Like all great Horatio Alger tales, the story of the Queensmen started in the basement. A literal basement, in the suburban home of drummer James Munro, where they recorded the first three tracks of their career in the winter of 2005. The happy genesis, however, was offset by a short-term break-up: “Unfortunately, Mikey [Molaro] the guitar player went back to San Francisco to finish school, and we didn’t start rehearsing until like June of 2006,” bass player Mike LaRocco says. Whether the hiatus bode well or ill, the separated bandmates cut a few tracks and struck out for the open road.
The Queensmen sound like an unmediated throwback to the ‘60s: full-faced guitar pop that sounds like the Beatles always did, more or less, underneath all their experiments. LaRocco says, “In fact, we started playing because we wanted to experiment with the idea of ‘‘60s rock’ and how certain trends in music can be tied to an era. We’re definitely influenced by bands like the Beatles, the Zombies, the Turtles, but rather than trying to emulate a certain sound or a band, I think we’re more trying to ignore our contemporary influences.” The songs bounce with unpretentious ease; the nostalgic feel never feels forced or affected. The latest tracks from the band sound tighter–more technically sound, the obvious product of more time to practice and hone–but these songs also sound more mature: Ben Kweller when he decided to stop writing about totally random shit and talk about the heartbreak that really hurts.
Eventually the Queensmen, like most bands with serious ambitions, took their show on the road– that part of band life that always proves to be the most storied. “We’d have to say our best show, if you could even call it that, was at the Chicago Marathon. They had several bands set up along the marathon route, so we were near Bridgeport under an overpass. It was freezing cold, raining, and the winds were gusting, and we had to play for like four hours straight. We were at mile twenty, so people were kinda dying, so we felt it was our duty to attempt to energize them with rock. I think we played for around forty-thousand people that day, but only for like twenty seconds at a time. At first people would be cruising by, but by the end people were going pretty slow and they’d stop and dance. Some people even ran up and took pictures with us.” Other moments were less palatable: “By far the lamest of all was at this bar in the Southwest suburbs when we opened for a Tool cover band. We were a little miffed that we had to open for a cover band, but come on! A Tool cover band? The actual band is still touring! Apparently they were like the premier Tool cover band in the Chicagoland area, possibly even the Midwest, and they decided to set up their massive drum riser, smoke machine, and lighting rig before we got onstage, so we basically could not move while playing. It was the lamest thing I’ve ever seen. That is, until seeing the Tool cover band.”
In Chicago, the band’s sound is a bit incongruous relative to the rest of the scene. Chicago is still marked heavily by its ‘90s post-rock reputation, and recently there has been no unified sound to displace it. In any case, the Queensmen’s nostalgia-rock doesn’t fit with either Chicago’s established punk scene or the disjointed indie constantly striving for something new. LaRocco notes, “We agree that the Chicago scene is pretty much all over the place, and I can’t tell if that’s good or bad for us. I don’t think we’re really conscious of the scene at all, actually… I mean, we play shows and see bands all the time but that never really influences what we do. In a sense, I think our cluelessness regarding ‘scene’ dynamics is probably a good thing. I just look forward to being able to play with a funk band one night and a stoner rock band the next.” The band’s next venture will be at the University of Chicago, and who knows what that dynamic will involve.
Human Ear Rock Show with the Queensmen, the Passerines, the Relevant Hairstyles, Chew on This, Hutchinson Courtyard, 1135 E. 57th St. May 29. Tuesday, 8pm.