Louise Macphail and Kristin McFadden on A-list advice, Taylor deep-cuts and being indie pop's next big thing
“Louise told me we have to play there… that it’s the best place in the world.” American-born Kristin McFadden has learned a lot from British best-friend and bandmate Louise Macphail – including just how much of a big deal it is to play Glastonbury. Finishing as runners-up in this year’s Emerging Talent Competition at Worthy Farm, Prima Queen are rising fast.
Their debut EP, Not The Baby, is only a few months old, but 2023 has already seen the band supporting Wet Leg and The Big Moon, as well as booking slots at Truck, Tramlines, Mirrors and Manchester Psyche Fest around their own first headline tour. Born of a friendship based on a love of honest songwriting and cracking indie guitar music, McFadden and Macphail added bassist Kitty Drummond and drummer Heledd Owen to form Prima Queen – spending the last few years building their sound on small South London stages and then outgrowing them without even releasing an album.
Before the buzz gets too loud, we sat down with Prima Queen to get to know everyone’s next favourite band.
You’re both from very different backgrounds and parts of the world – how did you both met?
Kristin McFadden: I was studying at uni in Ohio, and I basically took a semester off to study songwriting. I really wanted to come to London. I enrolled on a course at Metropolis Studios, and that’s where I walked in the door and I saw Louise.
Louise Macphail: And I said ‘can you be in my band?’! It was very much a love at first sight kind of thing. We wrote a song that very day and thought ‘ok, I guess we’ll be best friends’, and we started Prima Queen together.
What did you listen to growing up, and what influences did you each bring into Prima Queen?
McFadden: We both loved Taylor Swift! She was one of our first connections.
Macphail: That was the moment we were like, ‘oh this is for real’. My iPod was on shuffle and a real Taylor deep-cut came on. I remember we were both dancing on the table. At the time we started writing together though, I was definitely listening to a lot of folk-inspired artists coming out of England. Like, I love Laura Marling.
McFadden: I listened to a lot of pop country growing up, like The Chicks and Sheryl Crow. Bonnie Raitt too, though she’s more bluesy.
How do you work together? Do you push each other?
McFadden: We definitely push each other. That’s why we love being in a band and love working together – the songs wouldn’t be what they are without our individual contributions. Our music relies on us both bringing our strengths and weaknesses to the table.
Macphail: I feel like now we have an immediate understanding of how each other’s minds work. We’ll often write something knowing what each other’s reaction will be to it and how we can elevate it. We’ve written so much together already, we know how each other thinks.
There’s a real edge of raw emotion that runs through Prima Queen. How do you approach the more vulnerable aspects of your songwriting?
McFadden: We’re best friends. We know everything about each other, so it feels natural to be vulnerable when we’re writing together. At first we were pretty shy, though now it’s very much the opposite. We push each other to be truer. I’m like, ‘just say what you’ve literally just told me and put it in the song!’. We encourage each other to be more vulnerable as we have more of a bird’s eye view of what each other is trying to say.
Macphail: ‘Butter Knife’ [written about Louise’s grandmother who was suffering with Alzheimers] was incredibly hard to write. It felt like when we started working on it that it wasn’t quite there; it didn’t say everything I’m trying to say. It just wasn’t coming out right. But it was Kristin that encouraged me to be more literal and tell the story how it actually happened.
What kind of impact did working with The Big Moon have on your music? Did the experience have any knock-on effect when you were writing and recording Not The Baby?
McFadden: Yeah! They produced four of our tracks and we’ve been on tour with them. They’ve given us a huge amount of confidence in ourselves and what we’re trying to do as Prima Queen. Knowing precisely what we want to sound like and how to achieve it.
Macphail: We really trusted them. They pushed us to try things we wouldn’t have tried. Like when we were recording vocals they’d say: ‘Scream like a crazy witch!’. Recording with them, we’d record a lot of gang vocals, singing together. That’s a technique we’ve definitely adopted since.
You’re part of a flourishing movement of female-led guitar bands like Wet Leg, Dream Wife, and The Big Moon that all have an authentic approach to songwriting. Why do you think these voices are really connecting right now?
Macphail: There was a moment a few years ago when artists like Phoebe Bridgers, Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail all came about. Before that I didn’t feel there was that mixture of raw rock music with gentle storytelling and beautiful harmonies. I remember being really excited by that.
McFadden: I think these voices will always connect. It’s the combination of storytelling, honesty, humour and vulnerability. Along with the euphoria of rock, or guitar music. That’s for everyone. It should be.