Photos Courtesy of The Q-Tip Bandits
By Lily Doolin, WERS Blog Editor
Although live mixes here at 88.9 are indefinitely canceled due to the outbreak of COVID-19, we’re not stopping Wicked Local Wednesday (WLW), our weekly program dedicated to bringing you music and interviews with artists in the Boston/New England area. Tune in at 9 pm every Wednesday night to hear two songs each by two local artists!
To learn more about the artists you hear on WLW, check here weekly on our WERS Music Blog for interviews with them! In this interview, Leo Son and Claire Davis of The Q-Tip Bandits spoke to WERS Blog Editor Lily Doolin about their recently released EP Ain't It Great, advice for breaking into the Boston music scene as a college band, and some of the shenanigans that went on during their European tour.
Check out our past WLW interviews here!
First of all, I wanted to know about the song “Willow.” Why choose this song to bring out into the world as a first for this project, and what was the creation of the song like?
Leo Son: I think there’s a lot of things that play into it, but I think it just felt right that “Willow” was the first one. For me, being the writer of the song, it was of the first songs I’d ever written that I felt very proud of, that I felt connected to. I had written the song five years before we actually released it. It came from a time of – I’m a person in recovery, and this song came at a time where I found direction in a lot of uncertainty, and kind of finding comfort in playing this song and in the process of writing this song for me, I found grounding through that. It seems like this song, for me, feeling wise, lyrically, represents what we’re trying to represent as a band.
Speaking about what you guys want to represent as a band, I want to know a little bit more about what inspired you guys to start this band. What’s the motivation and the ethos behind The Q-Tip Bandits?
LS: How we came to be was from a very practical place. Even as I say that, the practicality of it has an emotional driver. I had a bunch of songs written. We were all starting school at Berklee. I just wanted a band to play the songs with. It was a whole different configuration at the time, but Claire and I met at a live session, where we were recording live instrumentation for a producer friend of ours. There was a connection when we played this simple three-cord thing, and having fun playing music in the educational setting, it’s easy to kind of forget that. It kind of went from there.
Claire Davis: We tell this story a lot, but when Leo and I met and I joined the band, it was like a six-piece with saxophone and percussions and the cello, and it was this whole different setup of a band than what we have now.
LS: I always feel like this is so important to mention. The Q-Tip Bandits in my heart… at first, I was like, “Let’s put a band together, let’s try and get all these interesting instruments in one room where you wouldn’t normally hear them together.” I hit this point where it was like, “I don’t think this is the music that I like, and this is not genuine to who [I am] and what music has inspired me.” Playing with Claire, having that setting of like, maybe I just want… maybe the music wants to sound more like what it’s sounding like now. We were coming into self in this process. The ethos behind the band has a lot to do with this sort of coming of age feeling of we’re all kind of in this shit show together, and that’s okay, and I’m okay with where I’m at.
CD: It’s very much about growing and growth.
That’s great, I think doing self-exploration within a project is what’s gonna make the project genuine. Leo, you talked a little bit about wanting to make the music closer to what inspires you, so I wanted to know what inspires you guys musically, whether it’s another artist or some other source of inspiration.
LS: For Claire, Dakota (Maykrantz) – who’s our drummer – and me, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have been the bonding point of our rhythm section (laughs). There’s something about their energy that we also try to embody in our music. There’s a lot of music out there that I could try to make, but I don’t think I could make, which is like the hype music, which is like good feelings for good feelings’ sake. What I love about the Red Hot Chili Peppers and what we’ve talked about as a band, [is] the driving, high-energy good feelings that come from the music.
There’s this intangible rootedness in something that is darker. That’s something we strive to do too, a feeling of joy because we know how much worse it could be. And there are a lot of good groups out there that do that, I personally like Hippo Campus, love the hippo boys (laughs).
CD: Foster the People.
LS: Foster the People is another one, local bands like Gentle Temper, Ripe – just people who are coming out of this scene who really carry that – there’s an intangible energy to folks, and it’s inspiring.
I want to hear you guys talk a little more about the Boston music scene, it sounds like you guys are rooted in the community that’s here. What’s that relationship given you, and what would you say to other local bands trying to get involved in the Boston music scene?
LS: (To Claire) You can take it. We have two very different perspectives because Claire isn’t from Boston originally.
CD: As someone who didn’t grow up here and who’s new to the music scene, and same with at Berklee and college, there’s a lot of people who don’t get the chance to really mingle and interact with the music scene outside of school. We get questions from time [to time] about how to break into the music scene beyond school or beyond the few venues that people are playing. What I’ve noticed and what I’ve experienced is just not expecting to play big shows right off the bat, but to go to open mics and go to small-scale events and just mingle with the people that are playing and introduce yourself. Play your three songs at an open mic and get your foot in the door for places. Get started very grassroots, from the ground up. I feel like that’s for any place you’re going to, but it feels like especially in Boston, the open-mic scene and the smaller scale shows are a big part of the scene and how people get to know each other and meet each other.
(To Leo) You can elaborate on that because you have more experience than me with that.
LS: Boston as a city for me has a big city feel in a little city, and same with the music scene. I feel like there are so many incredible artists and inspiring acts right now, but it’s all in this nucleus of a very small place. I can’t speak on anybody else’s experience but in my experience, it definitely was going to open mics. Even before the band was together, I had a couple of songs. I was going through some shit at the time, and I was just like, “I need an outlet to play some songs, meet some people who are doing the same thing.” I started going to the open mic scene. It overwhelms me in a very positive way, how much of a community has come from that, just the connections and how people have responded to the songs we play now.
It’s so great to see you guys involved, I love meeting the local artists and hearing all about their journeys. Shifting away from Boston, though, I read you guys did a freaking European tour (laughs)! What was that like?
LS: Yeah, it was… I don’t even know where to start (laughs). We were all studying abroad together. We’d planned this out a year in advance so we could all be together and play shows in Europe (laughs).
I love that (laughs). Get a little studying and touring in all at the same time (laughs)!
LS: (Laughs) Absolutely! We played a few SoFar Events, we played a conference, and we were lucky enough to meet people at that conference that owned a venue in Belgium, so we got to travel to Belgium and play at that venue. We played at Radio City in Valencia.
A lot of opportunities came from it. When we made the plans to play shows in Europe, it was also around the time we played our first tour when we had no music out, playing to three people in a basement in Ohio. All this opportunity came for us when we were overseas in a time when we were super hyped up to play in this band together and making questionable decisions (laughs). Very impulsive.
I’m sure it was a crazy experience.
CD: It was definitely a new experience for all of us. Like Leo said, we’d done a tour before, but it was our first tour where we were catching planes and catching buses to get to our next places, lugging our guitar hardshell cases through the airport. At one point, we almost missed a plane (laughs).
LS: We were the last people to get on the plane. You know how there’s those five minutes before they close the gate and they start paging people over the intercom, they were calling our names at the gate and we were trying to get to the gate (laughs).
CD: People were so good to us and so kind to us when we were traveling. They let us into their homes and put us up for the night when we were playing shows in these places we didn’t know. We often got fed by multiple families we stayed with (laughs). It was very nice, having these people who were strangers prior to that day open their house and just welcome us.
That’s so awesome, I’m so happy you guys had a great time! Shifting gears to now, is there anything you guys are working on currently? I guess this also goes with another question of mine, what are you guys doing as a band during these strange times?
LS: We have an EP on the way, which I think we’re very fortunate to have put in the work, and now it’s something we can work on remotely with each other now. We’re very lucky to have that timed out in that sense. It’s definitely a scary time, and everyone’s kind of scrambling with what’s gonna happen in the grand scheme of things, and then it’s like, “What’s gonna happen with us?”
We have been continuing to plan a tour for the summer. We have high hopes this will pass and we’re all gonna do our part to stay inside and do the necessary things and take care of ourselves and the community. We’re planning a tour for the summer, in July we’re trying to get twenty dates on the calendar from here to Chicago, and as far South as Philly.
That’ll be exciting! Do you wanna talk a bit about what the EP sounds like and the process behind it?
CD: These three songs that are on the EP are three of the oldest ones we’ve been playing together, which I think is very exciting for them to be released next. It’s been a tough recording process for us, lots of ups and downs and technical hiccups here and there. It has been a long process, but we’re super excited to get it into the world. It’s been a year since “Willow” was released, so I think us, as well as the people who really liked “Willow,” are itching to hear something else, and we’re excited to put something else out there as well.
LS: It’s exciting to have some [songs] that represent different colors of The Q Tip Bandits. Our music has different voices throughout it, and I think these songs really bring out those different voices that may be different from the one that’s in “Willow,” and that’s exciting.
Due to widespread event cancellations, music makers are struggling. With media support from WERS, The Record Company has established a fund to provide financial relief to Boston area music makers due to COVID-19. To learn more about the fund and apply or donate, please visit therecordco.org/covid-19