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"Checking in with the Checkout Queens" - Part Two: Where are they now?

by Scott Roos

band photos by Tara McDermott aka The Portrait Witch

“‘Blue’ and ‘I Quit Smoking At Champs’ were songs that I had the most finished before Checkout Queens got together.  I actually had started writing those a few months prior (to the formation of Checkout Queens). They are the first songs that I ever wrote where I fully had in mind that a band is going to play this, but I didn't know who that was going to be, ” Checkout Queens co-lead vocalist Oli Guselle emphatically states.

Guselle has entered our Zoom call with all the gravitas and bluster that you’d expect from someone who co-fronts, along with friend Avery Wall, one of Saskatoon’s newest and most exciting bands. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definite humility present, but the foundation to Guselle’s mindset this day seems to be a confident, whirling dervish, mile a minute mentality that many creative people of their ilk have these days. Guselle knew what they wanted when it came to the formation of her band and, as they would say, “shot their shot”.

“My dad told me to manifest (a band). So I started writing songs for a band. And then I had them done and then Hedwig (and the Angry Inch) started. And suddenly there was these cool guys in front of me who were playing stuff. So once the musical wrapped, I was like, ‘oh, hey, I have these songs. Would you guys like to maybe mess around with them?’ And then it just like super snowballed from there, which was so awesome.  I don't know if I would have asked or had the guts to ask the guys if we hadn’t been kind of joking about being a band. ” Guselle finishes.

“You still thought we were cool after the (stage) makeup came off too,” guitarist Spencer Krips chimes in.

Collectively, the four members of the Checkout Queens who are virtually in front of me via the magic that is Zoom, have a playful energy around each other. Drummer Derrick Frost, the newest member of the band seems to be fitting right in with bassist Alan Nieman, as well as the aforementioned Spencer Krips and Oli Guselle. Co-lead vocalist Avery Wall and guitarist Braden Buhler were not present on this day although I have a feeling if they were I’m not sure how I would have been able to handle all that frenetic energy. Although, a more upbeat, spontaneous style when they are altogether seems to be their calling card. In short, they just are who they are, which is one of their major selling points as an ensemble. A selling point that came as an epiphany so the story goes. 

“I think I want us to have this very kind of campy silly goofy vibe. But then when we play, we really rock it. But like, I don't want us to be kind of tough or scary because we're not.

We're super fluffy and funny,” explains Guselle.

“At the start, we tried to play shows like we thought people played shows, which were very serious. And then we watched Sons in the Sky play at a show in Regina. They have always had a hell of a lot of fun when they play which inspired us,” Krips adds.

The Checkout Queens crew played a less formal house concert where they decided to just be the same way they are when they rehearse and that’s when that switch went off to present more honestly and authentically. That’s when things changed… for the better.

 “We were at our wits end and all of us were just kind of our normal selves like we were in rehearsals and people were like, ‘oh my god, that was so much fun. Like we finally get you guys now.’ and I'm like, ‘Oh. If we act like ourselves on stage, people think that's cool,” Krips says. 

“There's a quote that I heard and I don't remember who it was from but they mentioned that when it comes to music, take the music and the songwriting very seriously. Obviously, make sure that you're doing the best that you can,” Frost chimes in, “But when it comes to yourself and playing live and stuff, don't take yourself seriously at all. That's the best way to engage an audience. Take the music seriously, but don't take yourself seriously at all and kind of let go of that ego.”

The fact that each member’s individuality is a precious commodity in this band is not lost on the Checkout Queens. It’s important that everyone in the band brings something unique to the table. It makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts. It’s what Checkout Queens, in my honest opinion, do best. It certainly shines through in their songwriting.

“I think you can definitely tell that everyone in the band is bringing slightly different influences to the table, different styles, and different approaches in a way that works well,” Nieman states.

“One of the things that is super cool is that there's not a song on the EP or any songs that we're working on where it doesn't have major influence by basically everyone. If one person is really writing the words then someone else is super writing like the instrumental behind. So we have these, it's like, it's these combos and mixtures that I think make it really cool. So it's not just like a different person writing each song. All our influences mix together, which is really awesome,” Guselle tells NSMZ. 

Of course I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about Avery Wall who has been friends with Guselle since high school. The two have been a part of many musical adventures together so when one of the Checkout Queen's original two lead vocalist dropped out of the band, Wall eased in and was obviously a great fit. It's a huge part of the band's draw having two very interesting, eccentric and compelling lead vocalists.

"I think (having Avery in the band) brings a very specific sound to our group because we have two lead singers. And not only that, but like, well, I'm sure you've heard like almost all of our melody lines. Like there aren't a lot of melodies that can exist with one person. If that makes sense. We don't have a singer and a harmony in the back. A lot of our melodies are intertwined very intricately. And like the harmony is, like you can't really separate which one is which. And that's really important to us," Guselle explains.

"I think working with her specifically over anyone else vocally is super important because we just know each other so well. And we know how each other sings and where the other is going to go all the time. And so constructing those harmonies together has been really great. So I think that's kind of where the unique vocal sound comes from. Because I've never met anyone who harmonizes so comfortably with me before. And I think she feels the same," Guselle concludes.

The Checkout Queens are currently getting ready to release a single and also gearing up for festival season which includes a slot at Ness Creek. They have a lot of stuff on the go and will let us know as soon as they are able. During this interview, there’s a few things they mentioned that weren’t “official” yet but sound like very exciting, amazing opportunities. Keep your eyes on their social media over the next few weeks for some exciting news!

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