Songwriter, guitarist, and singer Jeff Tapia is a true Seattle artist. As an honest, quirky lyricist and melody-focused songwriter, Tapia carries on the traditions of true Seattle D.I.Y. culture. Along with their staunch support of other communities in the local arts scene, their authentic connection to the soul of city can be heard in their various projects and continues the city’s story of grunge and punk—and the grit in taking the road less traveled—that became more widely-known as the “Seattle Sound” in the 1990s.
Sitting down for a whisky at Belltown’s gritty Lava Lounge, Tapia is in their element—surrounded by other hip, irreverent creatives in high-top Doc Martins and black hoodies. It’s in this atmosphere that Tapia—leader of pop-punk band Rat Queen, lead guitarist in glam rock 5-piece Razor Clam, and collaborator on several other projects like His Many Colored Fruit—feels most inspired, honest, and at home.
Tapia chatted with AudioFemme about how their move to Seattle at the end of their twenties launched their songwriting and performing career, and how a vulnerable journal entry turned into a new single for His Many Colored Fruit, “Staring At Facebook till it Makes Me Vomit,”—a sparse, electro-psychedelic departure from Tapia’s typical raw pop-punk.
AF: What is your earliest memory with music? When did you get interested in songwriting?
JT: I was like 7 years old and I was watching Star Search and there was this girl doing a song and she used vibrato and it blew my mind. I thought I could do that and I started doing vibrato. It made me sound more professional and people noticed. People thought it sounded good and though I felt shy [about singing in front of others] I started doing choir.
AF: Who and what are your musical inspirations? Why do you love them?
JT: I’m always trying to recreate the music I listened to in my most impressionable years; there’s always an aspect of that in my songwriting. I listened to a lot of grunge and anything that was on the radio in 1996. But, if I were to pick inspiration for what I am doing nowadays, I’d choose The Pixies, Weezer, and Nirvana, as well as what I call “melody masters” like Billy Joel, John Linnell from They Might Be Giants, or Regina Spektor. Melody is really important to me—it’s a cornerstone to my songwriting approach.
AF: I know you’re originally from L.A. Why’d you move to Seattle and what does the Seattle scene bring to your music?
JT: I’m actually from Culver City, which is basically L.A. except it has its own school district. In other words, you grow up with the same people and families. I moved up here when I was 29 because I felt I couldn’t thrive there. When you grow up around the same people your whole life it’s hard to figure out who you are without out other people’s impression of you influencing your own view of yourself. I felt very boxed in.
AF: Did Seattle change your music?
JT: Seattle changed everything—there’s definitely a grunge influence that I really responded to that shaped a lot of what I do in my music and in my style. Plus, I was able to move up here and start doing whatever I wanted—people respond to that sincerity very well up here.
AF: Tell me about your primary group, Rat Queen. How’d you start? What are your goals with that project?
JT: Rat Queen started when I had Daniel Derosiers of His Many Colored Fruit join me on the drums at a solo show I was doing in south Seattle. I had no intentions of starting a band but the show went so well and Daniel and I had so much fun we decided to join forces that very evening. We came up with Rat Queen because I had an idea for a song that I was going to call “Queen of the Rats” and Daniel said—let’s just be called Rat Queen. It miraculously wasn’t taken so we registered all social media right then and there.
AF: I know Daniel is an important part of Rat Queen. What did his move to L.A. last year mean for you as a musician, for Rat Queen, and for other projects you and Daniel do together?
JT: It’s really hard on me for Daniel to be gone. I’m not as prolific without a songwriting partner and finding a partner you mesh with is hard to come by. However, since he’s moved it has been business as usual – he sends me song ideas and I work on finding melodies for them. Or, I’ll form full songs and he’ll make them cooler. He’s still very much present in the band in that way. Also, Evan and Michael, Rat Queen’s bassist and drummer who both live in Seattle, have brought so much raucous talent and personality to the band that I feel this is the strongest iteration of Rat Queen yet. And, Daniel’s joining us on tour this summer on rhythm guitar. I’m so stoked to have the gang back together!
AF: You have the best posters for Rat Queen shows. Who is the artist? Are they local?
JT: It’s really important to me to try and hire as many local artists and I can and I’m very lucky to be friends with a lot of artists who are willing to do work for me. So, every poster that you see from us is commissioned. Most of my art work is done by Kalee Choiniere, who just does the weirdest stuff and I’m in love with it. I also go through Dax Edword and of course, Ana Von Huben who did our logo and all the cover artwork for the most recent Rat Queen album Worthless. I’ve even gotten into having a makeup artist, Leighla Jellouli, for my Razor Clam shows. Not everyone can afford it, I know, but a lot of local artists will be willing to turn something around quickly for a small fee. It’s definitely worth it—and it’s good for different communities to support each other.
AF: Tell me about this single you just released by His Many Colored Fruit. Daniel is also in this group, correct?
JT: His Many Colored Fruit is Daniel’s group—he’s been doing it for a while as a side recording project that he didn’t really have big intentions for, and it wasn’t until a couple years ago that he asked me to join officially. It started with him just getting advice for certain songs from me and that blossomed into more of a partnership.
AF: And the journal entry that the newest His Many Colored Fruit single, “Staring at Facebook Until I Vomit”—what spurred it? It definitely has a different vibe than your more raw, punk-influenced Rat Queen tunes.
JT: It’s a different sound from Rat Queen because Daniel has a vision for that project and takes point on that project, whereas I tend to take point more on Rat Queen. This most recent single, called “Staring at Facebook till it Makes Me Vomit,” came about because I sometimes dramatically share my journal entries on Facebook. I shared this entry publicly because I liked how the writing turned out and Daniel took it and made something from it. I didn’t really know he was working with it, he just sent me something one day with his vocals and said “Hey, I just reworked this, I hope that’s okay.”
AF: What about Razor Clam? I saw you recently had your 1-year “Clamiversary” with the band. Has your time with them influenced your other projects?
JT: Yeah, I started playing in Razor Clam a little over a year ago. We’re a pop-goth glam band. I’m the lead guitarist in Razor Clam and that’s really pushed me into becoming a better soloist and musician. It’s really inspired me to be louder and unapologetic about the person that I am. They’ve definitely helped me take more risks in my other projects.
AF: I’ve noticed you taking risks, too, and getting more vulnerable in your music. What makes you feel brave?
JT: That’s something I’ve been working on lately. It’s something that I do push myself to do—to be honest and straightforward in the way that I write my lyrics. I’ve found, as the years go by, that being yourself is actually is important—just like they told us. Being myself and dressing cool makes me feel brave.
AF: Is there a place in Seattle that you like to go for inspiration? Or that makes you feel centered and ready to write?
JT: Home. I’m a homebody at heart. If I know I can brew a cup of coffee and hang out on my patio, I can get to place I need to in order to complete a project.
AF: Do you have a songwriting process? What’s it like?
JT: I don’t know if I have one. Like I said, I write best with a partner. Going to show and seeing what other people are up to really gets my creativity going.
AF: On that note, who are you listening to in the Seattle scene right now?
JT: I’m on a tape label called Den Tapes, and almost all my favorite local bands are on it: Choke the Pope, Happy Times Sad Times, Mud On My Bra and so many others. Lately, I’ve really been into Sleepover Club and Velvet Q. There are so, so many, though!