Original Photo: Liam Brownlie. Handmade collage by B.
Naarm/Melbourne-based musician Winter McQuinn gifts us a shimmering psychedelic pop album, A Rabble of Bees. Themes of environmentalism, friendship, connection and change thread throughout the highly enjoyable jaunt. Gimmie got in touch to find out more about the record and learn more about project, Green Your Noise, co-created with Acacia Coates (Pinch Points) as an initiative for musicians and creative industry workers to get a better idea of how to make events and tours more sustainable.
Hi Winter! How are you? What did you get up to today?
WINTER MCQUINN: I’m doing okay! Drove back from Wadawurrung Country / so-called Fairhaven today on the Great Ocean Road, it’s so dreamy down there. Currently in the midst of either cancelling the rest of the album tour or continuing it! Geez.
What inspired your new album’s title A Rabble Of Bees?
WM: The album had a couple of name options. A Rabble of Bees was actually an idea given to me by the album covers visual artist Zac Terry when we we’re talking about what a group of Bees were called. A Rabble! I think the album was always going to be called something related to Bees; due to the environmental theme running throughout the songs as well as the idea that these songs all used to be B-sides and really rough demos before they got cleaned up.
This collection of songs was written during lockdown; how did writing help you during this time?
WM: Writing was something that I could do to escape from the world around me and make something that was purely creative and not driven by any other forces. I think that I’m always influenced by the world around me though and this poured into my songwriting around this album’s conception. The privilege to be able to spend a lot of time writing and demoing heaps of ideas is something I’m very grateful for and think it’s important to use that privilege to write about things that matter and are meaningful to you.
What sparked the writing of ‘George Harrison’s Crystal Ball’?
WM: I was inspired after a conversation with my mum about our Prime Minister (gross) and her hope for his kids to grow up to be contemporary artists and to reject the church because that would really hurt him the most. It’s really just a foretelling of what future he’s condemning his own kids (and everyone’s kids) to. The name is centred around looking into the future and the guitar line after the first verse kinda gave me George Harrison vibes.
What’s your favourite lyric you’ve written for this record? Where did it come from?
WM: Hmm probably the line between me and Acacia “you make avocados green, yes you do, bananas yellow and still you” I had the most fun with that haha. I think I really wanted to keep it fun and light with the lyrics on Friendship Pheromone and this was the perfect encapsulation of that feeling in a few words.
What was the best part about recording this record yourself in home studios in Brunswick and Northcote?
WM: I guess the freedom both financially and creatively is the best part about home studios in general. Most of the album was done in the Northcote spot which is where I wrote it all. To have written and recorded my first solo album in my childhood home feels pretty special so I think that might be the best part.
Can you tell us a little bit about the recording process? It was produced by Sunfruits’ drummer Gene Argiro and recorded with two SM57 microphones, right?
WM: The recording process was a pretty messy one in all honesty, there was never any intention with this group of songs to make them into an album but I’m so glad they are now! I usually send most demos that I’m working on to Gene to see what he thinks and suss if they’re worthy or not to make the Sunfruits bag of magic. These songs we’re all tracks that maybe didn’t quite fit the Sunfruits vibe but still we’re worthy of something.
I think I actually just decided I wanted to clean up the songs a bit more and asked Gene if he’d wanna mix them. He is such a talented producer, mixing engineer and songwriter and makes everyone he works with a better songwriter so It was a blessing to have him mix these songs. All the recording was done with two SM57s that I have (Drums included!) and I think sometimes that’s all you need.
Some of the songs are centred around friendships; did you find your friendships changed in any way during or even after time spent in isolation due to the lockdown?
WM: Yeah, I think that friendships in my life changed profoundly during lockdown. When you’re involved in a music community, I think you are “friends” with so many people as you share a common interest and share common meeting places e.g., venues, record stores, festivals, studios etc and that helps you connect with a vast range of people. Lockdown changed and stopped these connections from happening as regularly so I felt quite isolated and had a longing for that feeling again.
We really love the song ‘Friendship Pheromone’; what was the writing process for this track? Acacia Coates does vocals on ‘Friendship Pheromone’ and ‘Tangerine La’; what do you love most about her voice?
WM: Thanks so much! “Friendship” was written during a particularly hard part of lockdown where I was really missing a lot of the people in my life. It’s just a reminder to love your friends and spend time with them and listen to them. Acacia is my favourite collaborator and we really have a great synergy when it comes to songwriting and general life! She has such a good ear for melodies and writing catchy but interesting lines and lyrics. I love her voice and just asked if she wanted to sing on both of those tracks.
Nature is a recurring theme on the LP; what compels you to write about the environment?
WM: I think nature and the environment is on my mind most days, it’s all around us and is us, we are it, it is us but I think we’ve lost touch with that. I think it informs anything I do and it has such an effect on my moods and life in general so it was kind of inevitable that it intertwined with all the songs on the album.
Acacia and yourself started Green Your Noise after questioning what else you could do, as musicians and individuals, to combat climate change, for those who might not know about it; can you give us an overview? What’s something important you’ve learnt from this initiative?
WM: Yep! So, we co-founded Green Your Noise together as a way to help musicians and creative industry workers get a better idea of how to make their own events and tours more sustainable. In short, Green Your Noise is an online carbon calculator specifically tailored to musicians and creative industry workers who want to figure out the emissions created from their events, how to mitigate them and how to make their events more sustainable in the future.
I think the one of the most important things we’ve learnt by doing this project is how eager everyone in the creative sector is to be able to work out their impact and how to mitigate it. It was also really interesting to really get into the nuts and bolts of carbon calculating and accounting and just how broken our systems are in terms of power, waste management and transport.
What’s something that’s been interesting to you lately that you’d like to share with us?
WM: I’ve recently been researching the history of environmental activism within music and songwriting and just seeing how widespread and how far back the two go together is really interesting and quite inspiring. To see it in the mainstream as well with Billie Eilish etc is really great, a personal favourite from these research sessions has been a song “I Pity The Country” by Willie Dunn, really powerful folk music from the 60s/70s that’s still so poignant today.
Are there any other projects you’ve been working on?
WM: Yeah a few! I’ve been working on a concept album quietly in the background which is examining environmental activism within music which will be paired with a visual accompaniment. I’ve also been preparing with Sunfruits to record our debut album at a house down on Great Ocean Road which I’m super excited about!
What was the last thing that made you really, really happy?
WM: I think getting to play the solo album live with a group of musicians and people I really admire made me really happy. To be able to travel and play songs you’ve written is a huge privilege and I’m very grateful to be able to do that.