It’s regrettably easy to get sucked in to the cycle of surface-level validation we get from scrolling through social media – but Eleanor Rose Lee, aka Fever Queen, has a simple solution: “The world’s gone shallow/Find the ones who care.” It’s the opening line of her latest single “Taste of What It Is,” premiering today via Audiofemme. “We live in a time where people are almost praised for being self-absorbed,” Lee points out, adding that the pandemic, in some ways, made everyone realign those priorities. “It becomes very clear what’s no longer serving you and what relationships are deep and meaningful and what are just kinda vapid ones.”
On “Taste of What It Is,” intimacy, vulnerability, and honesty act as antidotes to cure a culture obsessed with self-image. “I wanna know your feelings/Don’t swim upon the surface,” Lee implores in a languid, bewitching tone. She validates the fear that comes along with opening up, but low, pulsing synths give a feeling of sinking into something comforting, the percussion sparse and relaxed. There’s nothing harsher here than a few washes of guitar reverb after the second chorus, most of the sounds a syrupy echo through an icy cavern. Lee’s primary goal was to evoke the feeling of sharing a deep secret with someone, and the metaphor of plunging into freezing water is particularly apt; in both situations, it’s necessary to brace yourself against the frigid shock before jumping in, before you change your mind.
It’s no surprise that the Great Lakes region’s intense winters were a primary inspiration behind the song’s subject matter and sonic palette. Lee grew up in Northwest Indiana, and has called Chicago home off and on for most of her adulthood, though she recently moved to a quaint lakeside town along Lake Michigan. “I feel like the seasons really effect my writing,” she says. “I definitely kept calling this my ‘deep winter single’ before I had a name for it. It’s now spring, but I feel like it’s a good song to thaw out, back into real life, as people re-enter society.”
Indeed, as a newly-vaccinated public sector reunites in re-opened restaurants and bars, we’re likely to skip the small talk, opting instead for candid catch-ups. Fever Queen envisions these moments beautifully in the song’s lyrics: “Like a wave that’s frozen/Thoughts suspended in the air/A language thawing/Words will spill out somewhere.” She’s nervous – we all are – so she “breathes in the salty mist” for a “taste of what it is,” her shimmering vocal overdubs calling back to her like sirens.
Lee says that the song, too, is a taste of what her sophomore album will be like; this is the first song she’s released since putting out her September 2020 debut The World of Fever Queen (via First To Knock, the same label releasing the single). “With the first album, I do feel it’s like a lot of different moods, kinda like a quilt – just a bunch of stuff going on,” admits Lee. “The next record is definitely more of a cohesive vibe, and this song just feels relevant and I definitely think it’s more of a similar vibe.”
The World of Fever Queen toys with off-kilter pop, doo-wop covers, surprising lo-fi rock moments, and even name-drops Phoebe Bridgers on the excoriating “You, You.” But one thing both the record and the latest single have in common are the distinct quality of Lee’s touch – she has a home recording set-up and for the most part, Fever Queen is a one-woman effort, as Lee writes, records, performs and produces with very little input from outsiders. By day, she’s a hair stylist, but once she learned the basics of recording (from a film score producer who lived across the hall from her during a brief stint in Los Angeles), she “started recording and actually building on songs, and at that point I was like, okay I’m never gonna leave my house again – this is so fun!”
Now, she’s living in a “time warp” of a lakeside town, driving back to Chicago two days a week to do hair, and is about halfway toward the completion of the sophomore album on which “Taste of What It Is” will appear. She’s in no rush to get back to the stage though. “I didn’t get to do a release show [for The World of Fever Queen] obviously, which would’ve been fun, but I feel like it also took a lot of the stress away for practicing and leading up to that,” she says. “I think with the next record I’ll just have to go extra big release show wise.”
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