Arts ATX Music

A Q&A with Elizabeth McQueen

Austin-based singer-songwriter and KUTX DJ Elizabeth McQueen has a new jig coming up this week. McQueen and the EMQ ensemble will perform “Infinity + Infinity” at the Museum of Human Achievement on Apr. 30 and May 1 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., respectively. Tickets cost $10 in advance and $13 at the door.

We chatted with McQueen about her work as a musician and DJ and about what to expect from “Infinity + Infinity.”

Interview conducted by ChinLin Pan

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth McQueen
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth McQueen

Shuffle: Name a song that’s been stuck in your head.

Elizabeth McQueen: I get “Chateau Lobby #4” by Father John Misty stuck in my head lately. That and the Prince Royce, Snoop Dogg song, “Stuck on a Feeling.”  I listen to a pretty diverse mix of music, I guess.

Shuffle: I’ve met several musicians in Austin, but rarely a DJ. What’s it like being a DJ for KUTX?

McQueen: It’s really great. I’m a musician, and there’s nothing musicians love more than to hip their friends to cool music. That’s essentially what being a DJ is, playing cool music for people, and hoping that you’re turning them on to something they’ll enjoy. Plus, the folks at KUTX are all rad individuals. And, of course, I love being part of a radio station that is so supportive of local music.

Shuffle: Is “Infinity + Infinity” the first interactive and multimedia performance you’ll put on? What can fans expect from it?

McQueen: This is definitely my first time venturing into the interactive multimedia arena, which is really fun, but a little scary. We have a bunch of holograms and projections that the audience gets to control while the band plays the music. It’s definitely an experiment, and we’re depending on the audience to put themselves out there and take control of the visuals. But, I feel confident that people will engage in the experience. That’s what Austinites do.

Shuffle: What inspired you and the EMQ ensemble to put on this show?

McQueen: I’d wanted to branch out from just playing music and into something that incorporated more visuals for a while. Then I met Jerome Morrison, who had done his own work in building installations centered on motion controlled holograms. That was nothing I’d ever experienced before and seemed like it would be something that would go really well with music. He was interested in working together, which was awesome for me. At the same time, I was forming a new music project with Lauren Gurgiolo and Lindsay Greene called EMQ. We were using drum machines and synths and noisescapes and I was writing ambivalent love songs about commitment that seemed like a good fit for interactive holograms. We put it all together, added suits that light up for the band and voila! — Infinity + Infinity! What made it possible was the fact that we received grants from the City of Austin as well as Black Fret. We feel very lucky to have been given a chance to make this happen.

Shuffle: How much time did it take to put this all together?

McQueen: It’s taken about a year to get everything together. We had to do so much from scratch — Jerome designed these big pseudo holographic structures and then we built them together. Then, he and Dominique Davis had to create the interactive visuals to put in them. I had to write the songs, and then Lauren and Lindsay and I arranged the songs. There was just a lot to do.

Shuffle: Can you explain how the PsiScreen, PsiBox and PsiWorld work?

McQueen: It’s the Pepper’s Ghost illusion controlled by a motion sensor. For this installation we’re using Kinects. Pepper’s ghost is basically a magic trick — you project an image onto a surface that reflects onto a clear surface at a 45 degree angle and, in doing so, it appears as if the image is a hologram. It’s what they use to make things like the Tupac “hologram.”  You can also make a pyramid with sides at 45 degree angles, then it looks like the image is floating in middle. We connect the projected image to a motion sensor so that it can be controlled by movement. The PsiScreen is a screen where you can control the hologram and PsiWorld is structure where you can control the hologram while being inside the hologram.

Shuffle: This show is a great example of combining music and digital technology. If the show is a hit, can fans expect more performances like it in the future?

McQueen: I definitely want to continue working combining music and interactive technology. I feel really lucky to have met Jerome and Dom. They’ve opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities. And I feel like we’ve just barely begun to scratch the surface of what is possible, and I really want to explore what else can be done.

Shuffle: In the past, you sung a duet with Willie Nelson called “Sitting on Top of the World.” What was that like?!

McQueen: Singing with Willie Nelson is a study on being present as a performer. I got to sing on stage with him for a couple of tours, and he would always look me straight in the eye the entire time we sang. He was so open, and it really challenged me to be the same.

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