Prima Queen‘s debut EP ‘Not The Baby’ is – obviously – brilliant. We just didn’t know we’d be crashing an actual birthday party when we caught up with them to talk about it. Read our latest Hype playlist cover feature now.
Words: Jamie MacMillan.
Cover photo: Lily Doidge.
Well, this is awkward. Dork’s unexpectedly crashing a birthday party and didn’t bring a cake. Or a hat. Or those things you blow that uncurl like an excited snake and go wheeeeee. Thankfully, Prima Queen – and more importantly, the birthday VIP herself, Kristin McFadden – are far too polite to take offence at the cheek of us arranging an interview for this day and invite us to sit down over a delicious vegan pulled pork burger and chat all things Prima Queen-y.
Fresh from wowing crowds Stateside during their performances at SXSW, Kristin and bandmate (and very much best mate) Louise Macphail are in top form. A series of lush singles over the past few years, alongside tours with Wet Leg, The Big Moon and Dream Wife, has slowly but surely built a rabid live following. Now, the upcoming release of their debut EP ‘Not The Baby’ is set to accelerate that even further.
Chatting to the pair, it’s clearly an exciting time for the duo, and the way the success is built on their close friendship is easy to see. Rarely does a sentence get started by one without being finished by the other, stories from their past peppered with quick ‘am I okay saying this?’ and broken up by frequent bursts of laughter. It would be easy to think they’d grown up together, but instead, they have the cutest meeting in the history of meet-cutes. After being told by a friend-of-a-friend back home in her native Chicago that she should explore studying abroad, it feels like fate that led to Kristin meeting up with Louise on a songwriting course in London.
“They sent us a video of her playing, and I watched it with my housemates,” remembers Louise today. “I was like, she’s the one I’m going to be in a band with… Everyone else was like, you have to be cool. You don’t even know her!” Laughing as she describes the moment of watching the door waiting for her to arrive, the feeling was mutual – Kristin remembers thinking that Louise was destined for the biggest festival stages when she first saw her play. Job done, band sorted, and everyone lived happily ever after, right? Right?
Nope. As when her course ended, Kristin had to return to the States. She describes being in floods of tears during the return flight as Louise says it was “the segue into the saddest year ever”. FaceTiming every day over the next year, the pair embarked on ways of writing remotely together before lockdown forced everyone else to do the same. It wasn’t easy.
“One of my housemates sat me down after Kristin left,” says Louise. “And he was like, you do know she’s not coming back?” She pauses and then laughs. “We don’t really speak any more.”
Finally managing to return in order to study her masters at Goldsmiths, the pair plotted new ways to let her stay permanently. “We looked into every way, and then we were like, ‘we’re gonna get married’,” laughs Kristin. “We were telling all our friends that if anybody asks, we are in a relationship, and we are in love.” “It’s so stupid that you can’t get married for friendship!” points out Louise. “I feel like we are so committed to each other in so many ways.”
Discovering that it would be possible to stay through her grandpa’s Hungarian heritage, a Hungarian passport was secured, and sighs of relief were breathed all around.
Those early writing and playing sessions helped to form the band and the sound that became Prima Queen, though ‘what makes a Prima Queen song’ is still something that they challenge every time. “I feel that it would be quite boring to just have one sound,” explains Kristin. “I wouldn’t want us to be one of those artists where you love what they’re doing, but every song sounds the same.”
“It’s such an honour to make someone cry”
Instead, there’s a vibe that runs through their material with flecks of Americana bouncing and meshing with a rockier sound. Live, instruments and vocals are swapped, violins are produced, and it all becomes a fluid flow of lush moments. Like all bands, some of their earlier shows didn’t go quite to plan, however. One of their early songs, ‘Never Kiss A Boy Who Plays A Guitar’, had an interesting audience at an Alternative Escape show when it was played.
“We were in this drum and bass club,” laughs Louise. “We were like this; this is our chance! And there were ten people there. The two that had put on the show, and eight boys standing there with their guitars… WORST GIG EVER! Didn’t you cry?” “Yeah, they didn’t like it…” nods Kristin. “We started playing the last song, and they were like, no, you’re done. ‘But this is the best one; WE SAVED IT FOR LAST!'” The pair burst into giggles at this memory.
“I bumped into some people from Bristol, who said they saw us years ago, and I was like, ‘Oh god, I’m so sorry!'” laughs Louise, as Kristin confidently describes those shows as “we weren’t horrible” in a way that somehow sounds more like a question than a statement. “I think we were, but I think it’s okay; we had potential,” replies her bandmate grinning.
“I feel like it’s a shame that it’s not cool to talk about the growth of becoming a musician,” says Kristin now more seriously, “Because it does take a long time to figure out what you’re doing. There’s this idea that you have to say that you’re brand new, that you’ve just come out of the womb. It actually takes a lot of work. I still try to think that we will get better.” “You’ve got to be excited about something,” laughs Louise, “We were like, we don’t know how long it will take, but one day we’ll be really good!”
In all seriousness, that work has paid off nowadays, of course. Being handpicked by The Big Moon to join them on a support tour taught the band how to just ‘be’ on a tour – despite still having no manager or booking agent and a mate pretending to be their tour manager. So well did they hit it off that Fern and Jules later produced them. The presence and guiding advice of the Big Moonies helped them no end. “It was just really cool to watch them combine their different strengths and knowledge,” remembers Kristin. “Jules was so pregnant, and it was real girl boss vibes.”
As the singles add up, Prima Queen are building a world in their music that is both vulnerable and personal while relatable to everyone looking on. Tracks feel like they are ripped from their diaries, the close friendship helping them through and keeping them ‘honest’. “It gives us confidence to say these things,” agrees Kristin. “You have someone beside you saying it’s okay and saying that we’re in it together.” “Yeah, I feel like every song is one of our stories,” adds Louise. “You have maybe the sadness or the pain from one of us and then their best friend’s supportive energy.”
“Sometimes, in the back of your mind, you think that things are gonna always stay the same. But they’re not”
That translates to how their audiences have reacted, particularly to the beautiful and poignant ‘Butter Knife’, a track all about losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s. As you would expect, it provokes strong emotions when played live. “People cry a lot in that song,” nods Kristin. “You’ll look out, and people will be sobbing. You might lose the emotion because you’re just doing it over and over, and then you see how it affects people. It’s such an honour to make someone cry, I think… I know you don’t want to, but it’s beautiful.”
This emotional honesty continues on their new EP, with standout track ‘Hydroplane’ exploring Kristin’s thoughts on living most of her adult life thousands of miles away from family and home. It’s another fiercely personal yet relatable track from the band. “I think I feel shame sometimes if I’m saying too many English words or phrases,” she explains on a track that gave the EP its name. “If I see them catching me writing in an English way, or spelling, it’s like ‘Who are you? What are you doing? That’s not you!’ But it is me. So that song is thinking about that and incorporates the past, the present and the future. I’m not the baby any more. I’m an adult, I’ve changed, and things are not the same – sometimes, in the back of your mind, you think that things are gonna always stay the same. But they’re not.”
By now, pudding has been served and talk turns to some guy called Ulysses, who ate a lot of sausages at an inter-band barbecue where one of Saloon Dion’s apparently chowed down on a fully raw hamburger. We can’t help but feel that we have intruded far too much into a happy birthday spent exploring sad songs, and we have to let them go to their (next) party meal with a firm promise to make a cake next time. ■
Prima Queen’s debut EP ‘Not The Baby’ is out now. They play the Dork stage at Live at Leeds in the Park on 27th May 2023. Get tickets here. Follow Dork’s Hype Spotify playlist here.