By Linda Tulett
I had never heard of Rabbit Quinn until just a few months ago. There is so much new music out there, it’s hard to dig through it all to find the golden nuggets some times. This is one reason why I always try to catch the opening act of bands I dig, because, well, I figure there is a good reason they were selected to start off the night. There must be something about the opener that catches the ear of the main act, or at least their management. So, showing up early is important. Not only to catch every second of The Box Set, and the stripped down acoustic version set one of the Box Set Duo-Trio featuring Furthur’s Jeff Pherson, but to see what the opener buzz was about. Yes, this guy gets around. Not only does he still get major invites to share his given wind pipe talent, most recently with the likes of Jefferson Airplane performing at Lockn’ 2015, but he’s still working on The Fall Risk while relighting the musical fire underneath his long-time gig, Box Set, and is also now managing local acts……. like Rabbit Quinn.
I did happen to catch the end of Quinn’s (a.k.a. Leila Motaei) opening set and was mesmerized by her solo performance as she commanded the attention of the room with soaring vocals and deeply connecting piano. Taking a lean against a supportive beam, I settled in to watch and listen… And watch. There she was, up there all alone, her and her synthesizer, just laying it out on the stage. At times, she appeared taken away by it all, while at the same time, being in control of every note. She was lost in her performance on the small stage, the lights completely dim aside from a lone spotlight shining on her musical glow. I looked around the crowd at faces fixed upon the stage as if they couldn’t help but stare, eyes and ears glued.
Mainly comprised of piano ballads, she delivers music that resonates deep from within. Her debut CD, Lost Children, is similar to her live performance, focused on smooth rich vocals, with drums softly keeping the beat for her listener, a bass that deeply vibrates at the level of your being, and sometimes even a touch of violin to fill out the spaces. While the cover of her album may look tame, a little on the southern “wholesome” side of things, there is a tinge of mystery behind the dilapidated building, the gaze in her eyes, the frayed edges of the image. And, the music is not at all tame. There are tales of things personal we may not clearly understand as the use of lyrics is not always literal. Making a well thought out musical choice, she has a way of evoking a feeling from what she simply tells you.
There’s something Tori Amos or Kate Bush about this girl. Jazzy and soulful, and a little odd, along with a smooth voice that has no problem hitting the stratosphere. At times she even reminded me of Joni Mitchell, the height of her voice and simplicity of instruments; and then she could be like Tom Waits, generating atmosphere and conjuring images, telling stories that grab you and pull you in to her world; or was it Nina Simone, the poetic truth to her songs and her honesty in performance. There is that level of fusion between classical and pop, or classical and jazz, or even a triple threat of classical, jazz and soul. Described as “unconventional” (I might agree), she writes literature and turns it into musical compositions that move from the dark to the delicate, from the romantic to the ordinary, allowing herself and the daring listener to meet in imagination.
Fables, exaggerations, imagery… you really do have to pay attention to understand what she is all about. I won’t even try to decipher what is behind this San Francisco based singer-song writer’s music filled with stories deep and deliberate and, at times, poetically painful. Exploring the depths of life, there are images of sexuality, self-worth, heartache, death and transformation all wrapped up in intense piano-based ballads that echo from the speakers. I was struggling to make a connection to her work, yet, days later, I found myself with her eerie, dark yet beautiful music still in my head. That’s when you know it was good. “October Girl” has a calliope ride feeling, an entertaining traveling show sort of feel. The voices in her head are fitting for October, with jack-o-lantern themes and black cat chances. Theatrical, the lyrics stick in your mind as if to haunt you.
Compared to other rock storytellers, she is more intense theatre than campy play as she let’s go and embodies the characters of her songs. Like, “Little Deer Hunter”, possibly a tale of powerful connections, intense sexuality that is wrapped in honeyed milk and lullabies, “Death of me, you will be the death of me. Arrows pierce the little deer. I am your hunted. Running deep in your woods periphery…. I can’t hold you in. I can’t drown you out….” Or in, “Lost Children”, the album’s title track enlists visions of escape, running away, seeking the unknown in hopes it is better than the known. What is waiting? Anything? To quench your thirst or swallow a disappointing bitter pill.
From the rock-ballad in, “Chanticleer” to the eerie echos of “For the Stones”, there is wildness behind her closed eyes as she chases monsters in the darkness. When you listen to Rabbit Quinn, you feel the emotions behind her voice and get a sense you are being shown a piece of her world that she shares with few. But don’t we all have these mysteries about us? Life is heartfelt and powerful, and Rabbit Quinn lets you into her kitchen and offers you a glimpse of her recipe for a potion of a little creative freedom.
Lost Children by Rabbit Quinn is available on CD Baby and iTunes and SoundCloud. Oh, and I cannot forget to add that she did all of the artwork (sans the cover image) for her release. Quite talented.