The Scarlet Opera are—to borrow the language of a few famous predecessors—a motley crew. Dressed in varying takes on vampiric glamour, there’s guitarist Chance Taylor, drummer Justin Siegal, bassist Daniel Zuker, Colin Kenrick on the keyboard, and lead singer Luka Bazulka—all humble guys, mostly hailing from California. Fresh off their tour bus from Boston, the five-piece band has arrived in New York City in the middle of a hazardous air apocalypse to take the stage at Irving Plaza, where they’ll open for bubbly pop star Ava Max. It’s one of their biggest gigs since making their television debut on The Late Late Show with James Corden in March. But first thing’s first: N95 masks, to ensure their pipes can make it through the show.
Much like the growing sapphic movement in pop music, which includes the likes of Hayley Kiyoko, King Princess, MUNA, Fletcher, and Zolita, the boys of The Scarlet Opera are beginning to take up deserved space in the queer community’s Spotify queues—namely, the glam rock band’s fearless leader and voice, Bazulka. With cinematic pipes and showmanship that mimic, if not rival, the sensibilities of Elton John and Freddie Mercury, Bazulka is The Scarlet Opera’s beating heart.
As much as the writhing frontman drives the group’s ethos with personal stories of yearning, a rebel’s outsider-mentality, and the struggles of growing up queer in a small town, the final spectacle would not be possible, nor as effective, without Taylor, Siegal, Zuker, and Kenrick. The bandmates keep Bazulka’s theatrics tethered to Earth and round out the group’s nostalgic sound.
Fresh off the release of their first EP Comedy, I met The Scarlet Opera at the Freehand Hotel ahead of their Thursday night performance to talk about making music at the end of the world, parsing identity onstage, and the revival of old-school, rock n’ roll glamour.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What does it feel like being here in the city, especially considering you’ve written music about being a “city thing?”
Luka: That song “Big City Thing,” the first verse anyways, is about busting into the city as a kid because I grew up in Pennsylvania. So it’s nice to be back. It’s always a little surreal because every time we come back, the shows get a bit bigger and a little bit grander and sillier. It always feels like a homecoming in a way.
Colin: The bus is bigger now, too.
Tell me a little bit about your dynamic together. Who’s the jokester? Who’s the workaholic? How does this all work?
Colin: Jokester? I don’t know. We all have terrible senses of humor, like in a goofy way.
Luka: I’d probably say the silliest would be Chance.
Colin: I would say that the actual Dark Horse of comedy would be Justin with his devastating one-liners. Workaholic? I think it’s either Luka or…
Luka: I mean, I did just spend two hours making a boa, but it’s like…what is work, you know? I left the last one in Boston, so I had to make one from scratch. My costume designer sent me a tutorial on how to make it, so I bought 25 yards of tulle, cut it into small squares, and just tied a bunch of it together. It’s worth it in my opinion. But again, most people think I’m a nutcase. They’re like, ‘Why don’t you just find a Party City?’ But I didn’t want it to look cheap.
Colin: And the hotel staff is gonna love him because I came into his room 20 minutes ago, and the floor is covered in glitter.
Luka, as the lead singer of the group, you occupy much of the space onstage, and I think that your musical identity really grounds the whole collaborative. But how do you, as a group, make sure that all of your identities are front and center?
Justin: I think we’re still figuring it out at times. Musically, we all have our lanes and are given a little bit of freedom to mold and create our parts. When it comes to the fashion and the shows and the image, we all adhere to a grander vision, but everyone can kind of add their own flavor. If someone wants to dress a certain way, we’ll work with that and kind of accent those features so that it completes the vision.
Colin: Being a live band, you get to choose the representation of yourself that you perform on stage. Especially because the storytelling and the lyricism come from Luka and his stories, when we get to be onstage together, that’s when you see the full group dynamic with each distinct personality.
Luka: It’s a learning curve for sure. Chance usually tends to like tighter-fitting things, and we’re trying to get him to do a little bit more texture. And Colin wears things that are a little bit more preppy. So you know, everyone’s got their own little things.
Colin: How dare you! Preppy?! I’m a bro through and through.
So you’re in New York City in the middle of Pride Month, and I know you’ve spoken out for the LGBTQ+ community—both as part of it and as allies. At the same time, your music is really joyous; there’s an upward swell to it. What does it mean to be recording your music at this particular moment in history?
