In December 2020 (as this insane year comes to a close), I sat down with Quilt Club, a five-piece indie rock band formed in 2018 and based out of Rockford, Illinois. Quilt Club bandmembers include Lincoln Flowers (lead vocals/guitar), Taylor Hopkins (vocals), Max Dempsey (bass guitar), Greg DeBaere (drums), and Astrid Burnley (synthesizer/sampler).
A gray cargo van barrels down a narrow road in the Midwestern middle of nowhere. The van only has two front seats. The back is just an empty space. A rug. Window curtains. Four Quilt Club bandmates sit on the floor, tumbling around amongst their musical equipment while Astrid drives confidently through the quickly falling snow.
The band is on their way to perform a Halloween show at the Marlort Mansion.
Greg DeBaere: I was convinced I was going to die that day riding in Astrid’s van.
Astrid Burnley: I miss the van. It really had a personality.
Lincoln Flowers: Like when you show up and four people crawl out of the van after sitting on the floor.
Taylor Hopkins: For an hour.
Lincoln Flowers: There is an energy there.
Quilt Club marks their Halloween show at the Marlort Mansion as one of their favorite performances of 2019, a year in which the band performed two shows almost every week and released their debut album Moth. While the band continued their 2019 momentum in the first two months of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic (unsurprisingly) interrupted their plans. In my virtual conversation with Quilt Club, I asked them about music, the Rockford DIY scene, and all things 2020. Our conversation is indicative of what we have lost this year, but it is also a portrait of all that we have to look forward to when we can gather again, drawn together by music.
WPGU: When did each of you get into music?
Lincoln Flowers: I got into music when Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 came out, and they had that song by Primus, “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver”, and I remember thinking it was a really awesome tune, and then I saw the video for that song, and I was like, “Mom I have to get a bass guitar. I figured it out, what I want to do now.” And she got me a bass guitar for Christmas, and that’s how I started playing music, and then I eventually switched to guitar.
Taylor Hopkins: My grandfather was a really good guitar player, and so he played a lot of Johnny Cash around the bonfire. I have a very Southern family, and so we would just sing songs together around the bonfire. It was really fun, and then I eventually learned to play guitar when I was ten years old, and then I moved on to violin when I was eleven, and then I went into choir when I was in high school, and I did some choir in college, and then I was in a couple of bands before Quilt Club.
Greg DeBaere: Lincoln and I were neighbors, and our moms were really good friends, and they were obsessed with Tori Amos, so we got quite a big dose of some Tori Amos when we were little, and I think that really helped me understand emotional music, you know?
Astrid Burnley: I think I probably got into music just because my dad plays a lot of music, and my mom is really into music. So, a lot of my music taste is pretty much exactly the same as my mom’s, and she always wanted me to play instruments when I was a kid, and so I did. And then I think as I got older and I started going to shows, I had a little more fun with it, and then it just kind of kept progressing. It has just always been a part of my life even if it’s not the most prominent part of my life.
Max Dempsey: For me, I think growing up there were always instruments in the house. My dad was a musician, so I kind of just picked them up and messed around until I taught myself a little bit, and then eventually getting out of high school, I found people to play music with and started a couple of different bands.
WPGU: How did Quilt Club form?
Lincoln Flowers: Quilt Club formed in 2018 or I guess it sort of started at that point. Greg and I have known each other for a really long time, and we weren’t really friends for a while. Well, I mean we were, but we were going through a lot of stuff, and we sort of met again at a show that I was doing by myself in Rockford, and I was playing some tunes that I was working on at the time, and Greg liked the songs, and we sort of reconnected and recorded an album together in his basement called Hollow Bone, but then we kept writing songs and had more ideas after that. And that’s where Quilt Club came in. That’s where we landed with ideas for new music.
