Vision, Aligned: Iris Temple’s Inimitable Dynamic
The ChicagO-via-Kansas-City duo ARE MAKING SOME OF THE CITY’S MOST EXCITING MUSIC, SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY TRUST EACH OTHER ENOUGH TO DO SO.
It’s nearly noon when we first meet up, but as they yawn and stretch and slink down cooly into their chairs, it’s obvious that Quinn Barlow and Quinn Cochran, who together make up the Chicago indie alt-pop outfit Iris Temple, are still shaking off their sleep from the night before. Cochran smiles sheepishly and admits that they may have been up a bit late - hanging with friends, smoking weed, and playing Mario Kart.
Not at all an unusual way for a few twenty-somethings on the northside of the city to wind down after a Friday out, but when most twenty-somethings pick up the sticks and pass around blunts they aren’t doing it with a circle of friends like Quinn and Quinn’s.
“All of our friends are my favorite musicians in Chicago,” Cochran says. And it’d be hard to fault him on that. Their roommates, Elias Abid and Appleby, are both phenomenal solo artists respectively. Their larger circle of friends and collaborators - including their go-to backing band of drummer Ryan Person, bassist DeJon Crockran, and multi-instrumentalist Dimitri Moore - are well and truly among the names to watch in the next wave of musical talent bubbling up across the city.
Still, the duo claims they don’t work with many collaborators. Their unique blend of hip hop, soul, jazz, indie rock, lo-fi electronic and pop elements comes almost exclusively from the collaborative relationship the two have fostered. And besides, Cochran can get anxious having to trust even small pieces of the production to someone other than himself.
“Every second of music matters, whether that’s silence or a bass slide.” he says. It’s a sentiment Barlow echoes, “You don’t want to be the guy that nitpicks everything in the studio, but we are definitely both that guy.”
Iris Temple’s working relationship was born from a place of true friendship. . They met at their Kansas City high school in band class. Cochran had joined to fulfill a requirement that would allow him to play guitar in the school’s jazz band, while Barlow played trombone, his only formal musical training. They hit it off quickly and soon discovered that, while Barlow was entertaining himself at his lethargic summer job lifeguarding by freestyling under his breath, Cochran had been busy learning the basics of production.
They each opted for colleges in Chicago, but school life only stuck for one of them, and Barlow soon found himself back in Kansas City, rapping over beats that Cochran would send him. In the summer of 2015, they briefly reunited in their hometown, holed up in Cochran’s dad’s small electronics shop. It was in this shop that the two found the space and freedom to collaborate properly - or, as properly as the hobbyist recording equipment they cobbled together would allow - and they quickly produced their first EP, now intentionally lost to the ethers of the Internet.
But, even then, it was clear both in the room and from the reception they received from trusted friends like Elias Abid that they had something worth pursuing. When a room opened up in Chicago, Barlow jumped at the opportunity to move back so that the duo could focus on making music full-time. They chose the moniker Iris Temple - a name they admit simply sounded cool, but has since been retrofitted to evoke both thoughts of the eyes and the mind, two recurring themes within Barlow’s recorded lyrics.
The freedom to create and experiment they found in that Kansas City workshop is evident in their music - a blend of soul, jazz, indie rock, and alternative pop that’s just as likely to feature the chopped-and-screwed vocals found on ‘Theatre’ as it is to create space for the brassy trumpet flare for million-plus-streamed ‘Lemonade.’ “We put a lot of weight on experimenting and not being too picky about where we want the song to go, and try to just let it turn into what it is or what it’s meant to be.” Barlow says. “Most of the songs that we make will probably never be heard. But that’s why we’re able to put out a body of work that’s still acceptable or cohesive from us.”
Atop a bed of sounds the duo describes as “dreamy,” Iris Temple easily bounces from genre to genre, taking their many diverse inspirations and touchstones - not all of them musical - and reimagining, bending, and combining them to whatever shape or mood a given song requires from moment to moment. Their method of letting the songs tell them where they’re headed and when they’re done has resulted in a consistent output that’s seen them release eight singles and two EPs in just a little bit over two years.
They tend to think of the singles as “mystery boxes” - each one offering a different take on what Iris Temple is or can be, and the decision to make a longer-form project is made naturally. They allow a release to stretch out to an EP only when they find themselves having more to say within a single idea or mood than the structure of a single song allows.
Some of Quinn Barlow’s cover art for Iris Temple releases, 2016 - 2018
Whether mystery box or EP, each release is packaged with cover art featuring original illustrations from Barlow (a handful of which included here) - just another example of the duo’s focus on keeping things in-house, on specificity, and on making sure the feeling that they intend to convey gets across to their listener. “You can’t ask others to think about what you’re making as hard as you do - or to understand it the same way.” Cochran says.
Barlow says that he mostly chooses to create cover art as if a still from a movie that the song could soundtrack; hinting at a mood or idea they both want to get across. “There’s a lot of shit that can’t really be put into words,” Cochran says “but we spend so many hours a day together, that we pick up on a feeling.”
Right now, the duo is abroad for the first time, joining Xavier Omär as support on a multi-week tour of Europe beginning in early October. Their first time out with Omär, a domestic tour, proved to be mindset-solidifying. Unable to take their band on tour with them, the duo was on stage with nothing but a guitar, their beats, and their voices. With so little room for error, each audience they won over was a massive step to believing that they’d have a future in music. It’s the same way they played at a well-received North Coast Music Festival set this summer, their first booking at a major festival.
Though they assure me a new EP is imminent, fans stateside may still have to wait ‘til the Quinns return home to find out what they’re up to.
“I can not wait for the day where I don’t have to be on Twitter or Instagram,” Cochran says, when the topic of personal hero Frank Ocean’s elusiveness comes up.
“With social media there’s such a responsibility to let people know what you’re doing and it makes it less special. People want to connect with you and I get that, I’ll share that. But the day that I don’t have to, I won’t.”
The way things have been going for Iris Temple lately, that day may not be far off.