Pictured from left to right: Alex Fedorow (bass), Jesse Maxwell (lead vocals), Marlon Hurt, (guitar/vocals), Chris Glover (drums), Not Pictured: Hope Johnson (Keyboard)
The self-proclaimed blues rock band with a pop twist, Queens County Roots, is playing shows during this spring and summer throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, Harlem and of course, Queens, in support of their debut EP titled ‘Stereo’. We spoke with founder and guitarist Marlon Hurt, who was eager to discuss the formation of the band, the recording process of ‘Stereo’ and some of the inspirations behind the EP. For an exclusive listen, check out QCR’s ‘Stereo’ EP below!
What is the backstory behind the name “Queens County Roots”?
I’m a transplant from Georgia, but I’ve lived in Queens now for the better part of a decade, and I’m very fond of my adopted home. (I’m also raising two kids in the borough who will legitimately be able to say they have Queens County roots!) I started QCR with the idea that it would be heavy on roots music influences, so when the name first popped into my head I thought, ‘yeah, that seems exactly right’.
How did the band originally form together into what it is today?
Alex Fedorow and I played in a different band ages ago, and he and I ended up between projects at the exact same time and it seemed like the universe was telling us something. I’d been in a blues band and was looking to build on that in a new and different way when Alex came calling. Then we found our awesome drummer, Chris Glover, and the pieces just started to click. The best part, though, is probably Jesse emailing me from Canada—before he had even moved here!—convincing me to hold the lead singer slot open until he could get to NYC. But with the vocal samples he was sending me, how could I not?
With your current lineup, how long have you guys been playing together?
Our keyboardist, Hope Johnson, is our newest member, so if we start the clock from when she joined then this current iteration has been together since September or so of last year.
You guys have been through some line-up changes since 2017’s two singles “Vintage” and “Promise and Hope”. Musically, aside from the transition from a female to male lead vocalist, how has your sound grown over time?
We still have warm places in our hearts for Jenna Hanlon, our original vocalist, and for Lyndol Descant, our original keyboard player. But with the current configuration, Jesse’s neo-soul and R’n’B background has really blown our sound open. For me, the fun of a band is hearing the choices other people make—otherwise, I might as well do all this alone at home! And Jesse’s background leads him to what I think are very interesting choices. When QCR first started, it was really just my take on blues and rock, but Jesse’s soul influences have pushed our sound in fascinating directions.
Stereo is the debut of the band’s first official EP. Why did you choose the name Stereo for this release?
A lot of this band is a balance of old and new. I like to call what we do ‘blues pop’ which shouldn’t make any kind of sense but somehow does. And the idea of stereo—a balance between two outputs—just felt like the exact right metaphor.
What was the recording process like for Stereo? Why did you guys ultimately decide to release an EP instead of a full-length album?
I won’t lie, we experienced all the highs and lows with this one. We originally tracked ten songs for a full album, but what should have taken a few months has stretched into almost a year! The final decision to scale back to an EP was a result of boring ol’ practical considerations about time. At one point, we seriously thought the best we’d be able to do is to put these out as a series of single releases. But the nice thing is that we’re now planning a second EP that includes the other four songs! So, at the end of the day, we’ll actually be putting twelve songs out into the world, where we were originally only going to do ten. So, you know, silver linings and all that.
What were some of the most difficult parts and the most rewarding parts about recording Stereo?
Our recording engineer, Josh Liebman, had his main studio in a building that—unbeknownst to him and us—was the subject of a dispute. In what may be the New York-iest thing ever, the landlord locked all the tenants out. Like, we showed up one morning to record and Josh’s key didn’t work in the front door. That set us back easily a couple months while Josh scrambled for a substitute. So that was hugely frustrating, not least for poor Josh! But the most rewarding part was probably when our mixing engineer, Felix Toro, got the first mix of “A Hand Up” back to us and it just sounded…right. And I think there was a collective exhale and a sense of ‘this is gonna work out after all’!