Greg DeBaere: It was funny. We hadn’t talked in a good three years, and we were like best friends [before], and then I hadn’t left the house in like a year. I was getting sober and stuff and out of nowhere, I was with my friend, and he was like, “Hey, do you want to go to this show at this antique store?” And I was like, “Alright yeah, let’s do that.” And I see Lincoln just sitting in this corner by himself playing some of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard, and I was like, “Holy fuck dude. We need to record these. Let’s just do it.” After that he was like, “Hey I know somebody that can play bass for us. His name is Max.” And I was like, “I don’t know who Max is but cool.” And then I was at this art show, and I ran into Max, and I was like, “Hey so I guess you are going to be in a band with me.” And he looked over and was like, “Oh yeah I think so.” [laughs]
[The group laughs]
Lincoln Flowers: And then the second person I called for keyboard – our old keyboard player Josh Ellis. He was the first person I thought of. I didn’t really know Astrid at that point, I don’t think. Josh had a baby and is doing some dadding right now and being a father figure, so he’s taking a little break.
Greg DeBaere: Miss you Josh! Love you Josh!
Lincoln Flowers: But it all came together pretty organically and really fast.
Greg DeBaere: Yeah, once Josh had his baby, we were kind of really worried about what we were going to do, so we asked Astrid if she would play because she is also in a band that she writes songs for with Max, and she hopped on. Again, it was really organic, and her style is subtle, and I’ve really fallen in love with the way she plays the keyboard.
Astrid Burnley: Thank you, that’s so nice.
Taylor Hopkins: We love you Astrid!
Astrid Burnley: Y’all are cute. I feel like I’m an add-on at the end, but I like that I joined in, and I learned some of Josh’s parts and wrote some new parts.
Greg DeBaere: Astrid makes really cool samples that we have never messed around with before, so that was kind of a new idea which we brought into the old songs.
WPGU: Tell me about your 2019 album Moth.
Lincoln Flowers: We started writing with intent for Quilt Club as a band in January of 2019. I think a big influence for Moth and for the band name and for the band’s image was Greg and I being into Courage the Cowardly Dog growing up. The band is named after an episode, and it sort of led the vibe of the music too. We had some spooky songs that we wanted to get down, and the two bled into each other, and so it was a happy accident.
Greg DeBaere: Yeah, Lincoln and I were taking episodes of Courage the Cowardly Dog and trying to find parallels between our lives.
Lincoln Flowers: [When we were younger] Greg and I would stay up and we would watch the new episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog when it came out, and then we would stay up to re-watch the same episode.
Greg DeBaere: Our moms would be wasted downstairs off of boxed wine, listening to Tori Amos.
Lincoln Flowers: And we were up trying to catch the second showing of the new Courage episode. [laughs]
Greg DeBaere: During the time that we were writing the album, Lincoln and I were working at UPS during Christmas season which is a soul-sucking job like I am still stuck there. It was not fun, but we drove to work together, and every time we drove to work, we would just be throwing back ideas. After work, we would come back to my house and write a song really fast, and then we would get the basic structure down, and then we would show Max, and then he would take it to a completely new level with his input, and then Josh would write his parts, and it happened really fast, and it was really organic. It kind of blows me away how easy that was.
Lincoln Flowers: I felt like we had a theme that we were enjoying at the time, and we had enough material to go on for the general feeling of the music and our intended vision for the project. It gave us a big push into the writing process. I definitely felt like we were trying to create a certain type of atmosphere with that batch of songs. And then all of the artwork for the record was either Greg’s photography or old family photos. Like the cover of the album is an old family picture that I found living here at my grandmother’s house.
Greg DeBaere: And when we wrote this album, I was really in this rabbit hole of watching crazy foreign films. I would try to watch a new movie every night, and I would be like, “Dude Lincoln you need to check this movie out.” And I just came across some of my favorite movies like Lars von Trier, just really dark fucking bleak shit.
Lincoln Flowers: The Antichrist.
Greg DeBaere: Yeah, we took a sample from that movie, and we play it live, and I really enjoy the vibe it starts the show with, especially for the people that know what it’s from.
WPGU: What is your favorite song off of Moth?
