

It's grassroots at the end of the day. There's a lot of festivals in the world and it's essentially all PR, bands getting on the bill because their management knows someone and calls in a favour. The good thing about Threshold is that it is curated. The people who run it hand pick who they'd like to play because they enjoy them.

You always end up with a strong local line up. It's always a bit of a party every year as well, the best of the local bands play and you all get to hang out. When we got asked to headline at a new venue, particularly with new bands we haven't played with before.  

Are there any other dates you can tell me about?

We're doing Manchester Punk Festival which will be cool. We're playing in one of the smaller venues on the Thursday. It's good, we're on the same day as a band called Crocodile God who are an old punk band from the 00s in Liverpool, as well as Murder Burgers who are a cool kind of pop punky band. 

The band play Threshold Festival in Liverpool Saturday 1st April. Get Threshold Festival tickets via the box below.

 

 

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