Interview by Grace Grim
Quinn Devlin, Hand Throwing Orchestrator, Mac Demarco Hater, bringing the Roll back to Rock and the human connection back to music making in this headspace-y new age era of nihilism and apathetic youthery.. ( or something like that. ..)
Rare Candy: So Quinn, what’s your deal at the moment?
Quinn: I guess currently my deal is that I’m trying to do rock and roll with my friends. Key word on just trying to make it work. Playing shows, going to cut some more music in November, going back to Kaleidoscope studios.
RC: Can you tell me a little about what Rock and Roll means to you, as a genre, as relevant to culture now and in the past, etc.. maybe how that term has changed over the years?
Quinn- So first of all, I’d say we’re trying to do rock and roll as this idea that Rock and Roll is a certain feeling, it’s got a certain swing to it, but really at the base of it, we’re not a rock and roll band at this point, we’re just a straight R & B band really. Like, rhythm and blues type of stuff. But at the same time, that’s what rock n roll is born out of and it really kind of goes back to just, you know, just like Fats Domino and guys like Professor Longhair down to New Orleans and obviously Chuck Berry. They were just R & B and then it kind of just took on this whole other element, especially like someone like Little Richard who said, “Oh, this is Rock and Roll” and all the initial 60’s rock came out of that kind of R & B Race Music from the south, you know, that’s what they’re called Race Records because the South was very segregated back then. A different time- but.. It really swung, because all these drummers were listening to Philly Joe Jones, Buddy Rich, and they all swung really hard, and that’s where the roll in Rock and Roll comes from. Like a lot of the stuff coming out now, it’s not really rock and roll, it’s just rock music, which is on this whole different trip, you know? It’s a lot straighter, a lot more guitar based kind of stuff. To me what Rock and Roll is, is it has that swing, it really has that loose backbeat, and it’s all about the songs, it’s not the instruments or anything, it’s the songs and the feeling.
RC: Like the whole is greater than its parts?
Quinn: Yeah I guess like that, but more it’s kind of this rhythmic thing that’s very rooted in blues music, and even jazz, you just kind of pick it up a little bit and give it more of a heavy backbeat, but it’s still has that still lilt to it. That swing. That’s why a lot of stuff is rock now, it’s not Rock and Roll. They forget the ROLL. It’s like, if you ever listen to any Stones record. Listen to like, Tumbling Dice off of Exile on Main Street, there’s just that groove in there that’s just, you can’t quite put your finger on why it swings so hard, but it swings really hard because Charlie Watts is just a jazz drummer at heart, you know?
RC: Has jazz been a serious influence on you and your band? I mean, clearly jazz has influenced so much is music, but what’s your background with it?
Quinn: I mean, everyone in the Bridge Street Kings right now to a certain extent has played a lot of jazz.
RC: Can you tell me a little about your band members?
Quinn: Oh yeah man, I would love to talk about my band members, because my band members are great. So I guess first off we’ve got the OG Bridge Street King, Andy Shimm, playing the four string guitar [bass..]. We started out playing in John Jay Lounge [freshman dorm at Columbia University], he brought his upright down and I’d play piano and stuff and he’d play along with that, and he was the first member I of what is the BSK’s now, and back then it was this just weird kind of singer/songwriter-y folk project, it wasn’t even a project because we were just getting together and playing every now and again. And then we were playing some songs in his room, and by happenstance Nick Kirsch, our piano player, was in his room because he was friends with Andy’s roommate, and I was playing Andy’s guitar, he was playing his upright bass, and Nick came in, was just waiting there for Andy’s roommate to get back, and he picked up a melodica that was on the desk, and that was the first time we ever played together. Nick’sa great player. He can play New Orleans blues, Professor Longhair, James Booker, Dr. John, he’s very well studied in that regard, he’s really hip to Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum- No one quite plays them, but that’s one of Nick’s big guys, piano players that he really loves. So he’s brought a really cool aspect of just really solid piano playing, well beyond what I can do playing piano, and he’s been able to bring that to my music.
The last of the core group from the beginning would be Lucas Zabotin and Zach Calluor, drums and guitar respectively. Lucas, I think the first thing we bonded over was our shared love of The Dead, and we were jamming, he brought a hand drum down, and we were doing Brown Eyed Woman.. That tune.. And that was really cool to find someone who shared with me a love of that music, and he also can swing pretty hard when he wants to. And has a very loose style- is very good because he’s a song player, he really plays well and really listens to what the song needs and he kind of plays along with that which is really good because a lot of my stuff is very based on the Song, right? On songwriting. But he always listens, when ever everyone’s playing he’s always listening to everyone else. And what he plays is because of what everyone else is playing, which is very key. And then Zach, probably one of the best guitar players I’ve ever met, he’s very steeped in a lot of jazz, hopefully his project Orca Minor is going to come out with an EP or album.
