NQ to the XOK

Raspy as hell, Neville Quinlan of NQ Arbuckle is kind of sweet

Blusey and country-esque, NQ Arbuckle are too busy making music to decide what to label themselves.
Blusey and country-esque, NQ Arbuckle are too busy making music to decide what to label themselves.

I interrupted Neville Quinlan—the NQ of NQ Arbuckle—in the midst of a chilli lunch. As he told me this, I began to think, “Man, chilli is so NQ Arbuckle.” Think about it. As a dish, chilli doesn’t mess around with fancy ingredients or pretentious labels. No, chilli, at its heart, is robust but comfortable. It’s simple but can impress the most sophisticated of palates. Although I wouldn’t describe NQ Arbuckle’s most recent album XOK as purely simple in taste or in terms of a meaty dish, I can say that Quinlan is probably one of the most legit and down-to-earth musicians I’ve ever talked to.

Along with Quinlan the band is compiled of former bullfighter and bassist John Dinsmore and Mark and Peter Kesper. Although the band’s sound is defined as ‘country’ or ‘country folk’ in Canadian music magazines, Quinlan himself couldn’t give a toss about genre. For him, it’s all about the music.

“We’re thrown into that [country-folk] group, I don’t really worry about genres. … I don’t see it as my job to come up with what we sound like, it’s more we come up with the music, people can figure out where it falls into the great pantheon,” Quinlan said.

Though Queen Street cowboys line up to see NQ Arbuckle in Toronto, when the band plays out west, they’re a different act altogether.

“I think that in Toronto we’re a country band and in Alberta we’re a rock band.” Either way for NQ Arbuckle, it really doesn’t matter. Besides avoiding the plastic pantomime of genre and subsequent scenesters, NQ Arbuckle don’t even have a manager. They book all their own gigs.

“We only play the places that we choose to play. We don’t have to worry about doing a lot of gigs. We book our own shows,” Quinlan said. Despite NQ’s reluctance to be assigned a genre, the band’s third studio release from Six Shooter Records definitely has a country-folk feel. XOK has been met with a barrage of positive critical acclaim since its release earlier this year, and while XOK may appear as laid-back as Quinlan at first listen, the album’s lyrical poetry and rustic sound reveals a considerable transformation from their earlier releases.

“I listen to a lot of different music—[our sound] could be some of the Drive By Truckers, The Pogues, Dylan, Tom Waits,” he said.

Although the band’s influences are varied, the recording process appears to be something of an art. NQ describes having an intimate relationship with his music.

“You record it, you listen to it and you say, ‘I need a guitar in the back’ or ‘the back-ups need to sound like this Leonard Cohen song.’ The song tells you what it needs.” Ever so modest, Quinlan’s not one for self-promotion, as the description of his musical process makes brilliant songwriting look easy. The album is wrought with such articulate direction, but still manages to sound rustic. Quinlan describes it like building a small Lego home.

If the haunting, wide-open slide guitar doesn’t pluck your most aortal of sentiments, then the poetry will. NQ Arbuckle’s lyrics, delivered by Quinlan’s characteristic triumphant rasp spews poetry both gruff and divine. The fifth track “Marco Polo” sounds like a hung-over confessional; something you listen to when driving a rusty car away from a shitty situation. And while NQ Arbuckle are commonly regarded as a country band, there is a distinct blues ingredient in the mix.

The album’s second cut ‘Part of a Poem by Alden Nowlan Called Ypres: 1915’ is a shout out to one of NQ’s most distinct poetic influences, Canadian poet Alden Nowlan.

“Last year, I found an Alden Nowlan poem. One of the songs on the record is part of this poem. He is a New Brunswick poet, and the poem totally floored me—the song we cover on that—it haunted me for so long,” Quinlan said.

“There are some Canadian people that are really influential, he is definitely one of them.”

The Canadian landscape is an important theme to the band. The album seems to take place in a variety of different locations as the lyrics guide the listener through the back-roads of the Canadian countryside.

“In a lot of ways musicians are the most knowledgeable [about Canada]—we travel a lot.”

“Ontario, Michigan” speaks of Toronto’s Downtown Queen street, while “Huntsville Affair” takes you further north, into the living room of some former friend.

“We go to places that aren’t main tourist centers, off the trail. I’ve been able to travel back, and you get a real sense of the country. In seeing that, you appreciate it so much more than you think you would. I’ve toured in the states and Italy but it’s always great to come home”.

Good news though—they’re back home in Canada and playing a sold-out show at The Grad club this Friday with Elliot Brood. If the band is taking requests, ask for “Mincing Words” and while you do it, wink at the cutie you’ve been eyeing near the window. It will totally seal the deal.

If you can’t make the show, be sure to check out their album XOK. If you’ve got a soul, you won’t be disappointed.

NQ Arbuckle play with Elliot Brood tonight at The Grad Club.

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