Detroit singer/ songwriter Mikael Temrowski — better known as Quinn XCII — finds the strength in vulnerability. From his 2015 debut EP Change of Scenery to last year's sophomore album From Michigan With Love, Quinn XCII breathes honesty into his lyrics — words with which millions, 8.6 million monthly listeners on Spotify to be exact, can relate.
Now, the genre-bending Quinn XCII reflects on past memories with A Letter to My Younger Self, his third studio album clearly influenced by the artist's high school adventures, exploring familiar themes like: finding faith, smoking weed for the first time and sneaking around with a teenage crush.
Just a few days after the release of A Letter to My Younger Self, PAPER caught up with Quinn XCII to talk writing process, spirituality and the importance of self-assurance.
So, your album has been out for a few days now. How are you feeling?
I'm feeling good! It's always weird when an album comes out because I've listened to the music for so long now; it took me around a year to make this project. So for me, the music's super old, but I had to sort of re-excite myself because I realized that so many other people haven't heard this music. But that being considered, I'm super excited that it's out, and this is my favorite record that I've made. It's always really cool to show people where your mind has been in the last year or whatever since the last album came out, and show them how you hopefully evolved.
I know I have been sending the album to people who have never heard your music before, and they are loving it. Has the fan response helped get you excited about the release?
I think my fans have been super, super proud of me. They're always really positive for the most part, they're really positive toward most of my releases, but I will say I do think I've been seeing a different kind of response for this one. It's just a little more meaningful... not even through just streaming, but more people are commenting on it via social media, and I just think it's something that is really resonating with a lot of people. I'm just super blessed that's happening.
As far as how it is resonating with you as an artist, do you consider A Letter to My Younger Self to be a new era of your music? Or more like a prequel to your journey?
That's a great question. I think this is the album that really represents what I've been wanting my music to sound like for a while now. I think it's taken a couple of years to get to this point as far as just figuring out what my sound is and what direction I want to be known for taking, I guess. Obviously, my style is a very eclectic mix of genres, so I think it's easy for me to just go back and forth all the time and make random stuff. But I think this was the first album where I really tried sticking to one specific sonic, a cohesive sound for the entire album, and it's been something I've wanted to do for a while now. I'm super, super fortunate that I got a chance to work with a guy named Imad Royal who executive produced the whole thing. I told him my ideas and him and I just sort of crafted this together and so, it's cool to say I have an album out that, for me at least, sounds like a very cohesive, linear project.
You've said that "Second Time Around" is really the first time you've shown your fans that you want to sing about God. How has your spirituality influenced your career in music, especially between From Michigan With Love and A Letter to My Younger Self?
My faith has been a really big component of my life that I haven't been too vocal about with fans because I think you're always told growing up that faith and politics, those are kind of the taboo subjects to speak on. So I've been conscious of that, but I think as of late, going through some very serious mental health situations, I took a stronger dive into spirituality and getting my mental clarity in check. So whether that's meditation or reading a bunch of self-help books —this has been a really good time for me to just center my perspective on what's important and what in my life I need to take more seriously.
It wasn't like I contemplated in my head that I needed to talk about spirituality and stuff, I just think it came out naturally because it is such a big part of my life now and I think I couldn't help but bleed that into the music in some way. "Second Time Around" is really that song about self-forgiveness and self-love and compassion for yourself; being able to tell yourself it's okay... you can kind of start at any point on a clean slate.
You're known for being very funny on social media; I was watching your TikToks yesterday. Much of this album is a feel-good callback to high school you. Do you feel like you had to be more vulnerable than before to release this record?
My fans are so good at reaching out to me and being vulnerable with me, so I think by hearing messages from them that are so heartfelt and so raw and genuine, it's given me the courage to translate that back to them through my experiences in my music. I don't think I had to change something with my vulnerability. Again, sort of going back to what I said about spirituality... I think being vulnerable through music over the last couple albums has just naturally been a part of my formula. So, I didn't really think about that going into this album ... that's kind of just become part of my songwriting. I think people enjoy authenticity, and I always say fans are very smart and will see if something is genuine or not. The genuine stuff is always the music that cuts through the deepest. I'm such a sucker for high school and teen movies like American Pie and all that stuff, so this topic was something I subconsciously always knew I wanted to touch on with an album, but it kind of happened by accident.
Speaking of vulnerability, "Notice Me" is one track that stands out as being quite personal. It's a very upbeat track with very deep lyricism. What was the writing experience like on a song about feeling invisible?
I think that is slowly becoming the fan-favorite on this record. For me, that's my favorite song off the album, which is ironic because it wasn't a single, it was more like a deep cut. Writing ["Notice Me," I] was sort of putting myself back in my shy, quiet self — in the shoes of that kid that I used to be in high school, especially in the classroom. I was a pretty social kid when it came to everything else in school, but was very self-conscious of my intelligence and ... scared to answer questions or speak up on any matter that we were discussing. Similarly, that was kind of how I was with my music, too. I always knew I wanted to be something — have a job that wasn't normal. I always knew I was a creative and wasn't going to land a "nine to five," however you want to say that. But I couldn't find the courage inside to discuss those things with people, so this song really is about knowing you have, deep down somewhere in you, confidence and you have the skills or the passion ... to do something really special in life. But still, just something can't get you across that line to tell people about it.
It's sort of a cry for help, honestly, to just say like, "I hope someone could notice this. I hope someone could force it out of me." That's something I really struggled with for a really long time ... It's through these messages I get from fans and through the support of friends and family that give me the courage to continue to be vocal about the things I want to pursue in life. It's easier now because I've seen people react to what I make, but for a while, it was really tough because I didn't have that positive reinforcement coming back in. So, I had to kind of really dig deep as a young kid and say to myself, "Is this something I'm really serious about or am I willing to just put it aside because I'm scared to talk about it?" That was a big moment for me in my life and I think that's why the song is so special to me.
You have a quarantine concert on July 14. What was the experience like adjusting to a completely virtual album release, and what does the future of live music look like for you?
Yeah. It's a weird time. Promoting music right now is difficult for multiple reasons. It's difficult from a marketing standpoint, obviously, whether it's hopping on a Zoom call or doing a lot of phone interviews... just the more virtual-ness of all of this is different and, obviously, I think most of us would prefer the human interaction. But we have to adapt to the times that we're in. It's been weird for me because it's difficult to do the things like promote the album from a virtual sense, but for me, especially more with everything going on with racial injustice, I feel kind of weird promoting an album in the midst of a painful time that we're living in. I kind of struggled with being confident about that, because I didn't want to come off as being selfish or it to feel weird talking about something I made while it seems the world is kind of falling apart. But I kind of had to remind myself that I think now more than ever, creatives need to be outspoken and put things into the world that can help bring positivity and love. So that's something I still need to continue to remind myself.
While writing this album I got really excited thinking about how these songs would play out live and it’s been tough knowing we can’t tour the album this year. I decided to bring the live show to your homes with a special live stream concert this Tues, July 14 at 8pm EST. Tune in pic.twitter.com/Rqcy7oE2Be— Quinn XCII (@QuinnXCII) July 13, 2020
On that note, you have been advocating for the anti-racism movement on social media. How do you hope to continue using your platform to make change?
To make change, I do have to continue to be vocal on social media, on every platform... just staying educated on the subject. And I've been saying to family, too, it's a weird time because I'm trying to educate myself on social media and learn about what's going on, but I also try not to flood my mind with all this negativity. So, you kind of have to find a sweet spot. But in saying that, I think I'm trying to just continue to watch the news and find sources of information that aren't too biased, left or right, give it to me straight, and just educate myself on everything going on. And then translating that into a tweet or an Instagram post and educating my fans on it and getting them links so they can sign petitions or donate money or whatever — just be a vehicle for promoting equality in general. It's not just racial injustice, it's [also] things going on with the LGBTQ community and there's a lot of matters at hand that I think artists can be more vocal about. We are people who have platform[s], and I think that's one thing I'm learning as I get older is like, I shouldn't just be posting my music. I think I have a chance to really impact people's lives, so using my voice as a vehicle to help spread awareness of these issues is, I think, just as important, if not more important. I'm still learning how to do this day-by-day.
You mentioned that this is a time for spreading love, and you have received a lot of it upon the release of this album. That support system in mind, if you won a Grammy right now, who would you thank in your acceptance speech and why?
Imad Royal: he's a really good friend of mine and someone I've made a lot of music with in the past. But him and I sort of spearheaded this project together, and he was like my set of ears to collaborate with. If at any point I was overthinking one of the songs, which I do very often, he was always there to reel me back and tell me not to get too into my head. Outside of just producing the music, he was the shepherd in getting this album completed and to the finish line. So, he would be probably the top guys to congratulate if I were to win something off this album. Obviously, there's my family, my friends, my manager, Jesse, who is amazing; I think he's like the hardest worker in the industry that I know. And yeah, I don't know, the fans obviously are the most important. The people who actually take the time to come out to see me at shows and download my music and share it. Yeah, there's a lot of people. I feel like I'm jinxing myself answering this question! [laughs] If I have any hopes of winning a Grammy, I probably should start thinking about this sooner than later. I'm going to have to rehearse that more though.
Photography: Drew Kirsch