5 Questions to Queen Drea (interdisciplinary sound alchemist)

A true sound alchemist, Queen Drea uses no recipe. A Twin Cities-based vocalist, electronic artist, and recipient of a 2017 Minnesota Emerging Composer Award administered by the American Composers Forum, Queen Drea creates conceptual soundscapes sculpted from poetics and metaphor. She grew up singing in her Baptist church choir and naturally cultivated a love for making music. Often starting from a place of everyday experience, her work spans a variety of subject matter (think: pain, love, alienation, memory) and takes a cinematic approach with layers of sound, both organic and artificial—vocals, loops, effects, and samples—inviting listeners to join her on dreamlike musical journeys.

You describe your work as referencing a feeling of not being “enough,” resisting boxes others try to put you in and reconciling the desire to fulfill others’ expectations at a detriment to the self. What is the creative process behind weaving these experiences and emotions into soundscapes?

There actually isn’t a specific creative process attached to this. This is something I keep in my mind while I’m making music. I try to resist the urge to go down the verse-chorus-verse-chorus R&B path that is usually set out for Black women in music.

I recently had an old music making partner reach out to me. They had gone onto my website and listened to my music and told me that they apologize for the way they treated me back in the day–back in the 90s–because I was ahead of my time musically. People always wanted me to sing R&B gospel, what you normally see Black women doing, but my music is a mixture of EDM and alternative rock and of course gospel and R&B because yes, I am a Black woman who grew up in the church. However, I don’t want to be defined by those boxes. I want to have an audience who accepts the full me.

Queen Drea--Photo by Bill Cameron

Queen Drea–Photo by Bill Cameron

Your work, Her Name for Ananya Dance Theatre in support of legislation for stiffer penalties for violence against women is a harrowing five-minute soundscape that recounts the names of Sandra Bland, Edith Chavez, Rekia Boyd, Tina Fontaine, Tanisha Anderson, Misty Upham, Farzana Parveen, Annie Le, Claudia Ivette Gonzalez, Tabitha Adamu, Tarika Wilson, Palestina Isa, and many other unnamed women brutalized and/or murdered in profound moments of injustice. What was it like for you creating this work?

This piece was hard to do. It’s really hard to research all of these women who have died due to violence from the state and violence from their loved ones. As a single parent and a woman who has gone through domestic violence in a previous relationship, researching these women and their stories brought up a lot a pain, but also brought up a lot of strength. I felt these women lifting me up as I was preparing to tell their stories and preparing to pay homage to them and the ones that they left behind. As I said before, I’m a mother to only one child, so writing this song was also a legacy I was leaving for my daughter–something for her to listen to and to keep in mind for herself as she grows up and goes out into the world.

Although this was made in 2016, I’m sharing this video today to honor Breonna Taylor because we still have to SAY HER NAME.

Your project Queen Drea’s Soul Chamber – Solitary Confinement takes the shape of a documentary and performance and speaks to the experiences of Black women and mental health stigma, specifically depression. In it, your lifelong best friend and her daughter share their unique experiences, each shaped by the generation divide. How did this project come to be, what was it like to perform, and how you see it potentially shaping audiences?

First of all, I have to say that when my best friend and her daughter sent me their video logs, I cried for an entire week. I reached out to them because I had gone to visit them with my daughter when they lived in Tennessee, and when I arrived there, I was horrified to see the state of my best friend’s home. It was filthy. It was disgusting. It was the sign of a woman who had completely given up on herself. I couldn’t even sit down before I started cleaning the house.

Now mind you, my daughter and I had taken the Megabus from Minneapolis to Nashville, so you can imagine how long that trip was. When I got there, even though she knew for two months that we were coming, she hadn’t done anything to prepare for us. Her daughter’s room was so junky that she had taken to sleeping on a pallet in the living room. It’s the South, so there were roaches because of the way they kept the home. It wasn’t until we had been there for three days that I figured out they had a third bedroom that was so disgusting you couldn’t even enter it. I was heartbroken, to be honest.