Lincoln Flowers: I think out of the tunes off of Moth, the one that is still the most poignant to me or that still surprises me in a way is “Haunt” which was the first tune. I think that Greg and I were going through this kind of… We were getting over a few years spent as addicts essentially and feeling really powerless to substance abuse and living this zombie life. And I think that there are a lot of the lyrics in that tune that are still poignant to me about that time in my life, and some of the clearest moments that I had in years were getting into a car accident and eating, and it felt like it was the first time you had eaten in you couldn’t remember how long. So [lyrics like] “Fat on famine, I forget myself” or “He crashed the car in a moment of clarity”. That sort of material still sticks out to me.
Greg DeBaere: My favorite song on the album is – I don’t know if it is my favorite, but it is my favorite background behind the song – a song called “Laz”.
Taylor Hopkins: Me too!
Greg DeBaere: It is about this guy Laz Rojas who made this thirteen-hour film where he played every single character and he recorded it himself on a VHS recorder and edited it himself, and his dream was to become a director, and so he starts sending this off to everyone in Hollywood, and everyone is like, “Dude you are fucked. This is so dumb.” And then it became a cult, an underground VHS scene which is crazy that that’s a thing. And so, he actually moved with his mom from where he was living to LA, just in their car, and as soon as they got to LA, somebody hacked their bank account and drained all of their funds. They were living in his car, and then every once in a while, they would get a hotel room. So, the song “Laz” is taking his story, and there are some lyrics in there that we wrote that parallel addiction in our lives.
Taylor Hopkins: That one sounds really different instrumentally. It is the curveball of the album. I love performing that one. Near the end it gets so energetic. It is so much fun. Beautiful song.
Astrid Burnley: Yeah, you all really did it on the lyrics on that one.
Lincoln Flowers: Greg and I worked pretty hard on the lyrics [for the album] for a while, and I tend to obsess about that sort of stuff too. I know that as a music listener, lyricism is really important to me.
Astrid Burnley: I feel like it can also be therapeutic for the person writing it and for the person listening to it.
Greg DeBaere: That also leads to the challenge of if you are writing some emotionally driven stuff, that takes a lot out of you performing it night after night.
Lincoln Flowers: I know that is true for me. The material I was writing when you and I reconnected Greg, that was burdensome honestly to go and sing those songs. Drag my skeletons out of the closet again for another hour. It felt weird, but the thing that I love about Moth is that it is close enough to matter to me but removed enough to feel pretty comfortable.
WPGU: One of the things that I really liked about the album is that the lyricism is amazing but also the feeling that y’all create in the music is amazing. I would love to see this album performed live.
Lincoln Flowers: We were definitely focused on the atmosphere.
Taylor Hopkins: I don’t have an instrument to play. I don’t do anything with my hands instrument-wise, so I try to overcompensate and create the feeling manifested, the feeling the album creates manifested in my movement.
Astrid Burnley: Yeah, you do a really good job at that. I feel like it is just as important as the instruments. Seeing you performing with your body is just as important.
Lincoln Flowers: Yeah, it really adds so much.
Astrid Burnley: I don’t know what we do without Taylor being all [imitates Taylor performing]
[The group laughs]
Greg DeBaere: Taylor, you can tell what you are feeling. You are connected to what you are playing. I think it is way more interesting to watch people get into something rather than stand on stage and do nothing.
Max Dempsey: Yeah, because what you are seeing is half of it, and what you are hearing is the other half.
WPGU: What is the Rockford music scene like?
Lincoln Flowers: Have you ever heard of Cheap Trick?
[The group laughs]
Lincoln Flowers: Because they are a huge act out of Rockford.
Taylor Hopkins: They are a huge deal here.
Lincoln Flowers: I remember when they played at the Coronado Theater.
Taylor Hopkins: Man, I was next to Rick Nielson at Grease Monkey when I got my oil changed. He had his checkerboard mask on.
Greg DeBaere: Oh my god.
Lincoln Flowers: You can say that Rockford is pretty star studded.
