Come Together
by Stephen Slaybaugh

Editor’s note: As we’ve done in the past, for the month of January, our features will be focusing on up-and-coming artists, what we call “rated rookies.” These musicians are making what we feel is the cream of a new crop, and we think you will (sooner or later) agree. Enjoy!

Released in November by Mexican Summer, the self-titled debut by Quilt is strewn with points of reference from decades past and present, but like so many stars dotting a clear night’s sky, it is the cumulative effect of such markings that is astounding. As has been pointed out in nearly every review the record has received, the intertwined voices of Anna Rochinski and Shane Butler recall Summer of Love–style harmonizing, but the lysergic tones of songs like “Penobska Oakwalk” and “Utopian Canyon” also point to latter day heads ranging from Vashti Bunyan to Silver Apples to Galaxie 500, if not specifically musically, then at least in their general aesthetics. The record is at turns pastoral and celestial, Rochinski and Butler carving out a niche on some plateau in between.

Quilt began in 2009 while Rochinski and Butler were still attending the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Along with drummer Taylor McVay, with whom Butler had played in the Good Party, they tested the waters with a 7-inch and a cassette EP, before setting to work on Quilt in the summer of 2010 with producer Jesse Gallagher of Apollo Sunshine. McVay left the band amicably before the album was finished, and the record was put on the shelf for a year until John Andrews entered the fold and the group finished the record with Gallagher. As I found out when I met with the band when they were in Brooklyn last month, they are invigorated by the album’s release, as well they should be.

Tell me about how you met.

Shane Butler: Anna and I were going to school together, and we met at a house in Boston that had a lot of shows called the White House. We got in our first conversation about the band there. We were both playing in other projects. Anna was doing solo acoustic stuff and also playing in an experimental band, and I was playing in an experimental drone band and also doing acoustic punk and folk stuff with Taylor in the Good Party.

Anna Rochinski: I loved the Good Party. We were all playing in the same scene, so I approached them at one of their shows. I knew them from school because we had classes together. We were chatting and Taylor said they were thinking about forming an electric rock-type band.

SB: I remember when Taylor and I first started talking about it, we wanted to bring elements of the experimental drone stuff and the acoustic stuff together.

AR: We met up one night at Shane’s house. I didn’t even own an electric guitar at the time. I brought my acoustic guitar and an Afghani drum instrument. We just made stuff up.

SB: Our first practice, we had five members.

AR: It was really fun and lighthearted. Eventually, it solidified to Shane, Taylor and I. We did a 7-inch and a tape, and then we did seven songs with Taylor, but she had started to phase herself out a little bit.

SB: Anna and I were playing a bunch of shows just the two of us. A lot of the songs were written with just Anna and I hanging out.

AR: Yeah, Taylor had gotten married and was phasing herself out. It was a totally friendly process—we still hang out with her all the time. So there was a period of not knowing what to do. We had this album and this band, but we weren’t playing and it was confusing. Then in March of this past year, John entered the picture and Quilt was reinvigorated.

SB: We met John on our first tour, which was just six days around the East Coast.

John Andrews: I met Shane and Taylor at a weird show in Philly, when they played with two metal bands. Then I saw them play in New Jersey and asked them if it would be alright if I followed them around for the rest of the tour.

SB: I hopped in his car and he ended up playing with us at one of the shows.

AR: So this past summer we recorded three new songs that we had written with him. We ended up with an awesome collaboration between four people.

You mentioned having the initial idea of meshing the acoustic stuff and droning experimental stuff that you were both interested in...

SB: And rock & roll too—we were all interested in rock & roll.

AR: It was very open-ended. We didn’t have a mission statement or anything like that. We respected each other as people and musicians and just wanted to hang out and play. We began without any specific goals and became great friends in the process.

Is visual art something you continue to do?

AR: Yeah, but it’s different when you’re not in the college structure. We’ve been working together to find ways to continue to do art.

SB: Anna and I have only been out of college for a year now, so a lot of our friends are just getting gallery spaces. I’ve been making work since I’ve been out of school, but it’s just been in the last two months that I started showing again.

AR: Taylor just curated a show at the gallery she opened that we were both in. We went with John. It was all in the family—it was awesome!