Luka: Inadvertently, our music ended up being really empowering. We titled the EP Comedy because of its lyricism. This has actually been a throughline for us since we started, and it’s my favorite part of making music with these boys, but I write the top line (the melody and/or the lyrics) and I bring it to them, and it’s a little more sad than it probably should be. I think the first thing that we ever released as a band was a really dismal, sad Jeff Buckley-style song, and they helped make it into this really uplifting, upbeat, joyous song when we eventually put it out. But that’s sort of the magic of this group: I bring them my stories that might otherwise be a bit daunting, and they lift them up in the same way that they lift me and lift my stories up. So, it’s sort of a perfect example, without even trying, of our relationship to each other and to the world.
Colin: Comedy is kind of a cheeky title considering the context of the songs, and we didn’t realize when we were making this EP how positive the impact would be on people. When we wrote it, we knew it was really fun, but is it kind of hokey? But the outpouring we’ve gotten from people all over the spectrum was so positive. Things like, “I heard this song and it changed my life,” or “I had just gone through a bad breakup,” or “I just came out to my parents when I heard ‘Alive.’” It actually affected how we went about our creative process because we never thought about our songs impacting people’s lives in that way. We’re a fun rock band. But when we got that response, and we saw for the first time that we can actually touch people in a way that I don’t think any of us really thought we could.
Luka: Yeah, it all has a little bit more grit to it.
Justin: It is a tough time in the country for many people. So, yeah, hopefully, our music causes listeners to feel joy or maybe helps them commiserate in their experience. It can be both, I think.
Colin: Even after the show in Boston, we had someone come up to us who had never heard of us before and immediately connected to every song. They said their whole life they’d been told to tone it down, and then seeing us—and particularly, Luca—out on stage getting to be ourselves unapologetically as people cheered us on made them not want to tone it down anymore. And honestly, that one person in a sea of 500 people…that meant everything to us.
Luka: It’s not lost on us that, especially in the past five years, there have been a lot of really big names who have kicked doors down. There’s a reason why I’m able to be cheered on being as flamboyant and theatrical as I am on stage, and it’s because of the people who have come before me… A body in space can sometimes be inherently political if it goes against the grain of societal norms, so a man flailing his hips around the stage, while it’s not necessarily new, is certainly new to some people. But I’m just going to be myself, and the boys have joined in and leaned into their inherent feminine side to their lives. And it’s fun. It’s silly, and it’s meant to be…We’re also very fortunate to have a really good team behind us that don’t give a fuck what the world thinks and lets us do what we want to do.
Your band has technically been around since 2016 when you were known as “Petra.” But since you sold out a show at the famed Troubador before releasing any official music, there’s been a ton of momentum around your shows. Does the idea of “making it” ever get under your skin? You’ve been doing the work, and now, at long last, the attention has arrived. Does that change how you operate?
Luka: I think it just depends on how you define “making it.” For us, it’s quitting our day jobs, and we’re really close to that. We still work in restaurants, Chance teaches yoga. But you know, that’s just part of it. We knew that going into this as adults, so there’s no griping with that. But yeah, success to us means being able to do this full-time.
Daniel: I’m excited to always want more as a band. I think that that’s a really beautiful thing. To your question, in my mind, I’m always gonna want us to be “making it.” It’s never gonna be enough in a good way because then the growth will never stop making an impact. I would love to be doing this with these guys until we’re old and can barely walk in 76 years, right? Look at bands like The Rolling Stones, bands that have never stopped making it. Why can’t it be us?
You’re opening for Ava Max tonight, a legend in my book. What is your relationship like with her, and how does her craft feed into what you all do as a band?
Luka: She’s incredibly lovely. We didn’t technically get to meet her until we got to tour because she’s been busy in the U.K. But she actually heard our music because we share a producer. He happened to show her our songs, and she apparently really loved them and reached out and made this happen for us. So we’re incredibly grateful, but beyond just the gratitude of the opportunity, she’s been a champion of the queer community, and that’s very inspiring for us, too. She’s also just very funny and sweet and it’s been really a joy so far even halfway through. We’ve definitely made a friend in her.
Stream The Scarlet Opera’s EP Comedy, out now.