Lisa The Beauty Queen – INTERVIEW

Lisa The Beauty Queen is a UK based transgender music artist, currently making projects that are, admittedly, hard to define with a single genre – a confrontational mix of hyperpop, hip-hop and electronic (along with a lot more genres that probably still lay outside of my musical frame of reference!) that expresses a wonderful mix of anxiety, beauty and intensity. I spoke to her here about her influences in music (and art in large), her aims in music, her time with filmmaking and, briefly, her position as a transgender artist in music. If you want to listen to her music, please do check out the Bandcamp link below. I’ll also put it at the bottom of the interview, in case anybody wishes to read first:

 https://lisathebeautyqueen.bandcamp.com/

RB: Well, I guess the best way to start is to ask: If you were to try to define what you’re doing – up to you if you want to focus only on music or otherwise. But how would you define what you’re doing artistically?

LTBQ: It’s difficult to say how I’d define myself. My instinct is to say there isn’t an overarching point to my music and I just sort of make whatever I want to, but in a way that is how I would define my work. A lot of my stuff lyrically focuses on anxiety and confusion, and I think that fits into the grab-bag approach I have to different styles. At the end of the day my goal was always to make music that I would want to listen to and would pique my own interest if I hadn’t made it, and hope to hell there are other people out there with the same taste.

RB: I did notice going through some of your work the impressive number of sub-genres that you’ve toyed with, and that the element that seemed to link them together was the lyrical presence – there’s a certain kind of mood that stretches over a lot of your work that is quite palpable I think. Musically, obviously, there is a range of influences – I took note specifically of the I Need Help Immediately remix and know of your love for hyper-pop in general – do you feel like that’s the main influence on what you’re doing? Each influence seems very modern, or even futuristic – from Death Grips to 100 gecs to Neil Cicierega (Lisa On Ice Presents… brought his series of mash-up albums to mind!)

LTBQ: Hyperpop is definitely a big influence, although I suppose I try and avoid some of the overt stylistic elements that that genre is known for. I don’t really use the metallic production sound that someone like 100 gecs or SOPHIE are known for. I try and capture the same energy as hyperpop, but definitely I would cite something like Death Grips as a stronger direct influence on what I do. I’ve always liked art (in any medium) which is generally dismissed as ‘bad’, or has some element of trashiness to it. Just more fun a lot of the time, like I’m a huge fan of Kid Cudi’s Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven, not because it’s ‘so bad it’s good’ or whatever, I just genuinely enjoy how loose and raw it is, and how much fun he’s having with the whole grunge vibe. Neil Cicierega has been a massive influence on me as a creative ever since I saw The Ultimate Showdown when I was 7, and the mashup stuff is sort of my attempt to pay tribute to him with the kind of music i listen to.

I think the main influence on me broadly speaking is just pop music. I grew up listening to Britney, and Avril, and Lady Gaga, but also all the way back to The Buggles (I would still call their album The Age of Plastic one of my all time favourites). I think my first ever ‘favourite song’ was It’s Raining Men. So as much as I love experimental and abrasive music and try and fit it in as much as possible, my love for music definitely came from that much simpler place of loving really well-crafted pop music.

RB: I actually agree with you on Speedin’ Bullet – I think it’s a really good record, if flawed. I was captivated by that merging of mellow pop and the more abrasive  music in your style – I feel like an easy example to point to is definitely the track on Lisa On Ice Presents… where Bruno Mars is mixed with Death Grips (Billionaires Rattle Stars Out the Sky). I have to say I really like the more freewheeling approach to music (and other arts, again). Are there any types of music that you can’t get into, or ones that you feel have no place in what you’re making?

LTBQ: I can’t really pinpoint any genres or styles that I just automatically can’t get into. Every time I think of a style I generally don’t vibe with as easily there’s always something in there I can find enjoyment in. But definitely I don’t think it would be right for me to just pull from anything and everything, at the end of the day even if you want your style to be eclectic it still has to fit together and make sense. But then again, I don’t want to disregard anything. Like I can’t see myself making a doo-wop song any time soon but there is every chance I will eat my words in a couple years if I say anything definitively. Generally my approach will come from whatever I’m enjoying at the current time. In 2016 I was making a lot of synthwave and instrumental stuff because that’s what I was listening to, and now it’s in a more experimental and aggressive direction because that’s what my taste has grown into. It’s always gonna be subject to change.

