Quinn XCII Talks Translating High School Anxieties Into ‘A Letter to My Younger Self’
Detroit’s Quin XCII specializes in a strain of broadly accessible fare that draws from hip-hop and R&B stylings, but slants the balance with pop sensibilities, taking on different proportions. His songs cover universally relatable topics, and condense them into memorable hooks, with an unassumingly consummate craft. Quinn’s latest album, “A Letter to My Younger Self,” is based primarily on experiences from his high school days. He looks back to pivotal moments and experiences, and fleshes them out into broad reflections on life. The record is packed with choruses of lines that condense all of the emotion of such times into pointed snippets that convey volumes, and it’s done with a style that is at once cognizant of current popular trends and boldly original in the way it chooses to assemble them. Quinn spoke with Entertainment Voice about the mentality, musical influences, and targeted goals that define the album.
In the album’s opening track, “Am I High Rn,” featuring blackbear, you accurately zero in on the paranoid lunacy that can accompany drug use. What would you like people to specifically take away from this song’s message.
The idea of that song was just to illustrate my experience of smoking weed with my friends for the first time, and what that feeling was like, because I think as stupid of a moment as it was, I think it was, in a weird way, a pretty big moment, as me becoming an adult, and my first experience with drugs and stuff, so I felt it was necessary to throw on this album, because my album touches on my highschool experiences, and I think I’d be remiss to not include that moment.
Songs like “Stacy” and “Coffee” suggest something of a gender stereotype reversal, in which you find yourself with bold and feisty but noncommittal women. Do you think that type of scenario is just as commonplace as the womanizing male figure in popular culture?
That’s an awesome question. I don’t know, exactly. I would say the womanizing is more common, obviously, and probably more realistic, but I do think there are situations where you have the older women taking advantage of younger guys, and I think that clearly exists more than we probably imagine. In the case that I’m speaking of, [Stacy] is actually based on a girl that I had a crush on, who was four years older than me, and then I sort of embellished a bit, and spoke it more into a situation like a womanizer from a female’s perspective.
You have a remarkable ability to condense lyrics into snappy one-liners that convey a wealth of meaning without ever seeming pretentious. Where does this come from? Can you trace this lyrical talent of yours back to any particular influences, musical or otherwise?
I think, growing up, I was really into poetry and creative writing. I remember in kindergarten, I won a contest. I had to write a short story, and whoever one that contest, the school actually hired a little company to come in and reenact the story, so I got to see my ideas played out at an early age, and that gave me the confidence that I had some writing abilities.
I wasn’t a big reader in high school, which is ironic. I didn’t really have inspiration from authors or anything. I just felt I had a knack for writing and poetry, and — I don’t know — I don’t think there was any sole inspiration, any writers that I was inspired by. It was more just the music I was listening to, and I can’t really say there was one instance or one person that inspired me, but I just think that was alway kind of a god-given gift that I had, and I just, kind of, ran with it.
Music that combines hip-hop, R&B and pop elements nearly always does so with a hip-hop beat, these days often a trap beat. You, on the other hand, use upbeat, broadly pop instrumentals, which give the music an entirely different feel. How did you end up taking this route?
Genre bending, in general, has always been a goal of mine, and just to, kind of, concoct something from scratch every time, and it’s crazy you said that because when you fuse R&B and hip-hop with pop, you’re generally always hearing it over a hip-hop instrumental with 808s, and a typical production of that sort of styling, but I feel like I wanted to, sort of, flip that on its head, and instead of doing that, use an instrumental that was a little left of center, and then incorporate more hip-hop flow and vocals to it, and sort of do the inverse of that. Again, I say that now, but none of that really comes to my mind when I’m making music. I just think my interest in genres is just so all over the place that I’m willing to make those risks, and rap over a Tame Impala-sounding instrumental, or sing over something that’s a little more reggae or electronic, and take my influence of hip-hop and R&B and soul and fuse that into my vocals, so it all popped into this kind of weird cocktail (laughs) of inspiration. I don’t really know though. That’s a really good question, and I think I have to think about that more, but it doesn’t really come to mind when I’m making music. I just think I act from the heart, and if it sounds good to me, and I think it sounds cool, I just kind of run with it.
There’s often a considerable difference between an artist’s speaking and singing voice. Where does your particular singing voice come from?
Yeah, I don’t really know. It’s funny because my speaking voice is pretty low, compared to my singing voice. It’s pretty night and day, so I don’t really know. I get a lot of comparisons to like an Adam Levine, or someone who’s a little more nasally, and I actually listened to a lot of Maroon 5 growing up, so maybe that subconsciously was infused in my voice. I’m not really sure, but maybe that plays some sort of factor in it… I just, kind of, sang in the shower growing up, and that’s how I got into music. I didn’t take lessons or anything, so I think it just came naturally.
The album’s title track, “A Letter to My Younger Self,” is an inspiring, comforting validation from an older, wiser self. What do you think about the pressure put on artists to “be themselves,” when, in fact, people are alway evolving, and yourself evolves, just as your art does?
I think, for me, being yourself has been so pivotal in my brand. I think authenticity, and not taking yourself too seriously, and being genuine, that’s really what I’m trying to represent. I think a lot of people assume that anyone who’s in the public eye is either a pretty pretentious person, or won’t give you the time of day, or whatever that case may be. For me, I’ve always tried to do a good job of showing my fans that I’m no different than anyone else, I just happen to be the guy that makes the music. That’s always been a really big part of my image as an artist. Obviously, I want to make the music that I want to make, but I also want to show people that I’m a human just like they are, and I’m not really too special, other than the fact I’m the person you’re listening to on your ipod or whatever — so just making that very black and white, and really letting people know I’ve never looked at myself as higher than anyone else, or on a pedestal. I think people enjoy that. I think they can see that there’s something authentic about that.
“More Than Friends” and “Meeting Strangers” explore different angles of a thread running through the album about a struggle to connect romantically and sustain a relationship. On “Meeting Strangers,” however, you end on a gleeful note, singing, “la la la.” Expand on the concerns and mentality that you are trying to express in these songs.
Yeah, “Meeting Strangers” is about leaving high school, and going into my freshman year of college, and that’s actually when I got dumped by my girlfriends, and the song is about meeting new people in college, and not really having the heart to move past my previous relationship. That was a really tough point in my life. I was really depressed that year, and I didn’t really enjoy my college experience much because I was still so heartbroken, and that song is really about, “Look, I appreciate your interest, but I just don’t think I can make the effort. I’m not in a good place.” And “More Than Friends” is about having a couple flings back in the past, and never really making the move on those girls, but realizing, from where I am now, maybe it could have worked out. There’s a lyric in the song, “If what I knew then what I know now / I would have made a move on you before you met him.” As a 28 year-old looking back at the situation now, I probably would have treated it differently, So it’s really just about giving that younger self advice, in multiple scenarios.
What does the uncertain future, in these peculiar times, hold as of now for Quinn XCII, in terms for touring, promoting, music, and life in general?
I think, as far as the music goes, I’m just going to try to adapt every day to promote the music, and hopefully, see when the next time is to tour again. I’m trying not to get too hellbent on wanting to be back on the road. As much as I want to be back on the road more than anything, as far as everything else goes, I think I’m just going to continue treating this time as a time for me to slow down my life a bit, and not take for granted the little things that I may have looked over when the world was back to normal, and just focus on myself more, and spending time with friends and family, and just living a slower life, and try to shift my perspective a bit, on what’s important, so I think as painful of a time as this is, I think there’s a lot of good that we can learn from it, and I think I’m trying to work on that every day.
“A Letter to My Younger Self” releases July 10 on Apple Music.