As the second wave of artists performing at Cardiff’s Sŵn Festival has now been released, the line-up of the multi-venue festival coming to the Welsh capital next October is looking even more impressive than it already did. There are many reasons why this year’s edition is shaping up to be one not to miss, among which the refreshing presence of a good number of female artists and female-fronted bands in the line-up. The discussion about the lack of female acts at festivals has gained traction over recent months in the UK, and it’s a pleasure to see a major Welsh festival adding more variety to its offering by including a range of different voices.
Among these voices, a loud and remarkable one comes from Indian Queens. The East London band, previously featured on the blog last Autumn on the occasion of the release of their EP You When I Close My Eyes, couple a grungy aesthetic with a sound both rough and sophisticated, which stands out for its haunting bass lines and unexpected guitar riffs, with just a hint of psychedelia thrown in where needed. Echoes of the band members’ previous rock’n’roll experiences are still very much present in their sound, but especially in the latest record it has become clear that they are working on developing something different and ambitious, both cutting and complex.
Indian Queens have a history of delivering club performances that feel intense and intimate at the same time, so it can be expected that they will grace their Sŵn Festival venue with something very much worth witnessing. In the meantime, I have spoken to vocalist and guitarist Jen O’Neill about their plans and projects, their upcoming album, and the music scene in Wales and beyond.
Chiara Strazzulla: To begin with, I’d like to ask you about playing Sŵn Festival. What are you looking forward to the most about it?
Jen O’Neill: That’s going to be great, because we’ve only played Cardiff once before, and it was really really good. We hear so many good things about the festival, so we’re really excited to be at a festival in Wales.
CS: Sticking to festivals for a moment, what’s going on with you for the rest of the festival season? What plans do you have?
JO: We are playing at a festival called Botanique Festival in Bologna, in Italy, which is going to be really good as well. Then we’re playing a couple small ones, all around, and around London. We’re playing a couple of main stages this year, which is cool, playing the bigger stages at smaller festivals is something I’m really looking forward to because it’s more of a big test.
CS: Going back to Wales, you said you’ve only played there once. Generally, what’s your experience with the Welsh music scene, and what are your thoughts on that?
JO: I used to be in a band and we played with The Joy Formidable, and they’re the only Welsh band that I know closely – and they’re amazing, but they’re the only Welsh band I’ve had a close experience with. I feel that, for the whole of the UK, music can be very regionalised. You know, London is probably terrible for that, from the outside. Everyone wants to play London, but there’s so many good venues outside. We played in Ramsgate on our last tour and it was brilliant. The venue was amazing, the turn-out was good, there were so many people who were looking to support new music, and it’s this small little seaside town. That’s what we found across our whole last UK tour, loads of people looking for music all around. And yet here in London we’ve got it all sort of on our doorstep, and we have an industry that tells you, you have to make it in London, you’ve got to play London. While there’s this whole country out there.
CS: You’re from a part of London where the scene is particularly active, what’s your experience of that? Is there a general community, do the bands work with each other, talk to each other?
JO: Yeah, I think you have to be active, you have to go out and meet the bands. Some people are a lot more open to that than others. It’s usually an interest in other things that keeps you – it’s often not actually the music that makes you stay in touch with bands, whether it be art, or things that you like, that definitely does it. You get to know other bands based on what football team they support. I do art as well in East London, and I guess I know more about the East London art scene than I probably do about the music scene, just because it’s more approachable. The problem with bands is that it always feels like a competition, and we’ve never been like that – we’re more, let’s support each other, let’s help each other out. We used to do sessions in the back of our van – we had this yellow van we’d bought for touring and stuff, and we’d do acoustic sessions out the back of the van, for other bands, and put them up on YouTube. We’d just drive to meet the band, and play in the back and record an acoustic track, and put it on YouTube, just for content, to help other bands. You get to a venue, and it’s still very much of a competition, which I don’t like. Music should be for sharing.
CS: There’s a bit of a debate about female fronted bands being underrepresented at festivals. What are your opinions on that?
JO: In the past few years there have been many more female artists on the scene, and that’s very promising. When I first started playing, ten years ago, we used to get to venues and people would ask, are you the girlfriend of someone in the band? And I would say, no, we’re here to play. And the female fronted bands would always be first, or earlier on, and now you can get a whole selection of male fronted bands but then the headliner is a female fronted band, which I think is a healthy thing. At festivals, that’s been going on a while, and I don’t think it’s changed much unfortunately. Part of it is not even down to the music industry, it’s the people watching. It’s easier to sell a young boy band where girls are going to fancy the lead singer.
CS: Let’s talk about your music a bit. Your EP was out last November, and one thing that struck me about it is that it sounds very personal, but it also explores a number of different directions. Are you trying to go for an experimental sound, or is it a byproduct of you working on different things?
JO: I’m not sure, actually. It’s interesting. I just write what comes to me, it might be on a guitar, it might on a piano – it might be a song I started by myself first, and then I bring it to the band, or it can be a musical sort of collaboration that we’ve written the three of us, and then it’s a lot more jam-based. We’re recording at the moment and I think it’s slightly moved – not moved in sound, but we’ve just got a more accurate sound to what we want to sound like on the stage and where we’re moving. You have to be moving all the time, if you sounded the same every time you produce music it can get pretty boring. Some bands smash it and then they can do that for the rest of their career, and that’s what they do, just being amazing at doing that. And there’s other bands that just try to push every album and see where it goes. I hope that as an artist I can try to progress as a songwriter and as a singer. I grew up listening to a lot of male fronted bands and, as a kid, trying to scream like Kurt Cobain. Now I feel, for younger kids, everyone sings the same. It’s a thing with the younger generation, everyone sings the same, everyone tries to sound the same. It just makes everything more formulaic.
CS: So are there any influences that you particularly have in mind when you write music?
JO: I try not to have influences when I write music. I love listening to music whenever I’m feeling a certain way, so if I’m feeling happy or sad I might listen to certain music in that moment. But when I’m writing music, I don’t listen to any music, because I don’t want to be influenced. It’s hard to not be influenced by stuff that is in your mind. It’s so easy for it to turn into something you’ve heard. It’s impossible not to be influenced at all, not to have certain sounds that you would have taken from – you know, some of the greatest songwriters, like the Beatles. Bands are still trying to do that, they’re still trying to figure out how they had this genius. If you took the Beatles chord book and you used the same progression of chords and then changed the melody, you’re bound to come up with a good song. But it’s hard to have that be your song. One of my favourite artists of all time is Joni Mitchell, and I’ve been listening to Queens of the Stone Age. We’d like to be an urban alternative rock band. Our bass player Catherine grew up listening to a lot of reggae and that kind of stuff, and her bass playing resonates with that. And that combination of drum and bass, it creates such a vibe by itself, it allows me to do as little or as much as I need. It’s quite a freedom when you have that kind of band. Sometimes the most important part of the song is not the notes, it’s the spaces between the notes that you play.
CS: What are your future plans and projects as a band?
We’re recording an album right now, and that’s definitely what we will be doing in the summer, for a release early next year. And we’ll be touring in October, then we’ll release the album around February, so we’ll be doing a big tour for the album release.
Sŵn Festival will be held at various venues in Cardiff from 18/10/19 to 20/10/19. Find details and buy tickets on the Sŵn Festival website.