At just 17 years old, quinn has established herself as one of the most bold and beguiling experimental composers working today. Born in Baltimore and raised in the surrounding DMV, she first emerged as a standout creator of hyperpop, an underground subgenre marked by chaos, angst, and an exhilarating rawness that flourished on SoundCloud. Tracks like “ok im cool” and “i dont want that many friends in the first place” made a name for quinn, but she quickly found herself outgrowing the scene that made her a star. Instead of chasing fame, she chose to focus on her craft.
As a result, quinn has created two full-length albums far beyond the scope of her initial efforts. Her debut, 2020’s drive-by lullabies, represented her first steps away from hyperpop. Fans of her early work were drawn to tracks like “coping mechanism,” a fuzzed-out emo-pop cut rippling with the pain that defines quinn’s work. But for the first time, these songs felt like smaller parts of a whole. On her new, self-titled album, quinn is more confident in her wide-ranging musical talents than ever before. With a love for lo-fi beat tapes, hip-hop, and neo-soul coursing through it, quinn’s new album endeavors to represent a definitive artistic statement for a certain moment in time. Impressively, she’s pulled it off.
This week, I called quinn at her home in Columbus, Georgia to speak about the new project, her thoughts on the scene she left behind, and her label, deadAir Records.
This Q&A is taken from the latest episode of The FADER Interview. To hear this week’s show in full, and to access the podcast’s archive, click here.
The FADER: You’re out on summer vacation now, right?
quinn: I get back in school for my last year on August 9, but I’ve got a New York show coming up, so I’ll be spending the last week of my last summer as a child in New York.
Do you still feel like a child?
Hell, no. I stopped feeling like a child when I stopped being taken as a child. That doesn’t mean my childhood ended right there, but that was the last time I genuinely felt like somebody who needed to be looked after.
When we first spoke, you sounded a bit more wide-eyed about the music industry and all this attention. You were taken aback that people were listening to you and taking you seriously as an artist.
I’m still a little taken aback by it, depending on who’s listening. But nowadays my eyes are nowhere near as wide, and I know exactly what I wanna do before I do it. Last time we spoke, I was at a period where I’d think of something in the moment, do it, and release it. I didn’t think of how it would impact my discography or my legacy.
It’s crazy to put the new album next to drive-by lullabies. They’re two completely different works, but you can still tell they came from the same artist. How did you approach the self-titled, compared to your first album?
drive-by lullabies [was] a test run, if that makes sense. It was really messy. I wanted it to be messy and I’m glad it’s messy. That messiness is who I am. I like throwing it all on the table and waiting for a reaction. With quinn, I knew what type of music I wanted to go for: melodic, soulful, [with] bright, layered vocals — and when it’s not layered, it’s just flat-out beautiful. I took a lot more time to plan this one out, as you can hear in the transitions and the stuff I talk about. The subject matter is a lot deeper.
“american freestyle” has such anger and ferocity. Can you tell me about writing that track and its inclusion in the record?
DMV is my home. [It’s a] very progressive, very Black area. I wouldn’t say you’d rarely experience prejudice, but a lot less than if you weren’t in that circle of POCs. I didn’t have to deal with much prejudice as a child, except at school. Moving down to Columbus recently was a vast difference. Now I see myself getting profiled pretty much every time I leave the house.
I wrote that song the first time I got profiled and was aware of it. Me and my friends were just walking, and we got profiled in my own damn neighborhood — “I don’t know what your type has business around here doing, but get away from my cars” — and we got in a little screaming match. After it was over, I was still pissed because that was the first time I’d been called out like that. So I go home. I tell my dad. I tell everyone I can, hoping something will happen, but ain’t shit happen. That’s when I realized it’s normal down here. “american freestyle” is a diss track towards America because there’s not a lot to be happy about when you live in the melting pot. It’s gotten so bad, I had to express it to fans. I don’t usually get political, but I had to let people know, I don’t fuck with prejudice of any sort. I wanted the focus to be on what I was saying, so I didn’t include an instrumental.
What kind of music were you listening to during this album’s creation?