[The group laughs]
Lincoln Flowers: I think that I started playing music in Rockford like eight years ago give or take, and when I started there were not a lot of bands, and then it seemed like for a while there was a band starting every couple of weeks, and they were all doing their own thing and it was really unique and eclectic. There was a time period where you could go see any number of bands from all genres play for five bucks in Rockford at Mary’s Place. Rockford is pretty supportive of the arts community in my experience. And the DIY scene… like Astrid started doing shows at Big Green House. That was a huge part of the community vibe. And shows at the Emmanuel Lutheran Church were a big thing when I started playing in Rockford.
Taylor Hopkins: There were a lot of church shows back in the day. Mainly, when you think of the Rockford music scene, you think of Mary’s Place, but there are so many other things. There are so many other venues that people don’t really know about or think about. There is the Tawdry Toast Arcade that is great and really weird and sick and awesome. Culture Shock of course. And then Rockness Sound. That was a DIY place. It was a studio/home, and people don’t give places like that enough credit.
Max Dempsey: I think for me when all of that was popping off, like how Lincoln was saying there was a new band every week, I think that was a point where I was not 21 yet, so I really couldn’t go to Mary’s Place. I did end up going there a couple of times and seeing you [Lincoln] playing in the parking lot.
Lincoln Flowers: Yeah, I remember thinking about sneaking you in there a couple of times. [laughs]
Max Dempsey: When that was going on, I was more into the house shows.
Astrid Burnley: Yeah, that is what I was going to mention too. For a while, I wasn’t old enough to go to any shows at Mary’s Place, so I didn’t really. I am 23 now, so I have been old enough for a little while, but obviously it has been eaten up by the pandemic. Before then, the DIY scene is what got me into the music scene in Rockford. There were a couple of different venues that were DIY which is what prompted me to start my own, especially when I noticed that some were closing down or whatever. I was like, “Okay well maybe I need to be that person, so people who are under 21 can see music or play music somewhere, just doing what they like to do”.
Lincoln Flowers: I think it is so crucial to have a space like that.
Greg DeBaere: Astrid lived in the Big Green House which is the best DIY venue that Rockford has ever had.
Astrid Burnley: I moved there when I was 18 or 19, and this was when Disaster House was just getting grimy and nobody was really paying rent there or anything, and there was a lot going on, and maybe it was just it’s time to go. That’s fine, but I felt like I was glad to have had a place where I could meet people and get involved in the music community. I was just so glad to have that place as a teenager that I was like, “How can there just not be one in Rockford at all?” So, I was sitting in this huge mansion. It is like a seven-bedroom house with this big basement with multiple rooms, and I was like, “Well why don’t we have people play here?” We have enough people that live here to organize it and keep it nice and keep people feeling safe, and so my intention was to not get any profit out of it at all or do anything like that. I just wanted there to be a place for anyone to go and hang out and feel safe and feel like they were included. It could be any kind of music, any kind of person, anyone as long as they were respecting each other. And so, I feel like it did turn out really well. We had every type of music from hip hop to metal. It lasted maybe two years, right? Was it two?
Lincoln Flowers: Or maybe a little longer than that.
Astrid Burnley: Three years? But like most house venues, it gets shut down for whatever reason.
Greg DeBaere: Didn’t the Big Green House catch on fire?
Astrid Burnley: Yeah, it did catch on fire right as everything was happening, and it was closing, and we were not doing shows anymore. That just also happened at the same time. I think the Neighborhood Watch people were trying to get it shut down, and the fire was another reason for them to come in and do an inspection. So, then they were looking for every little thing to condemn the house, and it got condemned for a little while until we fixed all of that stuff, but I think it was pretty malicious. I don’t think it would have been condemned in any other circumstance. I just think it was because people were upset that we were doing what we were doing, and that is bound to happen, but I am glad it went down for so long.
WPGU: Tell me about your 2020 release “Vacancy”.
Lincoln Flowers: When you said, “your 2020 release” I was like, “We released something in this shitshow year?”
