Rat Queen debuts fresh evolution on new single “Circle the Drain”

Photo Credit: Andy Perkovich

Most groups disband when a key member moves away. But that hasn’t been the case for Seattle’ Rat Queen, the alt rock brainchild of songwriting partners and best friends, Jeff Tapia and Daniel Timothy Desrosiers.

“My friendship with Daniel is hilarious and unconditional and the most fun and affirming partnership I’ve ever had,” Tapia says. Born organically from that friendship, which has long been about making music together and laughing at “really fucking dark shit,” Rat Queen released their hard-edged pop punk debut LP Worthless in 2018. Shortly after, Desrosiers moved to Los Angeles to pursue a passion for film, but the two worked to maintain their close-knit songwriting partnership long-distance, while also dialing in the line-up of their dream band.

Still chock full of punk irreverence, high energy and dark humor, “Circle the Drain,” the first single off their forthcoming sophomore LP Generational Decay, gives listeners a peek in to a new iteration of Rat Queen, featuring an expanded sound and fresh cast of musicians.

While it was hard when Desrosiers moved to Los Angeles, the two kept up their writing over Zoom, even through the pandemic. Tapia also kept up with the band – just a bass player and drummer at the time, with Tapia on vocals and guitar. But as the pandemic continued, the pair realized that the group, their songwriting, and who they were themselves, had evolved. The songs they were writing called for more instrumentation than their three-piece would allow, and it felt organic to move in that direction.

“I started tracking instrumentals right when I moved to LA, so like October of 2018 or something like that, and then I tend to write in a more maximalist way if I’m writing for myself. I was sending these new tracks to Jeff being like, uhh more instruments?” remembers Desrosiers – namely, they were hearing more synth lines and lead guitar.

So the two pursued adding some fresh faces to the band, eventually settling on drummer Paul Davis, bassist Ana Von Huben, guitarists Jordan Brawner and Sean Leisle, and Naomi Adele Smith on keys. John Adams, a.k.a. Johnny Unicorn, was also a key contributor as a bassist and producer, helping Rat Queen bring the polished sound they’d been hearing in their heads to Generational Decay.

Worthless is beautifully lo-fi and both Jeff and I wanted something that sounded a little crisper and a little more hi-fi. [I was] really reaching the threshold of my talent or my ability as a mixer and I wasn’t quite getting it to where I wanted it to be,” says Desrosiers. “We asked Johnny to do it and I was like, this is incredible.”

This new line-up also frees Tapia to just focus on their vocals—which soar on the new record and in performance like never before.

“It’s hard honestly to manage a band of six people and also practice guitar all the time and singing all the time,” explains Tapia. “[Focusing on singing] really frees me up to be as energetic as I want to be on stage.”

Tapia, who also writes much of Rat Queen’s lyrics, says a renewed focus on their mental health, and just generally maturing, has also brought a lot of oomph to their approach to Rat Queen.

“Daniel and I weren’t even planning on starting a band. It just sort of happened. At first we were just like, let’s go out and be seen and be drunk pieces of shit – that’ll be so fun! That’s where we were in our lives,” says Tapia. “But I’ve grown into this more – I’ve just matured so much more… As I grow and I change, this writing style that I have also grows and changes with me.”

Darkly ironic in the face of Tapia and Desrosiers’ sunny self-actualization, “Circle The Drain” explores a decidedly jaded (and hilarious) George Carlin bit that Desrosiers, who wrote the lyrics for the song, has considered more and more in the last few years.

“There’s this interview with George Carlin before he died obviously. He was talking about how he had essentially checked out from society. He doesn’t vote, he doesn’t have strong opinions on politics or society as a whole and he’s explaining a term—CTD,” says Desrosiers. “Circle the Drain, like when there’s no hope of saving a patient and you’re just trying to make them comfortable because they’re circling the drain.”

With a laugh, Desrosiers says the term fits the state of the world right now—with, in no particular order, the burden of inflation, all the microplastics in our food, and the gall of Boomers to blame millennials for our inability to get ahead, they thought it was an apt time to use CTD in a song.

Tapia, coughing into the phone after taking a hit on their bong, agrees, adding that it feels like we’re all just trying to live as good a life as possible as the world burns down around us. That’s why they decided to name their sophomore album (which drops August 26th) Generational Decay.

“Honestly you guys, can I tell you a secret? ‘Generational Decay’ is something someone at my work used to describe when you cross genomes together a bunch of times in weed and it’s not even an official term, it’s just something my coworker said and… I thought it sounded relevant,” says Tapia. “I just like that it invokes imagery of like younger generations getting less and less.”

But, that isn’t to say the pair is willing the world to end, either. On “Circle The Drain,” Tapia sings, “But fuck man, I hope I’m wrong, I’ll eat crow,” again reiterating that a dark sense of humor is part of what keeps them both afloat during hard times.

“I think we’ve both been through some pretty horrible stuff and have been able to make jokes about it. Laughing with each other, to the point where it’s hard to breathe, about horrible things that have happened to us, is really fucking beautiful.”

Even if humanity goes down the drain, Tapia and Desrosiers know how to mop up the mess with a laugh and a screamin’ good song. Catch their release show for Generational Decay August 26th at Clock-Out Lounge with local powerhouse groups Actionesse and Black Ends.

