Beauty Queen Autopsy
Last week, I had the pleasure of reviewing Beauty Queen Autopsy's "Lotharia", in which I praised it quite well. Both Matt Fanale and Erica Mulkey's performances on the album created a pretty fascinating atmosphere that brought out a basic concept of falling down and rising again. This age old theme solidified the album in the hearts of many, but with wicked beats and powerful lyrical delivery, "Lotharia" managed to bring forth better than expected results. And, now, I got the chance to talk to both Fanale and Mulkey regarding BQA's history and their debut album:
I am almost positive that no real introduction is needed for the both of you, but just in case this is the first time our readers have heard of you, give us a brief on who you are and the projects you're involved in.
Erica - "I perform solo as Unwoman, my live shows are mostly live-looped electric cello and voice; my recordings are fully produced (by me) with drums and other sample-based and electronic arrangements. I’ve been doing that for almost 15 years, full-time for over five.
Matt - "I'm best known as the chaotic wiseass Caustic, but I'm also in the Causticles with Brian from the Gothsicles and in Prude with Jared o' Chemlab and a bunch of other fellas. I stay busy."
Now, you two do have some similar style in music, but, then again, from your solo projects of Caustic and Unwoman, there are so many differences. When did you guys first meet?
Erica - "I think Matt was playing a show in some shitty venue in SF at least 10 years ago and I had heard some of his stuff and liked it, then was really, really impressed by his performance energy (Was it opening for Babyland? I don’t remember). I know for sure we chatted at the DNA Lounge a little while later -- we have a mutual collaborator (along with everyone else!) in Eric Gottesman, who may have been the one who introduced us. Anyway, I asked him to duet with me on an Attrition cover, he asked me to sing on a Caustic track, 'Orchid'..."
Matt - "And here we are!"
And when did BQA first start? Was there much discussion behind it all or was it more of a "Let's just do it" effort?
Matt: I thought of doing a (then unnamed) project with Erica on vocals in around 2008 and asked if she'd be interested. She was, and we did a few demos, which in all honesty were more rambly poetry from me than having much real song structure. We got crazy into our own stuff though and still talked BQA now and again, but it wasn't until I found the 'BQA Sound' a few years ago that it all locked into place. So, per usual with me, it's a long gestating process.
I remember when you guys put out your first demos on Bandcamp. They were really rough cuts, but since have improved. Why did you first put out these demos? Were they just to gauge audiences and see how they would react to the material? Or was there a different motive?
Erica - "We’re both really busy with other projects and we were pretty sure we had something great going on, but it helped us stay motivated to know that other people wanted to hear more, too!"
Matt - "I was primarily fueled by the excitement of doing something that was a whole different vibe than Caustic and the other projects I've worked on. I can't really write about sex or heartbreak or anything like that with Caustic as, well, nobody would buy it. With Erica on vocals it opened up new worlds for me in terms of what I could get away with writing. I get a real rush out of pushing my own limits, but also defying what I think are people's conceptions of just what I can do. We really surprised people with 'Roughest Cuts', and seem to be doing it even more with the 'Lotharia'."
And, was it a tough process when it came to reworking those tracks into the final versions that appeared on "Lotharia"?
Matt - "Not really. The musical aesthetic of BQA is keep it simple, stupid. I'm trying to maximize atmosphere and energy using as few elements as possible on most of the tracks. I just went back to a few of them and gave them another go-through to see what could be tweaked and improved. When I was done and Erica and I agreed we were both happy with the track we sent it off to Tom Shear of Assemblage 23 to put together the final mix, as I really appreciate another set of ears in the process, especially ears that are so experienced producing quality, respected music."
After the very warm reception that you received on the EP that came after that, "Good, Giving, Game", was it then that you realized you had something extraordinary going on? Or did you come to that bold conclusion before that?
Matt - "I just knew I'd never heard anything like what we were doing. I hear the influences, but a nice element to not really being a trained musician is that it's really hard for me to rip off other artists...as I usually have no idea how they actually created their sound. It's always a good approximation. But thematically and lyrically I thought there was a real purity of the ideas and, really, I've just been having fun pushing myself and trying to write personal songs through the eyes of a character. It's really freeing, especially when I have someone as amazing as Erica singing those words and adding different layers of emotion to them.
It's been interesting hearing who people think we sound like. Very few of the comparisons were actually conscious influences, but I think it goes to show that while the sound is different, it still reminds people of some amazing other artists. It's always flattering, regardless. At least so far."
Both of those previous releases built up to what would ultimately be "Lotharia", your full length debut album. I've already listened to the album multiple times, but tell us more about it. Were there any themes or stories packed into the album? And did you have any influences in mind when making the songs for it?
Matt - "'Lotharia' actually has a general story to it, which I didn't even realize until the final tracklist came together. It's about a woman getting her heart broken and then rising from the ashes and turning into the Lotharia character. Erica's referred to the character as her 'Sasha Fierce', as this has been a chance for her to actually be a new person in all of these tracks. The feelings and lyrics are pretty much all from experiences I've had or people I know have had, so it's based in reality. It's just from one character's standpoint.
Well, some of it is made up. The Devil You Don't is completely fictional. I just thought a bad ass final spoken word track was a great, gutsy way to end the album."
When it comes to writing the music out for your tracks, do you balance the work between each other? Some tracks feel as if they have more of a Caustic touch to them, such as the title track, while others, such as "The Taxidermist", sounds more like an Unwoman affair.
