By Joseph Draper, History Student
After a performance at Bristol’s HY Brasil Club, History student Joseph Draper caught up with Jonny Quinn, lead singer of the up-and-coming student Indie band, SPINN
Born and raised in Liverpool, Jonny Quinn and his four-man band study musical production at Liverpool John Moors whilst making their own music and touring across the country and beyond- from the O2 arena in their hometown to London, Bristol and even Tokyo.'I was 15 when I started doing covers of Arctic Monkeys in my first band', says Quinn, 'then I got into The Smiths. That band also failed. Then Andy, the guitarist for Spinn, got in touch and said ‘you like The Smiths. I like The Smiths. Let’s make music together’. Then it kind of spun from there'.
The band have come a long way since they first started playing songs by their adolescent indie idols and the pressure of balancing band life with his university commitments often proves to be a physical and psychological challenge for Quinn. Speaking from his university living room, Quinn, who also has a part time job as a carpark steward, reflects on the band’s performance in Liverpool’s O2 Arena, where they performed to an audience of 500 people just a few days earlier: 'university seemed like the best option when we first got together but now with tours and that it’s getting harder to keep them both together. You can’t allow the band to go to your head but it’s hard to get back into the normal Uni routine when a few days ago I was performing to 500 people who were just singing along to the lyrics I wrote in my bedroom. It’s like a rollercoaster. I can definitely see it being a bit of a problem in the future but at the end of the day if the tours clash (with university) obviously I’m gonna go with the band. It’s out of my hands. I like to do what I love - going around the country, making music'.
Like any entrepreneurial endeavour, to build a band from scratch requires persistence, ingenuity and no short amount of risk taking: 'we were making losses at first, then we started breaking even. Now with this tour we’ve finally started making money. Bands are basically a small business. You start off with loses and then you gain more confidence. The key is to invest the money straight back into it and to work hard. You can’t just walk in and think you’re gonna make it. It’s the same with any industry. The people who have made it have worked hard at it for years. You just have to be patient and put in the hours. It’s kind of offensive when people say artists and musicians aren’t hard workers'.
Success can build incrementally and through short and surprising bursts. SPINN gained popularity in South America last year when a Spotify algorithm added one of their tunes to a South American playlist: 'so, I put a song out on Spotify and it was doing ok- about 4,000 listens. The next day I checked it’d gone up from 4,000 to 44,000. By Monday we were in the top 40 on the Argentinian Hype-Charts, just beneath Harry Styles. This one tune, 'Notice Me', is massive in South America for some reason'.
Since it’s rise to popularity as an instant streaming service, Spotify has been the subject of sharp contention amongst new and established artists in the industry. Artists like Taylor Swift have accused it of undermining the value of art and Business Insider has reported that Spotify pays less than a penny per play to labels - an amount which is shared with the artist themselves. Others, such as the New York based musician, Vérité, have called it a 'tool for enterprising Indie Artists'. Spotify itself claims that its business model is better viewed from the perspective of the amount artists might earn from constant streaming of their songs over a period of years. This could contribute to a steady flow of income rather than the larger but infrequent payments acquired through record sales.
Having gained from Spotify, Quinn reflects on how it might affect new artists like himself: 'it’s essential now. Nobody’s gonna buy CDs no more unless you’re already established. And they cost so much to make. If you release consistently on Spotify, you’ll end up with better stats and more people willing to buy your album. You have to be willing to adapt. The 1975 are a perfect example- they’re innovators. They understand how people’s listening habits are working now. They bring out something like 6 singles in 6 months. That keeps your stats going and when the album comes along people will buy it'.
As well as the new addition of their fans in South America, SPINN have been accumulating a steady base of young people who enjoy their music up and down the UK. According to a local media site in Liverpool, one girl tattooed the artwork for their single, 'Green Eyes', onto herself - a drastic statement of support for a small-time indie band. Although the first tremors of success can be exciting, Quinn reflects on some of the challenges of being the band’s front man:'I try and stay pretty grounded but sometimes you can get carried away with it'.
A performer’s persona can often become restrictive too: 'I sometimes feel like I have this persona. I am quite a quiet person and sometimes it’s difficult to find the difference between Johnny and Johnny Quinn from SPINN. It becomes a bit of a grey area occasionally. The bigger we’ve got the more I’ve realised you’ve got to keep it in mind but it’s really hard. Sometimes I’m just in a bad mood and people expect you to be Johnny Quinn. It makes me feel bad when I’m not happy and bubbly. You get boxed into this one personality that people know you as. It’s hard when people expect you to be this one person all the time. I don’t really want to preach to people about that darker side of things. I want SPINN to be inclusive. I’m up there on stage dancing around like an idiot and the people in the crowd should be able to do the same. We’re not in a good enough position to speak up about that kind of thing yet'.
Despite the difficulties of juggling life inside and outside of the band, Quinn seems optimistic about the future, a perspective which reflects the jubilant and youthful sound of his music: 'If you keep putting in the hours then something will come from it. You’ve got to make sure everyone’s pulling their weight and sing each other’s praises … I completely believe we have the ability. I’m banking on it'.
Featured Image: SPINN/ SPINN