Scene+Heard: Clones of the Queen get ‘Braided’
BY SABRINA VELAZQUEZ / Special to the Star-Advertiser
I have wanted to write about the dream pop trio Clones of the Queen for a while now, but have purposefully held off until their next album release. With their new EP, “Braided,” out now, it is by far high time.
Formed in 2009, lead vocalist Ara Laylo, guitarist Paul Bajcar, and electronic DJ/musician Matthew McVickar have since released two studio EPs and a third live album, opened for the likes of Warpaint, Little Dragon, Menomena and Toro Y Moi, to name a few, and named by the Boston Pheonix as Honolulu’s best band in 2011 for their “Best New Bands in America” feature. It would be safe to consider them Honolulu’s indie darlings and they are well worth that title.
Clones of the Queen
» Where: Fresh Cafe (Aug. 23) and Nextdoor (Aug. 29)
Released just last week, “Braided” is their strongest EP yet. With the help of singer/songwriter Stephen Agustin — who engineered the album — Clones were able to realize the complexity of their sound. Songs like “Blank” and “Ray” are standout tracks to me, but honestly, the entire 7-track EP is more than worthy of listening to back-to-back.
There is definitely a story to this EP of love and conflict. The songs are rich with intricate arrangements. Bajcar’s effected guitar riffs compliment McVickar’s beats that both lay a canvas for Laylo’s soulful voice and melody. The EP is lovely, tortured, uplifting and most importantly original, all in one.
The craziest part? Buyers can name their price on the band’s Bandcamp page.
In the meantime, a few words with Clones of the Queen below as I caught up with them to nerd out about “Braided” and what’s next for the triumphant trio.
Sabrina Velazquez: Most people make assumptions about albums, what they mean and why the title, words, sound, etc. In one sentence tell me your interpretation of the EP “Braided.”
Paul Bajcar: I can do it in one word: “traveling.”
Matt McVickar: If ‘Gate’ was in the stars and bright and bold, ‘Braided’ is on the ground staring heavenward, a lot more intimate and, often, a thing of heartache.
Ara Laylo: Braided is about femininity, control, and suffering.
SV: In my personal opinion, this is your strongest release so far, in terms of arrangement and mixing. In particular Ara, the blend of your voice on these tracks are wonderful, and Paul’s guitar really blends well with Matt’s electronic beats. I notice some great moments in breaks and space on a track like “Blank.” How did you all approach these songs to record? They have a lot of intricacy. Did you have them worked out before recording or did you work them out in the studio?
MM: Thank you, Sabrina! I think so too! I think ‘Braided’ really captures us well. It’s been almost two years since we released our first EP, so we’ve had a lot of time to grow and improve as a band, and we worked on these songs a lot. Stephen’s time was limited (he moved to Portland a few days after finishing the mix), so all of the arrangements had to be more or less finished before we started recording. It was all done relatively quickly and piecemeal all the guitar, all the vocals, all the drums. (Our recording setup precluded us from recording everything at once live.)
PB: We had them pretty much done long before the recording process but once we were gonna begin we decided to really tighten & make sure the songs were as perfect as they could be. We did add and rearrange some parts I songs but I think it was the best thing we did.
SV: That’s right, singer/songwriter Stephen Agustin helped engineer the songs, but would you consider this a self-produced record or did he have a lot of influence on the recordings?
MM: I cannot overstate the importance of Stephen’s recording, engineering, and mixing talents to how ‘Braided’ sounds. There is a lot happening in these songs, and he was able to make it all fit and still impart a sense of space. The sound and arrangements were already set, and we knew how we wanted it to sound, but Stephen made it a reality. I was with him at his house for all of the mixing, and I was very particular, but his input was vital to the finished product.
PB: I think it’s self-produced, but he helped a ton! He really captured my guitar perfectly! He has that ear and added some of his own sound by playing bass for us in some of the tracks too.
SV: I noticed you branched out with this EP, and included other local musicians on the recording as well as engineering/mixing/mastering. Whereas “Gate” was you three working with Los Angeles producer Manny Nieto. Was it a conscious choice to keep the making of this album close to home? And how was it to bring outside musicians into the process?
PB: I’ve always wanted to get our friends to be involved in the album as much as possible and I was very stoked they wanted to help us and be a part of it too.
MM: It was definitely a conscious choice — we knew we had the means to do it here, so we went for it. Stephen’s a great friend and a great musician, and we’ve all admired his work for a while. He likes the band and understands our sound; so working with him was fun and easy.
Shawn Moseley, who mastered the record at Soul Sound Hawaii, was recommended to us by West of Slapp Symphony, and we liked his work. We ended up being with him in-studio to finish the mastering, and it was a blast. We’d definitely work with him again. We always wanted to have live bass, so Stephen played the parts that I’d written (and made some additions himself). I love the sound of a cello and had imagined it in those two songs from the beginning, so to get Yvonne to play was fantastic.
The end result of our ‘local’ approach was a record that was cheaper to record, was mixed by someone who really ‘got it,’ and featured our friends. There was no downside.
SV: So now that it is done and out there, what is your favorite song on the EP?
MM: Probably “Ray.” I think that song has a lot of depth emotionally and sonically, and I love how it turned out. That or “Blank.”
AL: My favorite is definitely “Ray.” This song represents a lot of things that happened to me in the past year. Lots of self-realizations and revelations.
SV:Any influences that drove the sound of the album? Ara, I swear you channeled Yukimi Nagano’s voice on “Ray.”
MM: I wanted something that sounded organic in spite of all the electronic sound. I was obsessed with the production on “King of Limbs,” listening to a lot of Shigeto, Gold Panda, Beach House, Tim Hecker.
AL: Yukimi will always be my heroine. I could only hope to channel her dance moves onstage! The lyrics that I write are inspired by my friends, love, science and space.
PB: Pandit, Secret Mountains, Whirr & MemoryHouse had a huge impact on me for this EP & a lot of the new songs we are working on!
SV: What’s next for the band?
MM: Right now we are working on three new songs and a few that didn’t make it to “Braided.” We’re aiming to put out another batch of songs as soon as we can. I just texted Stephen to ask him how soon he’d be able to work on new stuff and he said, “New tracks? Holy smokes.”
PB: Writing new songs & start recording our next album/EP. I wanna put out all these songs we got ASAP!
Sabrina Velazquez is a 2011 Na Hoku Hanohano Award-nominated singer/songwriter and self-proclaimed “music nerd” who was born and raised in Honolulu. Now based in Portland, Oregon, Velazquez posts every Monday on The Pulse.