PATCHWORK SOUNDS “Through the relationships you hold . . . you change, but within change, you release yourself, you let go of the layers,” says Quilt’s Shane Butler, left, with Anna Rochinski and John Andrews. Photo by Kentaro Meltrick Kojima.
The first track on Quilt's homonymous debut — out this week via Brooklyn label Mexican Summer — is "Young Gold," a three-minute cinematic jam stitched with the band's signature swirling group vocals, temperate drumming, and a sophisticated patchwork of '60s-twangs and Eastern-inspired tones. The smoky, entrancing voices of three visual artists — Anna Rochinski, Shane Butler, and John Andrews — start with mid-tempo harmonizing, building steadily to an ecstatic chanting outro: "All these ways we come undone/You say you're lost and then you're gone/All these ways we come undone and now you're blessed in gold."
It's an ideal introduction to the band's artful psych-folk sonics, which easily recall San Francisco psychedelia circa '68. A closer listen also reveals appliqués informed by a more cosmic musical vocabulary — Brazilian tropicalismo à la Os Mutantes shows up in their complex vocal patterns, while contemporary Japanese experimental rock bands like OOIOO inform their worldly guitar riffs.
"Young Gold" also showcases Quilt's lyrical knack for metaphor — in this case, concerning the gold of the title. "Through the relationships you hold . . . you change," explains guitarist/vocalist Shane Butler. "But within change, you release yourself, you let go of the layers. . . Through coming undone, you become gold."
"Just like alchemy," adds Rochinski.
"Young Gold" is typical of the group's intensive songwriting process, infusing visual art theories with jam-out melodies, then carving out lyrics over time. (Some tracks on Quilt have been works-in-progress for two years.) For "Young," Rochinski (vox, guitars, organs, banjo) recalled sitting on the floor drinking coffee at 10:30 pm, working to perfect the lyrical intricacies the night before recording at producer/engineer Jesse Gallagher's studio in Cambridge.
Quilt formed in Boston in 2009, when Butler, Rochinski, and founding drummer Taylor McVay were students at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Psych-rocking in Boston's dusty basements and art spaces, the band played locally with touring bands they'd met at experimental fringe spaces during their own self-booked tours. In between, they released home-recorded tapes and 7-inches with DIY labels like Spooky Town, Breakfast of Champs, and most recently, Burger Records.
The trio are more elusive these days — Rochinski and Butler often hop on Lucky Star buses to Brooklyn for weekend shows with their Jersey-based drummer. Things were tough earlier this year, when the trio all lived in separate states. "I was trying to stay as psyched as possible in the face of uncertainty," recalls Rochinski. Buffeted by today's trying job market for twentysomethings, Rochinski and Butler have spent the past two years drifting between cities for work, their various jobs ranging from photo archiving to catering.
A conversation with Quilt about Quilt invariably covers a lot of ground, a broad range of influences and philosophies, from alchemy and Os Mutantes to art theory and #occupy-related ponderings about the commodification of subcultures. An hour-long chat flows from "Children of Light," a meditation on Rochinski's acute interest in the identities of baby boomers versus that of their children, whereas "Penobska Oakwalk" leads to discussions of the indigenous Penobscot people of Maine. "The whole colonial process of constructing on such fertile, inward territory . . . it wiped away a lot more than just material grounds," says Butler. "Inward, spiritual culture was lost."