So a year later, I was doing this work for UNDERBELLY, which was a program at Intermedia Arts, a now defunct amazing new works theater in the Twin Cities. After going through yet another bout of depression myself, I reached out to them and asked if they would be willing to do the video diaries, and when I received them, I cried. Before I could do anything around using them in my piece, I wrote music and songs that relate to my experience with depression and how I felt, such as the song “Watchers” where I talked about how I refuse to live out loud because I have all these insecurities inside of me. Then I paired my songs and videos that I made with clips from their conversation. I wanted to show the difference between the way different generations in the Black community dealt with depression.

I don’t know if you’re aware, but in the Black community, you are not allowed to be depressed. You are always going to be told something about our ancestors and slavery and how they got through it, and because they were able to do so, we have no right to be depressed. But that’s not how depression works. So often, people in the Black community suffer from depression with absolutely no help or support. That’s why my best friend didn’t have the strength to get herself some help. Her daughter was from a completely different generation where everybody can get help, everybody is allowed to feel, so she did seek out help. I wanted to see the difference in how they grew. To be honest, right now my friend is still in that space in her mind and still has not been able to pull herself out of it, while her daughter is thriving and flourishing.

Making this piece was hard for me and for them, but I think we all learned a lot about ourselves and each other. When I performed the piece, I received overwhelming responses in gratitude from the Black community, and people ask me to present in churches where there’s that mindset of, “We are not allowed to be depressed because God!!” And so the fact that the community received that piece was awesome for me. It made me feel validated. It made my friend feel validated. I actually paid for her to come up here to see the piece. It took me about four months after completing it for me to start to work on other music because this work took so much out of me.

How has 2020 (the COVID-19 pandemic, the looming election, nationwide protests, raging wildfires) challenged or changed you as an artist and creator?

My work has always had a social justice aspect to it, so 2020 has just amplified and magnified that voice inside of me. I was asked to perform for the George Floyd memorial concert in June, and that concert morphed into a community album called The Art of the Revolution. It is a beautiful album produced and headed by an amazing young artist here in the Twin Cities named Taylor Seaberg. Taylor assembled Black artists in the Twin Cities to write how they were feeling about the moment, about Breonna Taylor, about George Floyd, about COVID-19, and I can’t tell you how proud I am and honored to be a part of this album.

I wrote a song for this album called “GTFOH,” and the song is just how I was feeling. I was feeling upset, and I’m like, GTFOH, get your hand out my pocket, get your laws out of my womb, get your gaze off my face, get your foot off my neck, get the fuck out of here!!! I also spent the first week after George Floyd’s murder singing a song called “Black on Black Love” on Facebook live every morning to set my people’s intention for the day, that despite whatever was happening in the world, in our city, in our country, that we as Black people need to wake up every morning with our intentions set on Black-on-Black love so that we could combat hatred for Black people.

Queen Drea--Photo by Caroline Yang

Queen Drea–Photo by Caroline Yang

Song predates spoken language; it celebrates, mourns, heals, exclaims. What does it mean to you to sing and respond to the world around you in 2020?

Just what you said–music and singing and writing heals me, and I have to believe that if I am being healed, someone out there who hears it will also be healed. That’s what keeps me doing it, and that’s what keeps me going: the ability to be able to reach someone in the very pit of their stomach and their soul and let them know that, “Hey, whatever it is you’re feeling, other people are out here feeling it, too,” brings about solidarity and washes away pain. I think it is the best salve ever!

Thanks so much for reaching out to me for this interview. I really appreciate it, and it’s actually the first interview I’ve ever done for publication. I also want to say that I have composed original music for Pillsbury House Theater’s “The Great Divide IV” episode of the podcast play series about the great divide in our nation that erupted when Donald Trump was elected president.


UNEVEN MEASURES is a series dedicated to amplifying today’s women, trans, and nonbinary artists on the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment leading up to the 2020 presidential election. This series is made possible through a generous grant from The Elizabeth & Michel Sorel Charitable Organization Inc. to the American Composers Forum and their partnership with I CARE IF YOU LISTEN. The Sorel Organization is committed to supporting gender equity in music and addressing systemic inequities by providing greater visibility for women musicians from underrepresented communities.

I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is a program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. A gift to ACF helps support the work of ICIYL. Editorial decisions are made at the sole discretion of the editor-in-chief. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or composersforum.org.