NQ Arbuckle on taking the long road to a lasting body of work

Thursday 09th, February 2017 / 17:41
By Mike Dunn

Neville Quinlan, charmer at the head of NQ Arbuckle, is as frank (and hilarious) as they come.
Photo: Heather Pollock

CALGARY — In a time of increasing attention deficits, Neville Quinlan is still willing to put in the effort as a craftsman of a larger picture. Having released five full-length albums since forming NQ Arbuckle in 2002, Quinlan has concentrated on avoiding the hype machine, preferring to take his time with his releases, and promoting the old-fashioned way: by playing to the smaller rooms that dot the Canadian musical landscape, and finding fans in the same fashion, by making friends.

“We’ve rarely played the big stages. We’ve built our following in small rooms, watching audiences grow by five people here, 10 people there,” Quinlan tells BeatRoute. “It’s impossible to not engage with the people when you’re building a small audience. In our experience, you can’t just sit back in the green room and not get to know your crowd. Fortunately, the crowds have always been really easy-going, and everyone at our shows tend to be big drinkers, so the bars are happy to have us back.”

As a musician, Quinlan has always been reticent to delve into the constant promotional cycle, steadfast in his belief that the audience still wants to hear full albums. “There’s a constant need for bands to reach out, to engage digitally with the audience,” he says. “Artists and the industry look at singles as a way to extend the business cycle, with a short period of promotion, before doing it all over again. There’s the inclination to be constantly releasing. But albums come naturally to us. To go into the studio for one song is foolish for what we do. It’s never been about one song, it’s about presenting a body of work.”

With that as the band’s overriding principle, they’re currently at work on the follow-up to 2015’s The Future Happens Anyway. “The last record, the production at least, was a shamble. I was still writing in the studio. The new one is about half-written. We go into the studio when we want to, once everything’s ready and worked out. We record mostly live off the floor, so it sounds like us; we work it up to a place where it naturally sits. I mean, I peaked on guitar at 14. The guys are much more accomplished, and when we’re working it out,” Quinlan mentions irreverently, “they don’t exactly make their opinions known in a kind way.”

NQ Arbuckle began as a band after Quinlan recorded his first album. “I was asked to do a very last-minute opener set. Luke Doucet was hanging out, and offered to produce the first record, so I flew out to Vancouver and we made the album out there.” Says Quinlan with a chuckle, “The guys were all in other bands around Toronto, and they decided they could do a better job backing me up.”

The band, including twin brothers Peter and Mark Kesper on guitar and drums respectively, bass player John Dinsmore, and “new guy” keyboardist Jason Sniderman (a member since 2008), have never burned themselves on the cold road of Canadian touring. “It’s never boring for us,” says Quinlan, with a notable tone of appreciation for the long-earned respect the band has gained. “We’ve never gone out for so long that we got tired of each other. When we go on the road together, it’s only for 10 days here, a couple weeks there. We’re never out so long that it’s not special for us.”

NQ Arbuckle plays The Ironwood on February 10th and Festival Hall on February 11th as part of Block Heater.

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