Young Local Talent: Maggie Quinlan


There must be something in the water in the Palouse because young amazing musicians just seem to be popping up left and right. Recently it was 17 year-old Cooper Trail with his project Misé, who put out a great EP Little Mountain which we wrote about in October. Now there’s a new kid on the block and when I say kid I literally mean basically a CHILD. Lincoln Middle School’s Maggie Quinlan is 13 years old and just put out an album. Um yeah. What were YOU doing when you were 13 because I sure as hell wasn’t putting out albums. Not only that but it’s fantastic. Kid’s seriously got talent and a voice that sounds years beyond 13. In My Head is seven tracks of piano-heavy rock with jazz and folk influences. There’s a clear Fiona Apple and Regina Spektor sound with complicated vocal techniques and interesting piano arrangements.

I was curious about what a 13 year-old’s songwriting process is, considering the limited life experience and maturity level so I went straight to the source.

KZUU: When did you start singing/playing piano/writing your own songs?

Quinlan: I started writing my own songs on guitar when I was nine and started really getting into piano when I was ten. The first song I wrote down was a little thing for my second-grade, air-guitar band that was basically the chorus of a Taylor Swift song and the verse of a Dixie Chicks song with different, suckier lyrics.

KZUU: What is your song writing process? Is it difficult or does it come to you easily?

Quinlan: My process varies a lot. Most of the songs start with a little chord progression and a melody that’s driving it. I’ll get a little idea on the bus, or feeding my chickens (one of which has betrayed me) or wherever, but nothing really starts until I get to the piano. Usually the chords and melody come simultaneously and the lyrics are kind of rudimentary phrases like “I don’t know why” or “you say…” whatever. Then I play it over and over until the lyrics and melody are how they need each other to be. Every once in a while, the vocal line will roll off my tongue and I can feel that it’s right. It’s like crying but with a lot more satisfaction.  Sometimes nothing will fit. That’s frustrating, but I think when I cry it’s usually because of my raging teen hormones. It depends on the day.

KZUU: Who are the artists that you look up to?

Quinlan: I especially look up to Fiona Apple, Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills & Nash, Jack White, Feist (but the newest album wasn’t my favorite of hers), Peggy Lee, and Chris Thile.

Right now I’m really into that one Shins album Chutes Too Narrow, all the Laurel Canyon greats but especially Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Carole King’s Tapestry. Also, I’m into Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill later than everybody else because I wasn’t born when it came out, Jack White’s new album Blunderbuss, the Pixies’ Doolittle, the Cave Singers No Witch, and a bunch of other more local stuff. Those albums provide enough variety for the bus ride home, anyway.

Here’s the first single, In My Head:

In case you thought I might be lying about how young she is, here’s a live performance:

Feel sufficiently depressed about your lack of accomplishments now? Yep, me too.

– Jasmine


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