- Annika Oyung Larson
PROFILE: Enter the QRTR Cinematic Music-verse
Updated: Jul 27, 2022
The Dome of Doom signee talks to us about touring, her album infina ad nausea and her work on HBO's Succession
ANTIART: Can you give us some general background about where you grew up and how you started making music? Who is your biggest influence musically speaking?
QRTR: I grew in Western Massachusetts and moved to NYC in 2010, where I’ve been ever since. I’ve been into music since I was a kid. I remember I called my mom at work and asked if she could buy me a tape recorder, I must have been 6 or 7. I would record stuff off the radio, make mixtapes. When I was 11, I got my first computer. I remember I would record stuff off the radio and record, EQ it and take out the words so I could make my own little versions.
AA: Wow, super advanced for such a young age!
QRTR: I had a Playstation mic that I would use too, to sample things, make CDs and force my friends to listen. It was totally a hobby, even into high school. But then in 2014, that’s when I thought about starting a project. That was because of my first music festival and psychedelic experience. That’s when I started QRTR, and downloaded Ableton.
QRTR: As far as influences go: Caribou, Jacques Greene, Jamie xx. I like music that rides that line between downtempo and dance music. I always experiment with different genres, but it’s all about capturing emotionality. My approach is wanting to tell a story with my music, and I think a lot of that comes from having gone to film school. It’s about wanting to evoke a feeling, elevating what I’m already doing by capturing this feeling in my head that I want my music to be and not worrying about genre.
AA: And speaking on that film background, how do you see that influencing the project going into the future? Do you want to make a short film / elongated music video?
QRTR: That could be really cool, but more so that connection comes from taking sound design classes in film school. My music is very textural, and sound design is a big part of that. I also try to keep a melodic aspect there and not just focus only on sound design. As far as future plans with it, I’ve been composing for short films basically. I want to be doing that long term, bringing my weird electronic contextual sound into a film space, like Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
AA: Or like the Oneohtrix Point Never musical project vs. the Daniel Lopatin film scorer persona.
QRTR: For sure. I’m riding the QRTR project until the wheels fall off, but I have this other whole goal adjacent to it as well.
AA: I saw you worked on Fire Island, the Hulu movie.
QRTR: I didn’t compose specifically for it, but I had music synced to many of the scenes which was really cool. There was actually a scene where one of the main characters is in a bathroom having a frantic moment, the night is starting to take a turn, and they used my song “Bathroom Break” which I wrote in 2017, literally about that sensation.
AA: A real full circle moment there. Did you work on Succession too?
QRTR: I did work on it, I was the post-production coordinator, heavily involved in the music side of things. There was one episode specifically, a party for the character Kendall Roy, there music all throughout that episode that they leaned on me to source because of my electronic music background. I helped compile a ton of options for the showrunner, the way a music supervisor might do. That was really cool to be able to work on a show of that caliber.
AA: Additionally on your Instagram, I’ve seen you post a lot of writing. How would you say that medium influences your style given that your music focuses on minimal lyricism?
QRTR: I’ve always been into writing too, I have notebooks of poetry, it’s very gay. With the music side of things, especially working on my [concept] albums, I felt that my poetry was a great way to tie it all in. I’m not knocking other music producers, but it is kind of funny when we get an instrumental only record by a producer and we get this press release like “here is the whole story of this album”. It’s like, maybe yeah, but how would anyone know that? The words help to connect those dots, and especially on the physical releases, I’ll incorporate the poetry into the package and art somehow.
QRTR: infina ad nausea is “forever until you’re sick”.
AA: With your album, infina ad nausea, what does that title mean to you and what was the process behind creating that?
QRTR: So the title is made-up Latin. The concept is essentially living on a loop. It’s that sensation of being on a bad trip, where you feel like something is never going to end. Even though it will, it’s a false sense of permanence. Obviously I felt that way during lockdown, but also I’m a person who spirals pretty often, so I wanted to have an album kind of devoted to that sensation. The phrase "Infina ad nausea" is “forever until you’re sick”. The first record came out as soon as lockdown started, and that really sucked and made me want to immediately start working on something else [infina ad nausea]. The whole process probably took me about a year in total.
AA: It sounds very labored over and detail oriented, like it took a long time to make. This next question is more geared towards the producers and music nerds out there, what types of plug-ins do you typically use for your music?
QRTR: I’m an Arturia stan, I use Analog Lab 4, for nearly every one of my songs. I recently got an Arturia MicroFreak. It’s a little hardware synth but it’s also sort of digital, it’s so much fun. That has been on all of my tracks recently, that will be coming later this year. I was using a Korg Monologue for quite some time, but that got replaced by the MicroFreak. I have a [Roland] TR-8S that I use for drums, but I typically do a lot of my drums in the box in Ableton. Every now and then, I’ll use the drum machine when I’m stuck and need to jam. For my kicks, I use a plug-in called PunchBOX. I do really effect-heavy racks that I save as presets, I add that to a lot of shit to keep that similar textural sound. I like using reverb as its own instrument pretty often.
AA: As someone who doesn’t make music but rates it, I really like to hear how it’s made from the artist themselves. With rock music, even if it’s complex, you can always either discern “oh that’s a Wurlitzer” or “oh that’s lap steel”, but with electronic music it’s so much more difficult to identify sounds.
QRTR: Something that happens a lot to me while I’m producing is that there will sometimes be these unexpected sounds that pop up. I’ll take that and record it on its own layer, using it as an accent.
AA: You’ve done a lot of gigs outside of Brooklyn this spring and summer, Coachella being a highlight I’m sure. Do you prefer these bigger festival type shows or are you more into the scene you’re building here in Brooklyn.
QRTR: I love playing in Brooklyn, the small venues. It’s been harder to do those, due to the nature of these events and their radius clauses. I do love touring and traveling though, it doesn’t feel so taxing or anything. I remember when I first started touring, Wylie from Dome of Doom [Records], was like “are you ready dude are you sure?” And I was like absolutely, I feel like I’m pretty pro at it, even if I had to do it more that’d be totally fine. But there’s just something special about the vibe of a small, sweaty, tiny space. I have a really hard time on festival stages when I’m far from the crowd.
AA: Do you have to tinker your set to cater to more of a Bud Light drinking, big stage festival crowd in the hot sun?
QRTR: I try to keep into consideration what time of day I’m playing, who I’m with on that stage, etc. I don’t like to “adapt” too much, because I want to give people my true self. But there is definitely an art to reading the room, as they say. I do try to change up the vibe with every set though, but it’s genreless and I still have the flexibility I need. Those dark intimate spaces make me feel like I can do really weird stuff and they’re not going to leave.
AA: Right, like they’re not on their phones or wondering which stage to go to next, or worrying about what brand activations are giving out free bags and shit.
AA: These questions were all written by our intern Annika [great job Annika], I couldn’t take any of the credit for writing them, especially this next question. When you said “I want to be cryogenically frozen at the San Francisco airport on July 11th, what did you mean by that?
QRTR: [laughs] San Fransisco makes me feel so many things. The first time I went there, it was on my first tour last fall. I have a fascination with tech, Silicon Valley and their effects on society at large. Then I got there for the first time, everything from the architecture to the art was insane. It’s so gorgeous, it felt like what a child version of myself would consider the future. But it’s also where it all started. We created social media here that’s causing us to rot, it’s like Heaven and Hell at the same time. To live forever in this purgatory, cryogenically frozen is what I want. Something about it feels like a place of worship in a devastating way.
[Questions Written By Annika Young Larson, Transcription By Ryan Pomarico]