Follow Rat Queen on Instagram for ongoing updates.

PLAYING SEATTLE: Rat Queen’s Jeff Tapia on Facebook Drama and D.I.Y. Collaboration

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.

Poster by Kalee Choiniere

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!

PLAYING SEATTLE: 10 Underground Gems of 2018

Seattle rock outfit Thunderpussy during a typically raucous performance. Photo by Victoria Holt, c 2018.

As much as 2018 was a good year for Seattle’s established music names – shout-out to Brandi Carlile for “By The Way, I Forgive You” and its six (!) Grammy nominations – it’s been surprisingly phenomenal for fresh voices and indie artists on the rise. Bear with me as I get sentimental; here are ten underground gems from Seattle artists in 2018.

Marlowe (L’Orange & Solemn Brigham) – Marlowe

Marlowe is the break-out album from a new duo of Seattle-based beatsmith L’Orange, and North Carolina-based rapper, Solemn Brigham. L’Orange is known for his nostalgia-soaked tracks, looping obscure vintage radio finds like an old-school crate-digger. Over those, Solemn Brigham raps conscious lyrics with that easy-yet-aggressive flow reminiscent of Kendrick’s early mixtape days.

Red Ribbon – Dark Party

Red Ribbon’s Dark Party is aptly named. While melancholic and cynical, the release is unexpectedly upbeat and fun to dance to, achieving a combination of dark and light that is often-attempted by musicians but rarely well-executed. Each song on Dark Party is a new psychedelic, trance-world, accented with new age flute, droning, and reverb-y guitar. Like a spiritual guide, Emma Danner’s soothing, slow-simmering vocals lead the listener through.

ParisAlexa – Bloom

ParisAlexa’s Bloom captures her rise on the Seattle scene. After many appearances at local events over the last few years, ParisAlexa has a sizable and devoted following of fans and critics alike, including the covetable support of KEXP, who recorded her in a live session in April. Bloom is a coming of age portrait, depicting ParisAlexa in a raw, sensual state, claiming her newfound womanhood. And it’s saturated with the echoes of neo-soul artists like Bilal, Erykah Badu, and pop singers like Alicia Keys and Mariah Carey.

Rat Queen – Worthless

Born of the quirky, colorful musings of two best friends, Jeff Tapia and Daniel Derosiers, Rat Queen’s “Worthless” is all about quick and twisted little ditties that pack a juicy pop-punk punch. Tapia’s growling and dominating vocals match Derosiers’ playful energy on drums, turning what could’ve been a just-for-fun party album into something anthemic: the chronicles of twenty-something punks and misfits just getting by in a changing city.

Bad Luck – Four

If noise-jazz could be your thing, brace yourself. Bad Luck, the tenor-drums duo featuring Neil Welch and Chris Icasiano, is an explosive, dynamic organism of sound experimentation. With a mic-ed sax, Welch creates wide swathes of atmospheric sound that converse with Icasiano’s energetic and impressive percussion. Four is (you guessed it) their fourth release since 2009.

Leeni – Lovefool

Leeni, also known as Prom Queen, is a wizard synth-pop producer and singer-songwriter who made national news a few years back for her clever mash up of the themes from ’90s TV show Twin Peaks and Netflix hit Stranger Things. Leeni’s 2018 release, Lovefool, is akin to that mash-up; one moment dark and brooding, the next bright and manic. Creating dreamy mirages of ’80s synth and ethereal singing, Lovefool gets lost in lush, velvety soundscapes.

Steve Tresler and Ingrid Jensen – Invisible Sounds: For Kenny Wheeler

Though largely unknown outside of the area, Seattle has a rich legacy with jazz music and education. Our high school jazz bands consistently win the prestigious Essentially Ellington contest, and we have been home to jazz musicians like Quincy Jones and Ernestine Anderson. Local saxophonist and teacher Steve Tresler teamed up notable Canadian jazz trumpeter Ingrid Jensen to record Invisible Sounds as a tribute to jazz music legend Kenny Wheeler, who passed away quietly in 2014. The album is a spirited, expansive, and gorgeous merging of two of the most powerful Pacific Northwestern voices in jazz.

Chemical Clock – Plastic Reality

Plastic Reality will be the final release from Chemical Clock, a experimental jazz group made up of local avant-garde, jazz, and funk musicians who met during their time in the University of Washington’s music program. Their third album, Plastic Reality, is chock full of manic synth patterns and angular melodies that build into thunderheads of sound. It’s a triumphant culmination of a decade making boundary-pushing music together.

Thunderpussy – Thunderpussy

Thunderpussy’s self-titled full-length is a glam rock firestorm. In some ways, the band picks up where artists like Heart left off, as a self-possessed all-women rock group that oozes sensuality, musicianship, and sheer power on their own terms. They put on a hell of a live show, too.

Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy

The brainchild of Will Toledo, Car Seat Headrest is probably the biggest artist on this list. 2018’s Twin Fantasy is a completely re-recorded version of an album he put out in 2011 and follows 2016’s Teens of Denial, which was named one of Rolling Stone’s 50 best albums of 2016. Twin Fantasy doesn’t disappoint either; Toledo has maintained the self-deprecating awkwardness that makes him so relatable and revelational as a indie rock singer-songwriter.