Queen of Cups
Queen of Cups
Interview by L. Valena
Can you describe to me what you responded to?
Alison Murray: In how great detail?
However much you want.
Charlotte Huffman: We responded to a drawing. Black and white, it looked like ink pen. It was an image of a young woman wearing some kind of a funky halo/crown situation, and a punk jacket, and she was in a castle-y space.
A: But she wasn't really inside.
C: Yeah, there were windows, and a lot of questions about what is inside, and what is outside. And there were words around the edge in a border.
What was your first reaction to it?
A: So we sat down and said 'what are we getting from this?' I go off with my gut a lot- what am I feeling, what is the mood? And we just kind of chatted about a couple of things. The piece feels dark, but positive somehow. There seemed to be a challenge, or something to be overcome.
C: We were talking about the castle, and how it felt almost video game-y.
A: Like 80's video game-y
C: We were talking about sounds we wanted to bring out of the image. So one of the sounds we wanted to bring was a Bowser’s castle situation.
A: Like Castlevania
Wait, what are those things?
A: 80's video games
A: Yeah, so we were thinking what does this feel like, and what does that sound like to us?
C: We also got a sense of being in between time. Because it looked like an ancient space, but she was wearing really contemporary clothes and also wearing this halo.
A: And the tree was growing through part of it, so it was like this thing that had been there for awhile and nature overtook part of it.
C: Also the border looked very traditional, but the words were English and contemporary. We talked a lot about the feelings that it evoked as well. Either being stuck in a timeless place or access to another realm. Gaining strength through tragedy, or being thwarted, that kind of thing.
A: So we talked a lot about facing something challenging, but still being able to face that. And grow through it.
C: Be strong through the brokenness. Like that tree that's growing through the wall, something that you think will destroy you actually makes you stronger emotionally.
A: I think we started there.
C: Then Alison started making the sounds, and she did an amazing job, btw. And so she played for me what she had, and I laid on the floor and listened. There were those video game noises. It was awesome, it sounded dark and also dancey. It sounded like the time period would kind of switch. The melody could be flowy and light, but also have this dark element. And then the hook that Alison came up with- I think you came up with the first half of the words, right? "All that I know now..."
A: I feel like the process is different for each song. Sometimes I'll just have some idea, and then I just have to find what I'm hearing in my head to make it happen. And sometimes, like here, I was very intentionally looking for a sound that was going to evoke what I thought we were going to go for. So as I heard that, and built it, I kind of played around with some of the ideas that we were talking about. And I wanted it to reflect two very different parts of life. Where something bad or hard is happening, and then overcoming that. So having elements of both of those parts audibly present in the beginning and second half of the song, and yet having them be distinctly different enough where you know you've moved into another part of the song.
C: So after we listened and I lay on the floor, we talked about what the sounds made us think of. So, we started with the image to find the sounds, but then we went from the sounds to find the lyrics. So we talked about the sounds, and tarot came up. We talked about some different tarot images that kind of matched the sound, and that's how we came to the Queen of Cups. Thinking about her as a person who is extremely powerful in her intuition and emotional skills- her emotional intelligence is so vast and wise, and she's also sitting on this crumbling castle/throne, and holding a cup of water. She really stuck out to us, so we decided to build the lyrics around that tarot card.
Were you looking at a specific deck?
C: Yeah, that would be my deck! You know the one! The Rider-Waite deck. The Queen of Cups from the Rider-Waite deck was the image I was seeing.
A: Yeah, and you showed it to me and I was like 'YES'. But we didn't have a melody at that time. That happens to us a lot, where I can't stop myself, I just layer sounds. And then Charlotte's like "There's so much stuff going on!"
C: "You stole my vocal part!"
A: There's no space for something to happen. I try to fill up the space, but not take up the space in terms of volume. I'm trying to fill 3D sound.
It sounds like you have kind of a sculptural concept of your music- with all the texture and space.
C: I think that's true.
A: I'm looking for certain things for the center, and then there's other things I'm looking to use the whole space in front of me to really immerse somebody in the song. That can be hard because there isn't always an obvious opening for a melody to go.
C: So then I listen to it a million times, and then I decide to sing this part that's already there- but it's already full. So sometimes I have to say "Alison, I need you to find the melody." And this was one of those times.
A: Sometimes that can be challenging. It was challenging for me too, because I don't really think of myself as a lyricist, and I don't really think of the melody as something that I'm writing- that's what somebody else brings to a song. I was a folk guitar player back in the day, and I am a rock drummer, and I just don't have a lot of practice in that so I'm not always confident. So I just listened to it on repeat, nonstop, and just play different things. I'd hear something that maybe I thought was there in between spaces, or think about how this part has a lot of low tones, it would be cool to balance that out. All I could think of in my head is "All that I know now is I'm the Queen of Cups"- so I had to figure out where to fit that in and where does the rest of the song go? So, sometimes what I'll do is come up with a melody in a tone and then make it very loud, and record the song and send it to Charlotte so she can hear the part. Then we'll get back together and see what happens. But we had put the fast-paced melody throughout the song, and it just really didn't fit in the beginning.
C: It needed to be more ethereal, and it needed more space.
A: Yeah, there needed to be more space, and more chill in the first part of the song, but enough to get it to the middle, because it does kind of die down, which is preparing you for what's coming next, and process what just happened.
So these two sections of the song represent two spaces in someone's life.
A: Yeah, it's like not having control over your emotions, or being in a scenario where you felt like you weren't equipped to handle that. And then being in a scenario where you are, and you feel like the Queen of Cups.
C: I feel like the second verse is the turn, for me. It's two separate things, but it doesn't start from getting your heart broken, or things are terrible. It starts from "it's been terrible," and finally acknowledging that, and gaining all these new awarenesses through that pain for the first half. And then the second half is like "LOOK AT ME NOW BITCH, I'M THE QUEEN OF CUPS!"
A: It's like coming into your own. We did a recording of the vocals, and then did some final edits.
Do you have any advice for someone else responding to a prompt like this?
C: I thought that our two-fold process was very successful. Taking what we got from the original image and making something out of that, and then diving into our piece to pull something out of that.
It's like you did two switches.
C: A little bit. We couldn't go back to the image to find the lyrics, because it didn't feel like the same thing anymore. So, my advice it to dive into the prompt, and then dive into yourself.
A: Give yourself the space to see what happens.
Is there anything else you want to say about this piece or this process?
C: This is the first time we've ever made a recording that has vocals on it, and I think that knowing that we had to turn it in was extremely helpful for us. The recording process changed the way the song turned out, because if we hadn't done the recording process that way I'm not sure those weird harmonies would have made it in, and it's so much better because of it.
A: This was really challenging, but really beneficial. And I feel really proud of what we did.
Call Number: C5VA | C7MU.diQu
Disco Nap is an electronic dance/pop duo based in Boston. Band members Charlotte Huffman and Alison Murray are inspired by making bodies move.