So those are kind of the core guys, and since then we’ve brought into the fold Brother James Wyatt Woodall, and he’s is just a really funny guy, great player, sweet guy, kind of shy when you first meet him and whatnot, but god he gets into it- he does a really good Preacher impersonation, and I was saying if this BSK’s thing doesn’t work out, we’re gonna go on the road with me, him, and Dylan DeFeo, and Dylan’s gonna play Church Hammond, Church Organ, and James is gonna preach, and I’m gonna hustle. I’m gonna get all the money from everyone, you know, we’re going to take that show on the road. And we hooked up with Dylan because he was James’ friend from high school and I thought that it would be really cool to have a Hammond player because when I was first playing back home with some of these songs, I was playing with a guy named Scott Lowry, and he was the he was the first person I ever met who was a Hammond Player- he wasn’t a piano player, wasn’t a keyboard player, he was a Hammond Player, he had his own Hammond, he had a B3 with a Leslie 122, the real deal, and he’d cart that out to gigs for a while, so that was really cool, and that made me fall in love with that instrument, as its own entity sound and there’s just so much soul that comes out of it, I mean he was a really soulful player, but we kind of lost that for a while, Nick plays great piano and that’s a great sound, but it’s not that Hammond in terms of, man, especially once we got horns involved, it kind of took this natural progression to this R & B soul base, which is kind of where I’d imagined it from the get-go, like what I wanted to be doing, because that’s the music I love and dig, guys like James Carr, Wilson Pickett, Ray Charles, that’s the kind of stuff I really dig. So I was like, “alright, we should get a Hammond player”. Dylan’s become a really key sound, key dynamic in the group. He’s one of the newer members but man, he can play jazz organ so well, he’s incredible. Some of the guys I know he’s into, Groove Holmes, Jimmy Smith, classic organ players, he’s really well studied and he brings that to the table, that encyclopedic knowledge. He knows all the licks. All of them. Which is really cool because whatever style my song is, he’ll know the history and exactly how we should be playing it, which draw bars we should be putting out, when he should flick the Leslie on fast, when he should keep it slow, he understands all that and knows the language that I’m dealing in, which is very cool.
And then, right now our horn players are David Aceveto and Graham Jacobson, they’re doing a great job, both phenomenal players, Graham came in just this fall because our two saxophone players both made a trek out west, Maya Claman who played on the EP we just released, she’s out doing river stuff in Idaho? She’s on the river doing guiding, and Eli’s out in Seattle for a bit but he’ll back in November so he’s going to start playing with us a bit. Eli played the great solo on Steal Your Soul so I’m really excited to have him back. He can get a really Texas Tenor type growl, a Fathead Newman type thing. And David is just.. He knows his s**t, he can blow, he always picks up the reins.
RC: Well Quinn, I gotta ask, what is your role in the band?
Quinn: Oh.. What do I do? I mean, I just throw my hands around and do my best JB impersonation essentially.
RC: and that would be James Brown and not Justin Bieber, am I correct in that? Or is it a fusion??!
Quinn: No, definitely James Brown, you can learn a lot from the kind of stuff he does, with band leading. Originally I was playing a guitar but we kind of got guitar players and I could stop playing and just focus on leading the band and singing and kind of making sure everything was really tight. Our live show incorporates a lot of hits and everyone has to be on their toes trying to watch me because a lot of it’s very spontaneous, you really want to be in the moment and we’re never going to play the same thing the same way twice, we’re changing stuff here and there, so it’s really good that I can have my hands free, we have a lot of signals worked out so everyone kind of knows what’s going on and I can direct them and kind of play them as my instrument, as this big rhythm and blues orchestra, which is really fun for me. So yeah, that’s kind of what I do.. Just throw my hands around.. I guess I write the songs, but songs are just these things that are in the air.
Grace- Yes, where do those come from?
Quinn- Oh, all songs are pretty much already written, and sometimes you get to be the person that writes them. That’s a pretty fun and exciting experience, but it’s just one of those things that happens. You need to know your rules of songwriting formula, basic song structure and how to make things work, but once it comes down to actually writing the song, a lot of it just comes from this wellspring of inspiration which is pretty fun when it happens.
Grace- Do you think that wellspring is in everybody, or just some people, or what do you think about that?
