Kings are a three-piece country band composed of Brooklynites Emily Bielagus, Steph Bishop, and Robert Maril. Together, their exquisite harmonies, pedal steel and bright banjo weave together stories along the lines of traditional country, bluegrass, and folk, but the band has a deeper agenda, too. As activists in the queer community, they’ve made their music a reflection of that identity, composing narratives around the LGBQT experience.
AF: You describe Kings as queercore alt-county and perform with a very powerful mission in mind – in your own words, “to open up a space for queer people inside traditional country music”. What’s been the most difficult part of fulfilling that mission, and what’s been your most triumphant moment?
KINGS: We know that we’ll never be on Top-40 Country Radio, and that’s OK with us. Really, our goal is to reach some queer kid living in Bumblefuck, Oklahoma/New Hampshire/Poughkeepsie who loves country music, but is currently stuck listening to mainstream heteronormative bullshit music about drinking beers out of red solo cups and riding dirtbikes. Don’t get us wrong, those things are fun, but we want that kid to know that they can enjoy country music AND still feel queer pride. It’s been hard to accomplish that yet because we’re still so unknown outside the Brooklyn music scene. But hopefully not for long?? One of our best moments so far was when a music writer mentioned Chely Wright in one of our music reviews. We were like, “Yes, EXACTLY.” That’s exactly the movement we’re championing.
AF: Though Kings’ music evokes the sensibilities of the Western plains and other wide-open rural spaces, you’re based in Brooklyn. Is it ever difficult to cultivate and maintain a country sound in such a huge, urban city?
KINGS: Nice Dixie Chicks reference! [Eds. Note: It actually wasn’t, but having grown up on country music I guess it seeped in to me a bit, too.] No, it’s been easy. It’s the kind of music we all listen to on the regular, and it’s a timeless sound. Americana/Folk/Country music is having its trendy moment these days (it’s also maybe a part of this somewhat insufferable trend – the Brooklyn handmade knit-bomb moustache homebrew ball jar suspenders thing) but I’m glad people are into it. The three of us grew up in rural places, and it’s the music that’s just a part of who we are. It’s almost like we cling to it and create it because we live here – we maintain this sound for our big-city survival.
AF: How do you collaborate when writing songs? We’re dying to know how you develop those breath-taking harmonies!
KINGS: We generally come in to rehearsal with a few songs already written, or a few song “nuggets” that we flesh out together. The songs that stick around are the songs that lend themselves to our 3-part harmony and, honestly? That harmony just kind of happens. It’s sort of magical, and it’s how we first realized we were on to something when we first got together. We sang a couple lines of harmony and we were like “oh shit! That sounds good.”
AF: You just finished recording your gorgeous debut EP, Bones. Do you like recording or playing live shows better?
KINGS: Yikes – that’s like a choice between the best and the other best! Oh man, being in the studio is the best best best, though. We joke that we could spend all day every day in the studio, but actually, it’s not really a joke. We loved our Bones studio days and we can’t wait to go back and record more. However, we’re theater-kid performance-junkies at heart, so the live shows keep us going. They also inform our songs. You can write a song and rehearse a song for hours but you don’t really know what the song’s personality is until you sing it live.
AF: If you could hear any classic country singer cover a Kings song, which one would you want to hear and who would you want to sing it?
KINGS: I think all three of us would lay down and die if Dolly Parton covered “Western Sky.” I would absolutely never recover.
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