Quilt’s beginnings aren’t the most original: they’re a few college kids who picked up their instruments and decided they’d give performing a shot. Unlike so many bands that start that way, though, they took to collaboration and artistic growth rather than hopes of grandeur. When their first full-length album was released, it was clear that this patchwork folk-psychedelic sound was the product of something incredibly sincere. A few years of lessons and experiences later, and the trio had found the tools they needed to go from project to powerhouse. Even during this transformation, they haven’t given up on laughter and the simple pleasure of enjoying each other’s artistic abilities. Last Thursday, they brought a bit of that effervescence to Chicago’s Empty Bottle, where I was able to catch up with them and find out a little bit more about this charmingly rough-hewn success.
Violent Success: To get us started, can you tell us a little bit about how you guys came together and started playing as a group?
Anna Rochinski: I met Shane and our founding drummer Taylor [McVay] in Boston in 2008 when I moved back there, transferred schools. Pretty much, we just started playing after getting to know each other in the music scene and at school. Then a couple of years later John joined the group after Taylor left. Now, here we all are, hanging out.
John Andrews: I was playing in a different band, and we played shows together a bunch with Quilt, so we were acquainted with each other. Then my band kind of stopped doing stuff for a while, and Taylor went off to do her own thing, the first drummer in Quilt, so Anna called me asked me to join them for a tour. I thought I was only going to be a drummer for a month but here I am, three years later.
VS: Wonderful! So have you guys spent a lot of time on the road?
Rochinski: Pretty much, yeah. A lot of last year was spent getting ready for making the record, but in 2012 we did a lot of touring.
VS: Alright, that kind of pulls me in two divergent directions with what I want to ask about. Starting with the record, Held in Splendor – that your second album?
Rochinski: Yeah, second full-length.
VS: From what I can tell, it’s a bit of a fuller sound. There’s more compositional structure. How did that evolution come about? What changed in between your first and second album?
Rochinski: We took a lot of time between the two albums for one reason or another – many reasons, I guess. I think that naturally we just matured a lot as song writers and melded more as a unit, not only personally but musically. I think that that comes through in the overall vibe of the songwriting. Not to mention the fact that we had professional studio at our disposal 60 hours a week for a month. I think working with our friend Jarvis was a huge asset to us because he’s wonderful, and the vibes were really good the whole time. It was really focused and really planned out. We demoed. John had recorded demos of almost all the songs prior to us showing up at the studio. I think that was a really good call.
Andrews: There are production differences between the two albums. The first one is high-fidelity, but it’s not as high-fidelity as our new album. I think that left us a lot of room for progression. I don’t know – if our first album was just the most produced, beautiful, huge-sounding thing there would be no room for progression.
VS: So in terms of that production, did you see any added value into bringing in new equipment, different equipment, different sounds?
Rochinski: Yeah, definitely.
Andrews: We wanted to have more friends play on this album. It’s something that didn’t really happen on the first one. So we had our friend Daniel Bachman come in and play lap steel. We had our friend Natalie come in and sing. We had some friends play saxophone and violin and stuff, and just have it be more of a family and friend kind of thing.
Rochinski: Just having the physical resources that we had, it felt like graduating up to a second tier of reaching our potential. It was such a different vibe from the first album. We learned a ton. I mean, it was like a crash-course in Band 101 recording the first album, and there were highs and lows in that process that were useful to us. I think there were more highs in this process. Anything that was difficult, we had to work through it on a schedule. It was like we have to finish this record in a month, we have to just do this, let’s re-record this if we have to but we can only do it today. It was super focused.
Shane Butler: I think something about that discipline is a huge thing for this record. I found it easier recording this record with more discipline in terms of having a set time constraint. Even having the set time constraint of demoing. It was like, ‘Okay, we’re going to demo for 2 months’ before recording for a month. With the last record one of the things that makes a huge difference is that we just kept going, and it was like we never quite knew when we were done. It’s one of those things were you have to decide, “Okay, we’re done now”. With this one, though, we’re able to get ourselves into a discipline of hours and time. It was like a schedule and when you’re in the flow, that fluidity kind of going back and forth every day becomes very – just you. Your whole body is encapsulated in it. You’re also integrating so much other life into the process of “I don’t know when this is done. I’ve got to balance it with other things.” We were really able to focus down, and that was huge.
