Monday, August 18, 2008

Donovan Quinn and the 13th Month - Interview

(words: Jeff Milo)

Donovan Quinn is a stately, distinct singer/songwriter with an aesthetic completely emeshed in the Californian psychedelic-folk aura. His father, musician Bill Graham, played through the San-Francisco psychedelic scene of the late 60's, with his son joining him to many shows throughout the 70's. He grew up on a horse ranch in Walnut Creek, CA, and has been playing, singing and writing since the age of 13.

In his early 20's, he joined fellow mystic troubador Glenn Donaldson to form the radiant wandering space-age-spiritual folk project The Skygreen Leopards (2001.) They have since released 5 albums and an EP.

Donovan Quinn and the 13th Month is his latest project - having re-released a collection of early recordings called October's Lanterns Quinn has set himself to fully pursue a solo experiment (in writing, at least--as he is joined by longtime collaborator Jason Quevers on the newest release, a self-titled full length on from the Soft Abuse label.

The vibe's a hazy heartfelt singer/songwriter twilight rocking chair sonnet, with beautiful and bewildering psyche-slinky folk ballads that feel so California, so winding-bends and rising-hillsides, so sun-soaked-fields and grass-chewing-under-shade-trees…Drawing strongly from toned down solemnity and earnest reflective country-folk of John Wesley Harding-era Dylan, Quinn is able to flesh out his own sleepy-afternoon sensibilities with swaying compositions expounding crumbled relationships and resisting a detachment to the natural world in the whirled daydream of the break-up. ("All our time is measured in hollowed candles...") Constantly present, whether lingering in the corners of the songs or hovering over it with no-subtle glow, is an investment in spiritual imagery, religious allegories and muses from the Christian vernacular. (One break-up song is called, "Take the Cross off the mantle...")
The pedal-steel waves in with its whiny roar over boom-chica-boom beats and you feel the scuffed floor and swept-aside hay from last night's barn dance, with a transfixing ghostly nasal voice, slightly twanged devout mysticism and a just-woke-up raspy muse, gravelly and heartfelt, like a melancholic overcast o'er patchy green fields. A romantic hitchhiker walking off his wounds, a holed up collective in cabins of the wilderness, laying down simple acoustic-born ballads of regret and heartache to syrupy guitars and sympathetic organs. Somewhere between Reed's Pale Blue Eyes, Byrds "I Wasn't Born to Follow" or Dylan's "I Went Out One Morning" is the taut and brutal poignancy of Quinn.

The Deep Cutz Interview: Donovan Quinn

Milo/DC: Were you at all apprehensive to release some of your older solo-stuff?
DQ: Well, I released some solo stuff under the name of Verdure at the same time that me and Glenn started Skygreen Leopards, so that's like 2001-2002, is when the first [Verdure] albums came out...Hoenstly I just don't think they were very good...I can admit it, by the time we even put them out which was like a year after we actually recorded them I was...kinda dissatisfied with how they sounded...

Milo: And, where does October Lanterns fit in?
DQ: October Lanterns was kinda the last of those Verdure records, which I didn't release at the time. That was recorded in 2003 and i just released it last year, the limited edition cd-r, and I like it...but it's just hard, at times, to really enjoy listening to it for wheatever reason, maybe because I was younger, I was too self critical, but also on those records I played everything and it was home recording, so when I'd listen back to it it would just be me, and I kinda like to collaborate a little bit more than with the 13th Month record I'm doing it with Jason, but I kinda spend more time on collaborations-

Milo: You didn't find it difficult to transition from the kid playing by himself in Walnut Creek, to collaborating, say, with Glenn?
DQ: Well, with Glenn it's different. For one we've done it for so long, we have a back history,...and it's different with each person, with Glenn we would write the songs together, like I'll come in with the bulk of a song or he'll come in with the bulk of a song, or we'll leave something open so the other person can fill it it's a real collaboration--with the 13th Month all the song writing i just did on my own...and, sonically, I left it open so that Jason could be creative with it, and make his own decisions, how do you view each of your projects?

