Words: James Frostick
Artist image: Kat Friend
Leroy Macqueen – one half of hard-rocking Newcastle-born outfit The Gooch Palms – is embarking on a new chapter in his musical career under the guise of L.M. QUEEN. ‘S.M.A.’ – the first single released under this moniker – is a dramatic turn into the realm of darkwave and synth-pop, drawing inspiration from the genre’s forbears but careful to impart his own unique imprint.
In all the times I saw The Gooch Palms play over the years, not once did Leroy Macqueen or Kat Friend lack for energy. Jokes, nudity, riffs – it was all part of the experience. It was a bummer when The Gooch Palms announced they were calling it quits earlier this year (and even sadder when their final tour was canned in the wake of COVID-19), but from the imposed lockdown and resulting isolation came something new and exciting. Leroy recently unveiled a new solo project called L.M. Queen – a synth-heavy outlet inspired by an unabashed love for new wave in the style of those who popularised it in the late-70s into the 80s. On the surface, it’s a more melodramatic and pared back endeavour, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find the same expressive and endearing energy that was a foundational pillar of The Gooch Palms’ success.
L.M. QUEEN’s debut single ‘S.M.A.’ bears all the hallmarks of new wave’s identifying traits – synths up front, backed by an unyielding dance-machine beat. When I say this track thumps, I really mean it. The song’s gloomy subject matter aside, Leroy has managed to nail the driving pulse that new wave is based around. It’s dance-floor friendly thanks to its upbeat electronic thump and synthetic club glamour. Though what I find truly engaging about the song is Leroy’s vocal delivery. One of the most enjoyable aspects of The Gooch Palms (and there were a few) was Leroy’s voice. I loved how he could dip into the lower register and weave in a deeper vocal tone that mellowed the garage-punk jams without undermining them. Here, Leroy has unshackled his pipes fully, leaning into a malleable operatic tone that cuts through the synth whomp and invigorates. While Leroy has always been a showman, I get a sense he’s unleashing a more theatrical side with L.M. QUEEN, evidenced by the aesthetic (face paint that is part mime, part Brandon Lee in The Crow) and his performance in the new clip for ‘S.M.A.’, which I’m stoked to be premiering here.
Before we get to the video, have a read of the chat I had with Leroy about L.M. Queen’s conception and the inspiration behind ‘S.M.A.’ …
I’d love to start at L.M. QUEEN’s conceptual beginnings, which I assume can be traced back to your own listening habits. Have you always held some sort of love for synth-pop and dark-wave music? If so, what is it about the genre that resonated?
Yes. From the moment I dropped out of high school after I finished year ten I was all about bands like New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Cure. I was a typical surfer dude up until then, but once I turned 16 out came the smudged eyeliner and brown hair dye! A year later I joined a new-wave band and played bass and sang backing vocals until I was 21. Through that time I’d become full blown obsessed with British bands from the 80s. Even though my tastes have expanded so much since then, there’s always been a big place in my heart for everything dark and synth-pop. I just love how dramatic and theatrical it can be. I feel my vocal style is well paired with this genre too. I love being being able to sing in this style and register – super satisfying.
Had you ever had the urge to pivot The Gooch Palms into this territory during the band’s run, even slightly?
For sure, I’ve definitely had the urge. I was writing this kind of music all through the Gooch Palms years and just shelving the ideas or straight up deleting them as they didn’t ever fit enough. But there are hints of the 80s vibe sprinkled throughout Gooch Palms’ repertoire. We would never have taken the band down this route though – I don’t think it would have gone down well. That’s why I’ve started fresh with L.M. QUEEN. A clean slate to do something completely different.
When did you initially start piecing together the first fragments of L.M. QUEEN, and how long did it take you to take it from idea to reality, and from there to something you were comfortable sharing with the world?
I’ve been messing around with synth-pop ideas over the past five years, starting back when I was living in Los Angeles in 2015. It was just for fun and to challenge myself songwriting-wise. But I never planned to do anything with any of the tracks. They were all just piling up on my hard drive. I started self isolating pretty early when
this virus started spreading here. We already had to cancel our last ever Gooch Palms tour and the bar I work at closed for business pretty early on too, so I had nothing to do. To keep busy I went back to just fiddle around and revisit some of the better ones I’d composed over the years and came across a folder entitled ‘solo stuff maybe?’. I spent a whole night going through the bits and pieces and decided after a few too many wines that I needed to free up some space on my hard drive and that I should delete all of the files.