Taylor Hopkins: Yeah, I didn’t realize that.
Lincoln Flowers: I literally forgot that it was January of this year that that happened because it feels like it was three years ago. So, that’s where I’m at on that.
Greg DeBaere: That was a fun one because I mixed and mastered it myself. That was exciting. I was pretty stoked on the results.
Lincoln Flowers: We wrote that at the end of 2019, and it was a pretty fresh track when we went to record it. But as far as what went into writing that song, it was a lot of… I was going through some really serious mental health issues, and I had some friends that were pretty close to me pass away from substance abuse, whether they took their own life on purpose or they lost their life because they decided to continue to use alcohol or whatever. A lot of people who were close to me died at the time, and I was feeling really weird, and I was having trouble sleeping and really messed up nightmares, and so that song kind of… It fell out of this imagined idea of the embodiment of addiction as a demon or something like that, you know, and that was sort of where that idea for that song came from for me. I felt like it was not super comfortable ground for me to tread on, but overall, I think it turned out to be a really great song. And I love the guitar arrangement on that tune. And Astrid’s keyboards on that song are so awesome, and Taylor’s vocals, and the way that it all collides together. I do love that song but definitely…
Taylor Hopkins: It brings up a lot.
Lincoln Flowers: It reminds me of a time that I don’t like to think about.
WPGU: How are you all doing in this insane year?
Greg DeBaere: Yeah, 2020 was fucked. There has been some crazy shit that has happened. The worst fucking two months of my life. I don’t know… Lincoln has really helped me out with stuff, and Taylor has been babysitting my kids, so I don’t know… I also feel really far away at the same time.
Lincoln Flowers: And that’s definitely been true for me. There is this combination of total isolation and a lot of loneliness, but then at the same time it’s like you don’t really have to think about who your friends are or what you really miss.
Taylor Hopkins: It has been eye-opening, like who really matters to you and who do you trust the most and who do you love and will always love. It has really come to light this year
Lincoln Flowers: Yeah, it definitely pointed a finger at a lot of things that I took for granted, like the ability to just gather with people, and it really forced me to look at how much I depend on writing and performing music as a catalyst for my own mental health and emotional wellbeing. And a lot of the songs are a lot like journaling to me where it is like you take a picture of a feeling and the song is a window to that time. But yeah, this year has been crazy. My family that I live with is immunocompromised and elderly, so I haven’t worked since March, and I have just been here at my house going fucking crazy. And then my son is eight, and he is going to zoom school, and that is another new thing. This year has been crazy difficult and new in weird ways.
Taylor Hopkins: The change was so rapid. I work in the restaurant industry, like what the fuck? We changed the restaurant that I work at into a retail store. We took out the tables, and we are now a store, and every single day we find a new thing to do wrong. And it’s just so hard to adapt, but right now I am just… I miss you guys so much. I miss this band. We are discussing all of the stuff that we have been through together, and I am like damn. It’s hitting me. It’s hitting me hard that I miss you guys.
Max Dempsey: I feel like last year, 2019, I was playing the most music with other people that I ever had before, and then this year is like maybe an eighth of that amount or less.
Astrid Burnley: Yeah, I feel like with everything that is going on and with my job and with school and all of that constantly changing, it has been pretty much impossible for me to want to play music or feel interested in music. So, it has been really hard because I have all of these instruments, you know. I keep them out right where I can access them super easily, so that if I do finally feel like I can play music, then they will be right there for me. But even that sometimes feels like it is not enough. With George Floyd, with all of these people getting educated about what is happening in the country, that’s also a big thing to give attention to. I think all of the activism and protesting is something that is worth really giving as much of your attention to it as you can. At least for me, that is how it feels. So, for me that has pretty much taken up my time with work and with school and all of that. It has been kind of hard for music, but I am looking forward to maybe being able to dedicate a little bit more of my time to it soon. I have been getting back into it a little more. It has been difficult. I kind of just want to hang out with my bandmates, my friends again.
