Prom Queen: Transcending time and space

by Scot Casey

Imagine sitting in the archetypal cocktail lounge of your mind listening to music that maps out the sonic landscape between Nancy Sinatra’s twisted twin sister, Ennio Morricone’s reverb drenched guitars and the ultra-mod space-age pop of Esquivel and you get an approximation of the music of Seattle’s Prom Queen. Their music has often been described as lushly cinematic, referencing the psycho-sexual noir aesthetics of David Lynch, John Waters and Quentin Tarantino. So it is only appropriate that they released their most recent album Midnight Veil as full-length video album. It is a 58-minute dream fugue that taps into the rich vein of mid to late 20th century retro-cool: from Sunset Boulevard Hollywood decadence, to 50s shake shop Bunny Yeager pin-ups, centering mostly around a late-60s psychedelic bouffant with a beautifully wicked 21st century twist.

“I’m tempted to coin the term “kitsch-pop” for Prom Queen. Because it’s like a multicolored melange of retro flavors like you’d find in a mid-century thrift store.” COURTESY PHOTO

“I’m tempted to coin the term “kitsch-pop” for Prom Queen. Because it’s like a multicolored melange of retro flavors like you’d find in a mid-century thrift store.” COURTESY PHOTO

Prom Queen began as a solo project by Leeni Ramadan before eventually developing into an outstanding performance oriented group. I asked her about this evolution.

“Prom Queen,” she said, “started as a bedroom recording project with my first album Night Sound. After producing it, I’d perform live with the backing tracks and play my guitar and sing. It was a neat solo project but I was invited to play on the Triple Door stage and I knew the stage would just swallow me whole. I met the incredible Ben Von Wildenhaus at the Can Can and we had been sharing bills together. I asked if he’d like to join me and perform with Prom Queen sometime and he said yes! Our current band is Tom Meyers, Jason Goessl and Ben Von Wildenhaus.”

The talent of the group is manifest in its chameleonic ability to not just impersonate a style, but to inhabit it and make it their own.

“I’m tempted to coin the term “kitsch-pop” for Prom Queen. Because it’s like a multicolored melange of retro flavors like you’d find in a mid-century thrift store,” Leeni said. “Sometimes it’s 50s doo-wop, other times it’s exotica, western, spy themes, surf and psychedelic rock. The diversity that we like to bring to the listener is kind of like an old flea market of sounds that seems hard to classify by something like ‘pop’.”

The Midnight Veil full-video album is stunning in how it riffs off these different sonic and visual genres. It dramatically deepens the musical experience.

“The idea to make a video album sprung from the fact that I do video production as a day job and really wanted to make something that I could be proud of that would marry these two worlds together and enrich the experience of the listener,” Lenni said.

When I suggest that Prom Queen’s aesthetic could be seen as a reinterpretation or critique of the themes of 50s and 60s music, she replied, “As much as I like a nod to the past, I think we live in the best of times now. We can pick and choose the best part of our past culture and cast away the unfortunate parts… I can make this music in my bedroom and it’s actually quite modern. I love to nod to mid-century production, because I find it to be beautiful. But I do love that I live in a time where I can choose what that really sounds like and, as a female, produce it myself! It has to be a reinterpretation because I didn’t live in that time. It’s my fantasy of what it was like or could have been like.”

Prom Queen’s music is simultaneously new and nostalgic, respectful and irreverent. There is a cultivated oddness and broken quality to the music. Nearly every song on Midnight Veil sounds like a classic you have never heard before. The overall effect is a luminous performance of sound and image. Prom Queen has discovered a hidden wealth and unexplored territory in the 60s musical soundscape. Working within (and in between) the implicit unspoken areas of the songs to amplify the darker insinuations, omissions and exclusions, Prom Queen has created a beautiful and seductive alternative reality that, quite honestly, is better than the original.

SHOW TIME: Catch Prom Queen Jan. 30 at The Shakedown. To hear the band’s music, visit promqueenband.bandcamp.com. For updates, see their Facebook page. 

Also on the bill for the Jan. 30 show is ex-Bellingham mainstay, Ben Von Wildenhaus. Best recognized as a guitarist in the legendary Federation X, Ben has focused on his solo creations for several years now, previously while living in NY and most recently back in the Pacific Northwest. He’ll release his most recent recording, II, along with a backing band, at the Jan. 30 show. Most of the music was recorded prior to him moving back and features top notch backing players as well as an engineer. The members of Prom Queen will be his backing band for the night. For more details about his music, see benvonwildenhaus.com.

Published in the January 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine