With just an initial glance at Anna Fox Rochinski, “psychedelic rock guitarist and vocalist” is probably not the first thing that comes to mind.
But don’t let her petite stature fool you – the Massachusetts native and member of the psych rock outfit Quilt can take you on a trip with her smooth and serene vocals and complex guitar chord progressions just as good (or even better) as any musician in the indie scene today.
Comprised of guitarist and vocalist Shane Butler, bassist Kevin Lareau and drummer (and former Lancaster resident) John Andrews, Quilt made waves with their second album – 2014’s Held in Splendor on Mexican Summer, which was featured by NPR Music’s Bob Boilen, receiving airtime on independent radio stations around the country and landing a segment on WXPN’s World Cafe with David Dye. The band spent most of last year on the road, touring around the world and performing at prestigious festivals like Pickathon, Sasquatch and the Austin Psych Fest.
Initially interested in journalism, Rochinski says she gravitated towards art while a student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) in Boston. She would move even further into the arts by pursuing music full time, linking up with fellow SMFA student Butler in 2008 to form Quilt. After going through a few changes, the current Quilt lineup solidified in early 2014.
Ready to release new music, Quilt is back on the road for a few East Coast shows (including a show at Boot & Saddle in Philadelphia on Monday). I caught up with Rochinski some time ago as the band traveled on the road, and we talked about everything from their newest album, her dreams and her (secret) appreciation for Aerosmith.
Michael Yoder: What’s the most splendid moment you’ve ever experienced?
Anna Fox Rochinski: I can’t really pinpoint that kind of thing down because I’m not very good at naming my favorites of things – like the one best thing. But different moments pop up at different times in your life unexpectedly. Part of any kind of experience is sort of the unexpected nature of it that ends up being a really positive memory for you. There’s always really nice surprises along the way. And sometimes you work really hard at something and you do have a specific expectation or goal that’s achieved that’s equally as splendid. Sometimes dreams are really great because they cross that line between things that you’ve lived and the things that you’ve imagined. A really nice dream can stay with you for weeks, and you form these weird memories from your dreams that you can’t quite grasp because there’s no physical evidence of it having happened.
MY: That’s interesting.
AFR: I remember one time my dad saying that his favorite emotion to have is the feeling of awe – like being in awe of something. Of all the sensations you can have within yourself, that’s the best one. I think about that a lot because there’s a lot of truth to that. Whenever you’re just completely engulfed or struck by anything – even if it’s tiny or seemingly insignificant – if you’re in awe of it, it’s a really warm and nice feeling to have. I can make a whole list of those if you want. [laughs]
MY: I’d imagine you’ve been having a lot of feelings of awe lately as you’ve traveled across the country.
AFR: Yeah, definitely. The feeling of having shoved yourself along in a van from Boston to San Francisco in a straight line across the country is a really nice feeling of accomplishment. The way the terrain changes over time is incredible. And just the people you meet every night – everyone is so nice, and people are so excited to see us play. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Our job is to entertain them and make them happy, and they want to receive it with all this joy. It’s so rewarding.
MY: What’s the response been like lately to your live shows?
AFR: People are really excited and grateful to be there. And they’re responding positively to the live interpretations of our songs. I think we’re doing this at a really good time in our lives as people and musicians, and I think there’s a really special energy happening with all of this right now. We’ve had really big crowds, and we’ve had really small crowds. I’m finding that I really like both – whether it’s the intimacy and the ease of which you can talk to a small crowd and it feels a little more casual, but you also bring that to a larger crowd. You should play all the time like it’s a sold-out show, but you should remain casual like it’s a small crowd. And we all know each other so well at this point that on stage we’re like this group of friends. I’ve been paying more attention to being on stage with everyone, and it’s so funny to have a friendship in that context – just sitting in the van all day with each other goofing around or having a heart-to-heart, and then we’re on stage doing this weird thing by creating this stuff out of thin air. Everyone’s moving through time in this unique context, and it’s pretty amazing. [laughs]
MY: Does it feel like there’s subconscious communication going on between all of you on stage during a show?