Lincoln Flowers: And also, with the national uprisings, there’s been a huge situation in Rockford, and people that are close to me, that I love, have been affected by the police. We have been giving all proceeds from anything we sell online to the Winnebago County Bail Fund and Mutual Aid as well.
Greg DeBaere: There are a lot of protestors being arrested and charged with felonies for literally standing on a sidewalk, and now they have a bunch of legal fees, so we are trying to help.
WPGU: I know that everything continues to be uncertain because of the pandemic, but what does post-2020 look like for Quilt Club?
Lincoln Flowers: Our plan before everything went to hell was that we were working on getting a reliable vehicle and equipment to travel and do shows and begin booking a tour, but now I have been working a lot here at home on new material.
Taylor Hopkins: You have like eight songs?
Lincoln Flowers: Yeah, we are most of the way through what will be the next record. It’s slow going and not at all gratifying. It’s been tough, but obviously… Well for me, music… it’s like I just sort of do it now. If I’m working through whatever I’m working through, it’s just going to happen. We funded the first album ourselves because we were able to play two shows a week, but now we can’t play any shows a week, so the recording fund is looking pretty slim. But that’s my tentative plan: to save up money and really sort of throw ourselves monetarily and creatively at this new batch of tunes and try to make a really killer record that is a little less based on cartoons and a little more rooted in what is going on in my life right now. I am dying to get the whole band wrapped around it because there are a lot of ideas that I have that we can’t really explore until we’re together.
WPGU: What would you be doing if all of your needs were met and you didn’t have to work?
Astrid Burnley: I feel like I have so many hobbies that if I could just not work at all, I would still have so much to do.
Taylor Hopkins: That’s true. You are like that Astrid!
Astrid Burnley: I skateboarded like three days ago, and I am embroidering a shirt right now. But yeah, I feel like I have so many hobbies, and I would just get to enjoy all of them because right now, I feel like I want to prioritize certain ones, obviously playing music over other things… maybe getting exercise is more important than a sedentary hobby or something. I don’t know. I would probably do all of my hobbies all of the time, and I would probably travel a lot more.
Lincoln Flowers: My big thing when I saw that question was I was like, “Well I would eat food all day long.” Everywhere that I could eat food, I would be there eating food.
Taylor Hopkins: Yeah, I don’t know… If I didn’t have to have a job, I would probably go back to school and learn about shit that I actually want to learn about. I would probably want to get back into playing my violin and being able to have somebody to kick my ass about it because I used to be really good at it, and now I haven’t touched it in like two years. I don’t know… I really like working with kids, and I was a paraprofessional for a really long time, and then I got paid $9 an hour, so that was not sustainable. But if I had money, I could just do it you know? And I wouldn’t have to worry about it. I don’t know. And then I would go to every country.
Greg DeBaere: Max just went on a 500-mile bike ride. Your photos looked insane, dude. That looked like so much fun!
Max Dempsey: Yeah, I would be doing stuff like that. Definitely. And playing music.
Taylor Hopkins: Max, you are so badass.
Max Dempsey: I actually didn’t make it the whole 500 miles because my body gave out, but I made it like 350 miles total, I think.
Taylor Hopkins: That’s fucking insane!
Lincoln Flowers: No disrespect there.
WPGU: I want to thank you all for taking the time to sit down and talk with me. This was an amazing interview. Do any of you have anything else to add?
Greg DeBaere: I would just like to say that honestly when this started out as far as the pandemic goes, I was like, “Hell yeah, I get to stay at home all the time.” And now I’m fucking… just wrecked. It’s really taking its toll on me, so I just really hope that everybody is doing alright, and if you are not please reach out. Yeah, suicide is no joke, so please reach out if you are not doing alright.
Taylor Hopkins: It’s a real thing. I feel like so many people have had a horrible time mentally. This is serious and just talking to you guys right now… it feels really good in my heart. Having everybody here together feels good.
Check out the playlist that Quilt Club curated for the station below: