Former buskers, the Gypsy Queens riding through the sunlit streets of Nice
You don’t really interview The Gypsy Queens. You basically point a tape recorder at them and try to keep up with the conversation.
Fortunately, keeping track of who said what is easier than you might expect as the five band members are all from different countries. Didier Casnati (guitar and vocals) was born in Italy. Drummer Manuel Polin is from Mexico. Jay Metcalf is the American saxophonist. Jason King, on bass, is a Brit. And guitarist Anders Klunderud is from Norway.
There’s a clink of crockery as the interview starts and a hearty “cheers!” It would be a suitably rock ‘n’ roll moment if only they weren’t all drinking tea. “When you write this up,” says Jay, “can you say we were all drinking Jack Daniels?”
This lack of convention though is probably more appropriate given, well, everything about the band.
“We met in Nice,” explains Dider, or Didi as everyone calls him. “That’s where we started busking.” He gestures around the table. “This combination happened over time, it’s changed and evolved, we’ve all busked with other people, other people have busked with us...”
The band – christened the Gypsy Queens as a tongue-in-cheek joke that stuck – were regular fixtures on the Nice circuit, playing in restaurants, building a great reputation and, as they cheerfully admit, having a whale of a time. “We had the lifestyle of superstars without being superstars,” says Didi. And then along came London Records with a deal and a plan to take the party to a wider audience. “It was an unexpected offer,” adds Jason, “it popped up out of nowhere.”
Now, with their debut album in the shops, their days of “celebrity treatment without the downside of celebrity” as Didi puts it could well be over. “That’s what we’re giving up…” he adds with a grin, although they’re all quick to point out that they’re still having a whale of a time. “We’re getting all these new experiences,” says Anders, “like playing bigger venues, with loads of fans who are already plugged into the music.”
The list of fans is already impressive reading and includes the likes of Elton John, Rod Stewart, Bono and Jude Law. You can also add producer Larry Klein to that list, as he was the man who recorded their album, as well as guest musicians such as Madeleine Peyroux, Graham Nash and members of America who all appear.
“Recording the album in LA was amazing,” confirms Manuel. “Working with Larry, recording with America on ‘Ventura Highway’... It’s been an amazing experience.”
The sense of collaboration is something the guys are used to as “there’s a huge community of buskers across Europe,” as Didi explains. “Sometimes we’ll all get together, there can be 12 people playing a song,” adds Anders. “It’s a big family,” chips in Manuel. “We should turn it into a secret society,” laughs Didi. Jason nods. “Then we can have a secret handshake…”
“We’ve been lucky with the label,” continues Manuel, over the giggles. “They’ve allowed us to be who we are.”
“We recorded live,” explains Didi, “so the track you hear is what we played. We didn’t lay down separate tracks, it wasn’t mixed and ‘autotuned’ afterwards.’
“That’s the way Larry Klein likes to record,” says Jay, “and it kept the core, the acoustic mood, the natural feel.” He smiles. “He did a good job.” Anders agrees. “I think it comes together as an album. You go on a journey but it’s the same band.”
So, from restaurants in Nice to studios in LA to concerts and the album charts... What on earth is next for the band? There’s a communal shrug and a lot of laughing. “Well, first we have to sell a few records,” answers Didi. “But then bigger shows? Bigger audiences? Hopefully a second album?”
Anders smiles. “And religious experiences. We’ll have to find a guru...”
“And we need a band member to die,” says Didi, picking up on the theme, “and put backward messages about it on the album. Then we’ll reveal that one of us used to be a woman...”
“Yeah,” agrees Jason. “We’ll have a little scandal. All we’ve got at the moment is that one of us is a closet knitter...”
The Gypsy Queens debut album is out now.