RB: I think that by leaving it open you probably invite a lot more creativity into the process anyway, so it’s definitely worth trying to stay as open as possible to a variety of ideas and styles. Do you feel like your work in film from before had or has anything to do with the choices you make with music?

LTBQ: Honestly, not particularly. My university experience simultaneously gave me the opportunity to make my best films, and made me realise that I hated doing it. Music was around in my life before film, I come from a family of musicians and I always saw music as a hobby that I just did for fun, and film was the thing I wanted to properly pursue. It was always pointed out to me that I only ever really made films when I had to for something, it was never an artistic instinct. Music always was, and at a certain point I realised I had over a decade of learning and refining without even knowing that’s what I was doing. Filmmaking is still a medium I love and I will probably return to it eventually, but at a certain point it was clear that the process was making me miserable. Music is a lot more instant – I have a very small attention span but can hyperfocus really well for short bursts, so if something requires long term commitment as a single project then it just scares the shit out of me. Suddenly I have to rely on a bunch of other people, I have to maintain the energy and excitement for it for months at a time, whereas with music I can sit down at 2PM and by 4AM I have a pretty much finished song. I love collaboration, but the solitude of making music clicks with how I instinctively make art a lot better than film does.

RB: That’s interesting! Are there any larger project ideas that you have for either film or music at the moment that you’re planning (or allowing to breathe), or is your approach to a new idea to just experiment with it straight away?

LTBQ: Well I certainly want to put out an album this year. I put out an EP last year, called If There Is No God, Murder Isn’t Wrong, that I have been told might as well be an album, but for me it didn’t feel paced or constructed like an album. I love longer projects, and an album feels different than a film in that it’s a collection of shorter pieces rather than all the effort being put into one large product. I definitely do still have film ideas left over that I would love to see become a reality in the future, but that’s not really where my focus is right now. Musically I don’t tend to plan ahead, I normally sit down and just spend some time scrolling through samples or presets and just building on anything that jumps out at me. That’s another big reason why music works more for me than film, it allows for much more organic expression that can be fluid and change over the project, whereas that’s pretty damn hard to achieve in a way that isn’t insufferable with no budget. There films like Refn’s Only God Forgives that I know were constructed like that, but without that money and professional support it’s very difficult to do in film.

Generally when approaching a new song I’ll start off by attempting to rip someone off and trusting that I’ll eventually fail at that in an interesting way. Some of my songs started as direct attempts to copy another song or style and ended up sounding absolutely nothing like the original influence beyond one or two elements.

RB: Would you say that you have many literary influences? Whether they be authors, poets or even lyricists – do you feel that there are any specific names whose writing have really helped to shape your art, generally?

LTBQ: I don’t read as much as I wish I did (see the aforementioned short attention span), so authors and poets haven’t really had a huge impact on my writing. Lyricists on the other hand are abundant and probably too many to say them all here, but names that spring to mind are people like Dave Carter, Connor Oberst, Megan James, Phoebe Bridgers, Michael Gira, Fiona Apple, MC Ride, the list could go on forever. I tend to appreciate writing that some would call over the top or pretentious – I love tenuous, long metaphors or even just abstract nonsense. Also a lot of the influence comes from media outside of music or the written word entirely, like The Simpsons has had an immeasurable impact on me since childhood and its impact is in pretty much everything I make. Even my name is a Simpsons reference, it’s fully baked into my personality.

RB: Do you feel like having such a range of influences has a positive impact on what you’re doing, or do you sometimes find that it can be overwhelming? Is there such a thing as taking too much in and trying to recycle it into something new?

LTBQ: It’s a double edged sword. On the one hand I think it’s helped the music to be more interesting and varied, but it can be to the detriment of keeping it focused. My favourite artists are the ones who pull from seemingly totally disparate sources but tie it together with consistent elements throughout the different songs. Most shallow genre-hopping ends up kinda sucking so I try my best to avoid that.

RB: Do you have a personal favourite of your own projects? Or is there a specific one that you feel embodies the spirit of what you’re going for?

LTBQ: It’s always going to be the latest thing I’ve made, to be honest. In terms of something longer form, it would be If There Is No God. But I think the double single I put out last year, Finale / i Can Almost…See It, is the best indicator of the direction I want to go in. There was another song that I did already put out this year that was an even better indication, but sadly that had to be taken down.

RB: Speaking of work being taken down, how do you feel about working independently and being internet based? Are you content with that, or is there something more you’re looking for?

