Say it with me: “Queam.”
“Whenever we tell someone the name, it’s, like, they’re immediately upset,” said Mike Adragna, bassist and vocalist of the Reno-based duo. “People either have strong positive reactions to it or strong negative reactions to it.”
Added JD Christison, his musical partner, drummer and vocalist: “And we kind of love that.”
What started as an offhand joke referencing one of the group’s favorite bands, Cream, soon became a symbol of how Adragna and Christison approach both their sonic philosophy and the entire music industry. Now, three years after its founding, Queam is a live-looping, drum-and-bass funk machine that uses digital wizardry and solid musical chops to produce something weird, new and—above all—fun.
“We just try to take the piss out of the idea of being in a band and taking it really seriously,” said Christison. “I think a lot of people really take that seriously, like, ‘Oh, you guys are never going to make it with a name like that.’ The whole point is not to ‘make it.’ It’s just to do what we want to do, how we want to do it.”
Queam is the passion project of two longtime Reno musicians who, in their words, have done their fair share of heavy lifting for other bands around town over the past decade—both rhythmically and physically. (Drum kits aren’t easy to lug around.)
“We were always the rhythm section of bands, and we always held it down in that regard,” Christison said. “We’ve always been under the tutelage of other people, kind of like giving us direction. With this project, we wanted to take the reins in that regard, and just take more of a melodic forefront and become the brains of the operation, rather than just the brawn.”
Christison and Adragna met through mutual acquaintances in 2012, but first played together as part of local space-rock outfit Bazooka Zoo in 2014. They immediately clicked, recognizing they were “locked in” to a mutual chemistry that a good drums-and-bass pairing needs to carry a beat.
“I think most bass players, if they have to play with a poor drummer, it’s not going to be a good time,” Adragna said. “You kind of immediately see where the drummer stacks up. And I just remember really kind of hitting it off musically.”
From then on, they relished the chance to play together in whatever project they could find. It wasn’t until the start of the pandemic in 2020 that they decided to team up as a duo and see where their rhythm-section sensibilities—along with a few new tricks—could take them. In the initial months of the lockdowns, the pair wrote most of their early tracks, intending them to be solely instrumental. After Adragna purchased and learned to work a live-looping machine and other digital effects for his bass and vocals, they switched gears to a fuller sound.
“With this project, we really wanted to focus on doing a lot with a little,” said Christison. “We want to bring the audience these very calculated and dense compositions, melodically and rhythmically, and do it in a way where we’re looping constantly. Mike is tremendous at making those kinds of compositions on the fly, and he’s become very good at looping.”
After an initial, self-recorded release, freesh, in 2021, Queam followed it up with their first studio album, WHIPT, in February of this year. Recorded in the home studio of producer Quinton Bunk, WHIPT showcases Queam’s rock bona fides with intricate beats and punchy riffs à la Rage Against the Machine on tracks like “WGAFAT,” which comments on consumerism in the age of Amazon, and group vocals that would make the Beastie Boys proud. Later, “Molly” and “Don’t Worry” take a more melodic, almost indie-rock approach, with dreamy, distorted vocals and pitched-up bass lines.
The live-looping nature of their sound presented a technical challenge to record.
“It was very much a learning experience for me, because I couldn’t just go in there and play songs how I usually do; otherwise, it would just give the engineer, like, one fat track with every single part on top,” Adragna said. “But I think what came out was really good. The things that needed to be looped were looped, and then the things where I could play live, we’d do some flourishes on the baseline where otherwise it would have just been static the whole time.”
With a couple of live shows under their belts, Christison and Adragna have turned their attention to the future of the project, writing new music while reinventing some of the fundamentals of their sound. While their existing recorded work focuses on funky grooves and an almost pop-like ethos, they’re recording new material that embodies a darker sound, with Adragna taking the lead on vocals instead of Christison. They hope to record their new material this fall.
“I have a deeper, less-polished voice than JD,” Adragan said. “And this is new to me, doing a lot of singing through an effects processor—you know, some distortion, some delay—and I think a lot of that informed the material from there. It’s definitely darker and heavier, with maybe more of that, like, post-punk sort of feel.”
It’s this freedom to reinvent and experiment that the members of Queam most appreciate about their joint venture. Making decisions on their sound and the direction of the band is easier with only two members, they said, and positive reactions to their last few live shows have given them the drive to keep writing and performing. While past projects have been a grind, Queam continues to be fun.
“If you’re a creative person, you will encounter times of just struggle, where it’s hard to do your craft and hard to make it seem worthwhile to you, even though you love it so much,” Christison said. “(In other bands), we have kind of encountered moments of just like, ‘Hmm, should we keep this going?’ The aspect of playing music is the main thing that we just want to really drive home with this project. It’s just about getting together and doing our thing and being friends and making music in the way we want to do it.”
For more information, visit www.instagram.com/soundslikequeam.