Getting Ready to ‘Shout It Out Loud!’ with Rocket Queen of The Cocktail Slippers (INTERVIEW)

Shout It Out Loud! arrives from on September 17th from Wicked Cool Records, the fifth studio album from The Cocktail Slippers, but their first in seven years following a string of stirring singles. Their title track “She Devil (Shout It Out Loud)” was even chosen by Little Steven Van Zandt as “The Coolest Song in the World” on his Underground Garage. The new album was co-produced by the band, Little Steven Van Zandt and Mike Hartung

The five-piece, Oslo-based, all-female Rock band has a star-studded performance history sharing stages with Paul McCartney, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and many more, and has a depth of commitment to live performance that shines through even on their confident and bold studio recordings. Their videos for recent singles have been particularly pulse-pounding and entertaining, and managing to film and release them amid the ongoing global situation has been quite a feat of vision and determination. I spoke with guitarist Rocket Queen about the live play Rock energy behind the band, their experiences and observations as an all-female group, and what some of the very personal songs on this new album mean to them. 

HMS: How did the recording of the album go? Were some of these songs recorded one by one, over time, or was there an album recording session?

Rocket Queen: The intention was to have one session for most of the songs, but then there were some issues with the studio where we were supposed to record them, then we had some gigs, so had to cancel. Then we started recording one or two songs at a time. It’s been a really, really long process this time. It went on for about two and a half years, but that meant that we worked on it in a different way because we had more time to listen. Actually, some of the songs got totally rerecorded. We’d been playing them live and we thought of a better way to do it, so that’s been good, even though it’s been way too long since our last release.

HMS: That’s really interesting. Your process seems to be equally connected to live play and recording. When you started out, was the main focus of the band on live performance?

Rocket Queen: Always. It’s fun to be in the studio, because you have a lot of different options in doing things, and you can add different layers that you can’t add live, but on this album we’ve been really focused on being as authentic as possible. We want people to listen to the album, and when they go see our shows, for it to be the same. We don’t use a lot of samples and things that we can’t use on stage. We’re only five people, so we’re a little bit limited.

HMS: Five people seems like a perfect number for a band, but on the other hand, your sound as a band is actually bigger than that. I can see how you’re maximizing what you can do with five people. If I were to just guess from listening to this album, I would think you had at least seven people. It’s a big sound that you manage to create. 

Rocket Queen: Yes! 

HMS: Could you tell me more about how you ended up changing the rerecorded versions based on the live experience?

Rocket Queen: When you perform songs live a lot, you get to the point where you don’t have to think anymore. You just play and some kind of magic happens. You add a little extra beat on the snare, or a little extra something on the guitar, and that becomes an important part of the song. You might not know that when you’re recording it, but when you do it live, it’s like that. That’s kind of how it happened that we ended up doing some of the songs over again. We realized that it was going to take a while to finish the album anyway, so we decided that we might as well spend the time and extra expenses. It felt like it was worth it. 

HMS: Do you record in a somewhat live way anyway?

Rocket Queen: We’ve done both, actually. Two of the songs on this album were recorded live, and we feel like that is the way we want to do it next time. We want the songs to be completely done, having rehearsed them and played them a lot before we go to the studio for the first time. Then we want to do everything live. We can add on some vocals, but we feel that way works best for us.

HMS: I definitely get that feeling from this album, that it’s just on the edge of being powerful live performance anyway. I personally think that’s great. I’ve seen that the band has been playing live lately. Are you excited to finally be among people?

Rocket Queen: It’s been amazing to be playing live again. It’s been almost a year and a half with something essential missing from our lives. I know it’s been tough in the USA, too, and here in Oslo, we had two and a half months where you were not allowed to interact with more than two people per week. We could not gather for rehearsals or go to the studio. The concerts we’ve been doing lately have been for only a sit-down, limited audience, but still it’s been amazing.

HMS: Are your current sets from the new album?

Rocket Queen: Oh yes! There are a lot of songs from the new album. But we always try to keep some old songs, too, since we get good responses from the audience for that. I hate it when I go to a concert, too, and the band are only playing stuff from their new album because I know their old albums and I want to sing along. People want to have a good time, so you have to find a good mix there.

HMS: Your recent videos are great. How do you choose which songs get videos?

Rocket Queen: We want to make videos for all of our songs on this album, actually. That’s also because we are kind of a visual band. Even if people don’t think it’s funny, with people our age wearing costumes like this, we think it’s hilarious. We want to make videos for ourselves. We are very fortunate in this band because we have a lot of skilled people, including a photographer, a graphic designer, someone in communications. We do everything ourselves, so these past videos are some we’ve done ourselves. 

HMS: That’s amazing! These don’t look like easy videos to make! For “She Devil (Shout It Out Loud!)”, that’s shot outside, and maybe that seems like it might be easier, but no, because it’s in an urban environment in the daytime with people around. It’s also mostly a long take, following one shot. 

Rocket Queen: Yes, it’s one take. First off, we had absolutely no money, so we had to find a way to make that funny. Then, my daughter and some other family members were filming with iPhones and one of us was holding an amplifier playing the song. We slowed down the song a little bit, but we moved in regular or even faster time. I edited it afterwards and was thinking, “Well, if it doesn’t turn out good, it’ll still be funny, and we’ll use it on social media.” But when I saw it, whoah! We thought it was fun, though.

