A sold-out tour. A sophomore album release. A start to the year that year many musicians would dream of. And yet, Quinn XCII stays grounded. He’s had a whirlwind of a career, from his early releases on Soundcloud to his sold-out show at Terminal 5 in New York City last month. Despite his music gaining momentum by the day, 26-year-old Quinn XCII makes a point to never take a day for granted. And his approach to 2019 has stayed true to that intention.
As a musician, he comes across as relatable– an artist living the life he’s always dreamed of. Fully aware that his fans are his foundation and the industry can be challenging, he never spares a moment to open up to his fans and let them know how much he appreciates them. His 2019 release From Michigan With Love feels more personal and reflective than anything he’s put out before. Filled with confessions of struggles with mental health but also notes of hope and vulnerability, the work truly pushes the limits of his musical style into a genre that is entirely his own. Amid the chaos of a national tour promoting this album, Quinn XCII sat down to speak about his career, touring, songwriting, and the ambition that brought him here.
Looking back before you went by Quinn, or released anything on Soundcloud, what was your earliest exposure to performing music, whether it was lessons, experimenting on your own, or even writing with friends? The earliest experiences I would say would be with my best friend Jason. He and I would make music, like little raps in his basement, in high school– sophomore year of high school. We literally would just go on websites that provided free instrumentals and make songs on them. That’s my earliest memory of making actual songs, but prior to that, I was always into writing and stuff. I was always an interested kid as far as that type of stuff. But, as far as putting pen to paper and making actual songs, that happened in high school.
Do you remember the first song you wrote and can you describe it? I do, yeah, it was a rap song over “Bittersweet Symphony.” I wrote a rap over it with my buddy and showed it to a few friends and got mixed reviews, but it was still cool to listen back to. It’s cool to hear my voice for the first time over a microphone and stuff.
How would you say you have developed or grown since that point? I’ve just done so much more writing. I think to give you more of a summed up answer, I just really have matured as a songwriter and artist. Just from kind of learning what works and what doesn’t work, and for myself, too, learning what I like to make and don’t like to make, just trial and error… So I think it took me a couple of years to figure out what kind of artist I wanted to be. I’ve kind of transitioned from the rap stuff to more singer-songwriter stuff and that was finally the niche I found that I was sort of comfortable in. To answer your question, I learned more about myself as what I wanted to do from that point on.
You’re one of the many artists in the game today that has experienced a huge boost in notoriety due to Soundcloud. Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with the site and whether you just sort of uploaded something and it got discovered by accident or whether you were intentional with it? Yeah, it’s funny you use the term “accident” because I know that does happen sometimes where people just put it up there without the intention of it getting heard and it does get heard, but for me I always treated Soundcloud as a form to get my music out there, I wanted people to hear it. It’s so cool for an independent artist who doesn’t have the luxury of a team that can put it on Spotify, Soundcloud gives you that access where literally you can upload the song for free and anyone can listen to it… That’s what I did in college and stuff. I put my early EPs out strictly on Soundcloud, making no money off of it, but in doing so I cultivated myday one fans and naturally, that just grew into more and more. The music was still on Soundcloud, but then through my label, I was able to get it on other platforms… When people ask me “What advice would you give somebody starting out?” I actually mention Soundcloud pretty often because I feel like that’s a good tool to use. Really any free platform that will let you put your music up there, but Soundcloud I kind of like the tactic as far as that goes.
What are some of the difficulties or challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you overcome them? There’s definitely not just one challenge. Just a lot of times the challenge is really just finding a way to stick out as an artist but also remain authentic if that makes sense. It’s kind of a paradox. You want to be unique and you want to be the one person doing things differently than others, but you also don’t want to compromise who you are as a person. At least, in my opinion, I don’t want to change who I am.
So you try to find ways to say things that other people aren’t saying, just again try to stick out in the most authentic ways possible, which definitely isn’t as easy as it sounds. I always struggle with trying to figure out what I’m going to do next as far as something to get me to that point where I come off as authentic, but also creative. The challenge has been, in the music, too, figuring out topically—this album has touched on mental health, in the sound and narrative of it. So this next one, what are we going to talk about? It’s just finding topics each album cycle to speak on and keep people engaged about what I’m trying to promote or put out there. There’s also plenty more– staying healthy on the road, family, but as far as the art goes, those first two points are the biggest challenges.
You’ve talked extensively in the past about being unable to study music in college and having to study advertising instead. What finally made you jump into music as a career path once you graduated? I guess there was a defining moment– I always think there wasn’t but there definitely was. I went to Michigan State where I got my degree in advertising. I was trying to find a job for a year straight out of college and had no luck. I ended up taking a job in downtown Detroit which was a health insurance company for a couple months. My brother had been working there, so he put in the word to the manager and I was able to get a job. And I worked there for 4 or 5 months… It let me get a little taste of corporate America, and motivated me to make music a thing, and in those four months I kind of got more invested in thinking, “Okay I’m not suited for this type of work style, so I need to work harder at music and put more time into that.” It oddly fueled the fire a bit and after that four or five months of working there, I got my first tour offer, traveling the world as a support act for SoMo, who’s an R&B singer. Since then, honestly, I quit the job and I’ve been doing music ever since. That was the moment where I sort of dove into it as a career path and I’ve never looked back. And that’s not to be bashing [corporate America] but I really was not suited for a 9-to-5 type of job.