Do you see ways that your visual art feeds into the music other than just the general creativity?

SB: A lot of the songs weren’t built in a traditional fashion. They are more cinematic and narrative...

AR: It’s like a landscape you visualize, as opposed to following a traditional song structure. We don’t go into writing songs with an idea of how the structure is going to be. It evolves and we fine-tune it.

JA: They told me that for the first cassette they went into recording it without having any lyrics and just made it up. We’re playing a song tonight that doesn’t have any lyrics.

SB: One of the things I’ve noticed is that we all think about art conceptually. The songwriting process is similar to conceptual art in the sense that we make it and then spend a lot of time reflecting on it and figuring out what happened. We make something instantaneously or viscerally and then afterwards we sit there thinking, “What does this mean?” That’s usually when we start to put words to it and figure that kind of stuff out.

JA: “Young Gold” started off so differently...

SB: Oh, totally! “Penobska Oakwalk” was originally an instrumental track that we played live as a long drone jam. We played it for half a year before one day I was sitting on the bus and decided to put some lyrics to it.

AR: “Cowboys in the Void” was written during a soundcheck in Orlando, Florida, when they needed us to start making some sounds. I started playing, Shane started playing, and then we started singing. Then we took half a year to develop it.

Having that period of time between when you did the recording with Taylor and the recording with John, did you continue to work on that stuff in between?

SB: There were so many stages. We had instrumental takes done for five songs, three of which were done on the spot. We went into recording with maybe two songs written.

AR: It was fun for us to keep it very open and loose, and a lot of good songwriting got done in the studio. We did our album art in the studio too. In between takes, someone would be working on it in Photoshop.

There’s been a lot of comparisons to bands from the ’60s. Are those points of references for you or how do you feel about that?

AR: I think we are all cool with it, but we don’t try to make songs that sound like anything. I think it’s maybe our guitar tones and mostly the vocal harmonies that contribute to people making those comparisons. But it’s not like vocal harmonies were invented in the ’60s. For me, it has just as much to do with singing in choirs or singing Christmas carols. We listen to a lot of ’60s music, but a lot of music from every other decade too. I’m so grateful we all have eclectic music tastes.

SB: For me, to have that one term dropped just seems really quick and like no time has been spent with the music. I love so many bands from different times that it seems really limited.

AR: Until I was in middle school, ’60s music was all that I listened to. I refused to listen to modern music. I don’t know why, but I didn’t what to get in the ’90s. For me, it was all about listening to the oldies station on the radio all day and every day, Beatles records, the Archies, and the Monkees.

I read something where you described the album as a “coming of age” record. That refers to having graduated from school, but do you see specific ways where there are coming of age themes?

SB: “Young Gold.” Every day, I’m thinking about that song and learning a lot about it. It’s a good introduction because the first lyric of the entire record is “change.” You grow up being educated, and from when you’re three to when you’re 21, you are constantly thrown all this knowledge and are constantly assembled by our systems. Then you get out of school and it’s like what are you going to do? You can keep on being structured by these systems or you can take a step and undo some of that. The deconstruction that has happened after being educated my entire life has revealed a lot of things that were hidden. A lot of fundamental beliefs and habits are coming out as I let go of that structure and rely on intuition.

A: Personally, the term “coming of age” makes me think of my eighth grade English class. We had a whole unit on coming of age. We read amazing books by authors like John Steinbeck, but I didn’t like the term because it felt very heavy and full of expectations. I understand what it means, but I think I’m always going through transitions. I think we all are, with moment-to-moment experiences. It’s like that line on the album in “The Silver Stairs of Ketchikan”: “We forget what we are at the right time, every time.” I wrote that when I was going through a break-up and it was summer and I was out of school. I was thinking about how you can contradict your own assumptions about yourself, but it’s often all for the best. Purpose reveals itself over time and you just need to be patient with yourself and your surroundings. We learned a lot about patience this year, with the line-up change and the record sitting and waiting to happen. I think it was the right time for us to be forgetting ourselves. We repeat that lyric over and over in that song because it’s like a mantra that I think needs to be kept in your heart.