Alexandria natives Ena Sullivan and Julianne Lane of Ski Queen discuss their creative process and how the DMV influences their punk sound.
Alexandria natives Ena Sullivan and Julianne Lane founded their bubble grunge band Ski Queen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their music takes listeners on an honest emotional journey, but doesn’t take itself too seriously, either.
Lead singer and guitarist Julianne Lane started in music by taking piano lessons at the age of just four. Around 13, she started guitar, which led her to songwriting. Lane soon got involved at a local music school, Rock of Ages Music, where she met Ena Sullivan.
Drummer and backup vocalist Ena Sullivan started learning violin at eight years old. She began lessons in traditional hand drumming at an after-school program when she was 10, which sparked her love for percussion. She began kit drumming a few years later.
The pair was involved in a number of different bands over their high school years, but decided to start their own project during COVID, and thus, Ski Queen was born. The group began as a cover band, but as they found their own sound, they began to write their own songs as well.
Sullivan and Lane appreciate the musical history of the DMV.
“Being so close to DC, which was the birthplace to so many punk and go-go bands, has been a catalyst for my own love of music,” Sullivan explained. “I remember going to so many shows over the years at Black Cat, 9:30 Club, U Street Music Hall and soaking it all in.”
“I’ve also always really appreciated the punk roots present in DC, and I’m so thankful that we get to play in an area with such a rich musical history,” Lane added. “As previously mentioned, we first met at Rock of Ages Music school in Alexandria when we were teens, and we’re so thankful that a space like that existed in Northern VA.”
Sullivan describes Ski Queen’s sound as “speculative yet carefree,” a combination of many influences from a number of genres.
“We like to play with contrast within the songs through mixing bouncy drumbeats with moodier lyrics or more complexly melodic chords with playful storytelling,” she said. “We want to write songs that view life through a snarky, honest, humorous lens that captures our own outlook.”
Their take on the bubble grunge genre is unique. Lane aims to create lyrics that are “off-kilter and wordy in a way that’s funny but sincere.”
“I’d say that style is pretty influenced by the likes of Courtney Barnett, Ben Folds, and Regina Spektor,” she explained. “Sonically, we try to paint with a pretty large palette, incorporating influences from Riot Grrrl bands, folk music, indie rock, and more.”
Their quirky and funny lyricism reflects this singular nature.
“We have this one song called ‘Mothy’ that we’ve been opening our shows with lately. It’s about a girl who falls in love with the Mothman of West Virginia cryptid fame,” Lane said. “Obviously, that concept is completely fictional and silly, but I think it ultimately makes for a sweet song about loving someone regardless of how different they are from you.”
Lane explained that their goal is to tell stories with their songs. While not literal retellings of their personal experiences, their emotional meaning comes from an honest place. They often let the story of the song develop during the writing process, Sullivan said. The use of fictional elements make the message unique, fun, and applicable to different kinds of people.
“Our formation during COVID definitely contributed to our frankness and humor in our sound,” Sullivan said. “Songwriting became an outlet for expression during a confusing time in the world, and we developed a candid emotionality and a flair for the comical and dramatic.”
Forming during COVID, however, was not easy. Venues were shut down, and the duo found it difficult to motivate themselves to play when they couldn’t play live.
“Musicianship is deeply connected to performing and forming connections with others, so when that element of the musical process was removed, it was definitely difficult for us as a band,” said Sullivan.
“In retrospect, I believe that having a long period where we were working on Ski Queen privately helped us to make better music and define our goals,” added Lane.
Playing live is very important to Ski Queen. They value the feedback from the audience and derive energy from the crowd.
“Once I’ve gone through the involved process of working out instrumental parts, recording demos, and cycling through countless drafts of lyrics for a song, it’s easy for me to lose sight of the spark that made it special to me in the first place. When we play live, I feel like I’m able to see the forest for the trees and appreciate our music in all its raw, messy glory,” said Lane.
Catch Ski Queen playing shows throughout the summer in the Alexandria area, and listen to their first self-titled EP. See when and where they’re playing on their Instagram @skiqueenband.
Jaci Jedrych is a World Politics student at The Catholic University in Washington, D.C. She loves going to concerts and exploring different genres, and has a passion for arts and news writing.
Flow-bending artist aSanTIS discusses art, culture, and whether sound can solve the world’s problems in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
My interview with Amy Santis aka aSanTIS began in the most unexpected way. The Maryland-based flow-bending artist and lyrical storyteller came prepared to engage in conversation around questions I had posed – and she also brought one or two of her own thoughtful prompts based on her curiosities around my view of learning.
This practice of taking in her surroundings deeply through observation and inquiry has come naturally to aSanTIS ever since she was a young child. In terms of her early starts in music, she notes that she began as a discerning listener. “Just listening to music from my mom, on the radio, just being a consumer in the world of sound. But I think mainly, my mom has always loved dancing and listening to music, so that was sort of like second nature. We play music at gatherings, we play music in the car, and these songs are sort of like diaries that take us into a specific place.”
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