Carré Callaway's tough-as-nails attitude is mixes oddly with her esoteric innocence. You wouldn't expect the 27-year-old, cat-toting, freckled-face singer to lead a 'visceral rock' band named Queen Kwong. Well, unless you caught a glimpse of her vintage-remake Suicide band tee and combat boots, or saw her growl into a mic on stage.
Callaway grew up in a hotel next to a goth/punk nightclub her father owned in Denver. She graduated high school early and, at 17, found herself exploring the music scene of New Orleans, which led to a chance meeting with Trent Reznor. He invited a then-cocky, teenage Callaway and friend back to his nearby studio after Callaway proclaimed she made music too but didn't have a demo tape.
Callaway performed for him a song called “Lo,” and Reznor helped her record an acoustic three-track demo in his studio that night. Reznor told Callaway he was moving to L.A. and that she should do the same.
He later enlisted her as the opening act for Nine Inch Nails' With Teeth tour; at the time, her biggest audience had been 20 people in a coffee shop in Denver. Unfortunately the shows were a “disaster,” she says, and she went into hiding and took a hiatus from music. Now she's back with a new EP titled Bad Lieutenant, a solid live act and a new perspective on the music industry. We spoke with her about all of this stuff.
How did you prepare yourself to open for such a large act?
Not very well [laughs]. I was not well-prepared and I really didn't know what I was getting into. I didn't have my own guitar, so I had to borrow one from Trent. I had a lot of songs, but I had never played electric guitar and I didn't really have a good understanding of who I was as a performer. I just went out there and did it.
Do you think you were a type of muse to Reznor?
Well we had a really special connection that was pretty immediate. He is a really caring, generous person. I think in some ways my drive or ambition reminded himself of how he was, or still is. We just really hit it off in a way where it felt like we were related, like a familial bond. I still don't know how to explain our relationship at first and why everything happened and for what reason. I'm not sure I'll ever know. We're still dear friends and he's always going to be someone in my heart. He definitely took me under his wing, like a brother, and I hadn't really had that before. I think he saw [talent] in me that maybe other people didn't see at the time because it was really underdeveloped. I just had the drive and visceral material, but I wasn't a developed artist by any means.
You're currently on a 24-city U.S. tour. Is that because you feel like you've tapped out the L.A. scene or are you looking for a wider audience?
Being a musician in L.A. is a bittersweet experience because I have great fans and supporters in L.A., and I feel more comfortable in L.A. because I've been there for so long now, but I really don't want to get stuck in L.A. as a musician. I am really fortunate to have such great fans [across the U.S.]. There may not be many of them right now, but the fans I do have are really die-hard, full-support fans, so I wanted to return to the favor and go play for them too.
Why do you feel like there's a lack of contemporary rock in today's industry?
I feel like people are shut off to emotion. I feel like rock n' roll has always been about primal feelings and I'm finding nowadays that people really lack those primal feelings, or they definitely don't show them. I'm not sure whether it's because of social media and the voyeurism that exists now where people are exposed and are afraid of being exposed. Rock music has always been so primal and emotionally aggressive and fearless. I'm very rarely blown away by new music these days, especially when it's labeled 'Rock'; it's kind of insulting. Everyone's pussyfooting around 'Rock' and it's becoming the opposite of what it used to represent. I think the “Indie Rock” market is really lame. If I don't feel something real and genuine coming from the artist, it's just boring.
What made you decide to cover Chris Isaak's “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing”?
I love Chris Isaak. Have you seen that man? I always loved Chris Issak and I think at first it was kind of a joke. I actually never covered a song before. I'm trying now to play other people's music more just to grow as an artist. That song is not really within my genre of music I normally play, on a surface level at least. I kind of made it my own and it fit in with my other material. It was mainly just a fun experiment.
It's not because you're secretly hoping for a duet?
No [laughs]. I think I would faint… but I would be totally open to it.
You did Animal Planet's My Cat From Hell. Tell us about that.
[Laughs]. It's funny because I did [the show] basically thinking no one would see it and my cat would benefit from it and I would get a free cat whispering session and the next thing I know it repeats. I can't tell you how many people come up to me and say, 'Oh, you're Minibar's mom'! I thought no one would see that.
Are your fans aware of that episode?
No. I haven't really publicized it. It's a little bit embarrassing. It's funny because I got this feral cat and I couldn't touch her and went on Craigslist looking for some kind of cat behavior specialist and I found an ad that was like, 'Is your cat crazy? Does she hiss at you and bite you and scratch you? Are you not able to pet her? We can help! Tell us your story', and I did and the next thing I know Animal Planet is calling me.
I still have the cat. I can pet her sometimes, depending on her mood, if I sneak up on her and she's half-asleep. She is not a fan of humans, but she gets along really well with my [three] other cats. She wants nothing to do with me.
Are you only person walking a cat on a leash in DTLA?
Yeah. I also live in New York part-time now and have one of my cats, Gunther, in NY with me and I walk him on a leash too. I had him in a backpack on the subway with me but now he's like 20 pounds, so it's a little bit difficult. He scares people. There have been people who are like, 'Get that cat away from me!'
What would be a better term than 'crazy cat lady'?
Meowcore. I've completely embraced it. I try to incorporate that into Queen Kwong too. I don't hide the fact that I am completely crazy about cats. I started to make fans come see me on tour with painted whiskers on their faces (laughs). I'm a Meowcore artist.
Queen Kwong performs the Bootleg on Saturday, October 5.
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