In the declining weeks of 2011, our musical attention was folded up neatly and delivered directly to the self-titled, self-assured debut album from Quilt. Upon early entry to 2012, we find that attention unwavering.
The trio’s layered sound, which we praised for its inspired vocal harmonies, generous choral-pop-psych hooks, rhythmic diversity and overall beauty, is a rewarding combination, the effect of which only grows after repeated listens. The Quilt musical landscape is painted with such precision and spirit that we soon began to suspect that its creators were real and not imaginary.
To confirm our suspicions, we enlist the assistance of someone who knew a bit about where the imaginary fits in our lives, as well as knowing a bit about the use of the letter “q.”
“He who sings,” said our friend Miguel de Cervantes, “scares away his woes.”
As we enter this new year with no shortage of woes, we thank Quilt for their (perhaps subconscious) efforts to scare them away, and for each member (Shane Butler, Anna Fox Rochinski, and John Andrews) offering proof of their existence by being kind enough to answer our interview questions below. Enjoy.
What recording artist or band has been most important in expanding your own musical parameters, that would probably not be apparent to most when listening to Quilt? What makes this particular artist or band so compelling to you? What is a recent addition to your listening habits that you would have thought unlikely even just a year ago? That would not be apparent to a listener?
Anna: Good question … the song “The Rain” by Missy Elliott is incredible and I listen to it all the time. Aside from this song, I do really love hip hop. In terms of additions to my listening habits, a year ago, I wouldn’t have predicted that I would have listened to so much NPR in 2011, which was playing all day every day at my old job. I like it OK, but after about 5 hours it began to feel so dry that we’d have to switch on the hilarious loudmouth conservative talk radio guy to balance it all out.
Shane: Over the past year, when I was living in NYC, I spent a lot of time going to La Monte Young’s Dreamhouse. Young’s work spends most of its time focusing on the in-between sounds and spaces of long drones, which I find super interesting. He used to study with Pandit Pran Nath, a raga vocalist from India … they would just sit and jam voices together for long expanses of time. There are definitely drone elements found in Quilt, but the ways in which the site-specificity of his and other experimental artists (such as Maryanne Amacher, Terry Riley, Morton Subotnik, John Cage) has influenced my approach to creating sounds is definitely strong. It’s one of the reasons I really like having three voices in a band … even though often the sound is all flowing out of one or two PA monitors, the visual effect of watching three people sing makes the set/sound more spatially interesting, I think. In terms of recent additions, I have been revisiting a lot of radio stuff that i grew up with over the past couple of months … the 90′s were pretty bizarre.
What was your first experience playing in a band, if there was such an experience before Quilt? What did you take from that experience and apply to Quilt? Had you any previous relationship – musical or otherwise – with the other members of the band before coming together as Quilt?
Anna: I mostly played as a solo folk act, as well as in the occasional improv drone band, mostly through an art/music collective in Boston called the Whitehaus Family Record. This is one of the arenas that Shane, Taylor, John and I all had ties to in the first place. Shane and Taylor played in a folk duo, and we started Quilt together in late 2008, making it up as we went along, and it was a really amazing process. When Taylor moved on and John came into the picture this year, we had already played on bills with his solo act before, and he’d been on our first tour with us, opening up for us and hanging out, and since he joined the band as drummer we have all been learning together about furthering our sound. It’s just been a series of gifts, one after the other …
Shane: I started playing in bands when I was in high-school. I had a kind of psychedelic post-punk band called T.V. Eye (based on The Stooges song) in high school. When I was in college, I was in a improvisational-drone act called Yawn Alms. We made a release or two and played for about two years. I also at that time was playing a lot of shows solo (acoustic, mostly) which turned into me playing with Taylor Mcvay (the original drummer of Quilt) as The Good Party. Then we started Quilt with Anna and Andrew Connor (from Yawn Alms). We all used to hang out and play shows around the Boston underground scene – that’s how we kind of formed the band.