Quinn- Well I think the wellspring is this thing that’s out there for everyone, but for some reason only some people can tap into it. It’s something that Robby Robertson said.. Some people don’t have any songs in them, some people have infinite songs in them, some people only have six songs in them”. And perhaps that’s true, probably everyone has a certain number or limit of songs that they’re going to be able to write in their lifetime. I’m hoping that i’m going to get to write a lot, but maybe there will come a point soon where I don’t have anything left to say, nothing left to write. I hope it doesn’t happen, because I enjoy it..
Grace- What allows you to tap into this wellspring personally?
Quinn- I don’t know if it’s any specific event really, it’s kind of more just this big amalgamation of many different events that happen or that I see happen to other people. A lot of the people that I use in songs tend to be based off of a combination of a couple people. But really when I write it’s very automatic, it’s already there. It’s fun for me to go back because I get to look back at what was going on in my life, what I was feeling, why I was writing in such a way at a certain point. I’m not consciously thinking that while I’m writing though, I discover it later.
Grace- What’s next for Quinn Devlin and the Bridge Street Kings?
Quinn- Well, we got a show at Rockwood Music Hall October 21st and a show at Silvana on November 19th. In that little break we’re going to go back into the studio with our producers at The Hill and we’re going to cut some new songs to get released pretty soon. We’re going to get some singers to do some backup, get a real street choir-esque vibe to it. Something along the lines of the Mad Dogs and Englishmen band from the Joe Cocker tour with Leon Russell. It had a lot of great singers, probably most notably led by Rita Coolidge. You know, they had this big ten person choir singing in it, this really full sound, and I have an idea of where that can expand to with the new songs that I’ve been writing and I think we’re all pretty excited about that.
Grace- Who are you listening to these days??
Quinn- Dude.. I’ve been getting really into Linda Ronstadt.. I think she’s really phenomenal, like some of her live stuff in the late 70’s, on the Simple Dreams tour, when she had Waddy Wachtel playing guitar, he’s done a lot of really great stuff that I love, like all the stuff with Warren Z Vaughn (Warren Zevon), Eponymous Records, and Excitable Boy, I really love his playing, and also Dan Grolnick playing the piano.. She always picks really good bands and really good songs, and she’s just a fabulous singer. There’s the way she sings Willin, that Little Feat tune, when it gets to that one part, “Smuggle some smokes and folks from Mexico”, the way she sings “Mexico” just knocks me out every time.. Knocks me out. I kind of wrote her off but then started listening to some of her earlier stuff, she had Kenny Butry playing drums, the guy who played on the Dylan records from Blonde on Blonde through National Skyline!
Grace- Well, I’m sure she appreciates the love!
Quinn- Yeah, it’s actually unfortunate, she has Parkinson’s and can’t really sing anymore.. It’s really sad.
Grace- So clearly you’re really influenced by a lot of older bands and, I guess classic rock and such, blues and jazz, but what are your thoughts on music now, the modern music scene and.. Tell me about Mac Demarco!
Quinn- People are going to hate me because I don’t like Mac Demarco.
Grace- Why don’t you like Mac Demarco?
Quinn- I just don’t really get it I guess. A lot of what it is is this whole idea of making music DIY in your basement, and I love the DIY effort, that’s what we’re doing too, Do It Yourself, that’s kind of what it’s all about. But he does this thing where he’s tracking everything by himself in his room. I think a lot of the time that loses this whole human connection that you get when you’re playing with someone else, and you lose this spontaneity aspect to it. You lose this very human element to it of people that are just responding to each other and listening to each other and playing off each other and really making these connections. For me, that’s what makes music really exciting and why I play it because I like to play with other people. I really like that rush of making music with others and really getting to listen to what they’re playing. Because a lot of the time you are talking with one another when you’re playing, you’re listening and responding.
A lot of what Mac Demarco’s come out with is a lot of this DIY “I’m just gonna be in my home studio and I’m gonna record everything myself and track it all together”. I don’t necessarily jive with that. Some of the stuff that I’ve listened to, I just don’t really dig it so much. If I like something, and at first dig it, I love it, I really feel it, and that’s a great thing. I don’ttry to really get into something if I don’t like it right off that bat. I think there’s a very visceral nature to what you dig and what you don’t dig. But I don’t know the guy so.. I’m sure he’s a great dude, I have nothing bad to say on that front. I mean, he’s making, he’s creating, which is always a very cool, inherently good thing. A lot of it comes down to this whole new-age trend towards a lot more technology, everyone can just track everything separately, overdubs, do a lot of that. I think it gives a lot of power to everybody to make and create, which is very cool, but at the same time I think a lot is lost when you don’t get ten people in a room together to make music at one time and to get to hear that musicianship.