I’m glad you said were, because my taste changes a ton. Tracks like “two door tiffany,” “i’ve heard that song before,” and “please don’t waste my time” come from early Steve Lacy and The Internet, Standing on the Corner, Slauson Malone. I’ve gotten people telling me, “This album is a lot like Red Burns — Slauson Malone this, Slauson Malone that.” It’s funny because we got Slauson Malone to listen to the album and I got his approval to release it. It was cool having somebody I idol so much give me such sincere and meaningful advice: He told me when I drop this album, it may take people [a few listens] to grasp what I’m doing or who I am, ’cause it truly is a masterpiece.
Whenever you say, across the album, “You ain’t never heard no shit like this in your life,” you do something before and after to really hammer that down, like, “Hear what I just did? You haven’t heard that before. Hear what I’m gonna do? You haven’t heard that before.”
Especially with listeners of my more accessible music, they haven’t heard some shit like that. Whether you do or don’t like the album, I’m right: you’ve never heard some shit like it. I wanted to [see] how creative I could get while having the minimal-ness my production does. I still haven’t reached my boundaries, but it was fun making this album, and I made it my self-titled because it’s the most quinn thing I can do.
The final track concludes with the story of a confrontation you had with your dad when you were seven or eight. It’s a sad story, and it comes after an album where the overwhelming feeling is confidence. Ending it on that note is a curveball.
This whole album represents my thought process. I start on the hustle, I’m excited: “No need to knock the hustle when you kinda are the hustle.” I’m confident in myself. I know I’m about to make some good shit, and throughout the album, I prove that. But by the end of it, I don’t like it anymore. I’m back to square one. That’s why the tracks are arranged the way they are. It’s like, “Yo, I’m gonna get in the studio, make some crazy shit,” and the rest of the album is that crazy shit, and the end is me completely denouncing it — and completely denouncing myself. That’s a result of years of depression stemming from my childhood, but also years of recovery. I’m able to be chill and nonchalant, but I can’t get excited for much.
I have major imposter syndrome. If I release something, I can’t listen to it after. I’m like, “I don’t care if it’s great; I’m embarrassed because I made this and other people heard it.” But it doesn’t happen as much as it used to, especially with this album. It’s the one thing I’ve dropped and can still listen to. When I blew up, I wasn’t taking anything seriously, so people [doubted] my legitimacy. The hardcore music critics made fun of what I could do as an artist and tried to limit me as just a cringy teenager who’s fucking around. (I hate the word “cringe” because it stinks of Reddit.) Part of this album — part of me getting more serious — is proving them wrong. I’m also finding it a lot more fun taking music more seriously, but I’m here to get my name back. I’m here to prove to everybody who ruined my life that I’m something more than they thought.
When you put quinn on hiatus and started making music as cat mother, was that a reaction to that backlash?
Kinda sorta. I wanted to make different shit and I was showcasing it on my social media, but my fanbase wasn’t fucking with that. I thought it would be good if I left for a long time and made what I wanted, so I left for that six-to-eight month interval, making stuff as cat mother and under a whole other Twitter account, whole other fanbase. It felt great, but eventually I came back and merged that with my discography. After drive-by lullabies, people started taking me seriously and critically rating me. My mixtape [i’m going insane] has been number one on Rate Your Music since it dropped. Why? I don’t know. I’m just glad to be taken seriously.
The reception of both drive-by lullabies and quinn has been pretty much universal acclaim. Are you still trying to distance yourself from critical adoration, or are you letting it wash over you?
I’m tryna take away that imposter syndrome, [which] stems from people telling me I’m not good enough. I’m happy to be taken seriously, and I’m happy I can make what I want and people will still like it. It wasn’t like that before: People just wanted “okay im cool” or “i dont want that many friends” over and over, but I couldn’t do that because I know myself and my career path better. It’s not what I want, and I’m smarter than that. Why would I drop the same sounds over and over? That’s how you fall off and are never heard from again.
Two people told me two things that stuck with me: The first said they love when I’m teasing music because they can never tell what I’m gonna drop. It could be electronic, acoustic, vocal, instrumental — you don’t know. It’s like a mystery box. The second said, “You have a vibe I can’t really explain, and I love that about you.” They called me unexplainable and unpredictable, so I was like, “What if I make that my thing? What if I embrace that weirdness?”
