Small Houses: Vacation at The Cottage

Music Features

Members: Jeremy Quentin
Hometown: Flint, Mich.
Current Release: Exactly Where You Wanted To Be
For Fans Of: Ryan Adams, Magnolia Electric Co., The Wooden Sky, Uncle Tupelo

The Cottage is the closest thing you’ll find to an artist’s paradise in Atlanta. Quietly tucked away on the east side of the city, the recording studio is unassuming and discreet, just enough off the road for passersby to—well, pass right by. But walking up that rocky driveway no doubt summons a spark of inspiration. Maybe, as resident engineer and producer Damon Moon pointed out, it’s because it feels a little like Narnia.

Both the house and and garage back up to a jungly four acres, with a quarry that provided the rock for the buildings. A swing dangles from a tree outside the studio. A cat romps around on the floor inside. A collection of Star Wars Pez dispensers line the wall above the kitchen sink. Yep, paradise.

It was no surprise to me, then, that Jeremy Quentin—known on stage as Small Houses, a singer-songwriter from Flint, Mich.—was drawn to the space, so much so that he decided to hop off the road for the first time since he turned 18 and record an album from start to finish.

“I played at the Cottage [on tour] and Damon said to me, ‘Hey, I’ve got tomorrow off. We’ve got a recording studio upstairs. Do you want to do something?’ I said, you know, I’ve got a song that’s half finished. It was ‘Old Habits,’” Quentin says. “I went home and I finished it that night and we went in and recorded it, and Damon sent me the recording that we did 24 hours later.”

From there, everything fell into place.

But pieces were falling into place for Quentin long before his days at the Cottage. While he started playing piano at age 5, attending an art camp with a focus on classical music every summer, it wasn’t until he picked up the bass at age 12 that he really fell in love with music.

“That was really focused towards punk music and learning bass lines from Sting songs,” he says, laughing.

At age 17, he picked up the guitar and started songwriting. “I started doing that and it overtook everything. There was no interest in anything else,” he says.

His songwriting is laced with delicate melodies—all earnest, contemplative, crisp—and his lyrics are no different. Becoming interested in poetry at age 9, it makes sense. Quentin became so engrossed in every word he wrote that he turned his attention to the scholarly element of poetry, devouring books of critical essays from literary scholars like Helen Vendler.

“Every word has to mean so much,” Quentin says. “I would torture myself over the smallest things.”

With music and poetry already embedded in his every move, Quentin explained that he decided to take a different route when it came to songwriting on Small Houses’ forthcoming album. He wrote the whole thing as a conversation with the listener.

“All my songs are written mostly about friends,” Quentin says. “There’s Jesse, Sarah, Karen, John, Rose.”

Naturally, you’d think that each name tangled through his songs embodies one friendship; someone important to Quentin, but that’s not the case.

“Only one of them is one person, John, but he knows about it,” he says. “Sarah more embodies confusion with love and sexuality, where Karen is more like an admiration of women in a maternal and power position. Jesse’s a boy and that’s really important to know, too. The boys are the best friends, like Thin Lizzy style. They’re back in town.”

As a whole, Small Houses has a certain reliance for these friendships. Alongside Quentin’s love of songwriting and poetry (not to mention an unassuming love of football), the songwriter has a knack for photography—getting snapshots of his friends, and letting it inspire his songs.

These relationships are also captured in his collaborative work. While Small Houses is Quentin’s project, it benefits from creative partnerships. Alongside Moon, Samantha Crain and Magnolia Electric Co.’s Mike Brenner are notable additions to the new album.

“Especially with all this touring, you just kind of meet the best,” Quentin says. “Samantha Crain is the greatest female contemporary I know. She comes to the table with something Damon and I just wouldn’t have thought of. [Brenner] was the same way. But it was that thing. Oh, this dude played on our favorite records, ya know? This guy wrote the parts we’re writing parts about. Everyone who’s on it has just made it really easy.”

The followup to 2013’s Exactly Where You Wanted to Be, the as-yet-untitled album will be Small Houses’ fourth, and is expected early next year. It resonates with an affinity for other songwriters including Gillian Welch, Ryan Adams and Jeff Tweedy, but is not solely defined by them, and is what Quentin calls his “first solid recording.” Getting off the road was a big part of that. For the past eight years, Quentin has called it home, and slowing down was one of the biggest challenges of the new album.

“Changing your standard of living often kind of opens you up to new things often. Get a house, live in it, love it, feel stability, and the next week, kind of find whatever you need to find to have the courage to just give up everything you have,” he says.

But at the same time, he wanted to make something, and was determined to not walk away from it until it was done.

“Damon and I developed a language where we can talk about these songs that no one else understands in the room, ya know?” Quentin says. “I think he’s the greatest dude in the world. I moved here for him. It’s like moving to town for a girlfriend,” he laughed.

While Quentin is back on the road, his relationship with the Cottage is far from over. They already have plans for the next record.

“What’s cool is when we finally have a record like this one, we’re looking at people that might invest their time in it, and that’s for the first time. I’m already thinking about the next record,” Quentin says. “When people want to see the show and want to take home the record and know what you’re doing next, they kind of invest what you need to survive on. So I think if things get better, which I hope they do, you’re just afforded more opportunities to get back to it.”

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