Carré Callaway is the furious voice and the creative force behind the rock band Queen Kwong.  After performing over 60 shows last year (in the U.K. and around the U.S.), Queen Kwong will be live at Ferndale’s Loving Touch this Friday night. As a new Detroiter, this will be Carré’s first local show and only the second performance in the US in support of her album Get a Witness.

Detroit Proud sat down with Carré and talked about the highlights of finding her sound and creating an album on her terms, smashing expectations, the struggles of escaping her looming past, and why she’s thrilled to make Detroit her new home.

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queen kwong carre solo

(courtesy: Queen Kwong)

Welcome to Detroit! Happy to have you. How did you decide to make this your home?

I didn’t understand Detroit’s reputation until I started talking to people about it. I had a friend who worked on a movie set here and he said “you’d really like Detroit and what’s going on there”. The next day, I was on the phone with Wes [Carré’s finance, Wes Borland], we got into some fight, I snapped and said, “I’m moving to Detroit, and if you really love me you’ll come too!”

Fortunately, Wes was playing here at The Fillmore and had a day off the following day. Within the first hour of renting a car and seeing houses, Wes was like “we have to move here” and I felt that way too. This place, something feels really good about it. It was something that both of us, while living in L.A., hadn’t felt in a really long time. Everywhere we went people were wearing Detroit stuff – where I’m from that’s a faux pas, but everyone had so much pride for the city and it was so cool. It’s just a good feeling – a community feeling, even though everyone is different.

We went to a show and there were all types of people there, a great mix of people all in the same place supporting Detroit. It seemed very genuine, the sense of community and the sense of trying to build something – everyone we talked to had ideas about what they wanted to do. We wanted to be part of something – instead of being in our own entertainment bubble. We’re here and we’re really, really, really happy.

Now that you’ve been here for a few months, are you starting to get a feel for Detroit’s music scene?

There are tons of bands here – there are shows every night, it’s crazy. We’ve seen several. I like it because, again, there is such a great mix of people. We saw the band Golden Torso at Small’s during the Hamtramck Music Festival – they were awesome! They had this punk attitude. It had been a long time since I saw a singer that I really identified with.

You’re getting ready to rock The Loving Touch.

Got this show and was super excited about it, it’s important for us to play with local people and play a local show.

We didn’t have a rhythm section, so I’ve been going out – going out to shows, trying to talk to musicians if they know anyone that might be interested. Word got around pretty fast – everyone is friends with each other so it’s a lot of word of mouth. And a lot of people I’ve never met are trying to help – which is so awesome. Detroit is so friendly – which is really nice. We moved here for a reason – it’s really refreshing.

We’ve been auditioning people for the last week and it’s like, “Okay, can you learn these songs and will you be ready to play these songs next week at a show?”

Queen Kwong

(credit: Derek Bremner / courtesy: Queen Kwong)

What are you looking for when auditioning?

It’s just a matter of people coming over and if they’re polite and show up on time. If they show up knowing the material. I know more when it’s wrong, than when it’s right [Laughs]. My kind of music doesn’t require super-skilled, technical players…it’s more about feel. It’s about knowing how to adapt, how to take cues, how to be dynamic – the shows are improvised a lot of the time.

When it comes to putting together the band, it’s not as easy as I thought – it is a really organic thing. It’s not like looking at their resumes and calling them in.

Your music is kind of tough and gritty, it’s a perfect fit for Detroit. Tell us how you got your start and what the journey of developing as a musician was like.

I was born in Denver. I had a weird childhood – my dad owned a nightclub, it was this Industrial-Goth type club. I had all of my Elementary School birthdays there every year. That was the norm for me. Bands like Skinny Puppy, David J, Love and Rockets played there – stuff that most little kids weren’t exposed to. I started writing lyrics in 4th grade, so I had this idea to form a band. None of us could play instruments – we were just singing the lyrics I had. We were called ‘Population Three’. We didn’t have any music, so my school music teacher started playing guitar. He was like a Raffi-esque member. It was just awful! [Laughs]

That kind of planted the seed – if I’m going to write songs and I’m going to have a band, I need musicians! I don’t want my old music teacher in my band – so I picked up the guitar and taught myself how to play. It wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that I took it seriously and became this singer-songwriter type.

My sound has changed drastically. I became good at being a singer songwriter even though I didn’t like what I was writing. I was writing folkish stuff – a lot of finger picking guitar, but my lyrics were a little aggressive. I got comfortable with that, but at the same time I’d never listen to it. I hated it. I was into punk rock – I liked rock music – and here I was playing this singer-songwriter stuff. I did that for a long time because it was comfortable. Then when I was seventeen, I met Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails. That became a turning point.

Queen Kwong

(credit: Derek Bremner / courtesy: Queen Kwong)

Ten-something years ago, Nine Inch Nails were still almost at the peak of their powers. That must have been a huge opportunity, what was that like?

