(The origins of Karma Queen’s first album ‘Projector’ trace back to those weird, uncertain early days of the pandemic, when many of us were forced to confront a new reality that was anything but normal. For Karma Queen, the discomfort of imposed isolation took the band on a song-writing journey that, in the end, resulted in an album that explores, in their words, “the arbitrary rules and the imaginary boxes people try to put you in.” The band will celebrate the release of ‘Projector’ Wednesday night, June 28, at Mohawk Place. The 7 p.m. show also features Skyway, Dead Orchids and Jupiter Trolley. Karma Queen is comprised of sisters Kaley & Annie Lynch, Mike Militelo and Evan Kaminski. — Photos by Shelby Waters & provided.)
1120Press: Thanks very much for taking the time to speak with us. Congratulations on your first album, ‘Projector,’ which just came out on June 16 and is now available on the streams. How does it feel to have it out in the universe?
EVAN: Feels great to finally be able to showcase our work! This was a huge milestone for the band. We spent countless hours reviewing the mix, going back and forth with
different approaches. Since this was our first full-length it was important to discover what our sound would be and determine who we wanted to be as a band. I'm really happy where we landed!
MICHAEL: An amazing relief! There's a variety of work that goes into the process that is not musical. Somedays you just want to play your instrument, though the patient task of refining the dynamics and tones are very important. Then there is listening to the recording and making sure what we're doing best suits the song. Anyone can record something these days, though recording a sound that you're personally satisfied with takes patience. Most of all, now everyone else can hear the songs outside the live performances.
1120: You guys started writing these songs during the pandemic. Can you talk about the journey in pulling this all together over that span, from 2020 to now, three years later?
EVAN: In the early days of the pandemic I remember sending rough phone recordings to each other, or writing lyrics over Zoom calls. During the warmer months it was nice to have the option to practice outside and safely distance ourselves. It felt like we needed to put in three times the amount of effort to get any part of the process finished. Without question those experiences found their way into our music. Feels great to have that normalcy again. Music making feels more natural now.
KALEY: We started playing together as a band during that span of time too. It’s been an adventure figuring out what our sound is going to be and working with everyone’s strengths to form the dynamic we have now.
1120: We’re finding that the pandemic — in some way, shape, or form — had a profound impact on many artists here in Buffalo and the art they went on to create. Did it affect your band creatively at all, whether for better or worse, the writing process, etc.?
KALEY: I think from a songwriting perspective, the pandemic gave us a lot of time to sit with uncomfortable feelings and really get to the root of them. Creativity definitely blooms when you have time to do nothing. “Nothing At All” specifically was born out of the feeling of isolation and contrasting how life was in pre-pandemic times.
EVAN: The pandemic definitely shifted the sound to a darker place. Chord structures were more melodic. Even songs that had upbeat instrumentals had lyrics that dragged it back down. There is a much different creative energy being channeled when you're isolated.
1120: You guys explore a lot of themes in the songs on ‘Projector,’ yet there’s this thread that ties them altogether, as you have noted, which is ‘overcoming the adversities of life’s projections.’ Do you guys consider ‘Projector’ a concept album? What inspired that theme?
KALEY: It didn’t start out that way, but I think it’s a little bit of a concept album now! When we were thinking about what to call the album, we realized that the sole theme of most of the songs was about seeing things (or being seen) in a false light, rather than seeing them as they are. The lyrics come from personal experiences, but I think most people can relate to that sentiment.
EVAN: Initially it felt like we were creating individual songs. The more we wrote, the more the theme made itself known. It was a really cool moment when we discovered how our songs were connected.
1120: One of the aspects of the album that’s pretty cool is that some of the songs, lyrically, have this bite to them, yet musically they’re wrapped, so to speak, in this melodic, ethereal vibe.
EVAN: Overall, I consider our band to be an optimistic bunch. When we find ourselves in a lyrically heavier place there's a tendency to want to balance it out instrumentally. For example, ‘Nothing At All’ embraces the bass-ier vibe during the verse but then sprinkles in a slightly more hopeful feel during the chorus. The contrast helps to emphasize the song's theme - like yelling in the library vs. yelling at a concert. The library situation would definitely catch more attention.
KALEY: My absolute favorite type of songs are the ones that sound upbeat and fun but are lyrically dark, and we definitely did that with “Nothing at All.” I wanted a lot of the lyrics on this album to have an undercurrent of rage to them, and I think you can feel that in “Make You Dance” and “Satisfaction” specifically.
1120: Your music is interesting in that it seems to mix a handful of genres, but in the end results in a really distinct sound. There’s that dreamy indie vibe, but we detect shades of jam and elements of jazz and there aren’t many indie bands on the scene here rocking the bari sax. What would you say about the band’s sound?
EVAN: Karma Queen's sound is the result of blending everyone's signature style together. Rather than work towards a middle ground, we opted to see how we could incorporate each other. It made for a really fun and interesting process! Annie is a very technical guitarist who is a fan of prog & math rock. I'm a big jazz guy and grew up playing the baritone saxophone. Never thought I'd find a way to marry those two styles, let alone toss in Kaley and Mike's style to the mix!
ANNIE: I listen to a lot of progressive rock and metal and there is a lot of genre fusion that happens in this music. It’s been really cool for us to work on songs together and write our individual parts fueled by our own influences and backgrounds and experience the end result. Similarly, when we are learning cover songs, we throw our own spin on these also—it’s a lot of fun!
MICHAEL: One observation told to me by some folks new to our area is that there weren't as many active, indie bands in WNY as they thought there would be. Some big indie bands have come from here for sure. WNY has a variety of bands with eclectic genres from metal, rock, jam bands, jazz, ska and folk (I believe there are now five Grateful Dead tribute bands). Perhaps it's being from here that gives us a variety of musical influence. We do have other instruments and musical elements that we haven't released yet that are in the making. We'll keep it dreamy.
1120: By the way, along that same line, there also aren’t many indie bands in Buffalo with a Christmas song. And again — the song, ‘What’s So Merry’ — beautiful music yet lyrically, pretty wistful — not exactly merry. It’s a very cool song. How did that come about?
EVAN: Originally, we wanted to touch on the melancholy that sometimes surrounds the winter holiday season. We didn't realize when we started writing over the summer how grim the holidays would become. Trudging towards our first full pandemic winter we began to realize this thing is nowhere close to over. It's a time stamp of what we were
struggling with. All of that uncertainty and loneliness — who knew when it was going to end? Who knew if holidays would ever take on the same meaning going forward?
ANNIE: “What’s So Merry” was the first song the band wrote and I was brought into the band shortly after to play guitar on it. Now we get to throw it into our setlists for shows scheduled around the holidays!
1120: So, what’s next for Karma Queen moving forward?
ANNIE: Each member of our band has taken on tasks to make this release happen and it’s been a lot of (very fulfilling) work, now I think we are looking forward to using more of our time to write again. We have been writing new music even before the release of PROJECTOR and have plans to expand on these songs.
EVAN: We're looking to take the summer to support PROJECTOR and test out new ideas. Hoping to start recording some new tunes this fall. Maybe even drop an EP over the winter!
MICHAEL: More music!
1120: Before we end, is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t touched on?
KALEY: We have music videos out on our YouTube page for "Nothing at All" and "Satisfaction," (both below), plus some lyric videos.
EVAN: Be sure to follow us on all the socials to stay up-to-date on our upcoming tunes and shows!