The more Quilt grows, the more it actually does resemble a quilt. The four-piece indie rock act moved from Boston to New York, write songs all over the US, and captures a musical style somewhere between the breezy guitar riffs of Real Estate and the funk-driven groove of ‘70s jams. “We’ll always be a Boston band,” singer-guitarist Anna Fox Rochinski says over the phone. It’s assuring to hear straight from her mouth. Now that their third full-length, Plaza, comes out Feb 26th via Mexican Summer, they’re stitching their parts together into an even more colorful image. To celebrate, she and the rest of the band—guitarist Shane Butler, drummer John Andrews, and bassist Keven Lareau—take over the Museum of Fine Arts this Friday.
To revel in their homey sound, Quilt began constructing songs that would make up Plaza in a space called Grocery On Home. “It’s this guy Matt [Arnett]’s house actually,” says Butler. “He bought an old grocery that’s off of Grant Park in Atlanta. The downstairs, where we spent a lot of time demo-ing the record, is actually an old grocery store. He took everything out so now it’s just kind of looks like a lost area on the ground floor, but there’s this really cool, old Coca-Cola decal on the side of the building, like an old painting.”
The four spent three weeks in that cozy ex-corner mart putting parts together. The songs themselves were written all over the map—at a house in Jamaica Plain, beside the Hudson River, on the Taconic Parkway, with friends in Atlanta—though some songs, like “Hissing My Plea”, were fully birthed at Grocery on Home thanks to spur-of-the-moment inspiration from the south.
“Every song has it’s own way that it came to be,” says Rochinski. “Some of them were written many years ago by one person… Some of them are things that multiple people had been carrying around as a note and then pasted it all together. For me personally, that’s one thing that’s really exciting about playing in a band with multiple songwriters. It’s an opportunity for moments to come up where something I would never be able to write on my own happens.”
“For us, I think it’s a pretty eclectic record,” says Butler. “I like all of the songs at different times depending on what I’m doing and where I am. There’s some I can reminisce and get nostalgic and sad about, and then there’s stuff I can go shopping in the grocery store to.”
Where Plaza excels is in its use of string arrangements. Songs like “Eliot St.” and “Hissing My Plea” saw Simon Hanes, a staple of Boston’s avant-garde scene, work his magic in subtle ways – a fate-like collaboration after Rochinski and co. tried to help him design a logo for Kishi Bashi, a multi-instrumentalist for whom Hanes also does string work. “We did not anticipate having the opportunity to have such beautiful and professional arrangements done on them,” she recalls. “I suddenly remembered this time that must have been two summers ago when we met. I was visiting my friend and was in in his room and remember him immediately being really excited about talking about music and saying ‘I want to be a professional arranger. That’s my goal.’” Despite only meeting twice before, the band asked Hanes if he could arrange string parts for the record. He, of course, said yes. “It was super professional,” Rochinski laughs. “He has such a great ear and we were singing some of our ideas into his voice memos on his iPhone, and then he just nailed it. He came up with these really great parts.”
For such a sporadic record, it seems comical they went with a title like Plaza. Yet, it works – and it works well. Plazas are the strip malls of America, where the smells of a neighboring KFC float into a hyper-local vintage store placed next door to a dog groomer. It’s a community where neighbors have no connection to one another. “My dad even called me recently and was like, ‘that was a genius idea because you see that word everywhere!’” Rochinski says with a smile. “Honestly, the South Shore Plaza was one of the first plazas I knew of growing up in Boston. That might have been one of my earliest introductions to the word.”
It’s common culture – yet it’s also the beautiful park at New York City’s Union Square Plaza. “It’s this word that has so many different meanings to it, and you could draw the Quilt reference to this because it’s just a conglomeration of a bunch of different things to make one unit,” says Butler. “When we were in Atlanta, Anna goes, ‘I have the word ‘plaza’ floating in my head,’ and I just said, ‘yes.’ From the first time you said it, I was like, ‘yeah.’ There was no question about it. It just made sense.”
In a way, the lyrics do the same. Instead of harping on the band’s psychedelic tag like critics seem to, fans should take note of its words. Quilt print their lyrics in an intentionally legible font and ideal size so listeners can read them like a book. From the personal details in “Roller” to the short story setup of “O’Connor’s Barn”, there’s a lot to discover. Quilt holds its lyrics close with hopes that you do, too.
Since Plaza plays like a collection of sounds from various cities, it represents the band’s identity. Quilt’s sense of home is split. When the four finished college, most of their friends moved shortly after, and then fellow musicians relocated, too. Because they find themselves spread out location-wise—Rochinski’s in upstate New York (“It was sort of unknown territory for me; I love it… but Boston is a home because it’s where I grew up.”) and Butler’s in New York City (“A lot of things were changing in my life, so I needed to get out for a bit and ended up back in New York, where I’m from.”)—they’re holding album release shows in both Boston and New York City.
“The Boston one’s way cooler though,” Butler laughs. “Anna and I both when to school at the Museum of Fine Arts. To get to do that performance… well, I remember seeing a few projects there when I was in school and going to the MFA to see concerts, and it’s just incredible. The vibe there is incredible.”
He’s right. Everyone from Joanna Newsom to the Mountain Goats have played inside the MFA. Live film scores are performed in the courtyard. Quilt has been lucky enough to see many of these, and remember them, long after sitting down to watch.
“There was a tour that happened where a bunch of these great, psychedelic musicians from Philadelphia did a live score to this beautiful old film,” says Butler. “You know when you go to shows and people from all of your different friend groups are at this one event? That was like this show. All my friends who were fine artists and musicians came to this. It was really special.” By the sound of it, their record release show will be a similar meeting spot.
Perhaps what makes Quilt such a Boston band is the fact that they still miss the city. Other acts make no effort to hide a good riddance attitude after relocating. For them, it’s a home they think back on fondly. “The fact that Boston is so small really works to the advantage of the art and music community,” says Rochinski. “It’s easy to navigate, and I just miss riding my bike all around the place, seeing all the neighborhoods and all my friends in the different, little pockets. It’s special. It’s like this cast of characters who are really easy to see all the time.”
Of course, they couldn’t forget the notorious, nonstop supply of house shows. “I really miss going all over the city to really random people’s houses for shows, like who I have never really met before,” laughs Butler. “You go into this really intimate space, like a living room with 15 people there, where you’d have a forty or somebody’s shitty two-dollar wine and you’d be sitting on the rug watching somebody perform on acoustic guitar. Half the songs might be well-written and half of them would be totally pulled out of the bag. Having this kind of intimate experience with a bunch of strangers and all being young, I think it’s a nostalgia for being young.”
Luckily for Quilt, Boston’s as nostalgic for their return as they themselves are. Can we really say we’re surprised?
QUILT, TREDICI BACCI. FRI 2.26. MFA,465 HUNTINGTON AVE., BOSTON. 7:30PM/ALL AGES/$20. MFA.ORG.