Quinn Tsan is a soft-spoken yet confident vocalist currently residing in our great city. While she originally made Chicago her new home to sing alongside Joe Pug, Quinn needs no such association to prove herself as an artist.
Releasing Good Winter in 2014 after only playing guitar for a few months, Tsan is back with the six-track release London, KY. Whether performing in a duet alongside guitarist Michael Golas or in a full band, these musicians are captivating—dare we say hypnotizing—with their mellow indie rock.
I was able to sit down with Tsan and Golas before their recent Sofar Sounds session to hear a little more about them as a still very young group.
TCR: What has the journey been like from Good Winter to London, KY?
Quinn Tsan: I mean, when we recorded Good Winter, I had only been writing songs for six months, or maybe a bit longer. I think when we released it, I got sort of ahead of myself musically. The band just happened so quickly that I didn’t really take a lot of time to investigate what kind of music we wanted to make as a group. This band has such a distinctive style, and Michael [Golas] has such a specific style, and I think I started writing a bit more with that in mind by this second release. We actually chopped the release down to six tracks from the original 12.
TCR: And where did you record the songs?
Michael Golas: We spent two weeks in last September recording in a cabin in London, KY, thus the title.
TCR: Very Bon Iver of you!
QT: Exactly, it was amazing! We went into the trip recognizing that we only had two weeks, with “X” amount of songs, and whatever happens happens. Some of my favorite records have been recorded in makeshift studios, but for some of those, they would record them in makeshift studios and them add more in a full studio. We didn’t want to do that. So we did everything we could in those two weeks and basically cut everything we didn’t like. So the journey has been short, but good.
TCR: Given that you’re now at a more mature point with the group, where would you say you have you grown the most?
QT: As a duo, I was not capable of any kind of duality in performance early on, because I was so focused on playing correctly. So when we started playing together, the band had to do all the work, but now I think I’ve gotten a lot better at playing with Michael and the band. There’s a circular-ness now that was not possible a year ago and it feels more relaxed.
MG: I’m more comfortable about the way she plays now for sure.
TCR: For those that aren’t familiar with you, how would you describe your music?
QT: Not ironic. In this record I was specifically trying to make songs that Quentin Tarantino would use. The first song that I released, titled “Somewhere, Someplace Cheap” that we will actually be playing at this Sofar session tonight, was the one where we were like, “This is the one we could pitch for, say, Kill Bill III or something.”
TCR: You mentioned earlier how personal this album is. Could you tell us where the concept of “Blind Man’s Daughter” came from?
QT: I’m really glad you asked me that! That song started as a joke, which ironically, is the only ironic part of the album. It begun with just me saying, “fuck the patriarchy.” There was this show that I did, and I was the only woman that played. The guy that was introducing everyone that night kept introducing this men as “He’s a fantastic this, he is that,” and when it came to me, he said things like, “This is the former backup singer for Joe Pug, this is the younger sister of a drummer named Ian Tsan, she has sang with this guy and this guy and this guy,” and he could only talk about me in the context of other men. That really got to me, and in this song I started fiddling around with wordplay and examples of women within the hierarchy and in different relationships. So it started as that, but then it became an actual piece with very important sentiment to me. Mother, lover, daughter are the pieces I chose to represent women as roles, rather than women as people, and then men are men. A man is a man is a man. A woman is a mother, a teacher, a sister, and so on. I think I could’ve even taken the song farther, but I love how it turned out.
TCR: What’s next? What are you most excited about?
QT: Our Sofar show today! These events are so amazing, and between this show and our record release with the full band on November 10th, we are really excited.
TCR: Tell us a bit about the record release!
QT: That night is going to be really awesome. Last year I wrote another suite of songs to be produced in a dance music video, which won a few awards at dance film festivals. Through that we put a bunch of events together where we incorporated a live music set, a dance performance, and a screening of the film and other films. At this record release show we are going to go a similar interdisciplinary route to include poets and films, not only our music. Beyond that, we are just chilling and making our own choices!
MG: Yeah, this album is a good example of where we are at, just putting out work that we are happy with and not trying to push it necessarily the mainstream way. I’m just excited to continue playing and writing, this is a very personal record.
QT: Agreed. The significance of putting it out has been significant enough, and we purposely didn’t get a publicist or anything. I’m not pushing this release incredibly hard because we don’t feel like we need to.
MG: I think it’s easy as artists to get caught up in the different mediums and levels of management management. For me in the past year especially, I’ve noticed how detrimental it can be when you start to beat yourself down in those areas. It’s much healthier to focus on what you enjoy with your art and I think it’s easily overlooked since everything is so accessible to do on your own, that art itself can get compromised sometimes where people feel like they aren’t worthy of things due to low email responses, social reach, and so on. For us, we don’t want to do that, and know people will find us their own way.