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Interview with Quinn Christopherson

Written by on October 11, 2022

Interviewed by Jackie Pierce

Quinn Christopherson caught the attention of the indie scene when they won NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest in 2019 with their song “Erase Me,” a compelling folk song with striking vocals and lyricism that speaks to Christopherson’s experience as a trans man. We sat down (over Zoom) with Quinn to talk about their upcoming album Write Your Name in Pink, opening for the Wild Hearts Tour, and the powerful storytelling traditions of their Alaskan heritage.

Photo by Samantha Smithies
Quinn Christopherson performing as the opener of The Wild Hearts Tour at Los Angeles’s Greek Theater

Jackie Pierce:

How are you doing today?

Quinn Christopherson:

I’m great. I’m in Thousand Oaks right now, so the weather’s nice. And getting ready to head out on the road.

JP:

I also heard that Thursday is your birthday, right? Happy early birthday.

QC:

Thank you! Yeah, I’m excited.

JP:

I feel like I get some of the Cancer vibes in your music…

QC:

Oh, that’s so funny. Yeah. I am unapologetically a Cancer. Huh.

JP:

So, how are you preparing for tour? You leave in a couple days, right?

QC:

I came out here to rehearse the set with my bandmate, Gracie, and we’ve never played together. So I came out here a week early, so we can rehearse and learn the songs. And it’s been so fun. She’s had me at her house.

JP:

The setup for your set is just the two of you?

QC:

Yeah. And I usually go out kind of playing a duo style. But this time I have backing tracks! And I’m so excited about them because, aside from playing full band at home, it’s gonna be the first time I’ve ever played with like groove outside of Alaska. So it’s like the most exciting tour I’ve ever been on by far.

JP:

How do you feel like that changes the energy of your set?

QC:

It changes it drastically. I’m used to playing songwriter style, like acoustic or just pianos and vocals. And that’s kind of my bread and butter. Anchorage raised me on that, but [with] going out and opening for bigger acts, it does sometimes feel like I’m not doing enough. And I guess that’s like my own insecurity. But when I started playing with the tracks, with drums and groove, it’s just adding another whole layer of fun. I don’t know if I was missing it before, but it just feels so good to just dance a little bit, stomp your feet and to see people in the crowd, bopping their heads. Sometimes my songs are a little dense and wordy. I don’t think everyone has to be there for that. I like the idea of if people don’t really wanna listen to the words they can like it for another reason, you know?

JP:

You just finished a different tour in the spring. How has touring been after the break from the pandemic?

QC:

It’s been wonderful. The pandemic definitely forced me to sit and write more songs and figure out how to be creative, day in and day out. It just felt like I learned how to be like a full-time musician during that. I learned how to wake up, make coffee and go into my studio and create, whether it be like music or art or sewing or whatever it was. Having that consistency taught me how to create and that there’s really no such thing as writer’s block, but it’s more just figuring out what feels good and how to like work past that.

JP:

How do you feel about opening for Julien Baker, Angel Olsen, and Sharon Van Etten for the Wild Hearts Tour?

QC:

I can’t believe it. If you would’ve told me I was gonna be playing with those three even a year ago, I would never have believed you. I’ve been listening to Sharon Van Etten forever and trying to sing her songs. Same with Angel. I was trying to sing their songs the other day and their voices are just so big. I almost can’t even sing their songs, so it’s funny. But, I love all of their music. Each one of them has deeply affected me over my whole musical journey. I’m pretty sure I didn’t really know what indie music was until I heard “Give Out” by Sharon Van Etten. And it definitely changed the way I listened to music and looked at discovering music.

JP:

From your music, it’s clear that your family and your community in Anchorage are very important and influential. How does going on tour and being away from them affect you?

QC:

Well, they’re never too far away. My dad loves to come on tour. He’s gonna come to the LA shows. Every tour I’ve been on, he makes a stop out and that’s really nice. The last tour I was on, my whole family came to Seattle for the show. It’s really special. It’s nice to sing the songs when people you love are in the crowd. It’s okay when they’re not there too, but it is really nice that they make an effort to get out at least to a stop or two.