And you’ve also become a part of the Mutual Friends Collective. How has this group of musicians influenced your career and how do you work together with one another musically, socially, and professionally? It’s really such a cool thing to have a little collective like that. I regard all of them as my friends and not just as people I see randomly and will say hi to—they’re really some of my closest friends, and they just so happened to be musicians and stuff too. It’s really cool to have a little team that all supports each other. We have a group chat, for example, and we’ll text and we’ll share demos and pick each other’s brains and stuff. It’s a very family-oriented environment and everyone’s trying to help each other get to the next level. To answer your question, it’s professional, but it’s not as corporate of a relationship. I don’t have to go through Chelsea [Cutler]’s lawyers to talk to her. We all have the same managers, so there are no walls separating us. She’s my friend, so if I want to talk to her about anything literally I’ll just text her. And the same goes for ayokay, Jeremy [Zucker], and Jesse, our manager, so it’s really cool to just have people you can regard as your friends, but also your colleagues. They’re all people you work with so it’s definitely a cool mix to have.
You just put out your sophomore LP From Michigan With Love. This is your second full-length release in the past two years– Looking at these two albums in relation to one another, what are some differences or similarities that you see or have experienced between them, whether it’s in writing them, the reception to them–anything. The first, The Story of Us, was more of a surface level introduction to me as an artist because it was the first studio album and the first time I really put out a project that was on a proper platform. It was really going to be received by a lot of people—I had a cultivated fanbase at that point—but also wanted to make it seem like nobody had heard me and talk about every single thing I’ve gone through up to that point. With this next one, From Michigan With Love, it’s way more introspective, and way deeper as far as giving fans a little more insight into who I am. It’s still kind of autobiographical the way the first one was, but this one’s way more personal.
It talks about mental health like I was saying earlier, describing stuff that I’ve gone through for years, and still do, but again being more vulnerable and putting down all of these guarded up walls that I used to have as a songwriter. It’s just a way more personal album, is a short way to say it. It’s really cool because I was able to really open up about certain things via the help of my fans and the messages that they gave me regarding how the music has helped them. So I wanted to reciprocate that, in a way, and show them that I’m going through stuff just like they are. It’s a really cool kind of push and pull thing. Performing the stuff too, like you asked, is a lot different than the first album too, because it’s just way more personal music and way more helpful to people. It’s not just a song that they clap to afterward and I play the next one– there are deeper meanings behind each one, and it’s really a more powerful show. There are moments in the set where I talk about persevering through shitty times, and the importance of speaking out if you’re feeling down. It’s definitely a more mature show, I would say. It’s really gratifying to perform because I’m able to see how it affects people in a positive way. It’s great.
What would you say is your favorite song on the new album? Whether it’s one that has an interesting story behind it, or anything else that makes it stand out to you? Biasedly, they’re all my favorite songs in a way, but I would say “Sad Still” is my favorite. Just because it’s definitely the most polarizing song I’ve made in terms of that either you’re going to love it or you’re just not going to get it. Because the song itself is sonically what I would describe as what a panic attack sounds like. So I wanted to make something that’s chaotic sounding and really all over the place, and now that I’ve explained it in interviews and posted videos of me explaining the context of the song, I think people are really gravitating towards it more because it hits home with more people. And performing it live too is really fun too. That’s probably my favorite as far as what the song stands for, and the meaning behind it. But again, all the other ones I really do love too.
What’s a moment that stood out to you over the course of this tour? Not to sound totally cliche, but up to this point the whole tour has been really amazing. We’ve sold out every single show so far, and are playing bigger rooms. Atlanta was such a high energy show and definitely stood out to me this run. Again, just seeing how passionate everyone is about the music—it’s a really cool environment to be in. Especially if the team and myself are having a down day, I feel like those moments are also always so uplifting— it’s hard to not get sucked into it for an hour and a half, to forget about everything else going on.
For me, it’s a really cool escape, and last night was really really fun. That probably is the most standout moment as of now, and we’ve only played for three weeks so we’ve got a lot more to go. We did Terminal 5 in New York, which is a legendary venue– it was really cool, Terminal 5 was really special. There are definitely little milestones that have happened. It’s funny, I try not to focus on it too much because I want to keep moving in the right direction, but every once in a while it’s nice to soak it all up and enjoy it. [Terminal 5] was great though, and my family came out for that one too, which was pretty special. I’m hoping that there’s some more of those moments to go, though.
Looking to the future, we’re only two full months into the new year. What are some goals that you have for 2019? I would say, just being healthier in general. And just kind of approaching the new year with a little bit more maturity in terms of taking care of my body. Especially, too, because I’m learning that touring really requires stamina, whether it’s physical health or mental health– all of that stuff. It’s really important to stay refreshed. And with the show being a lot longer and bigger, staying on top of that stuff is not as easy as it sounds. Everyone has their own battles with that stuff, so I’m still trying to figure it out, but it’s still a goal of mine.
As far as the music goes, continuing to put out more content— I’m hoping to get my third album recorded by the end of the year. Just giving fans more stuff that they can sink their teeth into and enjoy, and keep this momentum rolling. I say that, but I also want to make sure everything else in my life is also on the right track too… It’s all balance, I think. Working on that is just a continuous goal.
Stream Quinn XCII’s On The Road playlist exclusively for EUPHORIA. below: