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INTERVIEW: INDIE BREAKOUT QUINNIE TALKS TRACKS “TOUCH TANK,” “ITCH,” AND HER COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP WITH TIKTOK

<em>quinnie photographed by Lili Pepper<em>

Contrary to the nature of her overnight breakout on TikTok earlier this year, 21-year-old quinnie keeps things unusually simple. She consumes “as little as possible” from social media, and she prefers to write her folk-sprinkled indie pop in bed next to her cat, Blueberry Muffin. A 23-second snippet of “touch tank” introduced her to millions as one of Gen Z’s newest and most disarmingly intuitive voices. As its streams climbed to more than 20 million, she dropped “man,” on which she growls and flutters through the collapse of young adult love with the emotional poignancy of an artist well beyond her years.

In an era that sometimes feels like anyone with working internet can brand themselves a musician, any doubt in quinnie’s artistic prowess could officially be cast aside when “itch” arrived in November. The track is another showcase of her knack for crafting lyrics that could’ve been drawn from the pages you ripped out of your diary for being too honest – but here those pages are, spilled out across three-and-a-half minutes, a self-directed music video, and accompanying cover art drawn by quinnie herself. 

The Untitled Magazine caught up with quinnie to talk “itch,” the things that make her feel her most creative, why her relationship with social media is still a complicated one, and what’s next for the blossoming artist. Read the full interview below.

Tell us about your latest single, “itch.” What inspired the title and lyrics? 

“itch” is all about longing! I’ve always been someone who is very attached to feelings of longing, and I wanted to express that if you don’t have everything you desire, then you always have something better to look forward to. In the context of romance, this feeling of longing is represented in the “chase” part of a relationship. And I wrote this song addressing this fear I had of falling in love, a fear in which once that love and safety is established, all the excitement and anticipation will fall away. In this scenario, love is an “itch” I’m scared to scratch since the discomfort of having an itch/not being in love is a reminder that something greater exists out there.

The track has a very dreamy, whimsical sound to it. Who have been your biggest influences as an artist? 

Folk music has pretty much always been what has inspired my writing and vocals. My favorite band ever is the Innocence Mission – no one’s writing moves me like the lyrics of Karen Peris, and her vocal approach is very inspiring to me as well. A lot of the production is very ambient inspired, though. Even though I’m a lyricist at my core, I mostly listen to ambient music, and a lot of that is translated into the music when Jake and I work together. I love Brian Eno, I love Gigi Masin, and I really love this artist Dylan Henner as well. His record The Invention of the Human is one of my favorite albums in recent years. 

Can you tell us about the inspiration for the music video, which you also directed? Do you always write and direct your own videos?

I’ve directed all my music videos so far alongside Jake. I came up with the idea for this music video specifically when I was 18, which is three years ago now. In my brain, it was originally kind of an unstaged experiment of what would be observed when someone was asked to have a first kiss with a bunch of strangers, but I saw this as an opportunity to display feelings of anticipation in the same way the song itself does. So instead, we went with a more cinematic approach.

How did you get into songwriting and performing?

I started writing songs for fun when I was probably 6 years old. My first song was called “joy is happy,” and I wrote it in a stapled construction paper notebook I made. I performed it for my family from behind the couch and then cried afterwards out of embarrassment. I went on to do a lot of theatre throughout my childhood, and started writing and releasing my own original stuff on Bandcamp and Soundcloud when I was in high school.

What role does love play in your songwriting? 

I think that my first three singles were a little misleading in that all of them were songs about romantic relationships. Truthfully, the other songs I’ll be releasing in coming months don’t have much to do with romance. However, I think it’s pretty possible to be able to reduce every emotion down to love or a lack thereof, and through that lens, I guess you could say every song I write is about love. The body of work I’m currently releasing is centered on the idea of trust; trusting too much and its consequences and trying to find a glimmer in a world that takes advantage. So I suppose you could say the album is about containing a lot of love. Almost too much, at times. 

Tell us about your process for making music and the environment that makes you feel the most creative.

