Sunday, September 20, 2020

How MSU alumnus Mikael Temrowski became Quinn XCII

April 1, 2020
<p>Photo courtesy of Malik Daniel</p>

Photo courtesy of Malik Daniel

Not too long ago, there was no Quinn XCII. Instead, there was Michigan State advertising student Mikael Temrowski.

A Grosse Pointe, Michigan native, Quinn always knew he loved music. When he heard his parents play Motown music around the house, he appreciated the essence of the artform.

“I just saw people dancing to it and I didn’t really know what music was,” Quinn said. “I just knew that it really brought people together.”

As Quinn discovered what music was, he took creative writing and poetry classes in high school. 

“I just really fell in love with rhyming and storytelling and just being as clever as possible using words,” he said.

Perhaps inevitably, Quinn started writing songs his sophomore year.

“I really don’t know what it was that prompted me to write a song for the first time ever,” Quinn said. “Something clicked in my brain. I knew I loved music and I knew I loved writing, maybe it was out of boredom honestly, I just tried to connect the two together.”

Quinn hadn’t planned for a career in music and as he started at Michigan State, he struggled with finding his identity as a musician and a person.

A rapper at first, he was reluctant to tell others of his passion.

“I was super shy and I was fearful that naturally people would reject what I was doing or make fun of me,” Quinn said.

Additionally, he was pursuing a career as a rapper when societal norms pushed him to focus on his degree. This weighed heavy on the young artist’s mindset on his journey to discover himself.

“I was trying to stick with my intuition in my gut of knowing I wanted to do something completely different than what I was learning in school,” he said.

He started traveling to Ann Arbor three or four days per week to record with his childhood friend Alex O’Neill, who is better known by his stage name, Ayokay.

Ayokay was in the University of Michigan school of music and had access to rooms to record in. He is also a producer and helped create many of Quinn’s early songs.

“(Ayokay) was the guy who was really in my corner during everything,” Quinn said, also referring to the producer as the “brains behind the operation” on the technical side.

Quinn started to play shows near campus at venues like Mac’s Bar and The Loft. At first, mostly close friends and family were at his shows, but as crowd sizes grew, so did his confidence.

“Slowly but surely I started to see total strangers come to the shows and I started to get a feel (that) this could be something,” Quinn said.

He also grew socially. Quinn said he still cherishes connections built at Michigan State and remembers tailgating before football games and looking forward to "Burgerama" at The Riv once a week.

“My sister’s actually a senior at Michigan State and she told me that it’s now Thursdays and Saturdays, so I’m super jealous,” he said.

With encouragement from his parents, Quinn continued to pursue music, even after earning his degree. The hardest part for him was watching his peers secure jobs as he trekked into uncertainty.

“It was more from the pressure of just seeing what my friends were doing,” Quinn said. “People getting internships and getting hired out of college directly to go work for these major corporations and I was telling people I wanted to be a rapper.”

With encouragement from Ayokay, Quinn shifted from rapping to singing.

“I sang in the shower growing up a lot, so I kind of always knew I had a voice of some sort, I just didn’t know what it could be,” he said

With practice, Quinn found his singing voice.

“(Singing) paints more of a picture of what kind of art I’m trying to make,” he said.

He remembers first thinking that his career in music might work out after “Kings of Summer,” a song he and Ayokay created, topped the Spotify global charts in 2016.

Still, after hundreds of millions of streams and two studio albums, Quinn doesn’t take his career in music for granted. This drives him.

“There is excitement in knowing it could end tomorrow,” he said.

Quinn sees his platform as an opportunity to speak for people who can’t or won’t speak for themselves. He said his first studio album “The Story of Us” was largely inspired by personal events, but his latest, “From Michigan, With Love,” aimed to tackle mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

“I took it upon myself to just sort of treat my career as a vehicle to getting other people’s feelings out into the world,” Quinn said.

During the age of coronavirus, Quinn is using his time to do things he’d normally be too busy for. He’s reading, watching movies and television shows and writing poetry.

“I’m trying to basically take this as a moment of just slowing down and rewriting my perspective on life,” he said.

Quinn said all art, including music, is important during a time that has caused pain for many.

“I always went to music to cope and to heal me in ways that maybe a therapist or medicine couldn’t,” he said.

Quinn is hosting ‘Quarantine Green’ Instagram Live games where he acts as a host to interact with and ask trivia questions to fans, who compete to win money. Whatever money contestants make is matched and donated to a coronavirus relief fund.

He also has a new song, "Little Things," with Louis the Child and Chelsea Cutler coming out Friday, April 3.

“Anything I can do right now as far as content to give to people in these negative times I’ll say, is important to me,” Quinn said.

He’s looking forward to his third studio album, which he said was recently completed and should come out in a couple months.

“It’s something that I think is my best stuff yet,” Quinn said.

As a nationally touring musician, Quinn still holds a lot from his home dear. He said he enjoys every show, but the ones in Michigan are extra special.

“Michigan’s always a little bit more special to me, specifically East Lansing too because that’s where this all started,” he said.

Like many of us, he’s watching Michigan State basketball reruns as he struggles with his school’s national title hopes being dashed by the cancellation of March Madness.

“I really, genuinely think that we were gonna at least make the Final Four,” he said, pointing to leadership and the play of Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman Sr. as evidence. “ ... We were also playing the best basketball we had played the whole season down the stretch, as we normally do.”

Quinn wants students attending his alma mater, that are in a position similar he was in half a decade ago, to keep their heads up.

“Don’t get too down on yourself if you don’t have everything planned right now because this is a time for figuring it out,” he said. “It’s never too late to start anything, really. Just stay positive and trust that it will all work out in the end.”

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