HMS: I was really struck by the energy and sense of positivity to it. You’ve got sunshine and a sense of space and air in it, too. It really works. What has public response been like to the song and video so far?

Rocket Queen: We’ve gotten plenty of feedback that it’s catchy and fun, but the weird thing is, I don’t think I’ve had any comments about the theme, what the song is really about. But the song is actually about all the comments that we’ve gotten through the years, especially from guys, like “You play really good for a girl!” 

HMS: I’m pretty shocked that no one has asked you about the lyrics before. For me, the song is really fun, but there’s a seriousness behind it. It’s reacting to something. I think that the song is really brave because it is very positive, but it also engages with some of the difficulty you’ve faced. You address that head on. 

Rocket Queen: One newspaper in Norway mentioned it, but that’s it. It was important to us that it a happy and catchy song, though, since even though we will get those comments, people often really mean well. They don’t comprehend that the things that they are saying are sometimes really offensive. They are trying to be helpful because they see this group of girls and think, “You probably don’t know much about Rock ‘n Roll.” They think they know better about how we should set up our amplifiers. Some of them are trying to be helpful and supportive, but we were over getting annoyed by it years ago. We just find it funny. 

HMS: I know that there are some audiences who are not supportive of women making Rock music, or any other kind of Pop music, for that matter, and they say truly horrible things about that. But there is another category of people who are genuinely trying to be helpful, but they can’t seem to hear how they sound. What pushed you to finally write this song and put as many of your experiences into this song as you could?

Rocket Queen: There was a kind of eye-opening experience for us once. We were hanging out with Joan Jett when she was playing in Oslo. We were sitting backstage talking and she had an interview coming up. Rather than us leaving, she said, “I want you guys to stay, because I swear to you, this is going to happen: I’m going to talk about the things that I want to talk about. I’m going to talk about the movie, and old times, and then I’m going to talk about being a woman in the Rock ‘n Roll business. I swear to you, they are going to cut that part out. They always do.” 

So we stayed and we were sitting behind the TV crew as they were filming her and interviewing her. She answered all the questions, and then started talking about what it was like being onstage as a woman. She said that you have to doubly prove things to people. They may think the song is good and the performance is good, but they get hung up on all these little things, because you’re a girl and girls can’t play Rock ‘n Roll. She said, “I have the Cocktail Slippers here with me today and they should be huge in Norway, and they are not. I am sure that they are fighting that same battle every time I go on stage. They are going to hear the same comments that I’ve always heard. Newspapers are going to write more about them being girls, and what clothes they wearing than their actual music.” 

And we thought, “Wow! She’s so right. We never thought it was happening to anyone else but us. We just thought, “Maybe we aren’t that good.” After that, we stopped caring about that stuff so much. I think our music and stage performance was actually better after that. That was the start of it and that was many, many years ago. And she was right! They did cut out everything she said about that from the interview!

HMS: Wow. If she can’t get a word in, then I don’t know what’s wrong with this world. Then you know it’s real, if someone like her can’t even get her statements out there in an accurate way. When the band got started, did you consciously know and think, “This is an all-female band, and that’s what we want to do.”

Rocket Queen: Yes, we wanted it to be an all-female band. To me, that was actually really weird at first, because I was always hanging out with guys as a kid. Girls were just too complicated for me. But it worked out really well. I have found my best friends from doing this, and it has stuck with us. When we had to replace members, we decided that we wouldn’t say that it had to be a woman, but we would pick the person who was the best musician and also fit in well with the group. They turned out to be women anyway.

HMS: The video for “Be The One” has also been released is just as complicated as “She Devil”, really. I understand that Hope had to sing the song slower than the movements of the other band members. That’s hard enough, but my other thought was, “How many dozens of props did they have to have to get through this video?”

Rocket Queen: You have no idea! It was crazy! The song is something like three minutes, but we slowed it down so much that it took us 15 minutes to do it. It’s also one take. We didn’t do any others. We had tons of props, costumes, wigs, and hats, laying around. Sometimes if you were standing close to Hope, you would move a little bit like her, but if you were further from her, you would move faster, but if you ran, you almost wouldn’t be able to see it later. At one point, I’m on a skateboard going so slow, but then when you see it, it’s “zoom”! 

HMS: It’s really an interesting illustration of high energy. That song, “Be the One” is pretty amusing to me because the setting seems like a bar or a dive venue, and you’ve got the spilling of beer, but these romantic ideas, too. It’s a mixture of romantic and gritty elements. What led to writing that song?

Rocket Queen: It was the idea of someone being madly in love and missing being out drinking with way too many people. Like when you get really annoyed because someone had spilled their drink over you, but after Covid, you kind of fucking miss it! Then there’s this thing of being out at a great Rock ‘n Roll show with friends, and it’s too loud, and it’s too crowded, but you don’t want to go home. Then, maybe you have one beer too many, and this idea that just spilled beer on your shirt is actually the guy you’re going home with. That’s kind of it. 

HMS: It’s amazing how this song feels in the context of the Covid experience. This whole experience in the story feels more beautiful in the context of missing it all. It’s a great time to release songs like this. 

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