Queen Califia, that is, the Long Beach band that just wants to have fun.
Walking along Elm Avenue, you’d be forgiven for not knowing anything out of the ordinary resides there. It’s a strip of street that looks somewhat normal – some palm trees, some stucco apartments and some brick buildings.
Inside one of these buildings, however, is Flora Belle Studios. Inside this recording space are blue walls lined with sound proof wedge foam, portraits of artists ranging from Captain Beefheart to Buddy Holly, and two faces that you wouldn’t initially think would go together. No, I’m not talking about the paper bag portraits of JRR Tolkien and Nikola Tesla(?!), I’m talking about the ladies of Queen Califia, Kelsey Landazuri and Loryn Ruiz Mendoza.
Kelsey and Loryn might be bandmates for the time being, but one thing is for sure and that is they’ll always be soul mates; they’re the perfect complement to each other. Loryn wears heels and long-flowing dresses, Kelsey wears pants, button-up shirts, and dress shoes. Loryn could be mistaken for a young Scarlett Johannson. Kelsey could be confused for being a young Devo-era Mark Motherbaugh, maybe his little sister. Although strikingly different in style and personality (Loryn answers questions immediately and is somewhat the mouthpiece of the band, Kelsey articulates and carefully offers her two cents), these two are meant to be. So, how did these clashing concepts of people meet, let alone form a band?
Loryn, originally from La Mirada, was going to school in L.A. and eventually did cosmetology there. After doing hair, she dabbled in studio singing (she’s classically trained in jazz singing). “I got paid to sing any sort of project,” Loryn says. “You write the music, I sing whatever style you want. It was cool, but it wasn’t mine.” Feeling jaded from studio singing and her time in Los Angeles, Loryn moved to Long Beach for “something new.” “I found a job at Envy Beauty Studio and worked there part time while I looked for an apartment. I just so happened to find a studio apartment right next door to this music studio.”
This music studio happened to be Flora Belle Studios, a studio which Kelsey runs. Originally from the Inland Empire, Kelsey is a self-taught musician and moved to Long Beach for similar reasons, mainly for the music scene and to “get away from the Inland Empire.” She repurposed an old barber shop into the recording studio where she does mixing, recording, and rehearsals. This, obviously, made it a good place for Loryn and Kelsey to see what the other was capable of.
“We were both skeptical of what the other person could do musically,” Kelsey says with a laugh. “It was like, ‘I’m sure, oh really? You play music? You sing? Sure, you can audition.’ ” Loryn smiles and agrees, adding her thought process was, “I’ll let you know if I even WANT to be in the band.”
Their talents coalesced and the two started playing at open mics, eventually building a following. They have taken their surf-rock sound and played acoustic and full band (with rotating members) sets all around Long Beach, playing the Prospector Bar, Rebel Bite, a stint at the downtown Beach Streets festival, as well as a residency at 4th Street Vine and a monthly Second Monday show at Que Sera which Loryn adds, “might not be the best idea if you have that morning class … but we promise it’s a good time!”
As far as Queen Califia’s future goes, the duo says the sky’s the limit.
“We put a lot of energy into it and it’s a second job,” Loryn says. “When she’s not recording or when I’m not at work, we are constantly talking about the band or doing something for the band.”
“It would be really awesome to do this full-time and expand on everything we’re doing and grow and do cool things,” Kelsey adds on. “But even if that never happened, we’d still be doing this. It’s our hobby and what we love to do.”
It’s a Monday night at Long Beach dive bar Que Sera and after a few sets from other bands, Queen Califia is ready to play. However, things don’t go off without a hitch – their bass player dropped out last minute and is a no-show. After some words with Kelsey on stage, Loryn approaches the mic. She alerts the crowd their bass player won’t be there so they’ll play without him. Although band members come and go, one thing’s certain – the ladies of Queen Califia will always have each other.