I’m very much a quality over quantity person, so I’m never forcing myself to write just for the sake of it. I jot down ideas throughout most of my days but don’t typically write a whole song until I feel a certain emotion compelling me to draw it out of myself. When I’m not writing lyrics, I often enjoy playing my guitar in an open tuning and just humming odd melodies over and over for long periods of time. That makes me feel creative. It’s sort of a meditative experience of repetition for the sake of repetition – seeing what feelings and words materialize while I mindlessly make sounds. I feel creative in nature, and I feel creative when I surround myself with beauty and those I love. My executive producer, Jake, is also my best friend and roommate, and that definitely lends itself to my creative process in that I never have to fear judgment when we work together.  

You dropped out of college to pursue your passion in music – what fueled that decision, and was it a difficult one?

I was in school for music, essentially studying the things that I do in my day-to-day life now. It just made more sense to me to try and learn in real time how to be a musician. I think if you want to be a better artist, you just have to make a lot more art. It’s all about repetition and experience, not curriculum or a specific college program.  

How did your friendship with Jake evolve into working together?  

Jake and I grew up about 15 minutes away from each other in New Jersey. I would see him sometimes at church basement-type concerts and whatnot, and we ended up meeting for the first time about a month before college. We were both very shy and standoffish at first, so we didn’t end up really connecting until we realized we were in the same college program. We were placed in the same tower of the same dorm, only a floor apart from each other.  We made our first song together on the second day of school, and the rest is history.

What do you each bring to the table in your collaborations?

Jake is very thinking and I am very feeling.  I can say things like, “Can we make this sound like a bubble?” And he will know exactly what to do. 

Has releasing under a label influenced your process? 

Not really, at all. It’s a beautiful thing to have real budgets and make ideas like the “itch” video come to life, however the creative side of things remains the same. And I have the same amount of freedom in regards to vision that I did several months ago.  

You’re a self-described lover of the ocean and sea creatures. How does that translate into your music?

I can’t stop singing about the ocean! I don’t know. The ocean is obviously incredibly special and mysterious and rejuvenating for a lot of people. But I wanted to be a marine biologist for most of my childhood, so not only is the ocean quite inspiring to me, but I also feel like writing about it is doing a dorkier, younger version of myself justice?  

What do you want audiences to take away from your music? 

I think if I can make a few people in the world feel understood, that’s enough for me. I think back to being 14 or 15 when Sufjan Stevens released Carrie and Lowell and the experience of that record keeping me company. I’d love to be able to keep people company in the way so many artists have for me.

<em>itch single art<em>

Your singles feature very detailed cover art illustrations. How do you come up with the concepts? Do you do them yourself or collaborate with an artist to make them? 

All of the cover art thus far has been inspired by Art Nouveau/Alphonse Mucha and the psychedelic imagery of concert posters in the 60s and 70s that was also born of Art Nouveau. All the art is done by me in colored pencil and pen and ink. Each cover is a pretty long and arduous process, and in the middle of each piece I always stop and ask myself, “Wait, why am I doing this again?” But I think once again, it comes down to the meditative experience of repetition; doing something over and over again just for the sake of beauty – the gratification of holding a finished piece and knowing how many tiny actions and repetitions it contains.

“touch tank” exploded on TikTok over the summer and introduced millions of new listeners to your music. What importance does social media play with your music and connecting to your audience? 

I don’t think much of social media, other than it being the tool with which I can sort of spread my gospel. I have a complicated relationship with it in that it’s obviously pretty dysregulating to be thinking about image and presentation all the time, but I also owe all my success thus far to social media. It’s beautiful how a place like TikTok has totally democratized who has the ability to blow up, and also profoundly closed the gap of communication between artist and consumer. But of course, these benefits come with their own unique complications. I accept maintaining social media presence as a necessary part of my job, but I try my best to only use apps to output my art while consuming as little as possible from them. 

What can we look forward to next from you? Any new releases or performances on the horizon?

All I can say is an album is approaching. And tour. And then more albums. And more tour. And I’m so excited.

For more from quinnie, follow her music and social media channels: TikTok | YouTube

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