JP:

In “Loaded Gun,” you say “I wanna tour in cities that I don’t like.” Are there any cities on the upcoming tour that you’re not a fan of?

QC:

(laughing) No, no. When I wrote that song, I had never played music anywhere but home. And so it was like a ‘woe is me’ moment that ended up being spoken into existence. I appreciate it every time I play it outside of Alaska because it certainly proves me wrong as the narrator. I think when I wrote that line, I was thinking of the Midwest. But [now], I drive through the Midwest and then make it to Chicago and it’s amazing. There’s good things about everywhere along the way.

JP:

I feel like LA sometimes gets a bad reputation. How are you liking it right now?

QC:

I’m loving it because I’m like a little bit outside. I’m not in the city. I’ve got a couple friends that live in LA proper. I’ve stayed with them a few times and it is a little chaotic for me. Since my friend lives out here in a kind of suburbia, I feel right at home. Just chilling and going to the coffee shop. Feels really chill. It’s a nice side of LA that I really feel like I haven’t got to know before. I’m really into it.

JP:

In “Erase Me,” you say, “I have a voice now/I have power but I can’t stand it.” In the year since you wrote that song, have you come more to terms with your voice or power?

QC:

Hmm. I’m not sure. That song is a few years old and I haven’t revisited that feeling yet. I like the idea of going back to that and kind of telling a new perspective in a new side. Maybe I’ve learned some new things along the way, but I think I’m still discovering myself. I’m not sure. I don’t know if I’ll ever have power.

JP:

I really enjoyed the essay that you wrote for Atwood Magazine. Is writing more essays or prose in your future?

QC:

Oh, thank you. I loved writing that too. I love writing all sorts of things, poems and stories. I didn’t really think of it much as an essay, but more as a little story time moment. That felt really good to share. And I do want to share more stories and that sort of thing. That was funny because they asked for an essay and I was like, ‘Well great. What’s the prompt?’ And they were like, ‘Whatever!’ When someone gives you that open of a prompt, it’s almost harder to think that I can write about literally anything. Like what is it that I’m going to say? And that’s why I just automatically revert to stories that I’ve been told over the years. For my family and everything, so it just felt natural to go that direction.

JP:

What stood out to me in the essay was when you spoke about your grandmother’s value in finding beauty in the imperfect. How does that affect your music and your artistry?

QC:

It affects my music deeply. I’m never really striving for perfection, especially with live performance. It’s kind of beautiful when we mess up and when things aren’t perfect. When I’ve watched some of my favorite acts live, I hear things a little different and a little more of the moment. I think that’s the point in seeing live shows and not listening to the record. I’ve always wanted to keep the two very separate. The record can be this really sharp, beautiful thing. Then when you see me live, it can be a little chaotic and a little all over the place. I don’t ever want the two to be the same or feel the same. And I definitely got that from her.

JP:

Speaking of your record, talk to me a little bit about your upcoming album.

QC:

My upcoming album, Write Your Name in Pink! It’ll be out September 16th this year. I’ve worked on it for so long now and I’m really proud of it. I’m really proud of the stories on it. I’ve waited so long to put my songs out into the world. I knew if I put a song out like three years ago, I wasn’t going to be proud of it a year from then. Finally I made a record that I’m so proud to put out, and I know I’m gonna be proud of it in five years too.

JP:

You talk about using the record to own your own narrative. Can you speak a little bit more about what that means to you?

QC:

Well, I’m an Alaska native and I’m also trans. I feel like society kind of loves to put me and people like me in these boxes. My stories are so nuanced and complex, same with everyone else. I just love the idea of telling my stories, myself. Things change and people change. Even with “Erase Me,” I feel like that story will change over time too. When I’m ready to retell it, it’ll be just as valid as it was before. We have to just let people evolve and let people grow. With the responsibility of being a storyteller, I tell my stories, but I am inherently telling other people’s stories too. I always wanna leave room to retell from a different perspective. If I tell one side of the story, in five years time I might look back and have learned a different perspective or have new empathy. I want there to be room to retell a story and they’re both right.

JP:

Well, your storytelling is very powerful and I’m so excited to see you in LA!

QC:

Thank you! I’m so shook about doing two nights at the Greek. Never saw that coming!


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