John: I was twelve years old when I played drums in my first band. We only had one song, and our “shows” consisted of inviting other neighborhood kids in my bedroom to watch us play the one, very repetitive, song. Shane played in a punk band in high school. Apparently, he used to throw broccoli into the crowd during shows. Once he started college in Boston, he and Taylor Mcvay started The Good Party. They were a beautiful folk two piece which eventually, to an extent, transcended into the original line up of Quilt, along with Anna. The Good Party still does shows here and there. I joined the band in February 2011 after Taylor left the group. I also play music in a band called Wisdom Tooth from New Jersey. I met Anna and Shane through doing that. However, we’re all convinced that we’ve met in a previous life before.
The choice of the name Quilt is at least curious – what lead you to choose this name? What does the name represent to you? What is the strangest reaction you’ve had from someone regarding the name? Do you feel you would receive more or less attention if you changed the band name to “Cuddly-Wuddly-Blankie”?
Anna: We were sitting in my old bedroom, writing a long list of potential band names as we looked around my room for inspiration, mostly in good humor, and somehow Quilt appeared, and somehow Quilt stuck. I think Cuddly-Wuddly-Blankie would make a great name for us … if and when we ditch our scene for the children’s birthday party demographic, which may or may not happen. Stay tuned.
Shane: Quilt kind of just happened. We were writing a bunch of stuff down and it seemed appropriate at the time. Over the past few years though it has revealed itself in so many ways to us. I am really really happy with our intuition on that one. We spend a lot of time digging out its various meanings and histories in relation to our tunes.
John: From my understanding, the name Quilt started off as a joke but it sort of stuck. Other potential names were Gome Home and Alphabet Eyes. However, I think Cuddly-Wuddly-Blankie has a bit of a ring to it.
One of the immediately striking things about the music of Quilt is your use of truly gorgeous two and three part harmonies. Was this something you knew you wanted to accomplish when the band was formed, or was there a process of discovery involved?
Anna: I think our whole band has been a process of discovery and will continue to function this way. The harmonies just begin to happen, especially when we improvise vocally together. We all knew each other as musicians beforehand and probably could all tell that each of us cares about utilizing vocal harmonies, but it wasn’t a totally conscious part of wanting to play together. We just knew it would be a cool thing to collaborate.
Shane: We all love to sing – it only makes sense. I have always loved harmony-based music, multiple singers and the ways that group hymns and chants are structured. Singing together is much more than just a sonic thing. You really get in touch with the people you are playing with … it’s pretty cool.
John: We all enjoy singing, so it just makes sense to harmonize instead of singing the same thing. Everyone thinks Crosby Stills and Nash were the best harmonizers, but I think Blink 182 steals the cake.
How much do you feel like your local environment influences the music of Quilt? With such compelling use of harmony, high-lonesome clean guitar sounds and cowboy references, is it odd to you that your music could evoke images of California to the listener? Is there even such a thing as “region-specific” musical sounds in your mind?
Anna: Haha, I would say that we just do what we do and we are not attempting to conjure specific landscape imagery, although perhaps we have individual imagery in mind that all comes together in the songwriting process. Our music is perhaps more about specific sounds and melodies cooperating together to invite and conjure their own “landscape” of sorts … and, well, we’ve actually never played in California before … but are certainly excited to do so later this year.
Shane: I don’t think we really try to have any region-specific sound. We like tunes from all over the world. Yet it is interesting that the far northeast has hosted some bands I really love in the past 10 years or so (Feathers, Six Organs of Admittance, MV + EE, MMoss, Chris Corsano, etc.). There are good tunes everywhere though. We all happened to grow up in the northeast and like it right now, I think.
Your debut album features what we would term brilliant lyrical passages that perfectly compliment the music. Are the lyrics written in a collaborative nature? Who are some of the lyricists – or authors and poets – that have most connected with you personally, whether or not that connection finds light in the music of Quilt? Can you give us any specific insight into what inspired the line, “language deflated the zeppelin of the consciousness”?