Milo: How do you distinguish between your different projects?
DQ: I can’t remember where I read this, it might have been that writer, philosopher, Henri Bergson – where you take two things that are different, compare them and find one similarity, they’ll have sometime that’s the same and the more and more you show these different images or different sounds, there’s something that remains…and it becomes clearer – that’s kind of a jumble of thoughts and I’m not explaining it really well. But, you know, like David Bowie, you really clearly know who David Bowie is as a songwriter, but he completely changes bands/styles. Sonically, he would completely change, he would change the way he looks but all it did was make him more of a defined personality. I feel things of my personality just come across…I kind of want that to be what remains rather than anything in terms of what band it is or what style of music…

Milo: Next question is from my friend Pierce, (he's a guitarist for a local band here, The Oscillating Fan Club,) he just wanted to know influences, or other artists, contemporary or past, that you admire...
DQ: What's his name--Pierce? I'll have to check him out when I get home. Well, probably like every band, there’s tons….but, I mean…Bod Dylan…of course, like everybody else – he really did have a huge impact on me and made me want to write songs when I was younger. My father’s band, Country Weather, Skip Spence, Waylon Jennings, I really love Robyn Hitchcock. And I really love the pop stuff too – it doesn’t always come across, but I really love solo-Paul McCartney. The Fall were a huge band to me, especially the way (Mark E. Smith) made the music fit around his writing. Which I always really respect – that’s another Dylan thing, you have certain writing styles, a song that you can write well and then figuring out music that really speaks it...

Milo: What are your writing styles, or your common themes you drift to?
DQ:It seems like 8 out of 10 songs somehow end up being about light, or a lighting of some sort. I’ve never thought that interested me. I really write relationship songs. Skygreen’s a little different, we think of the group as occupying this specific territory, so we put a lot of the absurd things in there. A lot of it is humor, we mean it to be kind of absurd in a way – the imagery, but with my own stuff I really write relationship songs.

Milo: What about the religious overtures, the holy imagery? (one skygreen tune is called “Jesus was a Californian,” another, “Jehova—I surrender.”)

DQ:It’s weird, a friend of mine asked me if I was religious (recently) and…no, not really. I have some weird stuff, when I was a kid – I come from a real wild family; my mom was not religious, she didn’t go to church. My mom’s a famous superstitious, she doesn’t believe in God, but she doesn’t want you to say anything about him in her presence, unless some of it might be true – she doesn’t want to be cursed or whatever. My grandmother had the big religious awakening, caused by music, and she’d take me to all these different weird churches – one where they spoke in tongues and went into her house and broke all her stuff to try to rid it of demons. Another had a rock group and the preacher was like the bass player. So I remember all these things. I don’t consciously do it that much with songwriting. John Wesley Harding, the album, I just love how he used that biblical language, there’s something….everyone can relate to on a level, but also not int hat kind of realism-way. I’m not that into realism, or using the language that you could use every day. There’s something inherently magical about the language and imagery (of religion) even if you’re not a religious person…it’s kinda like Disney, in a way, not to demean religious. It’s valid for a lot of people. I’m not particularly religious, myself…

Milo: I can hear a lot of John Wesley Harding on [13th Month], certainly…
DQ: It’s probably my favorite record. I love the language, I love how it’s recorded as well. Because the way he wrote those songs, you always get the feeling that there’s more to it, there’s some mystery…

Milo: Any Skygreen Leopard news?
DC: There is! Me and Glenn have been back in the studio, recording mainly with Jason. It’s a little less country-ish than our last record and a little bit more kind of Village Green-style pop. Disciples of California (2006) was…we’d been playing with the Sky-band (as we call them) for a while and we wanted to get the sound of the live band, so we went in and recorded quickly. We’re back in the same studio, but we’re layering everything a lot more. It looks like we’ll have a release, maybe, spring of next year.
(photo1: Chris Berry; photo2: Jennifer Modenessi)

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