It was a huge deal, I can’t deny that, but it was really the right place at the wrong time. I didn’t play music like Nine Inch Nails, so it was a really strange thing.

I opened for Trent Reznor on a few tours, but the first time was just with an acoustic guitar and they said, “Well, it just can’t be you and a guitar, we need to dress you up a little – get a stylist and a band.” They gave me an electric guitar and told me to play my songs – I was still this singer-songwriter, I had never played with a band. It was bizarre.

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I never had a chance to make a first impression with my own identity. I went from playing coffee shops and school shows…to opening for Nine Inch Nails.

How did that experience change you as an artist?

When I opened for Nine Inch Nails, I performed under my real name, Carré Callaway. After, I started recording four-track demos under “Queen Kwong” – posting them on MySpace. I tried not to have any association with my name and that’s how Queen Kwong started. I wasn’t recording properly or putting a band together – I was just messing around. I had to go backwards and learn how to play guitar in a style I actually liked – for music I actually liked.

My first record that I just put out nine months ago [Get a Witness] was the first record I can wholeheartedly stand behind. I had released some EPs trying to figure out my sound, trying to create my sound – those EPs were reviewed and it created a lot of hesitation in me.

My music is a real acquired taste, but the only thing I had left was to stay true to myself. I felt like if I made something I could truly stand behind, it wouldn’t matter if other people hated it. It was the first time I wrote and recorded stuff without thinking about how other people were going to react to it.

Queen Kwong

(credit: Derek Bremner / courtesy: Queen Kwong)

What’s it like having Limp Bizkit guitarist (and your fiancé) Wes Borland in your band?

We played over 60 shows between the U.K and the U.S. the last year and it was awesome. The album is being well received over there – it’s been a great experience being able to play Reading and Leeds Festivals there – doing these iconic things that I dreamt about since I was a kid.

It’s strange because he’s only been playing with me for less than a year. He plays the music I write, and he’s not on the record. There’s been reviews and comments where people, whether they’re good or bad reviews, they’re like, “Yeah, she sucks, but Wes Borland’s guitar playing is so awesome on the record” or “The record was great and Wes really played some awesome parts.”

I think it’s going to take a few records of me really staying true to myself to kind of squash that stuff. It’s funny, someone told me “when I Google your band, the only band member listed is Wes! [Laughs]

It works in my favor and it works against me to have any kind of names attached to me. People judge, I do it too. If someone said “I’m going to check out this band the guy from Limp Bizkit is in,” I’d be like “pfffft…ok, whaaatever. Count me out!” [Laughs really hard].

Seems like you’ve been battling public perceptions and expectations most of your career. How does that affect you as a musician?

I would love to talk about what it’s like being a woman in this industry, but it’s a no win situation. It says something when I’ve written all of this music – I am where I am because of what I’ve done myself – and still I’ll get great record reviews and they’ll attribute it to the guys in my band. That sucks. I don’t think that’s what it would be like if I was a guy.

There’s this natural assumption that I’m not the one who writes and plays the music. I hate that. I’m trying to play less guitar, I used to perform as a three piece band, and now that Wes is in the band, people think I can’t play guitar. There’s the other side too, people are impressed because “a girl can do this…I really like that band, she’s a girl and she can play, she’s really good for a girl.” It’s so strange, unfortunately that’s the world we live in right now.

So what’s the plan after this show?

I want to do more locally. I want to do more shows here, I want to have a local lineup. I want to explore the music scene here; I live here now so I want to be part of it. That’s as far as I want to plan. I’m recording a second record now, so that’s my focus.

Sounds like your finally comfortable creating a record on your terms.

It took me awhile to realize I should do things on my terms. All the music I like is an acquired taste [The Stooges, Swans, Nick Cave, Grinderman, PJ Harvey] and that’s why I don’t mind writing records where people either get it and like it or you f***ing hate it. That’s good for me. I’d rather write polarizing records rather than people just be like “yeah, it’s just ok”. I don’t want to be middle of the road.

Queen Kwong

(credit: Derek Bremner / courtesy: Queen Kwong)

What can we expect when we see you live later this week?

Live, I’m a whole different animal – like I said, there was no band while recording this record – totally different energy, totally improvised. When people see me live, I’m truly myself. People would come to shows obviously not because of me, and I think knowing I have to prove myself really irks me – I’m already a furious person [laughs] – and that will just get me going, “you need me to prove myself? Watch your f***ing back!”

Well, on that very rock ‘n roll note – that’s a wrap! Don’t miss Queen Kwong at The Loving Touch this Friday, April 22nd!

Want more Queen Kwong? Click HERE for more info!

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Click HERE for tickets to see Queen Kwong at The Loving Touch this Friday!