VS: So in terms of being on that kind of schedule and having all of you contribute to the writing process and collaborative factors like that, was it difficult to get everyone together on it? Was it difficult to get everyone on the same page?
Rochinski: You mean schedule-wise or artistic-wise?
Rochinski: I don’t think it was difficult because we all knew what we were getting ourselves into. We all kind of shook hands, emotionally.
Butler: One thing that I love about our band is that we allow each other a lot of space, too, for our own personal stuff. Like when we were demoing, each one of us had our own lives that we had to attend to, too, but we were all living in a similar location so we could get together as much as we could but still allow each other space. The same thing happened when we were recording. John would go back to Philly some nights to go hang out there, and we would stay in New York and do our thing. It allowed us the time to kind of be with each other and be fluid with each other, and just create in the right way that we needed to for the moment. Artistically, that’s what Quilt is. It’s kind of where we meet artistically.
Rochinski: I think we all brought out the best in each other. The album is an example of musically bringing out the best in each other. The next step, for the next album might be to push those boundaries more. There’s this very clear progression, I think, and I’m looking forward to pushing open some walls next time. But for now, the live stuff that we’re doing, like the touring, is its own form of challenging ourselves as stage performers and live musicians.
VS: Absolutely, and that brings us back to the tour, which is something else I wanted to touch on.
Butler: (Opening band starts playing). This song rips. I really want to go watch it. Put that in the interview – this song rips!
VS: So, what do you see as the value of touring? What do you hope to get out of being in front of an audience?
Rochinski: It’s not so much about us getting something from it. It’s more like giving the songs in a live format to people who want to hear them. It’s a really special thing to be able to do. Obviously, we all get tighter with time. It helps us become better musicians. Ultimately, though, if you go on tour wanting to get something for yourself I feel like you’re just going to get stressed out. You need to just keep giving your art away every night to people who want to absorb it and be entertained. That’s the fun part. My favorite part of touring is just being on stage and playing a show.
Andrews: I just like traveling. I love being in hotel rooms, for some reason. I like being in a weird hotel and knowing that I’m only going to be here for a couple of hours. It’s really weird.
Rochinski: No, hotels are cool.
Andrews: I’m trying to think of very specific things that I really appreciate. Our sound guy tonight, his name is Gary; he’s the coolest guy I’ve ever met. He’s been here since like the ’90s, and he helped set up the first, original sound system here. What else, touring wise?
Rochinski: Seeing the landscape of America is really cool.
Andrews: Going to waffle houses.
Rochinski: Yeah, going to waffle houses is really cool. Seeing how much the hash browns don’t change each time; it’s so consistent and special. Everyone there is so nice.
Andrews: A lot of times we’ll be forced to stay with people. Last night we stayed with this guy, and Anna broke her guitar. We went to Guitar Center to get it fixed and the guy there was super nice. This guy, Austin, came to the show, and then was just nice and offered us a place to stay. We hung out with him, had breakfast with him this morning. Now we’re buds! Or like here, we had van trouble, and we had to go to this little garage. This old guy, Dale, super rad, awesome old American dude helped us out. He fixed our van for free. He didn’t charge us anything. I guess you kind of just get to meet really cool people. You find out about cool new bands when you’re on tour. A lot of times when people are like, “You’ve got to check out this band!” you’re probably not going to check out that band, but you play a show with them, and they’re awesome! And you get to hang out with them.
Rochinski: I like getting to hang out with people I used to hang out with a lot at different stages of my life who live in the towns we play in, and they’ll come out. I have a friend here tonight that I’ve known since my freshman year of college, and I see him every time I come to Chicago, and that’s cool. You form little homes away from home.
Andrews: You make groups of friends all over the country. Especially since this isn’t our first time going around the country, so at this point, we know that we have friends in each city, and that makes you feel a bit closer to home even when you’re a thousand miles away from home.
VS: Cool. So I suppose the last thing is do you guys have any closing comments? Anything that you want to say to our readers or your fans?
Rochinski: I’m thinking of a good palindrome. I can write it down for you.
Rochinski: It’s really epic. “Wo, Nemo! Toss a lasso to me now!” There. It’s my favorite one. Read it backwards and forwards, it’s the same. That’s my closing comment.