A few years ago, Carré Kwong Callaway—aka Queen Kwong—was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and told she may only have a decade left to live. If that wasn’t bad enough, two months after her diagnosis, her husband left her. Within the year, everything else in her life began to fall apart. Instead of wallowing in self pity, as she began a homeless year sleeping on friends’ couches and rebuilding her life, she wrote Couples Only.
Like on her previous records, Couples Only was entirely improvised and recorded on the spot—nothing was pre-written lyrically or musically. It’s led to an album that is stylistically diverse; from the dark, throbbing of “I Know Who You Are”, to the fuzzy doo-wop sound of latest single “On the Run”, which Carré was kind enough to discuss with us in more detail.
Indy Review: Your next single “On the Run” has a wonderful retro quality to its sound, channeling the music of the 50’s through an indie rock filter. How did the seeds of the song germinate?
Carré Kwong Callaway: Thanks. Yeah, it’s a musical departure from my typical sound but it’s also the inspiration for the title of the record, Couples Only. It has elements of 50’s love songs and doo-wop inspired tracks like “Earth Angel” etc. Very high school slow-dance type feel. Not sure how we initially got into that vibe, but producer Joe Cardamone and I have always been fans of Phil Spector and The Ronettes, The Flamingos, etc. Maybe we drew from that a bit. It was actually one of the easiest songs we did. I think we finished it in one afternoon.
IR: Knowing that the song came from an improvisational session, who and what instruments were in the room with you when you began creating this song?
CC: Joe [Cardamone] and I were the only ones in the room. That’s how it usually is. We start by messing around with instruments (usually I’m on guitar or bass and he’s on synths/drum machine) until something sticks and we roll with it. After we had the basics recorded we had my touring bassist (Drew Rollo) lay down a final bass track and then I sent the song to Roger from The Cure so he could add some keyboards and program strings to really round out the production.
IR: Sonically, the track is very different from the first single “I Know Who You Are”. Was this a conscious decision to write something that felt worlds away from that one?
CC: No, nothing is really a conscious decision when it comes to my creative process. There is no set direction, thematically or conceptually. I don’t like limiting myself so I just let whatever happens happen. There’s always a bit of a range across genres with every record I do just so I don’t bore myself.
IR: There is a romantic heart to “On the Run”, with lyrics like “If the world is gonna end, I want you to be the one I see last”, but also gleans into some insecurities and fears related to love (“I keep losing more of myself every time I fall in love”). Can you talk about where you/the song’s narrator is coming from emotionally in the song?
CC: It’s a romantic sounding song but the words are mostly about romantic delusions. It’s also about recognizing and admitting that I’ve been a sucker for the romanticized version of love that our culture pedals. I’ve chosen whirlwind romances —that are unsustainable and ultimately empty over meaningful love and mature relationships. But, at this point in my life, I want to be able to give and receive true love without getting bored. Please “track me down” if I try to take off. Please shoot me before I get away because I need to stop running. I guess that’s pretty sweet now that I think about it. It’s probably the nicest song I’ve ever written.
IR: The track seems to have inner-conflict at its core. Is this something you personally struggle with, and does writing songs like “On the Run” help you find clarity?
CC: I think it helps me express the struggle and I think it’s also my way of taking responsibility for my fuckups and providing an explanation for them. Even if that explanation is just for myself. When I was younger I did things impulsively, without questioning my motives. I think I have a deeper understanding of myself now, but just because I know that I need to do things differently doesn’t mean I know how to do things differently. I know a lot of the answers to the “why” questions, it’s the “how” questions that I struggle to answer, and that’s the cause of the inner conflict. But I guess the intention to do better is the first step…
IR: After the initial recording of “On the Run” was finished, did you go back and make any changes to it, either lyrically or musically, to have it fit more cohesively into the sound and/or narrative of Couples Only?
CC: No, I don’t like going back to add stuff to things because I find that it opens a worm-hole and changes the initial intention and performance. You can always find ways of making something better and you can always find things to add. Ideas are unlimited if you have the time. Better versions of the song could’ve surfaced with more time to think about it and more time to tweak at it. But, the most honest versions of my songs are the initial versions. I choose to commit to that and not overthink it.
IR: Your upcoming album Couples Only is your account of being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis soon after a divorce. How did writing this album in this way help you during such an emotionally tumultuous time?
CC: It served as a purging for a lot of trauma and emotion I was keeping in my body for a long time. I stayed pretty silent throughout the actual divorce proceeding and disassociated to a degree, as a coping mechanism. But everything was stored up in me, just piling up and suffocating me. This record helped me get it all out so I could move on.
Listen to “On the Run” in our A Single Sit-Down Playlist below, and listen to the full album when it comes out on July 12th!