R&B fusionist Jake Quillin is relaxing in his new home in Texas and talking about his old job as a pizza maker in Tennessee.
“I personally don’t do it, I’ll say that. But I’m not one to judge," he says. "You can put as much pineapple on your pizza as you want.”
For a moment, the notion of revisiting his old life has him flabbergasted. “How did you dig that deep?” he asks laughing, as he takes a drag from his cigarette, backdropped by a massive Texas flag and sporting a grin wide as the gap between Dallas and Fort Worth.
Quillin recently released a new track, “Running,” where he takes his first steps away from the traditional Delta blues/R&B that occupied the sound on his debut full-length LP, Stormy Weather.
“It’s not a hip-hop song, per se,” Quillin says, plumbing his brain for an appropriate adjective. “But it’s definitely on that plane of existence.”
While hip-hop and Delta blues might sound incompatible to most ears, Quillin feels comfortable in either skin and intends for his sophomore album (tentatively titled Texas Medicine) to span the range between the two, with producer Jason Burt helming the bluesier material and Michael Ferguson producing the more “out-there” tracks, such as “Running.”
Coming after Stormy Weather, “Running” is a slight shock to the system. The former is a stark, practically one-man blues-soul show that might get algorithmically recommended to listeners of Ray Lamontagne, and the latter feels like a distant cousin of a track from Khalid’s debut LP. For Quillin, the idea that all genres are connected goes back to his idol Jimi Hendrix.
“He helped me realize how universal blues music is, and he showed me it’s OK to not know your place in the world," Quillin says. "Seeing how he put his struggles and frustrations into music was huge for me.”
When the question comes up about whether musicians should disclose the meanings behind their songs, Quillin pauses and references another one of his heroes, Bob Dylan.
“Obviously some songs are about certain things, but I think songs are whatever the listener needs them to be," he says. "When you write something that people can take multiple ways, to me that’s a great song. Dylan realizes that people do that, and that’s his thing.”
It’s mildly surprising that Quillin is so steeped in classic rock lore given his propensity toward hip-hop, but in a post-Post Malone world, the concept of “genres” seems to be more of a way to sort records in a store than an actual set of parameters for music making.
Genre-bending is almost a prerequisite among DFW musicians nowadays; Jonathan Tyler, Leon Bridges and St. Vincent all took an established sound and seemed to reformulate its entire scope around their own needs. Quillin is taking his first steps in that direction. He has the heart of a bluesman — laid-back and easygoing, but not detached or unemotional. It's the kind of soul that fits right in at Modern Electric Studios, ground zero for many Dallas-based musicians including The Texas Gentlemen.
“When I first heard of the Texas Gentlemen, I thought ‘Man, I want to be a Texas Gentleman,’” Quillin says laughing. “I didn’t even know what that entailed, but I knew I wanted to be one!”
"I’m from the east so something about being in the West ... there’s just something about the landscape and even being in the city. I can’t really explain it and I don’t think I’m ever gonna leave.” – Jake Quillin
Of course, the gentlemen he refers to is the collective of North Texas musicians that have played on recordings by Nikki Lane, Paul Cauthen, Jonathan Tyler and many others — including Quillin’s forthcoming record.
If you haven’t picked up on it at this point, then allow us to clarify: Jake Quillin is a Texas boy now and intends to keep it that way. His love affair with the Lone Star State has been, to say the least, a whirlwind romance. Back in Tennessee, he spent his days aspiring for more than sweating it out day after day in the fires of Greg’s Pizza.
One day, Quillin got a message from the Dallas-based Burt who said he liked his music and wanted him to drop by the studio. Naturally, the thousand-plus miles between Johnson City and Dallas posed an issue. Undaunted, Quillin buckled down and made it his goal to save enough money to visit Dallas. During that visit, Quillin and Burt recorded “Charlie,” Quillin’s breakout single, and began to entertain the idea of recording a full album. By November 2019, Quillin had become a Texas resident.
His escapist vision of Texas as an outsider has been the one many Texans and non-Texans alike perpetuate, the idea being that Texas is a place that “unlocks” the dreams of those who live there. The feeling perfectly evoked in Chris Rea’s own genre-bending 1989 anthem “Texas”: “Warm winds blowing, heat and blue skies, and a road that goes forever.”
“I’m a transplant, so I don’t want anyone to hate on me, but there’s definitely that romantic feeling," Quillin says of his new home base. "I’m from the East so something about being in the West ... there’s just something about the landscape and even being in the city. I can’t really explain it, and I don’t think I’m ever gonna leave.”