Artist Feature: Rabbit Quinn by Akshay Govind for “Synapse”
Last Tuesday, I found myself at Bazaar Café, a cozy venue in the Richmond that provides a welcoming environment for performers to play all-original music, and I was lucky enough to meet and listen to a fantastic pianist, vocalist, composer and visual artist named Rabbit Quinn.
Accompanied by percussionist Beth Wiesendanger and cellist Natasha Littlewood, Quinn played a set of deeply personal music, each song an aural painting of people or experiences that have shaped her life, and by extension, her art.
After listening to her play live, I had to buy her recently released debut album, Lost Children, a project she worked on every Sunday for roughly four years. Clearly a perfectionist, Quinn has put together a gem.
Her lyrics blend piquant humor with contemplative reflection, often using snippets from nursery rhymes, fairy tales and children’s games to produce imagery with an instant sense of familiarity.
When I asked Quinn about her approach to storytelling, she used the phrase “Show and don’t tell.” To further serve this philosophy, the liner notes of the album include portraits Quinn has drawn herself for each song, set alongside the lyrics, which are laid out as if in a weathered children’s book.
Highlights from the album include “Fur & Bones,” a song dedicated to her late drummer friend Tobias, who as Quinn put it, “lost his battle with depression.”
Quinn got the idea for the song when she came upon the decaying carcass of a deer while hiking. As she thought about what the deer once was, and where its essence may have gone, she finally found the medium to address her feelings of grief for her friend.
“The Muckraker” features an extended piano interlude recorded on a Bösendorfer grand piano under a tongue-in-cheek, spoken-word tragedy explained as being due to “the hand of God, and the lack of fire escapes.”
“Blueberry Coat” explores the process of finding one’s identity while breaking free from a confining situation. It uses colorful string arrangements, onomatopoetic vocals and a piano part that combines the regularity of baroque with the syncopation of the blues.
The masterpiece of the album is definitely “October Girl,” written to feel like a Broadway show tune. Again, it features the glorious Bösendorfer and allows Quinn to find voices that are a hyperbolic version of her own, as she exclaims, among other things, that she “won’t go to the goddamn beach.”
In Lost Children, Rabbit Quinn communicates her life experiences elegantly and meaningfully without ever being sappy. Her expertise at the piano shines throughout, and her visual art is playful and complements her melodic voice well.
I highly recommend seeing her play live — this week’s upcoming shows include October 19 at the BrainWash Café and October 22 at Off the Grid McCoppin, with more information available at her website, www.rabbitquinn.com.
Her album is available at cdbaby.com or the preferred method, from the old suitcase she carries at every show. Happy listening.
Akshay Govind is a second-year resident in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at UCSF.