Next-Gen 2020: Quiet Luke
Every January, Milk.xyz announces the 10 people we believe will have the greatest impact on the art/music/fashion/activism spheres in that year.
In December 2019, New York-based musician Quiet Luke released his debut album, 21st Century Blue. On this 11-track record, not one song sounds like the next, though all work cohesively to embody the symphonic cacophony Quiet Luke weaves into his musical narrative. The eclectic artist, originally from Hollywood, Florida, makes NY his home while cataloging his personal strides through the 2010s in this decade-end epic. The multi-talented musician, songwriter, and producer ended the year with an intimate listening party for his new work, and we can’t wait to see how the rest of 2020 will play out.
What are your 2020 plans?
I’d like to go on tour. Yeah, let’s manifest that. And yeah, make some more stuff. I find that when you talk about things too early though sometimes it jinxes them so let me stop while I’m ahead.
How did you come up with the name?
I guess I just liked how it looked and sounded then I came up with all this meeting for it after. I like that it was in the lineage of all these artists where you have a name that’s a normal first name and then a signifier or a modifier. The earliest artist, I can think of would be like Little Richard. Then there’s David Bowie, Freddie Mercury. And now you’ve got all these others like Frank Ocean. I guess I just saw myself in that vein and this is a name that’s close to me—it’s my middle name—so it’s a name that I find a special association with being both me and not me.
So how would you describe your music? You’ve got a lot of different genres mixed in every song–what are your influences or aspirations?
It’s hard for me to pin it down to one thing. There was a time when I was calling it “rockcore” as opposed to hardcore, as if adding “core” to it made it rock but not quite rock—almost like a branch of post-rock. That was one way I described it. There was a time I was calling it “hi-fi, sci-fi.” I don’t know if it’s as hi-fi as it could be right now, but that’s the direction I want it to go in. Ultra crispy. I would say I’m definitely more in the rock and experimental space right now, but I’d like to explore the pop space.
You have been shooting a lot of music videos recently. What has been your favorite to work on?
Probably the “Familial” video. That was my favorite one because there were so many moving parts to pull off, like all these different locations and people coming at certain times and acting. I feel like we only just pulled it all off because we were really going for something high level on a smaller budget than one would expect and we just barely got it. Budget cinema minus the cheapness.
Do you concept these videos? How involved in the creative process are you?
I don’t really like to take directors credit because I just don’t see it as that. I just see it as me creating my world. Also I’m just not trying to be a director right now. It’s always a collaboration, but I definitely see myself as having an executive producer type role.
Can you tell us about the concept behind the video “Something to Lose?”
Well, it’s funny, we actually started out without a narrative concept. We were kind of just like all right let’s take it slow and do these vignettes and craft a character. Then it just became more pseudo-narrative as it unfolded. It’s about this kid who goes to school and is daydreaming in gym class, not quite happy with where he’s at. I’m looking at it kind of like an anime, supernatural schoolboy vibe. It’s about this kid dreaming about becoming a rock star. At the end, you see these two alternate timelines side by side wherein one, he’s still a kid and he’s just hanging out, performing a song in the schoolyard with his friends, and in the other, he’s a rock star. A lot is left to interpretation. There’s this part in between where he sleepwalks to a piano in the middle of the night and slips into his dreams…
You have a song named “Berlin”. I know you spent some time living there. How did the city influence the song?
So I actually wrote the song in Berlin. I wrote the first verse and the chords and melody in Berlin as an ode to someone I fell in love with there. And then I wrote the second verse, like a year later reflecting back on our experience. The Berlin club scene didn’t influence the sound, but my experiences in that culture did. I also took this experimental production class where we were studying avant-garde and noise music starting with the Italian futurists and alt-composers or the early 20th century, focusing more on sonics than the idea of pop structure, which was quite refreshing. We did this field recording project where the whole class went to a warehouse and recorded 8 minutes of us running around banging on stuff and made it into one cohesive “piece” of music together later on. And if you listen to the song there’s whooshes and industrial noise that are pieces of this project. So we basically made this sound art piece that took sections from and molded to fit the song. There’s an actual piece of the song that’s from Berlin.
Amazing. So what about this new album, 21st Century Blue? What does it mean to you?
