It’s rare that you hear a song and relate so wholly to its mantra, but Richie Quake‘s “Don’t Call Me” could be the world’s collective message to 2020. Released a few months ago, timing aptly with the start of the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, “Don’t Call Me” is an intoxicating synth-pop banger that feels equal parts hopeful and hopeless. “It’s about feeling completely stuck and not knowing what to do in a relationship,” says the Brooklyn-based musician. Exactly. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s extremely catchy.
Over the last six months, musicians like Quake have had to get creative while unable to get in the studio with varied collaborators as usual or perform in front of a crowd. That, coupled with the existing rise of the influencer economy, music-sharing apps like Spotify, and at-home production tools like GarageBand and Logic has led to an industry that the 27-year-old describes as “lawless,” which at times can be frustrating when it feels like people value likes over talent. For Quake, though, that fact can be exciting, especially because “people aren’t adhering to any particular rules or roadmaps for success and there’s a lot of freedom in that,” he says. “The amount of music we’re exposed to on a daily basis is so vast and you see it come out in the form of this new genre-blending and bending style of so many young artists.”
This notion of blending and bending is at the core of what he does, with tracks like “Don’t Call Me,” finding inspiration from everyone from The Weeknd to The Beatles. In the end, all good music — no matter the likes, or how it was produced, or when (pre or post-COVID) — has one thing in common: the ability to transport us. “In three minutes or less your whole emotional state can shift dramatically and you can take off into a different dimension,” says Quake. And that’s exactly what “Don’t Call Me” does.
For the music video, premiering with Oyster below, the artist collaborated with director Blue Hamel to create a visual that matched the dystopian dream-like fantasy of the single, landing on something “very reminiscent of movies like Drive, Blade Runner, Akira, Tron” and other movies that really invoke that “80’s synth-wave” spirit. But because of COVID (Quake lives in Brooklyn, Hamel in New Zealand), the duo, who worked together on Quake’s previous single “Nothing In My Head” couldn’t collaborate IRL. But the result is a digital CGI fantasy that resonates with both our current reality and the main thesis of the track: Quake, riding away on his motorcycle, really isn’t home right now… even if in reality, he was.
Watch the video and get to know more about the artist, below.
Hey Richie! So… what’s your sign?
Aries sun Pisces moon — fun!
Where are you from?
I’m born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, which is a rare breed these days, unfortunately, but we’re still out here!
Do you still live there?
Yeah, I’m still over here in Brooklyn, but now I’m in Bushwick… just really trying to check all the boxes for being an artist in NYC.
What are you working on right now?
So much! I made so much new music during the pandemic — somewhere around 30 new songs and I’m hyped about all of them. I dove into my own world and explored so many sounds I’ve never explored before, which has been really dope. The process of learning to trust my creative intuition has been illuminating. I have a bunch of music video ideas too — some are being brought to fruition and some are still in my head.
How did you get into music?
I’ve loved music since I was a kid and I always played instruments. I started on piano at six, then trumpet, then the tuba — lol — then guitar in high school. I always just had a lot of passion for music because it’s such an immediate gratification — in three minutes or less your whole emotional state can shift dramatically and you can take off into a different dimension. I started writing my own songs in high school because I just had all these ideas in my head and finally decided to try and make them into something real. From there, I went to college for songwriting and production, which is where I learned to produce.
“I always just had a lot of passion for music because it’s such an immediate gratification — in three minutes or less your whole emotional state can shift dramatically and you can take off into a different dimension.”
If you could only listen to five albums front to back for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
This is always the toughest question… I’m so moody the answers will probably change by tomorrow, but what the hell: I know I would need a Beatles album. Probably The White Album or Abbey Road. Call me cliche, I don’t care, but the Beatles are the best band that’s ever existed. Their songwriting and production will never be topped. The creativity that it took to write the way they did is unbelievable and awe-inspiring. When the pandemic first hit, my roommates and I watched a 12 hour Beatles documentary and decided to learn how to play Rubber Soul from front to back — it was one of the best experiences of my life. It not only taught me invaluable lessons about songwriting but also made me have a way deeper appreciation for everything they wrote. And aside from artistically, the Beatles just mean so much to me personally. I grew up listening to them with my family. Hearing their music makes me feel at home.
