Music Interview: Arbuckle’s kind of country

By Nathan Atnikov

We’re desperate to be a country band!” Neville Quinlan, the brains behind NQ Arbuckle excitedly says. Among the many lofty goals bands strive for, being a country band is not usually chief among them but Quinlan has anything but a conventional outlook when it comes to his music. Most would categorize NQ Arbuckle as country upon listening to their latest album, The Last Supper in a Cheap Town, but Quinlan is quick to point out there are still some deficiencies as far as the band’s desired persona is concerned, as evidenced by a tour horror story from overseas.

“We found out pretty quickly when we play a country bar,” Quinlan says of his band’s uncanny ability to be exposed as frauds. “We played one in England and I felt so out of place, it was just a disaster. People were shouting out for George Jones tunes, it was just nuts. People there were in the full gear too, cowboy hats and boots, and there I was, looking like a normal person. It just totally didn’t work.”

You can’t help but feel for Quinlan–to a point. While his band wasn’t received well on a particular evening, they have been the recipients of positive press for their latest album and are currently jaunting across Canada exposing people to the new material. When asked what his favourite tour stop is, Quinlan gives an unexpected reply.

“Lethbridge is a really cool town,” he says. “I mean, there’s almost nobody there, but when we play our shows, people just come out of the woodwork. One time, we were there in the summer, and it was a Monday. We had a whole bunch of hula-hoops and people just started emerging from out of houses, behind trees, out of cars and stuff. Next thing you know, we have 20 people hula-hooping right on the main street!”

While Quinlan has obviously amassed some good stories from the road, he had to overcome the odds of a tough music scene in his hometown to get to this point. Again, the location he speaks of comes as a bit of a surprise.

“Montreal is a really tough city for a band,” Quinlan explains. “The day-to-day scene of people coming to see shows there is kind of a nightmare. The bands coming out of Montreal right now are great, there’s a lot of excitement for them, but that hasn’t translated into people going to shows. The notoriety is great, but the scene still isn’t there. Montreal is really arty, but it’s not so audience-y.”

After relocating to Toronto, the wheels started turning for Quinlan’s career and soon he was making records with Six Shooter labelmate Luke Doucet at the helm. The emerging songs are best heard through a haze of cigarette smoke while nursing a cold beer–after all, that’s what he was doing when he wrote them. While the presence of cigarettes and alcohol in his songs are well documented, it’s not a put on persona for Quinlan, but the result of his surroundings.

“We’re all bar people and hell, I’m from Montreal,” he says. “I’ve been a bar person since I was 14. It’s a part of who I am, so it just sneaks into the songs. It’s not a conscious effort, we just tell stories, and that happens to be the setting.”

Funny road stories, underage drinking, and chain smoking? Sounds like NQ Arbuckle are well on their way to achieving country band status.