It’s been my work for the past four years of my life. Almost like a thesis but a little more personal than that. To me, it’s an encapsulation of the first third of life—the first time I got to make a full statement about my identity and what I want to be seen as. I call it 21st Century Blue because it has a classic ring to it. I wanted to speak about this feeling of everybody experiencing this “sameness” now because we all have these devices that connect us to this thing that we still call the Internet but really it’s just us… I wanted it to be connected to this concept of universality. Pantone proclaimed “Classic Blue” to be the 2020 Color of the Year the day it came out…
Have you ever read any pieces on Hauntology?
Yes, it definitely has to do with that. A great artist called Slauson Malone put me onto the term, and I finally looked into it. The album was me dealing with things that Mark Fisher talks about—this idea of the 20th century never-ending. We’re still kind of recycling culture from the 90s and the late 70s and 80s even the 50s and 60s. Some things haven’t changed. We’re still trying to figure out the same issues. So, it’s this idea of old things continually being in the cycle of life—eternal recurrence if you will. The album also deals with this on a personal level because of how long I worked on it. I had to embody emotions I hadn’t felt in years. Hauntology was basically what I was making work about without knowing there was an actual term for it.
I do feel sort of trapped in that I have to make “good” work, but it’s based on standards that were set in the 20th century. I really want to get to a point in my life and career where I’m making work that’s non-referential, or at least in a pop-cultural context. I really want to make more stuff that’s risky and doesn’t adhere to any standards and almost scares people. Maybe not scare but confuses people. Like Bjork or Arca. Arca is really sick.
How do you feel about PC music then?
I feel like a lot of my favorite artists are influenced or connected to them. So it’s funny you brought up PC music. I feel like there’s something happening that’s a form of “post-pop” and is influenced by PC music. 100 Gecs is my favorite group right now. There’s a hardcore aspect and a twisted pop aspect to it and. Like they’ll be doing a dubstep song that’s like a nightcore remix of a dubstep song and then just go into a post-hardcore, scream-type outro. But it’s done so seamlessly and naturally. Very subversive. So yes, they’re maybe having fun with it but it’s related to what you were talking about with my music scaling multiple genres. It’s sincere. I feel like that’s honest because anyone coming out right now is probably growing up in the 2000s.
By the 2000s you probably had an iPod, or at least a bunch of CDs or at least Youtube and you’re probably more inclined to listen to different songs rather than full-on albums. You weren’t putting on vinyl and just letting it spin for 45 minutes. You were having song ADD and switching songs, making playlists. I think we’re starting to be more honest about this phenomenon of frenetic switching between identities and genres and sounds. But, yeah, PC music sort of carved out a pop space for artists in the left field and to have a platform.
So I know you play a few instruments and you also produce. What is the writing process like then?
There’s no structured “process” really of like sitting down, this comes first, this comes second. It’s really a mix of like, sometimes I’ll just have a melody and I’ll sing it into my phone and then sit down later and produce it. Or sometimes I’ll just have chords on the guitar or piano, or have an instrumental and then write over that. So it all comes from these different directions and then meets at this middle point. There’s no exact method but I know when I’m feeling a song that’s going to be good coming, so it’s all about figuring out how to get to that point and then capture that feeling so it stays pure.
Ok cool, And you spoke about collaborators earlier. Who would you say has been your favorite collaborators recently?
I gotta shout out my friend Santangelo. We have this connection creatively where we’ll just be hanging out and then make our best stuff. He’s kind of been like my creative director. He’s been producing shoots and helping with graphic work with our friend Faysal Matin who did all of the single artworks. Sometimes there’s this separation between being collaborators and friends, but our friendship is completely based around collaborating. Like we’re working and hanging out at the same time, so in a way, we’re always working… and hanging out.
Highlight of the year?
My album listening party. I had a colossal ice sculpture bust in my image and was surrounded by all my friends, then right after we all listened it came out online, which was very surreal.
Can you sum up your year in one word?
DIRECTOR + EDITOR: Ayodeji Ogunlana
PHOTOGRAPHER: Harshvardhan Shah
STYLIST: Brandon Tan
MUSIC: Quiet Luke
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