“Waking up from the American Dream” by Paul Freeman for The Palo Alto Daily News
San Francisco singer-song-writer Rabbit Quinn began pondering the seeds of her debut album while still in college. It involved a lot of soul searching.
“I started to see how things were unraveling, socially and politically. It occurred to me that, in addition to all the struggles that we’re going through with our rights and our government, the most insidious part is that we’ve all been cast, unconsciously, in these roles that society has asked us to play, based on our social standing and upbringing. The American Dream isn’t working anymore. People are displaced and there’s, psychologically, a schism, not being able to develop fully who we are naturally, who we are in our souls. That creates problems.
“So the album is me trying to explore those parts of myself, in the hopes that it will help other people find peace with their parts. I wanted to make an honest record.”
The process proved to be cathartic and revelatory for Quinn. “I can sit down and explore something and then, months later, come back, and it will have a completely different meaning for me and help me understand what i was processing at the time. This was me going through the catalogue of traumatic things that had happened in my life. Very much a diary of sorts.”
Sang as a child
Born Leila Motaei, Quinn was raised in Saratoga. Even as a toddler, she sang. “I was always that little kid who would be bugging you wanting to sing you ‘West Side Story.'”
Her Father was a classical pianist. Quinn began taking lessons at age . She started composing shortly thereafter. It was important to have the release that musical self-expression provided.
“I grew up in a very restrictive, upper-middle class background. My parents divorced when I was 2. My mother remarried…and there were complications. There was money, but there was just not a lot of security or stability, emotionally. So music was my way of coping with that. It has always been my way of coping with the more emotional side of life.”
Quinn had a childhood crush on David Bowie after seeing “Labyrinth.” Laughing, she said, “I thought, ‘That beautiful, sparkly, evil man — I must know him.'”
That led to a fascination with pop, including Michael Jackson. But mostly she heard classical music. “That’s what I was allowed to listen to, so I wouldn’t be affected by heathen music.”
In the ’90s, during junior high, she bought her own stereo and discovered grunge.
“I heard Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer.’ I just sunk into my bed and thought, ‘What have I been listening to my whole life? This in incredible!’ After that, it became all about fighting with my mother about what records I could bring home. I would burn secret mix tapes and listen to them in the back of my closet. That music represented a rebellion and an embrace of one’s animal nature. I loved it.”
Quinn also listened to singer-songwriters — Tori Amos, Billy Joel, Elton John, Fiona Apple, Joni Mitchell — but was conscious of establishing her own style.
Degree was good and bad
She studied voice and composition, as well as piano, and earned her degree at UC-Davis. While it was important to have the formal training, Quinn said “It was also the biggest thing I had to get over.
“You have a lot more tools in the toolbox. You’re able to be influenced by a lot of interesting things. But you can’t allow yourself to be drowned by them. I feel it took me a few years to get over college,” Quinn says, laughing, “and try to find something that i wanted to say.”
After college she moved to San Francisco. She recorded an EP which garnered attention. With formal education and a few years in the rearview, Quinn has found much to say, musically.
Even with thoughtful lyrics, moving melodies and a gorgeous voice, it’s a challenge to get people to listen.
“If you’re in a crowded bar, you don’t want to hear what I have to say. You want to hear dance music, ” Said Quinn (who took her stage moniker from her high school nickname, Rabbit, and her grandmother’s maiden name). “It’s difficult to not get too attached to people’s response, when you are trying to express yourself so deeply.
“I focus on one person. There’s always one. And that’s the one I care about. I find the person who’s in the back, who seems to be looking up and listening. Then I sing to them, as if they were the only person in the room.”
Quinn enjoys the attentive atmosphere at Mountain View’s Red Rock Coffee, where she plays on Saturday. “Every time I’ve played there, I’ve had such a positive experience. people are there not drinking mass quantities of alcohol and rubbing against each other. They’re there with a latte and a laptop and they’re more receptive. I can entertain them and get into the zone.”
Responses from listeners are often poignant.
“I had someone come up to me in tears saying, ‘That song you played, I was going through the worst break-up, and it touched me and helped me come to terms with that.’ That’s the kind of effect I want to have. There’s been a real gap in that kind of music in the past decade. When someone tells me that my music has helped them get through a difficult time, I feel like I’ve succeeded.”
Finishing up the album
Quinn is on the verge of reaching infinitely more listeners. She’s completing the mixing and mastering of her first album with Redwood City sound engineer Vince Hudson. Tentatively titled “Lost Children,” it’s due in early 2013. On her facebook page, you can preview three beautiful tracks, “Miranda,” “Fur & Bones” and “Lost Children.”
Skilled at painting and drawing, Quinn will create the artwork for the album.
“I went on a singular mission, to finish this album, no matter what it takes. I hoped upon hoped that I would get to this point. Now that I have, it feels good. I’ve worked so long on it, I just want to make sure every little thing is in place, before I send it out into the universe and can’t get it back.
“Now I’m trying to figure out how to market this life’s work of mine. I’ve sacrificed so much to get it done. I really want to give it the best shot I can.
It’s hard. I’m packing it’s lunch, patting it on the head and putting it on the bus. And I’m terrified,” Quinn said, with a laugh.