INTERVIEW

Gimme Splendor: Boston New Psych band Quilt don’t come to the UK all that often. Shortly before Loud And Quiet 58 hit the streets they played a rare show in Brixton, where Thomas May met them

quilt

Shane Butler and Anna Rochinski, the two founding members of Boston New Psych quartet Quilt, talk in a way that defies transcription. To capture their alternately excitable, erratic, wearing, obscure, fascinating, lucid, engaging meanderings as symbols on a page, delimited by anything as rigid as punctuation and clauses, feels like a crude disservice to their unkempt fluidity. “I think that we also, I mean for this record, the last record too, but more so for this record we wanted to make it like one long piece as opposed to, you know… I mean obviously the songs come in, but we do think about it in that cinematic way of it going through phases and going through stages.” In outlining the group’s approach to composition Shane could just as well be describing the profusion of ideas – revisions, transgressions, contradictions – that entwine and spar for primacy throughout our brief conversation. “So you can sit down and listen to the whole record through and the songs how they flow into each other, in the same way that when we play a live set we try to interweave a lot of the songs, as opposed to just song song song song…”

John Andrews and Keven Lareau, newer members providing drums and bass respectively, sit back observing, content to offer a wry comment or two at artfully chosen intervals. Anna picks up on the train of thought: “I think the whole record has a narrative that’s fun to explore, too. It’s sort of open ended but I’ve had fun crafting a storyline in a way through the entire thing, because there’s so many questions that get asked in the record and then there’s exploratory statements and they’re always like doing this to each other” – here, as words fail, she mimes a tussle between interlocking fingers – “and all the portals that are opened are sort of explored through different songs.” At “portals”, she begins to laugh, acknowledging the faint absurdity of the word, her enthusiasm’s vulnerability to cynical mockery.

We’re discussing the group’s sophomore record, released this year by Mexican Summer, whilst sitting outside Brixton’s DIY venue The Windmill ahead of their performance later this evening. It’s an album comprised of a series of miniatures: mosaic-like as fragments of psych jams, folksy four-part harmonies, and late-60s pop interlock to create 40 minutes of music that vibrates with chaotic internal energy. It’s a potentially overwhelming experience that the album’s title attempts to encapsulate with the words ‘Held In Splendor’.

“Splendor’s a really interesting word because it’s used in a lot of different ways. Like, some people use it to explain magnificence, but it could be magnificence like a visual magnificence, or it could be an emotional magnificence: so it explores inner and outer realms that have many different parts to them.” As Shane continues he arrives at perhaps the central idea underpinning the concept: “I feel like splendor is something that can’t be locked down into a singular experience but one that incorporates a lot of different feelings at once. When you’re caught in splendor it’s like ‘oh my god’, it’s like emotion that could be really up and really low, or be in a landscape that’s just stunning in that way that it has a lot to it.”

So it refers to a quantity of experience, I suggest. “Yeah, quantity of experience is a good way to put it,” he agrees before Anna says: “Think of those weird Jell-O moulds that old people eat that have fruit in them, and they’re stuck in this Jell-O and they’re just like suspended in this goo. And that’s sometimes what I think of when I think of being held in splendor, it’s like a state of suspension or something.”

It’s a concept reminiscent of the idea of the “postmodern sublime”: a contemporary form of the aesthetic category outlined by eighteenth century philosopher Edmund Burke. A powerful form of pleasure, the “sublime” arises from the mixture of awe and terror – attraction and repulsion – that one feels when confronted with something infinite or incomprehensible. For Burke, the incomprehensible was embodied in the likes of gothic architecture; for Quilt, it’s felt in the unending and unedited data-streams of the digital economy.

“It’s so easy to get overloaded with so called ‘information’,” Anna tells me, “and pay attention to all these things that you may or may not necessarily care about or even be in a position to properly get involved with, whether it’s political or it’s like celebrity gossip or just these images and facts that we’re bombarded with for no reason.” Elaborating, Shane notes specifically the strange synthesis of both positive and negative feelings that occurs during the experience of splendor. “It’s funny that you say overloaded with information, like that whole idea of being overloaded with information where it can be perceived as a negative experience. Because splendor I find to be an overload of a magnificence or an overload of ecstatic energy, at times.”

Quilt’s psychedelic sound may well draw discussions of pastiche or retromania. But the prominence of this sense of informational excess within ‘Held In Splendor’ reveals them to be artists particularly attuned to the aesthetics of the contemporary moment. Across (pop) culture today, intensity and quantity of experience are emphasised over and above coherence, structure, or closed meaning: think of the world of Overly Attached Girlfriends and doges, the multi-coloured absurdism of Adventure Time, or Flying Lotus’s cut and paste “space operas”.

Prompted by my mention of the latter, Shane continues: “Even as a guitar-based band, on some level we’re DJs. We do live in a cultural world where we have a history that we’ve been working with for a certain amount of time. For us, we don’t ever really approach anything and go ‘oh we wanna sound like this’ but we have all of this stuff that we’re filtering through our skill level at every moment, and so it becomes like we’re sampling in some weird way, I don’t know.”

As a point of respite is reached in his stream of consciousness, Keven – up to this point silent – turns to his band-mate: “That was a great way to describe that, that whole phenomenon.” Immediately, John adds, “Except sometimes I want to sound like the Meat Puppets. Sometimes.”

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