Anna: The lyrics are often written collaboratively, yes. Some songs here and there have a heavier influence from one of us lyrically, but a lot of the time we find ourselves all contributing to some extent. As for personal interests, I find inspiration and visual/verbal springboards all over the place – in my daily conversations with people, as well as in books, or other songs, and occasionally in slightly stranger places like theoretical art texts, hip hop lyrics, encyclopedias, Old English, sociological essays, certain wordings in old astrology books, or just beautiful and simple love ballads.
Shane: The lyrics do often get made collaboratively, although a bunch of the time we will bring stuff in and show each other. Usually that seems pretty collaborative, too, cause we usually feel right in touch with what the other is saying. I read a lot of stuff – a lot of contemporary critical/art theory, Herman Hesse novels, Buckminster Fuller writings, Frantz Fanon, stories written by kids, Alan Watts … I think I read more philosophy than poetry, but I get down with all the good-old stuff. A lot of stuff is influential, I guess. “Language deflated the zeppelin of the conscious” … well, that one just kind of came out on a bus ride. I was thinking a lot about the colonial process in America at the time and how language had a huge part in the shift between the kind of culture that existed in America before and the kind that does now, you know, with all the billboards and text messaging and stuff. The lyric can really mean whatever you want it to mean though – it has meant a lot of things for me.
John: Most things done in the band are collaborative. One of my favorite lyricists is Syd Barrett. I remember listening to the early Pink Floyd for the first time and being so amazed with his songs about scarecrows, gnomes, and elephants. The lyrics for his song “Octopus” are amazing. Also, Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Song Against Sex” has some of my favorite lyrics. Love songs are always nice, but there’s more to love than just saying, “I love you.”
Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor that we are attempting to start right now) that you are now planning to end your live sets with a high-octane cover of a song originally performed by Nelly and Christina Aguilera, now titled “Quilt Ya’ Head Back”?
Anna: Well, Nelly and Christina Aguilera actually jointly own the creative rights to our entire album and all of our material for the next thirty years, as long as a conceivable future of planet Earth does indeed occur after 2011, so all things considered, I’d say we owe them a shoutout here and there. And we can’t forget that Baha Men and Sugar Ray co-wrote our first demos.
John: The truth is, if we ever do any cover, it will most definitely be a Baha Men song.
What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what is your favorite Paul McCartney song of all time?
Anna: Well, as usual, I’ve been listening to a mix of modern day bands as well as a wide variety of gems from decades past. I could go into more detail about this, but your second question demands all of my brain power. What a tough one! There is no favorite, but “Mama’s Little Girl” is a really cool lesser-known one from the 70s, and “Teddy Boy” is always so beautiful, and “Big Barn Bed” is a really good song he did with Wings. Paul just rules.
Shane: I’ve been revisiting a lot of music I listened to about 4 years ago … Animal Collective’s “Sung Tongs” and “Prospect Hummer” (with Vashti Bunyan) and just a lot of experimental stuff. I got to go see Terry Riley the other night – it was incredible. And there is this band from Washington, D.C., called HUME who we played with a few times over the fall and, well, they are really, really tight.
John: As the new season rolls in, a lot of Nick Drake has been floating through my brain. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Feathers and Emitt Rhodes. Michael Hurley and Biff Rose are pretty much year round things too. Picking out a favorite Paul McCartney song is impossible, but right now I’m thinking of “Teddy Boy.” It’s a pretty weird song but it’s catchy.
Jesse Jackson (a huge Hawkwind fan, from what we hear) is quoted as saying the following: ““America is not like a blanket – one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt – many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread.” Your thoughts?
Anna: A common thread … hmmm … what is the common thread? The optimist side of me wants to say, “liberty, freedom, responsibility, etc.” and the pessimist side wants to say, “iPhone, hamburger, sneakers, bluetooth.” Help me out here!!
Shane: That’s a nice quote.
What’s next for Quilt?
Anna: We’re writing new songs and planning a journey.
Shane: Touring, jamming, recording.