After a bit of back and forth, I decided instead of deleting the files, I’d work on the song that was the most developed and release it as L.M. QUEEN while we were all still in isolation. So I finished the song, recorded the vocals in my shower, mixed and mastered it and then uploaded it all within a couple days. It was a huge step for me to show the world this new project. I was super nervous and wasn’t sure if anyone was going to like it. But what did I have to lose? I’m really glad I did it. Now I’m going through all the other half-finished tracks and getting them ready to become the songs for my debut EP.
How do you define L.M. QUEEN as a project? Is it a solo outfit in the traditional sense (a pure and matured representation of your self), or is there a persona weaved into the concept?
I’d say a bit of both. It’s definitely a matured version of myself with bit of a persona weaved through. I’m painting a sad mime mask on my face at the moment so that’s helping bring the drama I feel L.M. QUEEN needs. But that definitely separates the real me from the stage me. I still hope to bring the same intensity that I brought to The Gooch Palms, just in a different way. I put a lot of myself into everything I do so it will always be a balance of the real me and a character.
What impulses/creative itches does L.M. QUEEN allow you to indulge in/scratch compared to your work in The Gooch Palms?
The Gooch Palms was so limited. We only used a guitar, snare, floor tom, cymbal and two vocals and that’s it. The limitations made it pretty hard to develop a full sounding, dynamic song but I loved the challenge of having nothing to hide behind and having it all out there so raw. That approach suited the genre and carried through to the live show, so it always worked. But with L.M. QUEEN, the sky is the limit on what I can use to create the sounds that I want. I love writing a simple four-bar drum-machine loop and going over and over while I layer the bass and keys. Getting everything to work in harmony, building up parts, stripping back other parts. It definitely lets me indulge in a deeper level of creativity but I have still limited myself to a small range of instruments and sounds to give all my songs some cohesion and unity. Otherwise I could go crazy adding endless layers and making everything too complicated and OTT. So I only allow myself a little scratch of the itch!
What can you tell me about ‘S.M.A.’s origins? Is there a backstory or an overarching narrative/commentary behind it?
When I came across the partially completed track, I started working on finishing the music while humming a melody. But I didn’t have any lyrics. One night, a few weeks before I even opened the file for S.M.A. there was some commotion down on the street outside my apartment building. I live three floors up so I popped my head out the window and down on the footpath across the road was a man laying on his side uncontrollably sobbing. A stranger walked past and asked if the man if he was okay and he said “yes, I’m just really sad” so the stranger kept walking. I had never seen someone so sad in all my life. He was just laying there crying his eyes out. It obviously bothered someone enough that they called the police. When the cops showed up the man jumped up and legged it. They eventually grabbed him and put him in the cop car and took him away. It was so all so dramatic. When I was trying to think of some good content for the song, I remembered the saddest man I’d ever seen and thought that would suit the vibe of the song. S.M.A. stands for ‘saddest man alive’.
Towards the end of The Gooch Palm’s run, you were starting to share more personal details, particularly about your mental health. Are you able to divulge any details on L.M. QUEEN’s lyrical direction and if this trend towards openness will continue?
I guess so. If the mood strikes me I can get pretty open and personal. If the song suits a personal insight, I’m not shy about going there. It’s always cathartic to open up about something personal, so publicly. You never know who it might help to show that they may not be the only one going through something. For me, it works better than talking to a therapist!
I was lucky enough to catch The Gooch Palms live several times over the years, and there was always a wild and unpredictable energy at play. Have you given any thoughts as to L.M. QUEEN’s live persona? I get a sense there is a possibility of some theatrical potential here to explore…
Oh for sure – it will be completely ridiculous. Think Phantom of the Opera meets Depeche Mode. I can’t wait to put some performance ideas together and show the world my live show. I hope it excites people as much as The Gooch Palms. But of course it will be so different. It helps knowing that I’m not the first ‘punk’ (lol) to go down this road so I have a lot of inspiration to draw from. Hopefully y’all don’t have to wait too long to catch a glimpse. In the meantime Kat – who is not only my amazing wife and the other Gooch Palm but also now my band manager – has been creating all of my visual material such as my make-up design, all of the artwork, the photography and this perfectly 80s music video for ‘S.M.A’ (which we filmed in our apartment). She’s so talented and I’m very lucky that she’s able to help me represent what I’m doing musically across all of these visual plains. And I’m sure that whatever I end up doing on stage she’ll be the mastermind behind the stage set. For now it’s great knowing that while I can’t take L.M. QUEEN to the stage just yet, I’m able to give people an insight into what I’m doing musically and visually.
Watch the video for ‘S.M.A’ – shot by Kat Friend – by L.M. QUEEN here: