Queen of Jeans | courtesy of the artist | photo by Bob Sweeney
Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Queen of Jeans
South Philly in the summer doesn’t get enough credit. Sure, we don’t have the natural shade, or farmers markets, or outdoor screenings of other neighborhoods—but we have something else. There’s a certain summer vibe that seems to seep into the air when you cross Washington Ave; a sense of solidarity that’s palpable, as you sit on your stoop, air-conditioning units humming above. A few houses down, someone’s selling clothes and cookwear on the sidewalk; a block away the ice cream truck—not Mister Softee, but the South Philly ice cream truck that plays “Fur Elise”—is meandering toward you, offering temporary relief from the pounding sun.
I’ve lived in South Philly for 3 years now; Philly rock band Queen of Jeans live here as well (in fact singer/guitarists Miriam Devora and Matheson Glass are practically my neighbors). Their name, Queen of Jeans, is both a re-appropriation of, and commentary on, the iconic (if misogynist) “King of Jeans” sign that hung on East Passyunk Ave. at 13th Street for 21 years, before being removed in 2015. It’s a sweet name for a (mostly) girl band from South Philly, but it’s also more—as if adopting the name, the band acknowledge the sign’s legacy, while at the same time offering their own (non-misogynist) alternative. Also it’s pretty funny.
You could describe their tunes in a similar way. Queen of Jeans’ capricious garage rock has clear roots in ‘60s pop, girl groups, and surf tunes, mixed in with a little South Philly grit and an unstoppable sense of fun. Songs like the infectious “Dance (Get Off Your Ass)” are pretty much guaranteed to do so, while moody ballads like “Pup” reveal emotional and musical breadth. They also have an amazing video for their cover of “Walk Like an Egyptian” featuring their moms lip-synching. Indeed—one could argue—Queen of Jeans’ brand of rock is as complex and spirited as South Philly summers: a shifting blend of old and new, modern and historical, calmly sipping a beer from Lucky 13 Pub.
Formed in 2015 between Devora, Glass, and bassist Nina Scotto, Queen of Jeans started as a New Year’s resolution, and quickly bloomed into a rising band, thanks to their creativity and musicality. Soon after, drummer Patrick Wall came aboard, and in January of this year, they released their self-titled EP.
I meet up with Queen of Jeans at Lucky 13, across the street from where the infamous King of Jeans sign once hung. The day we meet, it’s approximately 96 degrees out; we had plans to sit outside but quickly abandon them for AC. Once the beers start flowing so do the stories— read on for tales of night swims, camp crushes gone wrong, and what they’re most looking forward to this summer (including a set at XPoNential Fest!)
The Key: So we’re in the middle of a heatwave. What’s your favorite thing to do when it’s this hot out?
Nina Scotto: Honestly, right now I just want to sit in a large tub of iced calamine lotion, and watch movies that take place somewhere cold, like Antarctica. Like The Thing.
Miriam Devora: When it’s this hot, I just turn on the AC and surround myself with large fans. Then I sit on the couch on watch true crime documentaries.
Matheson Glass: [nodding] Miriam is ridiculous in the summer. She will turn the AC all the way up and cover herself in blankets.
MD: I like to pretend it’s not hot.
TK: I feel like you can’t be too offended by the heat when you’re in a band, because so many shows, especially in the summer, are so packed and sweaty. What was the sweatiest show you’ve played?
MD: We did a session for SoFar Sounds that ended up being really sweaty—it was an unplugged show, so I didn’t have any of my pedals. And then a few minutes before we went on, I realized I had left all my cables at home too, so I had to run home and get them. Luckily, it was only about five blocks away…but I was sweating really hard when they filmed the first song. You can see on the video I am beat red.
MG: I think our recording situation is actually even sweatier than our shows. [The studio where we recorded our debut EP] was basically just a warehouse, with no temperature control and no shades on the windows, so the light would just pour in. Our friend Ryan, who recorded us, chain smoked the whole time, so it was like a hoxbox in there. I remember getting so sweaty and just laying down on the floor between songs to cool off. We were also constantly running to the Kensington Wawa to get these huge bottles of water—they must have thought we were so weird. It was still a really fun experience though—it was like being in a sweat lodge. When you get that hot it somehow spurs creativity.
TK: What was your favorite way to cool off when you were a kid?
Patrick Wall: [Growing up in Virginia] I lived in this townhouse complex that had a pool when I was in high school. But they were very serious about the pool—it closed at dark, and the management would lock the door, so you couldn’t get in without a key. But of course my friends and I were real bad-asses, or so we thought, so we sneak out of the house and break in, and put the lights in nightswim mode every night. It was probably the coolest thing I ever did [he laughs].
MD: I grew up in Northeast Philly, and moved to Bucks County in elementary school. I loved running through the sprinklers in the summer. That was so fun: just running around and slipping on the wet grass…then drinking from your friend’s mom’s garden hose, and getting really excited when you heard the ice cream man [laughs]. Then chasing him down, and having to decide on the spot between the Choco-Taco and the ice-cream baseball mitt that came with the bubble gum, which was like the reward at the end. [General chatter about ice cream treats ensues]
MG: I remember one summer my parents took us to an abandoned beach. And I wanted to mess with my little sister, so I climbed up on the lifeguard stand, then fell off and pretended I was dead. And my brother, just to be a pain, kicked sand in my face, so I would sputter and wake up.
NS: I just remember going down the shore—Sea Isle City, Ocean City. We did it all: go on the rides, go to the beach, go swimming, get ice cream. It always seemed so magical.
PW: When I was older, we used to hang out at the downtown mall in Virginia, which wasn’t a mall in the traditional sense, but sort of an outdoor market with cobblestone streets, filled with shops and indie movie theaters. These days, there’s an amphitheater there, and like, Aimee Mann and Toad the Wet Sprocket and all the ‘90s legacy acts play there. Back in the day though my friends and I would go there Friday nights and weekends, wearing our best parachute pants, with straps and cords that went nowhere—and we would just like, walk around the mall and meet people.
TK: Parachute pants in the summer? Didn’t you get hot?
PW: Oh yeah. But you know, there were big enough that you could get some air circulating in there. [General discussion breaks out about bad 2000’s fashion and parachute pants and cargo shorts in particular]
TK: Many of your songs on your EP have a vintage pop sound—which to me I associate with summer, and listening to my dad’s mixes while riding in the mini van on family vacations. What was your favorite music to listen to growing up?
MG: My mom used to listen to Paula Cole in the summer—she would power sing “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” when she was really frustrated. She had five kids all close in age and we were constantly fighting. That’s how she would work it out.
NS: For me, the ultimate summer song is Len, “Steal My Sunshine.” [Kate’s note: this song rules]. I read that the band got $100K to make the video… [Discussion breaks out about music videos in 2001 and how Len is the best/worst].
MD: I have a vivid memory of coming back from a really hard day at camp, and coming home, turning on my parents’ stereo, and choreographing a dance routine to Ace of Base. I would be like, doing the tiger crawl in front of everyone. I knew every word. I was a big fan of the deep track “Wheel of Fortune”…
PW: In the summers, my dad would always come pick me and drive me to his house. He had three cassettes in his car: Jackson Browne, the Seal album with “Kiss From a Rose”, and the Sade album with “No Ordinary Love.”
TK: Which was your favorite?
PW: Definitely Seal. Those songs were everything.
TK: So some of your songs are sort-of-love songs and some are maybe-not-quite-love songs. Did you ever have a summer romance or an unrequited summer crush?
MD: Umm, that’s basically my life. All of the above. [laughs]
NS: Agreed. I would say all of those things. [pauses] I went to sleepaway camp when I was a kid and I remember my brother telling me this story years later—about one of the other campers who had a crush on me, and had this like, six-tiered plan to try and make out with me. I was completely unaware at the time. I remember it started with him rallying this group of friends to go hang out in the woods—it was like, Stage 1: go into the woods; Stage 2: Get Nina alone. I was totally oblivious.
TK: Did you like him too, or was the feeling not mutual?
NS: I was 12. The feeling was definitely not mutual.
TK: So let’s talk working in the summer. Did any of you have summer jobs?
NS: I was a camp counselor…I loved it. You get paid shit but it was so much fun. It was basically just like Wet Hot American Summer.
PW: So what character would that make you?
NS: I was the arts and crafts counselor…so I guess that would make me Molly Shannon. I wasn’t as dramatic [WHAS plot point: in the movie, Molly Shannon’s character has a nervous breakdown over her failing marriage to Judah Friedlander] but I do feel like every time I had a class—because the kids aren’t doing anything physically—that’s when they would all start talking about life, and they would get really philosophical. I felt like I was running a counseling session. They started to talk about their parents’ divorce—I was like, I’m 18 years old, this is way above what I can handle.
MG: My least favorite job was definitely Subway—it was my first full-time job not counting papergirl. I was 14 and worked as a “sandwich artist,” which basically translated to me working 12-hour shifts. I made minimum wage and was basically treated like I was the owner, even though I was 14 years old. It was terrible. The actual boss would sit at home and watch us on the surveillance camera—I would take off my visor and 2 minutes later I would get a call being like “I noticed you’re not wearing your visor.” Eventually working there I saved up enough money to buy a car—it cost $700 and ended up having fake inspection stickers, because of course it did. I thought I was ballin’ though—I had a job, and I had a car. Eventually I moved up to a pizza store.
MD: I was a party host at children’s bounce house called Let’s Bounce Around when I was 16. Kids would come in for their birthday parties and just be totally insane—the worst part of the job was having to explain the rules to the kids and serve them pizza and drinks—we would always draw straws to see who had to do this.
TK: Did you ever bounce after hours?
MD: Sometimes. It was cool. Well, sort of. But you know, I was 16 and wanted to be out hanging out with my friends. Also by the end of the summer, I knew every Hannah Montana song.
PW: My first job was working in a Sam Goody. I would spend my whole paycheck on dumplings and earrings from Spencer’s. [More discussion about tween ear-piercing, and the difference between Spencer’s, Hot Topic, and Claire’s].
TK: What are you most looking forward to this summer?
PW: We are definitely looking forward to playing XPoNential Fest… [all agree]. When I was in college, I interned at WXPN and did artist transportation. So it’s really cool to be able to play it…it’s been a bucket list thing for a long time.
TK: Who was the coolest person you transported?
PW: Almost everyone was really nice. Peter Bjorn and John were awesome. I had to drive them and their manager to the festival right at the height of their popularity. They could not have been nicer—they were all super polite and friendly.
NS: We also have a mini tour coming up in August…a week-long run of shows. This summer, we’re really living the dream [she laughs].
MG: We’re pretty excited. Most of the time we just play Philly and New York, but this tour we’re playing Maine, Boston, Rhode Island, Virginia, DC, and New York City—we’re playing a show every night. The shows are all very carefully curated—Patrick and I like to take control of the booking and sought out bands we really like. There are a lot of bands this tour we are so excited to play with—Lady God, Bong Wish—which sounds like a bunch of 40-year-old-dudes playing festivals but is actually a cool band of girls with a Warpaint-esque sound; Psychobaby from New York…
PW: It’s fun when you’re putting together these shows and everyone starts getting really pumped…it gives the shows a real energy. It gives you a reason to get excited about every show, which is cool.
TK: We can’t wait to hear how it goes!