Number two would have to be Workin’, by the Miles Davis Quintet — this is an album I discovered recently. I never really went through a proper jazz phase and recently I decided to embark down that road. I know it’s obvious, but Miles Davis was such an amazing musician, it blows my mind! My favorite track is “It Never Entered My Mind” The mood that they capture on that song is so unique and something you rarely find in music today. It’s extremely emotional but yet so cool.
Then, Blond, by Frank Ocean. There is no doubt in my mind this will stay on my list of favorite albums forever. I had a rocky start with this album, I’ll admit it. When Channel Orange came out I fell in love with Frank Ocean’s style. It was so effortlessly deep and unique and I couldn’t wait to see what he came up with next. When Blond came out, I was so excited to hear it and it absolutely underwhelmed me. I didn’t get it at all and wrote it off as sloppy and lazy songwriting. Everyone who I expressed this to looked at me like a was dumb but I stuck to my guns. Then one day I think I was talking to my sister who was a big fan of the album and she said something that convinced me to give it another try. On the train ride home I put it on my headphones, and something in my mind must have shifted because I was hooked. What I originally perceived as sloppiness now presented itself as pure, raw, unfiltered emotion. I really listened to the lyrics and it all made sense. It’s an album about taking the ride of life as it goes by — riding all the twists and turns. The music represents that in such a creative way and ever since that night I have loved that album so deeply. Whenever I’m in my feels this is an absolute go-to!
Also, Paranoid by Black Sabbath. This album is hard as fuck! I can’t imagine the impact of this album coming out of the bright and sunshiney ’60s and just hitting people from left field with one of the darkest and heaviest albums of all time. Ozzy’s power as a frontman is legendary, and the band is just extremely tight and humongous-sounding despite being only a guitar, bass, and drums. This is the best speeding-on-the-highway-
Lastly, Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves. I don’t care if it’s corny, but this album hits me in the feels every time. I am such a Kacey Musgraves fan that when she came to NY, I bought a ticket to her show and went solo and still had one of the best times of my life. Something about her voice and the arrangements of the songs on this album just makes for something that I really love. I usually don’t give a shit about the Grammys, but I was genuinely so happy for her when she won Album of the Year for this.
What’s your first music memory?
I actually have a really bad memory when it comes to my early life, but my mom always tells me this story about the early signs of my musical interest. When I was a kid I grew up in an apartment building where there were like five other families with kids the same age. Everyone would leave their doors open to the hall and all the kids would run around. I guess my mom got the idea to buy a bunch of kid instruments for us to play with — little bells, tambourines, a toy piano — so she could set up like a “band practice” with all the kids. Apparently all the other kids would just bang around and lose interest in like two minutes, but she said I always loved it so much and never wanted to stop playing even after everyone else had stopped.
Was there a particular moment when you decided to pursue music professionally?
I hate to say it, but it was pretty recent actually. I’ve always wanted to make music and always wanted to be a professional musician, but I never really thought about it as a career to be pursued actively with any sort of intention or strategy. My attitude was more like, ‘I’m just gonna do what I do and if people like it, then I will become successful.’ For the last three years or so I made my money as a DJ in the NYC club scene and I really had to put a lot of effort to do so. I pursued it actively. I was working as a busboy at a club downtown and saw the DJs getting all the glory and having all the fun, so I decided that it was something I wanted to do, especially since it had to do with music. I also thought I’d be really good at it. I spent six months working hard to break into the circuit and expand my music knowledge. This was the first time I actually put my mind to something like that and went after something I wanted with intention. I realized that I had never really thought that way about my music and it came as a bit of a shock to me since I always considered music to be my biggest passion. Stepping back and looking at how I went after a DJing career and realizing that I never did that with my own music was a big wake up call. I decided that I had to go after it with the same kind of drive and hustle.
How would you describe your sound?
I’ve always said, “Richie Quake is meant to be felt.” That little tagline, or whatever you want to call it, was the first thing I said in my first interview ever about my music, and it has always rung true. I’d say my sound is somewhere in the lane of retro-futuristic-alternative-
If your music were a soundtrack to any movie, which would it be?