I wanted to get your general thoughts on the scene you came up in (hyperpop, digicore, whatever) — the music that came out of it when you were still in it, how the press covered it — a postmortem, as it pertains to you.
Very creative people, shout out to them. I won’t name names, because I’m gonna be real, I don’t talk to pretty much anybody in the community anymore. I still do have lots of love for those people. However, it’s no denying that there’s a bullshit-ton of unoriginality and shit that’s like, “How can I make the loudest, most chaotic song so I can impress my peers?” I know people are guilty of that because not only have I seen it; I used to be like that. It wasn’t worth it in the long run. I had to stick to what’s true to me, which is why I was so happy with my self-titled. I’m happy people like it. I thought people would just want that loud stuff. The only people who don’t like it are the people who don’t understand it, which is like three.
The whole scene I came up in… At the time, it was amazing. I won’t say it’s a bad community [now] because every community has its pros and cons. It’s just not a community where I find any breathing room — too much unoriginality, too many people sticking to the same scripts I wrote two years ago, not embracing their true selves. I’m not bashing them for being unoriginal; I feel bad for people who’ve gotta be unoriginal to make money. You’re either in a fucked-up situation or you just don’t know yourself. I’ve been in fucked up financial situations — I think it’s safe to say that most Americans of color have. I also know what it feels like to not know yourself musically and to stick to whatever script’s out there for the sake of being part of a community. So I feel bad when people are stuck in that headspace, and I feel like only the people who break out of it make it in music. You’ve gotta tap into yourself to make it. It doesn’t come from making the same shit over and over.
Yeat’s music is supposed to get you hyper. It’s not supposed to have some hidden meaning. It’s supposed to be cool ass music, which I love. Do I find myself typically listening to Yeat? Not really. I acknowledge how his music does the job for his target audience, and he’s clearly doing very well from it. However, every dog has its day. If he doesn’t expand on that sound, simple as it is, his day will come, and soon, we’ll just be like, “Oh yeah, I remember Yeat.” That’s fine too: You don’t always have to be the greatest of all time. People who copy and are unoriginal, I don’t spite you; that’s just not who I am. I don’t wanna stick to the foundation of a genre. I just wanna make cool noises, and I want you to hear ’em.
Let’s talk about deadAir, the label you’re heavily involved with. Tell me about the artists you’re working with now and how you see it evolving the trajectory of your career.
It’s been amazing. I get all the benefits I thought I’d have to sign to a label and give up a lot of integrity for, [but] deadAir doesn’t work like a major label at all. There’s no legally binding contracts, no debts, nothing to pay off — unless we’ve commissioned an artist and have yet to pay them, of course. We’re just really laid back, DIY. [We] often creatively direct each other. You might find me producing for saturn or Jane [Remover], or introducing ideas to their campaigns. I like helping; it’s a huge part of my life now.
[deadAir is] helping me get closer with the people I wanna work with: that whole underground, neo-soul/sample-based hip-hop community. MIKE and Earl — I’m getting cooler with them as time goes on, and I wanna work with people like them down the line. Although it seems unrealistic, I feel I can make it happen. [deadAir co-founder] Jesse [Taconelli] has a dream for me, and that dream is the same as mine. We’re making it come true, and I know we can because both Jesse and Billy [Bugara], the two heads of the label, have been with all these communities. They’ve made these connections before and they can help me make them. When we go to New York, who knows who I’ll link up with.
You mentioned at the start of the interview being more considerate about your discography. Do you have a sequential plan of albums, or is it more free form than that?
It’s pretty free form. I get an idea of what I think a good album would sound like, and then I make it. Lately I’ve been looking towards less of a self-titled approach and more… I use The Ooz by King Krule as an example: Every song on that album is a song, unlike the self-titled I just released [where] some are songs and some are interludes. With this next album, I wanna dig into that while also maintaining that interlude-like feel and that personal connection you feel when listening to the album. After the Brooklyn show, I’m gonna sit back for a minute because I do need a breather. But I’m happy to see where I’m at right now, and I’m a lot more grateful than I was before.