Queen Kwong Channels Challenges into Catharsis


Queen Kwong’s third LP, Couples Only is one hell of a catharsis. Catharsis from what we can all agree have been a pretty challenging few years. Actually, pretty challenging might be an understatement because two months after Queen (real name Carré Kwong Callaway) was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and had to deal with episodes where her lungs can fill with blood—her husband left her. A few months after that and all her stability was gone. Home, cats, studio and eventually the entire life she’d built in Detroit. She then spent a year crashing with friends as she dealt with it all. Couples Only is the culmination of fear, frustration, grief and recovery.

Recorded in just three weeks with longtime collaborator and producer, Joe Cardamone, Couples Only was (as are all her records) entirely improvised and recorded on the spot. Nothing was pre-written lyrically or musically. They crafted a song a day and eventually whittled it down to eleven tracks for the record. “I’ve always been committed to just letting whatever comes out, be what it is,” she explains.

And especially with this record, I think as things were coming out…with my creative process, I am in such a flow state…everything is in the moment. I’m very unconscious of what I’m saying. The first take is usually mostly jibber jabber, then by the second take, the words are there. I record basically one song a day from scratch. In hindsight I look back and I’m like, ‘wow, like I said that pretty bluntly.’ This record, lyrically, I was a lot more direct and less poetic than some of my previous songs. I was just saying what needed to be said. There wasn’t really any sugarcoating. There’s not much reading between the lines and I think that was necessary.

The record also features members of her support network on various songs. And what a network it is: The Cure’s Roger O’Donnell, Swans’ Kristof Hahn, and Blood Red Shoes’ Laura-Mary Carter all appear on the album. Fellow musicians they may be but most importantly, they are trusted friends. Carré hit it off with them individually at various Queen Kwong live shows, and they’ve all offered help and support throughout the rocky past few years, and with the recording of this album. “I feel lighter,” Carré says matter-of-factly.

It was such a purge. It was how I feel after I get off tour, where every day I’m just giving 100%. And every day I’m just purging everything out of me, so at the end of it I feel completely depleted. I guess I’m zapped in that way. I have just kind of puked up every last bit of whatever’s in me. It’s very physical. It’s very emotional. It’s super draining. I give everything and that’s just what happens in the flow state. It’s not even an intentional thing. It’s just the only way I know how to do it. After I was finished recording, I was exhausted. Now that the record’s out, I just feel like I’m not carrying as much toxic energy and resentment and anger. I do feel like I’ve reclaimed my voice and that in itself makes me feel like I’m in a position of power.

It’s a tremendous amount of mental and emotional strain for a person to shoulder. Outpouring into a record helps but has it offered her a sense of peace? “I wouldn’t say ‘peace’,” she answers.