Everyone always says my music reminds them of Drive. I feel like it’s a good compliment so I’ll probably go with that!
“You have to be able to do everything and sometimes the music seems like the least valuable factor in the equation of success.”
You mentioned earlier you’ve been writing a lot throughout this whole pandemic. I’m curious: what’s the hardest part about being a musician in 2020?
I think it’s just the fact that you have to be able to do everything and sometimes the music seems like the least valuable factor in the equation of success. You have to be an influencer, a video director, a producer, a marketing and branding expert, a model, and last but not least, make some music… sometimes. You have to compete with people who have no musical talent but just have a more accessible aesthetic, or more money, or a bigger social media following… It’s really frustrating. Not to mention the fact that 2020 has brought on its own specific set of challenges in the form of this pandemic preventing musicians from being able to perform live. It’s such a bummer. I love playing shows and DJing, and the fact that I can’t do it is so depressing sometimes. I’m really looking forward to when we can play to live crowds of people again.
What’s the best part, though?
Probably that there are way less rules and you can really pave your own way in the industry. The landscape of music is so lawless right now. People aren’t adhering to any particular rules or roadmaps for success and there’s a lot of freedom in that. The amount of music we’re exposed to on a daily basis is so vast and you see it come out in the form of this new genre-blending and bending style of so many young artists. I love that!
What gets you inspired?
It sounds kind of weird but I feel like I get most inspired by other people’s creativity. When I see or hear something that feels new and exciting, it pushes me to reach new depths within myself. Aside from that, I get inspired by little things that I experience every day: the energy at a party, the car ride home, a day at the beach, biking over the Manhattan bridge, watching the sunset, riding the subway, taking a hike, talking to a friend or a stranger, reading a book… anything that makes me feel alive. We spend so much time distracting ourselves to escape from this existential suffering, but I love moments where I can feel in touch with the fact that I’m a human being existing in this body, in this mind, and in this moment.
Speaking of other people’s creativity… who (or what) are you listening to at the moment?
Toro Y Moi, Tame Impala, Prince, 070 Shake, The Weeknd, Porches, Dominic Fike, Sade, Alex G, Nina Simone, Angel Olsen, and many more.
Which songs in particular? Are there any you wish you wrote?
I wish I wrote “Yesterday” by The Beatles, obviously. But also, “Save Your Tears” by The Weeknd, and “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” by Tame Impala. Then, “Eyes Without A Face” by Billy Idol, except without the stupid bridge, and “Goodbye Horses” by Q Lazzarus. There’s so many, honestly… but I’ll stop there.
“The landscape of music is so lawless right now. People aren’t adhering to any particular rules or roadmaps for success and there’s a lot of freedom in that.”
Outside of music, what do you like to do?
I love hanging out with friends and family, reading poetry, watching TV, drawing, looking at the stars, learning about new things, being in nature, biking, playing pool, meeting new people, working out, and going to the beach… wait, is this my Tinder bio?
How would your best friend describe you?
You’d have to ask my best friend! If it’s my best friend, though, I’d assume they like me enough to say some positive things. I’d hope they would say I was a loyal, honest friend, who’s good to talk to or ask for advice. They’d probably say that I was eccentric and neurotic but also fun!
OK, some rapid-fire questions: what’s your greatest weakness?
Self-doubt and self-sabotage. I can be my own worst enemy at times. My therapist could elaborate in great detail… feel free to chime in in the comments section Harvey!
How do you mend a broken heart?
Time is the only answer, my friend. Writing songs helps organize the emotions and that can be helpful in processing the feelings, but the only thing that can really heal you is time. Falling in love is also an effective way to not have a broken heart. That recently worked for me for a brief period, but then it backfired… and now I have two broken hearts.
What’s next for you?
Next up for me is just to continue living my sick ass life! More music, more videos, more laughs, more cries… Hopefully I can travel a bit and maybe fall in love with someone cool.
Photography: Mark Shami & Michelle Bao, courtesy of the artist.