When you listen to a QWAM record, you’re just waiting to hear exactly how crazy they can get. Felicia Lobo’s voice is a dirtier, more erratic update to Courtney Love’s earthier, less tight-framed vocal chords. While Love assisted in defining an entire generation of punk-rock head-bashers and whimsical revelers, Lobo flips the script and revitalizes a sub-culture that is even more off-the-grid than ever. “Buy me beer / Fuck you,” she screams on the title song to her band’s debut, the succulently-labeled Feed Me EP, which convulses from start to finish, slathered on thick with rebel attitude, tons of glitter and sublime guitar thrashing. Matt Keim and Eddie Kuspiel gun for bone-rattling catharsis, while drummer Rachel Zisette relishes in her instrument’s heart-like limitations, peppering the work with a primal fanaticism. Together as one, they conspire for world domination.
“You are me, and I am you / Gonna crawl inside of you,” Lobo snarls over tectonic vibrations of electric guitar and bass, flinging fizzy “Glitter Paint” into the air. The troublemaking New York outfit don’t mess around when it comes to volatile vocal attacks (“Can you hear me?!” Lobo shrieks, nearly in agony) and biting arrangements (“Doggie Door” is a locomotive bumbling off the tracks), which conk you over the head and leave you for dead in the gutter. What began as playful banter on Twitter led to the formation of a four piece of rabble-rousers, whose mission, it seems, is to prey upon our eardrums.
“Feed Me,” the very first song Kiem and Lobo wrote together, creeps under the fingernails, unleashing a smorgasbord of fatty hang-over foods. “Raspberry cheesecake. Guacamole. Pretzels. Enchiladas. Dinosaur chicken nuggets. Donuts. Spicy taquito. Turkey leg. Fish tacos. Straight up cheese. Pie tee,” the band members juggle on the song’s mid-section, Lobo’s dreamy moans and guitar wafting achingly in the breeze. While four out of five songs adhere to their strict but detached musical template, “Crazier Than Me” almost feels out of place, a classically-structured rock anthem and “a celebration of being as weird as I want and [my boyfriend’ll] still accept me,” says Lobo over a recent phone call. “A feeling of joy I was experiencing at the time created a song that is less punk and more free-base rock ‘n roll.”
“As a singer, I always tend to focus on lyric meaning. You know how they say you can’t love someone else until you love yourself, well, this song is about the guy I’m dating now. I found him at a particular time in my life when I was more comfortable with myself as a person and thus allowed myself to have a deep, meaningful relationship with someone else and also to be my freakier self. He could be his freakier self, too,” she further explains. On record, the quirky condition of her personality stabs through with such lyrics as “Your teeth are sharp / Your voice is wild / I drink your blood / And kiss your mouth.”
Kuspiel, who joined the band one month before recording started (along with Zisette), was instantly struck by the song’s “spacious” tone, he says. “I was able to write a little more melodic bassline. The other songs are really fun and fast, and this one had breathing room, which is really nice. I get to play around, and Felicia gets to showcase her voice a little more, too.” Lobo interrupts to gush, “Eddie, that’s my favorite bass part you’ve written…”
With roots all over the country ⎯⎯ Lobo in Maryland; Kuspiel upstate New York; Kiem, a Jersey Kid; and Zisette, a west coast byproduct ⎯⎯ the ensemble filter their experiences through Lobo’s eyes. “I feel like all these songs were definitely written over a period of time when I was trying to figure out who I was and how I fit into this insane, grand New York City. I also wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay here or if this was the right place for work,” Lobo recalls, chronicling the somber tone of the EP, tightened through abrasive, peculiar arrangement choices. “Through the past year or so, I grounded myself in who I am and tried to figure out how to fully stay true to myself in a place with a bajillion people. Some of the songs are angrier, me trying to figure out what’s going on with me.”
“This EP is really quite the journey through my personal life,” she says with a chuckle.
A studded-affair, Feed Me scampers from being intimate confessionals you’d whisper at Sunday morning mass to hazy, booze-induced, chest-pounding sing-alongs. Whether a combustible Sex Pistols b-side or a hot-tempered, gritty rock song, it is the unshakable feeling that makes this band work, all cylinders pumping. “The feelings are right there. You just find that and run with it,” says Kiem of his compositions, equipped with an unspoken artistic vision right from the outset. “When Matt brings something in, the feeling is already pretty established,” echos Lobo, who is then tasked with pairing the composed music with her lyrics.
“As far as playing the music on this EP and shows, it’s very freeing in the fact that what you hear is what you get. There’s no farce or big shadow. We’re having a fucking blast up there. It’s very genuine,” Kuspiel broods, contrasting his previous endeavors with his current estate. “Sometimes, in other bands, it felt very reserved. In the last year, I’ve been seeing a lot more bands that are more comfortable in their own skin. That’s the vibe I’ve always felt with this band, too.”
“Dirty Feat,” which bookends the EP and often their live set, too, is the unanimous choice for favorite song to deconstruct and rebuild in concert. “Depending on what’s going on in the room, we can play that one forever. We just keep going with the audience and figure out how to end the show every time,” says Lobo. Meanwhile, the group have begun feeding brand new tunes into their show, as Kuspiel reflects, “There are a couple new ones we’ve just started playing live that I really love. They are more fleshed out, a little more intricate. They are just as loud, just as fast, just as fun.”
“Punk shows are always the most fun to go to. Everyone is super interactive and dancing. That’s the kind of shows I want to be playing,” says Lobo, whose older brothers played in punk bands growing up. Drawing upon her love for System of a Down’s Hypnotize ⎯⎯ “it’s so full of emotion, and you can hear experience inside of it,” she says — QWAM is surprisingly her first band. Her background in acting serves her well, however; her phrasing is colored with lived-in exaggerations, fleshed out by her acrobatics and proclivity for melodramatic flourishes. Kiem and Kuspiel, who have also worked in theatre, in varying roles and capacities, fuse a staunch The Strokes lean (Is This It being Kiem’s defining album) with a sturdy Weezer enamel (“The album that really flipped the switch for me was ‘Pinkerton,'” says Kuspiel) into each chord they produce, heightening the band’s high-stakes musicianship.
QWAM “might record something else” this year, Lobo teases. But for now, their Feed Me EP is a delicious appetite-quenching bow.