AFR: Yeah. It’s a really unique and bizarre space that you’re in when you’re playing through a song with people. There’s a structure and a set of parameters in the writing of the song, and that’s sort of your guide. We’re not reading lead sheets or playing a symphony that’s been performed over and over for 200 years. It’s all up in your head and in your heart. It’s kind of been tripping me out lately how counting and music works – communicating with everyone in that way. It’s sort of in between subconscious and conscious – that liminal space in between something completely involuntary and something you can consciously control. Maybe that’s why I like playing music so much because when you think about it too hard when you’re playing, you usually fuck up. But if you space out and think about doing your laundry or something, you also fuck up. You have to stay in this in-between spot. [laughs]
MY: What was it like to get recognition from places like NPR Music and Bob Boilen taking a personal interest in the band?
AFR: It was awesome. We played a show in D.C., and there was basically no one there except for [Boilen] and a couple of other people. It was a really small show, and I’m really glad that he was there because he caught is in maybe a sort-of humble context and a laid-back event. I didn’t feel particularly nervous that night because there were so few people. We knew that maybe he would be there, but I wasn’t sure what he looked like. I wasn’t even thinking about it that much, and I think we played pretty well. To be on NPR was so sweet because it’s a new context for us and opened us up to so many new people rather than just staying in the dream-line, Pitchfork-ying hipster blog buzz-y band world – which is fine that we’re in that, too. But NPR has a much different history and different types of outlets. I mean, I’m from Boston, for crying out loud – it’s the lifeblood of the Liberal population there. It’s definitely something I grew up around a lot. It was very flattering, and a lot of people at our shows are like, “I heard you on NPR, and I didn’t know who you were before that.” So that’s all you can ask for. [laughs]
MY: How did you come up with the lyric, ”The Arctic shark is living free/in the coldest part of the eastern sea” in the song “Arctic Shark”?
AFR: In that specific song, that lyric is sort of like a resolution to the first question that is posed in the first line of the song – this figurative animal that is contentedly existing in an environment that may be less than desirable. It’s making the best out of its surroundings with what it has, and it has a sense of belonging and can make it work. In that song, a lot of it’s about displacement and how do I move forward, how do I proceed with ease – a lot if it you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of grief or despair. It’s up for interpretation, and I have no idea where the actual phrase “Arctic shark” came from. I don’t even remember thinking of it – it just sort of happened. I just built off of it as I was writing the lyrics to be a placeholder for me. The eastern harbor or sea may or may not have all these loose connections to the Boston Harbor or the New England water, you could say. I wrote it at a time where I was definitely working out a lot of thoughts inside myself – being in a situation I was struggling to get out of or figuring out if I even wanted to get out of it. Having that perspective, too, of being in the middle of a difficulty but knowing your problems are so insignificant in the larger scheme – like the part about your dreams being a luxury. You’re lucky that you’re even able to think about yourself that much. And being illusory, they’re not even real at first, and it’s up to you how you’re going to feel.
MY: Do you write down your dreams?
AFR: You know what? No. I used a lot to when I was a kid, but I haven’t been for some reason. I do occasionally, but I should more often. It would maybe be wise to start doing it again because you can start keeping track of different symbologies and patterns. But at the same time, I like to just have a dream and then let it go – let it fade away into oblivion or shrink back in to the depths of my consciousness. I’ll think about a dream for a little while during the day and ruminate on it, but it will fade away, and I think that’s how it’s supposed to happen a lot of the time. The times in my life where I’ve tried to psychoanalyze myself have been sort of fruitful, but a lot of the times I don’t feel the need to do that right now.
MY: Growing up around Boston, are you still an Aerosmith fan?
AFR: What? [laughs] Who told you that? I mean, do you know me? Who are you?
MY: I found an interview you did in the past, and you talked about your first concert experience being Aerosmith.
AFR: Oh, ok. Thank god. I was like, “Do you know I was a member of the fan club in middle school?” I was looking at one of their CDs at Texas, and I thought about buying it. I thought, “No one else in the band is going to want to listen to this,” so I didn’t buy it. But it’s a really good one – Get a Grip. It’s from 1993, and it’s really underrated. They had some of their huge smash hits on that album like “Cryin’” and “Crazy” – which I think are ok songs – but there are a few on there that nobody except probably me knows about that are so good. There’s one called “Gotta Love It” that’s sick – the lyrics are so weird, and it’s this sweet blues song. When they write straight-up actual blues songs, it’s great – it’s the best. It’s funny – you get these weird attachments. So in a word, “yes,” but it’s not something that I participate with very often, and I don’t listen to them. [laughs]
Quilt plays with Woods at Boot & Saddle in Philadelphia on Monday, June 15. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and tickets are $12 at the door.