LTBQ: It’s definitely something I worry about. If it only exists on the internet then it doesn’t really exist. I would very much like to put my work out on a physical medium eventually. In terms of being independent, I don’t personally think there’s any inherent value to that. It’s all in the details. I wouldn’t take a terrible deal just for the sake of it, but if any major opportunities come up I’m sure as hell not going to pass it up just to stay indie.

RB: Yeah I feel like it’s interesting with an artist like JPEGMAFIA who, similarly, makes music so rooted in the internet and its culture and then managed to find a label who wouldn’t interfere much but just made it easier for him to focus on the music and less the business side, I guess. You seem to have a lot of different ambitions within music, and art generally – do you feel like there is any point you’re specifically looking towards and thinking that that’ll be the point where you’ve really “made it”?

LTBQ: I’m not sure there is a point where you’ve ‘made it’. Even if I had whirlwind success overnight there would still be every chance it would disappear the next day. I think the point where I want to get go is where I can tour, which obviously isn’t really possible with anyone due to the ongoing apocalypse, but that’s the point where I feel like I want to get to. Being able to share what I’ve made in a live space, hopefully performing with other musicians, that’s the real goal. I’m also really interested in writing and producing for other people, even in the mainstream pop sphere, which I feel like is almost a separate career in the same industry.

RB: I would imagine that when COVID does loosen off that people will really be flocking to music performances again so there may be a good few opportunities there once things do settle down! And as I’m sure you know a lot of musicians do end up producing for others – it’s all really a matter of finding the right collaborators which, again, is probably tougher due to COVID. Do you feel like what you’re doing is especially impacted by COVID, or have you been able to continue the same?

LTBQ: Other than the general mental health effects, which have got to pretty much everyone I think, my work hasn’t been massively affected by it. Most of what I do is quite solitary, and so being stuck inside all the time just lets me do the same thing. In fact I would say my collaborations with other people have actually gone up in number since the pandemic, maybe because everyone else is also stuck indoors so collabing online suddenly seems like an appealing prospect.

RB: Well, mental struggles aside (and I agree that it seems like practically everybody has struggled at times), it’s good to hear that at least one plus has come from being stuck inside! To switch topic somewhat, do you want to talk about how being transgender has/does impact your music? (And other arts, if it has impacted on those too!)

LTBQ: It’s impacted my music in the same way it’s impacted my whole life really. I’m lucky to have largely supportive people around me, but living in England as a trans person is one of those very unlucky draws. It’s depressing and it just increases my natural anxiety, which then goes into the music even more. Since I came out I’ve started pitching my voice up, and it’s really changed everything for me in terms of finding a vocal sound I finally like, plus the gender euphoria that comes with it. I feel like it’s helped my music overall, I think I have more of a focus now, not to mention something to be visibly pissed off about.

RB: Are there any other trans artists who you feel inspire you specifically in that area, or is it that identity something that stays on a personal level and only really impacts your view of music subjectively?

LTBQ: I think my entire decision to come out was influenced by openly trans artists. I mentioned Laura Les earlier and she is probably my biggest inspiration for everything, personally and artistically. Other than her, SOPHIE, rest in peace, was hugely important to me, and I’d say Fraxiom is my biggest current influence in terms of trans artists. There is a sense of kinship there; the trans experience is a very specific one, and it’s nice to hear music that plays to that. At the same time, making music specifically about being trans is something I avoid normally, honestly I couldn’t really tell you why. It’s not something I naturally write about.

RB: I think it’s definitely best to write what comes naturally at any point – who knows, maybe you’ll turn to gender as a topic eventually, but sticking to what’s natural tends to be best (I think at least!). One final question – can you listen three (or five, if that’s easier) records that you’re enjoying or finding inspiring lately?

LTBQ: I’ve been obsessed with the debut Black Country, New Road record that came out in January, and similarly with that I’ve been re-listening to Slint’s Spiderland a lot. I’d love to do some stuff inspired by those kinds of sounds soon. As for other records, Harlecore by Danny L Harle, Van by Clown Core, and the self-titled Daughters album have all been playing a lot recently. I’ve been really enjoying drawn out, maximalist work at the moment (as if that isn’t what I always like).

The cover for If There is No God, Murder Isn’t Wrong (2020)

You can listen to and purchase Lisa The Beauty Queen’s music on her Bandcamp, here: ttps://lisathebeautyqueen.bandcamp.com/

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