RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW AMERICAN ARTIST QUINN STERNBERG
What made you decide that music is a thing for you?
I listened to music pretty obsessively from a young age. Even before I started playing I had a pretty good idea that it was something I wanted to be involved in. My first instrument was piano, but once I started playing electric bass at age 12 it quickly became my main life focus.
Introduce us to your musical history.
I grew up listening to the classic rock music my parents exposed me to and took classical piano lessons starting at age 7. Artists like Bob Dylan and The Beatles became early obsessions for me as a listener, and in my piano lessons, I began dabbling in composition pretty early on.
When I first picked up the bass I started working on the music I was listening to at the time- Pink Floyd, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Grateful Dead etc., and eventually my teacher exposed me to Jaco Pastorius.
That was kind of my gateway to Jazz, and I went backwards through history to really dig into Miles Davis and Clifford Brown as well as more contemporary artists.
I ultimately went to school at Indiana University for Jazz Studies and spent 7 years in New Orleans, digging deeper into Jazz while still keeping an active touring schedule with rock bands and other creative projects.
What was life like for you before music?
I don’t know that my life was ever completely devoid of music, but I did try to dabble in some other things before taking my craft seriously. I tried to play almost every sport and was pretty bad at all of them, but I did have a lot of fun running around with my friends.
What was the first song you heard that steered you into a music path?
As a listener, my first favorite song was “Idiot Wind” by Bob Dylan. I loved the tongue in cheek, insulting lyrics and had the whole 7-minute track memorized and would sing along using my best Dylan impression. Learning Jaco’s tune Continuum was a big one for me as a bassist. The way he made the electric bass sing was really eye-opening for me and led me down the fretless bass rabbit hole for a while.
Where do you feel you currently sit within the music industry?
I’ve been working full-time in this industry for over a decade now. There is always a ton of room to grow as a musician and a life of learning to do, but I think I’ve established myself as a bassist and composer with a unique voice.
I’ve been lucky to work in some great music communities and tour around the world a bit to meet folks in different places.
I’m not a big-timer by any means, but I think plenty of people know me as a guy who’s been working hard for a while now.
What’s the biggest thing you have learned from someone else in the industry?
One of my closest friends in the industry Charlie Ballantine has been a really cool connection to follow. We’ve been playing and touring together since college, and it’s been great to see how his career has taken off through a steady and consistent work ethic. There’s no magic tricks to success in music, but if you’re willing to continuously put out records, book tours, and work on the craft while effectively promoting your music good results will come.
Tell us Two truths and a lie about you.
I once had an appendectomy done and the surgeon informed me afterwards that I didn’t actually have an appendix in the first place.
A gorilla once tried to punch me in the face through plexi-glass at a zoo.
I played center in the NBA for the Chicago Bulls.
If you could wish for one thing to aid your career what would it be?
I would love to get my original music out to some bigger stages and audiences. Getting to tour in the Jazz Festival circuit is definitely a dream of mine that I’m striving towards.
Do you ever worry about people taking things the wrong way or cancel culture? Discuss….
I don’t worry about cancel culture because all of the people who have been “canceled” are still pretty much rich and famous.
I do think people need to communicate better and not jump to conclusions about others without giving them a chance. Some of the inspiration for “Walking On Eggshells” is about communication breakdowns and polarization.
I see it as less about canceling and more about a failure to be sensitive and open-minded.
Do you sign up for any conspiracy theories? If not why not?
Not really, but I’m also not surprised by anything these days.
What was the worst experience on stage?
Oh, man. I’m not sure about the all-time worst. My trusty sax player Sam Taylor had a Louisiana wasp called a mud dauber fly into his suit and sting him 8 times while playing “Jingle Bells” on a private Christmas gig. I’ll call that the worst on his behalf.
Tell us something about you and/or each band member that you think people would be surprised about.
I think a lot of people are surprised with how involved and interested I am in styles of music other than Jazz. It’s pretty common for people to go all in on that style, but I love all music equally despite my compositions existing primarily in the Jazz realm. Also I’m a huge New York Mets baseball fan. Next year could be the one.
What makes you stand out as an artist?
I think a lot of rhythm section players can fit into one of two camps: Supportive and functional or creative and adventurous. When things are going right for me I think I can effectively bridge the gap between those two concepts in a way that is somewhat uncommon for a bass player. As a composer, I think my uniqueness comes from my interest in so many different types of music. It’s easier to stand out if you aren’t emulating any one sound too closely and can draw upon a lot of different sounds.
What can you tell us about your new album, Walking on Eggshells?
Walking On Eggshells merges styles like Contemporary Jazz, Rock, Hip-Hop, Classical, and Free Jazz to create what I think is the truest expression of my thing to date. The songs were inspired by emotions I was feeling over the last couple of years trying to navigate being a freelance bassist, bandleader, and person in a strange post(ish)-covid world. It’s a record that means a lot to me, and I think there’s something on it for everyone.
What was the recording process like?
The recording was easy and fun for this one. I love working with Rick Nelson at Marigny Studios, and my bandmates are all pros and great people to be around. I wrote up a schedule detailing how I wanted to go about the session down to the minute mark, and we stuck to it almost perfectly. With all of the setbacks you normally experience in the studio, it felt like a miracle.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tunes for Walking on Eggshells?
I tried adapting the Jazz idiom to represent song forms you might find in Rock or Pop music for this one. I wanted the solos to feel like sections of the songs that enhance the compositions rather than being the sole focus of the music. It was interesting to try to write solo forms that depart from written melodic material yet still relate to the song.
Would you change anything now it’s finished?
Not really. There are always one million things you could do differently, but I think it’s healthiest to enjoy what you created and keep moving forward. I like this album a lot and I’m more focused on the next one now.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
I’ve probably shared too much already, but I’ll preach to the choir and remind anyone reading this that artists don’t make money when you stream their music. We all genuinely appreciate you taking the time to check out our stuff online, but we also each have thousands of CDs, records, and merch pieces in our closets from projects that probably lost a ton of money. If you care about the future of original recorded music you can help protect that future by occasionally paying for the art you consume.