Matt - "I actually wrote all of the music, but Erica weighs in on the track during the process. I usually send her the lyrics to see what she thinks, sometimes with a clip of the track to give her an idea of the sound. There have only been a few ideas that she wasn't interested in pursuing, but that was few and far between.
'The Taxidermist', funny enough, was the only track actually inspired BY Erica. She mentioned something on Twitter about her collecting broken hearts, or something along those lines, and that line inspired the entire song. So technically it was a bit of an Unwoman affair, even though I wrote the whole thing."
And, Erica, you were responsible for the vocals on the album, which makes me ask if you are in charge of writing out the lyrics. And, does Matt hold any sway over them?
Erica - "Actually Matt writes all the lyrics! Everyone thinks I do, which is great, because it means I play a convincing femme fatale. Once in a blue moon Matt writes something I want to reword slightly, and he’s good with that. In a lot of ways the fact that someone else wrote the lyrics give me freedom to be really saucy with them in a way I don’t allow myself to be with Unwoman -- though Unwoman lyrics are extremely personal, I’ve been very cautious about allowing the Unwoman persona to be overtly sexual, while with my beauty queen persona that’s obviously not a problem."
And, Matt, if ever, do you plan on introducing yourself as a singer in BQA? Or is that something you are staying away from?
Erica - "We’re going to release the demos you sent me where you mannishly croon about your fuck-me pumps, right Matt?"
Matt - "Ahahahaha, oh hell no. Erica is the voice of Beauty Queen Autopsy. I already ruin enough songs with my voice on other projects."
Now, I think I saw that you posted on the BQA Facebook page that you're both very proud of "Lotharia". Would you rank it among one of your favorite albums/releases you've worked on throughout your entire music careers?
Erica - "This is may very well be my very favorite, outside of my original solo albums."
Matt - "I'm extremely proud of the album. After working on a few other more 'Caustic' albums (meaning Caustic and the Causticles, not Prude) it was nice to let loose and work with some new restrictions aesthetically to see what I could come up with. Working with Erica also allowed me to write for someone who can actually sing, so it's been nothing but a fun opportunity to do something new, and I couldn't be happier with the outcome. I only ever want to make music that I want to actually listen to, and this is exactly something I'd buy. The album kicks ass, and the reaction from people who have heard it so far seems to agree with that sentiment. It feels good to know I pulled off what we tried to achieve."
It seems that both fans of the project, myself included, and some critics are very open to what you're doing and are liking the music you're pushing out. Have you seen or heard anything negative about "Lotharia" this far?
Erica - "I’m avoiding reading anonymous comments anywhere but the band’s own sites, so no I haven’t, but I’m sure it’s there."
Matt - "Not yet, but there's always someone out there. I've never made music for a wide audience, although this is probably the most accessible stuff I've ever created. You can't make everyone happy. Some people hate the Beatles, and we're nowhere near as good as the Beatles. Yet."
You've got a music video out for "Spread". Who shot and directed the video and what story were you going for in the video? And were you attempting to go for any specific style when shooting the video?
Matt - "I came up with the concept for the video and shot it with Maggie Snyder, who also edited it and is an old friend and an amazing artist. We shot it as close to the Dogme 95 movements rules as possible-- all natural lighting, hand held cameras only, etc.-- and the video is pretty much just the story of the song itself. It's very literal, sexy, and visceral. I think it turned out beautifully.
I just wanted it to be as close to a real sexual encounter as possible. Some people have gotten upset that there's not actual nudity in the video, but go to any one of a million other sites for that. We think it's great."
Do you have any plans to tour together or play a few gigs under the BQA moniker?
Erica - "I’m hoping at the very least to play some festivals. It’s hard to get this started because we live in different states and have family obligations, but I had an absolute blast at the one show we played in Madison last November."
Matt - "It'll be a ways off, as my wife and I are expecting our second child in a few months. I'd love to though. We had such a huge reaction to our first show that I definitely want to do more. I also thoroughly enjoy letting Erica rock it as frontwoman, as it's nice for me to just concentrate on the music. With Caustic I have more pressure on me to entertain. With BQA I let Erica do the heavy lifting, and I just make the noise. I'm confident we'll do more shows eventually."
And, do you have anything else currently in the works with BQA or any of your other projects that you wish to mention?
Erica - "We’ve got a second video coming out soon, the follow-up to 'Spread' -- Matt, when is that coming out?"
Matt - "As soon as we edit it! Otherwise we'll have a lyric video we did for 'Pumps', maybe one for 'The Taxidermist', but the second official video (also done by Maggie and myself) will be out ASAP. Now we mainly have to dive into all of the Kickstarter rewards we still owe people.
Oh, and I'm currently finalizing the mixes for the next Caustic release, called 'Industrial Music', which will be out on Negative Gain later this year."
Lastly, I wish you both luck with BQA and the many other projects you are involved with personally. Cheers!
Erica - "Thank you!"
Matt - "Thanks so much!"
We will never be the state's poster child band, nor do we want to be, but after a decade of hard work we have a solid following and I am very grateful for that. It seems like every gig we play we make new fans who actually stick around and that is a rare thing anymore. We have reached across genres locally and have built ourselves a dedicated and very diverse crowd here.
Pittersplatter, Jan 07 2014
I've been writing for Brutal Resonance since November of 2012 and now serve as the editor-in-chief. I love the dark electronic underground and usually have too much to listen to at once but I love it. I am also an editor at Aggressive Deprivation, a digital/physical magazine since March of 2016. I support the scene as much as I can from my humble laptop.
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