Self-proclaimed "Detroit trap pop" group Jamaican Queens formed last year, though the band's two principals, singer Ryan Spencer and producer Adam Pressley, had previously performed together in the band Prussia. Earlier this year, they stopped by the PAPER offices (along with drummer Ryan Clancy and singer Abby Fincus) to chat with us and play a couple songs from their debut album, Wormfood, released last week. In accordance with the space's limitations, Clancy (who usually plays a full drumkit) tapped out his beats on an iPhone plugged into a small practice amp.
Have you ever performed like this before?
Ryan Spencer: No, not this band. Our old band did it a couple of times. We did one in Boston called Sleepover Shows. And then we did some in Chicago. There was never anybody watching. It was just like a camera guy and maybe one or two other people.
So you just learned those songs on your phone?
Ryan Clancy: Yeah.
Adam Pressley: Yeah we got it all together just like an hour ago.
At least you had the amp.
RC: We knew we were doing this, so we brought that. We'd probably need that.
You said you live in Brooklyn?
Abby Fincus: Yeah, I moved to Brooklyn five months ago. In Detroit we used to do this thing where if I showed up to their show and they were about to play I'd be like, "Yeah I'll come play." I sing just this one song. I sing like three or four on the record. I'm the cover girl. I've done some other covers. I drew the weird t-shirt. Making the app. I'm more behind the scenes.
Do you usually write the songs as songs and then add the production afterwards?
AP: It can go either way. Sometimes the production happens first, sometimes the songs happen first.
RS: When I write, I always write a song and then show it to Adam. And then Adam builds on it and if he makes a production he'll show it to me and I'll write on top of that.
AP: A lot of these songs started out as me making rap beats for rappers that I didn't know. Hoping that a rapper would rap over my beats. And then I showed it to him. He doesn't know how to rap though. His rap tracks sucked.
Have you ever had people rap over your beats?
AP: Yeah, I actually collaborated with a guy named Self Says. Not with Jamaican Queens, but just me and that guy. We never had a rapper.
RS: That song is sick.
Who would be the ideal person to rap on your beats?
AF: Danny Brown, right?
AP: Probably around then like Clipse.
Danny Brown's also from Detroit.
AP: I did try to get Danny Brown to rap over one of my beats. I actually met him when our old band opened for him. Talked to him, he gave me his phone number and said, "Hit me up! We'll get together." And then I just like texted him when I should have called him.
RS: I got Derrick May's phone number. He started Detroit techno music. He's like the guy who started house music pretty much. But he was wasted and I was waiting on him and I was like, "You should give me your number or something and I'll try to do a new mix with one of your songs!" He was drunk, so he gave it to me and I just prank phone-call him and text-message him weird things all the time like when I get drunk.
Do you still wait tables?
RS: We tour a lot now, but when I go home I wait at a tiny café in Detroit. We have seven tables. I make zero dollars an hour. I just get paid whatever tips we make. My rent's $200. So if I can work two or three shifts I can usually pay rent.
Do you choose the music there?
RS: Yeah, certainly. I'm the DJ. That's why I do the job, just to practice my DJ skills. On this like iPod dock.
When you started the band, was it just you two?
RS: We were gonna have this kid join the band but we had this internal struggle because we hated him so much but he's such a good musician. Someone we have to spend all our time with, but we can sacrifice it for the art. And then Ryan moved back from China and we abandoned the idea.
How long have you all known each other?
AP: Two or three years.
RS: We were all kind of acquaintances because Ryan was in a ton of different Detroit bands and our other bands would play together and stuff. So we'd known each other for a few years but it's like, we'd been good friends for two, three years or something.
AP: I moved to Detroit to join Prussia, which Ryan and I were both in. And then that broke up. But before that Prussia and my old band were on tour in like 2007.
AF: Ryan was trying to hook up with my friend. I'm 21 now, he was trying to hook up with my friend when I was 18 and she would make me go on dates with them. And then Ryan thought I was dumb.
RS: That was like the most awkward two-week long relationship of my life.
You call yourselves Detroit trap music.
RS: Trap pop. Because it's like trap beats but with pop music. We say that. We kinda say whatever people are saying. I think I told someone the other day another made-up term, and he was like, "Oh, that's good, that totally fits."
AP: Some people say we're like synth-pop, which I don't totally see. But we have synths and we write pop songs. Sometimes I just tell people we're an indie band. That's like such a wide thing that a lot of people grasp.
RS: It's like experimental pop music. Or like abrasive pop music.
What effect do you think being in Detroit has on your sound?
RS: Everybody always asks that in interviews. I think that our old band for sure, we were just trying to be like a Motown band. That's why we started writing songs to like rip off the Motown sound. But now it's like I'm influenced by Detroit just because I've lived in that city. I'm influenced by tons of different music from all over the world but the city in general influences the way I write because everything that happens to me happens there. And that's why I write about stuff that's going on in my life.
What music have you been listening to in the van?
RS: Today I was listening to that new Burial EP that came out like a week or so ago.
AP: Clancy and I were listening to a lot of Action Bronson on our drive.
RC: Marc Maron podcasts. We did the Louis CK one, the Andrew WK one. CK, WK. Mike Doughty from Soul Coughing. Do you listen to the Marc Maron podcasts?
Yeah, I just listened to the one with Michael Keaton.
AP: I couldn't get through that one. Did you like that one?
Yeah, they don't really say much, but I like Michael Keaton's presence.
RS: Have you ever listened to the Things You Should Know podcast? Is that what that one's called?
AP: How Stuff Works.
RS: They'll like pick out a pretty broad topic and just explain everything about it. Like "clouds." Afterwards you know tons about clouds. Or like "organized crime." A good way if you're driving for six hours to pass the time. I like almost only listen to intense rap music though. Or the Smiths.
Are you ever uncomfortable taking the "trap" label, which refers to a specific kind of crime?
RS: Yeah, I mean, it's kind of just to be provocative. That's why it's interesting and not a lot of people know about it, so it's like, fuck it, what's the worst that could happen.
AP: It's actually been good, like that one time in Knoxville that kid just googled "trap knoxville" and that's how he found the show and ended up coming out and enjoying it.
RS: He like bought a CD and bought us drinks and stuff. So so far it's gotten us free drinks and five bucks.