Intervew with Debutant

Posted on May 16, 2010

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Debutant is the outstanding solo project of Pillip Quirie. In essence it is one man and his guitar, but the result is far more than that, with a textured and layered soundscape that entices and engulfes as it washes over you in waves.  It is atmospheric, experimental and emotive music at it’s best, creating a sound vaster and more progressive than you would think a solo performer is capable. Some may know Mr. Quirie better as part of one of Scotland’s finest band’s, Meursault (which he modestly describes as a “quite well-liked band”), and while Debutant is a very different beast, the same level of exceptional songwriting and beauty are present. Debutant was extremely kind and has provided the site with an EXCLUSIVE; have a listen to the upcoming album version of Defintion, which was only finished last week and has not been heard anywhere, while you see what the man himself had to say.

Edinburgh seems to have really stepped up its game in musical terms recently, it must be an exciting time to be part of the capital’s music scene?

I don’t actually believe it’s a recent thing. Well, in relative terms, I suppose it is, but I have been very aware of a number of bands based in Edinburgh who have been writing, gigging, recording and releasing for a number of years now, but I suppose in terms of the “scene” (God, I hate that expression), it has just started gathering momentum more recently. The good bands, working together and befriending each other, always existed; but I guess the rise in audiences and press attention over the past two years or so has been quite pivotal in making Edinburgh really exciting just now. It almost feels as though there’s something really big just simmering away beneath the surface at the moment, and the atmosphere at most gigs just seems to be buzzing, with people taking a genuine interest in the bands producing music in their city. I’ve been very fortunate in the sense that I joined a quite well-liked band down here, so I was introduced to a lot of their friends and other bands through my involvement in the band, so I seem to have blended into the “scene” quite well. And I must say: it’s an absolute privilege.

How did the split single with Conquering Animal Sound come around?

Paddy and Andy, the two gentlemen who run Gerry Loves Records, had listened to my songs on ye olde myspace and came to see me at The Forest Café back in August 2009, shortly after I had moved to Edinburgh from Aberdeen. They introduced themselves after the gig and stated their intentions to release a split 7” with another as yet undecided act. They wanted to know if I’d be interested and I believe my simple response was: “Abso-fucking-lutely!” We then got together and discussed potential candidates for the flipside, and we all had Conquering Animal Sound at the top of our lists, so it was a no-brainer. We were all stoked when they agreed to be involved. They are both intelligent, funny and discerning individuals and together they make brilliant music – I believe they’ll do very well.

You seem to embody the ethos of DIY music, what are your feelings on the need for a record label these days?  is being signed something you desire?

Record labels are still absolutely crucial, and working with Gerry Loves Records has really highlighted that point to me – they put their heart, soul, and money into a project where success isn’t guaranteed and I really can’t thank them enough for all that they did for me with the 7” release and the launch mini-tour at the start of April. Furthermore, the band that I have joined are signed to a label called Song, by Toad, and seeing first hand what Matthew and Kate put into that label is seriously astonishing. And they do it all around very high-paced jobs in order to make things as easy for their bands as possible. It’s quite inspiring.

That said, the DIY ethos is still very much within my heart, because I just don’t believe in waiting for opportunities to come to you – you have to create them for yourself. Whether it’s releasing, booking shows, acquiring press – I feel it can all be done by musicians themselves if they invest a bit of time and effort into it. It doesn’t take much for one small opportunity to lead into a larger one. Of course, I am not disputing in any way that having a label, booking agent and PR agent respectively isn’t the better situation, but they don’t come easy – so why not Do It Yourself?

But to answer the last part of your question: I think the desire to be signed to the right label is shared by every musician.

You have bypassed the need for bandmates with your live set up, how has this developed over the years?

I’ve been involved in bands for the last six years of my life, but I was never the sole song-writer. Then I started writing songs for myself that I felt needed a little more. So I experimented with a loop pedal and realised that layering the guitars was the more that I needed to maintain my interest and add a little depth to the songs. Recruiting a band has actually always been an intention, but finding the right people is very difficult, and until I find the right drummer, I’m not even considering recruiting anyone else. Without the right drummer, I think Debutant as a band would perhaps be a little pointless. Given that, the live set-up has barely developed beyond me, my guitar, my pedals and my voice – I’ve just been focusing more on improving my technique and performing the songs better, rather than adding to the logistic of my live set-up.

What are the pros and cons for you of being a solo performer?

After my first ever solo gig it was my intention to NEVER be a solo performer ever again. I was truly horrendous, as was the experience. But hey, us humans are built to get over ourselves, right?

The biggest benefit of being a solo performer is the element of total control I have over everything. I’m not a control freak or anything (well, not really); it’s hard to explain, but it’s just sort of nice to know exactly where I stand with everything, and I don’t feel responsible for anyone but myself. In a band situation, I always feel responsible for, and protective of the others and it’s hard to forgive yourself if something goes wrong or isn’t quite right, yet if it’s just me, I’m only letting myself down. So it’s sometimes nice to experience the feeling of playing shows and touring just by myself, without that self-inflicted pressure. It’s actually quite liberating. On the flipside to that, however, I don’t get to share the experiences with my friends, like I do in the band – which is actually a big negative related to being a solo musician.

What is the songwriting process for you?

I almost always invent a basic guitar melody or chord progression and then take it from there. Usually, I’ll write the next phrase/passage and then work on a vocal melody. Once I have the vocal melody in mind, I either write lyrics in approximate fitting with the vocal melody, or work on incorporating existing lyrics. From there, I finalise the arrangement of the song and then embellish it with interlocking guitar melodies or layers of guitars. Or both. Or neither.

Have there been any particualr highlights in your musical career so far?

I’d say the split 7” launch with Conquering Animal Sound and Wounded Knee at the Roxy Room on the 2nd April this year was pretty magical. The venue was sold out, Wounded Knee was incredible and entertaining, Conquering Animal Sound impressed, and, for me personally, I had experienced what was probably my biggest low the evening before in Aberdeen, so the resounding success of Edinburgh show more than made up for it and it was the tonic I needed, so that was pretty special. I felt I played well that night and the audience were extraordinarily attentive, which is the sort of backdrop a performing musician yearns for and thrives before.

What are your plans in music for the next year?

Quite productive, I can gladly report. I have just started recording songs for the album with a chap called Colin Fraser, who was kind enough to offer his audio expertise and time into recording the album. What a gent. It’ll be a gradual process due to both of our time restrictions, but I aim to have the album ready for a winter release and a UK tour to coincide – probably in November. Currently, I will be releasing the album myself, finances permitting – probably with a very limited run. But I think that suits my demographic!

If you could steal a song from an act on the Scottish unsigned circuit and have it as your own, what song would you take?

Good question! There are some seriously good unsigned acts in Scotland right now, many of whom have written songs I would kill to have written, so narrowing it down to one is quite a task. Does Withered Hand count? They’re signed to a lovely wee indie, but fuck it – I’m choosing Religious Songs by Withered Hand. Dan writes quite intensely personal stuff, as he says it’s all he knows, so it’s hard to directly relate to it all, but some of it is easy to relate to perhaps on a symbolic level, and that’s what I get out of this song – plus it’s an absolutely beautiful tune.

If your music was to be the soundtrack to a film or TV programme which one do you think it would suit best?

I draw quite a lot of my sonic influence from seas and oceans, so I think some of my stuff would perhaps suit a programme like BBC’s Coast. Plus I love that show. King of Doublespeak is being used as the central song in the soundtrack to a really good indie film by Tim Courtney called An Artificial Light, so naturally I have to say that’s the perfect film for Debutant to soundtrack!

And finally, a totally random question from Amber Wilson: Do you collect anything?

To be honest, I think the only thing that I could be deemed to be collecting these days is music. But I consider it less a “collection” and more like “a pile of ace noises that I can immerse myself in”. But in the sense of actually repeatedly buying one thing, I’d say music is my only collection.

When I was younger (I’m talking around 9-13 years old), though, I used to collect novelty pencil sharpeners. I have absolutely no idea if the collection remains – I hope my mother has them packed away in her loft or something, because there were some seriously ace ones. I had one shaped like an X-wing from Star Wars, with the pencil hole and blade doubling as a sort of rocket booster at the back. That was pretty cool.

A big thanks to Debutant for taking the time to answer some questions, and here’s how you can hear/ see more of him:

To listen to more tracks, check the Debutant website.

1st June – Blank Studios, Newcastle

2nd June – Brel, Glasgow

3rd June – Roxy Room, Edinburgh

4th June – Barrels, Berwick Upon tweed

You can buy the Debutant/ Conquering Animal Sound split single at the fantastic Gerry Loves Records website, but it’s a limited release and has already sold out of the deluxe edition, so I’d get on it quick.

Have a look at the An Artificial Light (Trailer) from Tim Courtney on Vimeo.

Top photo by Heidi Kuisma, middle photo by Scott Carroll.

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