There are six songs on Stereo and the EP is nearly twenty-two minutes long, making it an easy listening experience for listeners. How many songs were originally written for this project and how did you narrow them down to these six gems?
So far, QCR has almost thirty originals. We were very democratic in deciding which ones to feature on the EP—we made a list and took a vote! So these six are, collectively, the ones we think really speak to who we are as a band.
There are many different themes throughout the songs on this EP, some of which delve into love and heartbreak. What were some other inspirations behind these six songs?
Well, “The Ballad of James Corvus” has a political edge, but I think that’s ok since the song itself is pretty in-your-face. Generally, though, I’m inspired by Americana. I grew up down South, and I still listen to a lot of blues, and a lot of the themes and imagery touch something way down deep in me. ‘Bad luck and trouble’ and that kind of thing, you know? Those themes are specific and universal at the same time. And that’s the feeling that inspired all of these songs. If I sat down with the guitar, and the thought in my head felt like it was somehow specific but also universal then I felt like I actually had something to say and that the song was worth writing. But other art also sparks things. I’ve tucked in references to everything from classic Hendrix lyrics, to a Richard Fariña novel, and “Romantic AF” was partly inspired by Cole Porter!
Most of the songs on Stereo have been played in a live setting before. Was it hard to translate some songs into a studio version?
Surprisingly, yes! It’s no mystery that studio recording is a different animal. As Chris, our drummer, likes to say, studio recording is less about ‘capturing’ a performance than about ‘building’ a performance. Some of the songs on Stereo made the jump pretty seamlessly, like “The Ballad of James Corvus”. But with a song like “The Message” a lot of surprising flavors kind of emerged as we were tracking.
What is your favorite song to play live and which song do you think receives the best crowd reaction when you play it?
Our favorite song to play live is probably “Heaven Sent”. It’s the first song on the EP and it’s been our opener for live shows too. When that bass drum and high-hat combo starts going you can immediately feel a shift in the room, like we’ve moved to a dirt road somewhere. And then Jesse lays some blues on it and folks really know what they’re in for. As far as the best reaction we get, that would definitely be “Romantic AF”. By the second chorus, people who haven’t heard the song before are singing along!
You currently have shows lined up for the major boroughs in New York for this spring and summer. Do you guys have plans to tour outside of New York any time soon?
We’ve talked about doing an east coast thing, passing through Philly to points down south. We’ll know more soon!
Which song do each of you resonate the most with on this EP and why?
For me, probably “Heaven Sent”. Playing slide guitar has been its own kind of journey recently. There’s so much soul in it, but it’s almost like I’ve had to learn a new instrument! “Heaven Sent” was the first song I wrote for slide, and I had so much fun tapping into those classic blues themes about being down and out, and I think the two together make “Heaven Sent” kinda special for me. Jesse tells me he’s big on “A Hand Up”. He says, “I like the idea of helping someone out and they help me out and giving a hand when someone needed it.” For Alex, it’s “Ballad”, because “F*ck Trump”, which is about as Alex a thing to say as I can imagine. And for Chris, it’s “No Words For It” which features a switch from 4/4 to 3/4 and back—which is like catnip for drummers! He mentioned that “No Words” reminds him of the music that used to fill the house in his childhood.
What is something you would want the listeners to know about your band?
Out of all of it, I think the biggest thing is that it’s meant to be fun. We talk about serious stuff here and there, but in the end it’s about all of us forgetting our troubles for a little while—you, me, everybody. I mean, that’s really what the blues were about! All we want is for listeners to lose themselves in the rhythm and walk away humming a melody.
Where can people buy and download Stereo? Any plans for merchandise?
In a couple weeks, the EP will be up on iTunes. That’s probably the easiest place to grab it. Mostly, we planned for folks just to stream it off places like Spotify. And we have t-shirts! But you gotta come to a show to get one of those, hint-hint!
Interview conducted by: Lisa Holahan
Band Site: www.queenscountyroots.com
- Listen to Stereo below: