There’s a cruel irony in speaking to the band Quilt on the road to California while hunkered down in Boston during yet another snowstorm. The four-piece with roots in the Boston area play the type of music for which critics regularly bottom out their bag of summery synonyms. “Held in Splendor,” the band’s latest release, and second LP, out now on Mexican Summer records, finds them once again carousing through the textures and timbres of the Summer of Love-era psych-folk.
It hasn’t all been flowers and gentle breezes off the bay for the band, now in the midst of a months-long stint on the road, guitarist and vocalist Shane Butler explained outside a vintage record shop in Portland, Ore. A trek across the mountains in Washington that week found them contemplating a threateningly wintry landscape. The highways were covered in snow, he explained, and the car was sledding down the hill. “We used it as a snowboard,” he joked, although it didn’t seem funny at the time.
“I was looking out the window totally captivated by the view, in awe, thinking, ‘This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.’ But then, ‘I’m going to die. Death has come upon me. It’s time to leave the planet.’ ”
A few days earlier at a stop in Wyoming, they were given a hotel room near Devils Tower that wasn’t as it seemed. “We got there and we were totally exhausted. They gave us a room, 1218, we get up into the room, slide the card in, and the TV is blasting,” he explained. “There was an old man spread out on the bed, and woman across the room. I was like, ‘Hell . . . ’ Neither responded, but their eyes were open. I shut the door thinking I’ve got to get out of here. I told the clerk there were people in there, and he looks at me with a freaked-out look, ‘Well excuse me sir, there’s no one in Room 1218.’ That was like a real thing. We were like, ‘This is messed up.’ ”
Run-ins with the natural, the supernatural, and the surreal are readily conjured on “Held in Splendor” by the band, which also includes John Andrews on vocals and drums, Anna Rochinski on vocals, guitar, and organ, and newer addition Kevin Lareau on bass. “Mary Mountain” finds them wassailing through agrestic three-part harmonies that feel like a roll down a flower-strewn butte. The Rochinski-sung “Arctic Shark” is a hallucinatory sitar-led meander.
As such, the band has earned more than their fair share of comparisons to the touchstones of the genre from the ’60s and beyond.
And while Rochinski sounds like she’s fully at home in the present (“The only experience we have is the time we’ve actually lived,” she tells me) she knows she is of a generation that is uniquely drawn to imagined nostalgia, she said. “It’s the whole weird referential culture we live in. It comes out whether we like it or not in the art our generation is making. I was having a moment on stage last night, I was thinking about this. Thinking about how you get pigeonholed into a genre no matter what. It’s either going to reference something that already happened, or a lot of stuff that’s happening right now and it all gets combined into this one stew. I think that’s the nature of a lot of music writing right now.”
Quilt’s recipe calls for more than just Fairport Convention, Pentagram, the Beatles, and the Mamas and the Papas. There’s more ’70s Krautrock in the mix than many listeners might pick out, along with more recent reference points like Blur. There are also undercurrents of old folk, blues, and country from the earlier part of last century, as well as some experimental drone-based mantra music, said Rochinski, whose background in classical singing (she met Butler while both were attending the School of the Museum of Fine Arts) influences their harmonic arrangements.
“We’ve started to think of it as different traditions of genre that start at different times,” said Rochinski. “There was a huge movement in the middle of the last century of culture and freedom that started something that’s still going on. It’s a genre, like painting or film, with different types of storytelling and narrative that happen, and they keep moving throughout time, moving into a new context as the times go on, but the fundamental philosophy or principles stay concrete. They just morph through every era that happens.”
In that sense, Quilt may not be exactly of their own specific time, but they’re particularly representative of the times themselves.Luke O'Neil can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @lukeoneil47.