With the release of his fifth album, The People’s Champ, Mikael Temrowski, known artistically as Quinn XCII, has been busy performing to adoring crowds throughout North America, producing Wes Anderson style music videos, and dropping bobble-headed merch on his socials that, according to the singer/songwriter, are revolutionizing the action figure industry. On this night, however, Temrowski plays hometown host to several fans who have flown in to hang with the Champ during an intimate, three-hour, VIP mixer in Detroit’s new Corktown boutique, The Godfrey Hotel.
Set in a glass enclosed, rooftop ballroom, which offers gorgeous nighttime views of the skyline, the experience was inspired, in part, by the first track on Quinn’s new album, Bartender – as it kicked off with Head Bartender, Anthony Escalante, instructing guests on “How To” craft the perfect Martinis and Manhattans. Drinks in hand, the party participated in meet & greet photo sessions, where they got to know one another and quickly discovered that their boy, Quinn XCII was as real as his music and self-deprecating persona have led them to believe.
The dude is 100%.
“To make really great art I think you have to be vulnerable and get out of your own way a bit” ~ Quinn XCII
Earlier in the evening, I sat with Temrowski in a private lounge and learned that some of his material was inspired by a track on Queen’s 1982 Hot Space album, Cool Cat. “I think what makes Queen so great is that they weren’t afraid to take risks,” Quinn said. “For me as an artist, it’s inspiring to see a band as big as them take risks like that because, you kinda get stuck in your ways as an artist – ok, people like me like this, I better just stay in that lane – but at the end of day that doesn’t really fulfill the artist.”
At 12 tracks, The People’s Champ is filled with lyrical philosophy, melodic nostalgia, delivered in laid back, confident tones. Temrowski is a storyteller. A bit of a romantic. Growing up, he was compelled to write stories; whether they were stories he personally experienced or those he simply conjured in his imagination. He soon became aware of his gift to break all the hearts through his music.
“As I got older, I certainly had my fair share of heartbreak, so I try and use my voice as a platform to share people’s experiences,” Quinn says. “I think I’ve also had a soft spot for writers, and I’ve never been a big reader, ironically, but I love using music as a way to, almost be an author, and its just fun for me to fantasize.”
Admittedly, most of the heartbreak in Quinn’s music stems from a single girl who “dumped” him when he was a senior in high school. Apparently, it was such a poor experience that Temrowski has been able to apply that core memory to many of his songs, even now as a 31 year old, married man.
“There’s so much subject matter there for me,” Quinn says. “And, I know there are people who are that age I was who are going through similar stuff. I think heartbreak and those timeless subjects are always going to resonate with people and I love tapping into the nostalgia of life, and high school, and those formidable years … That’s a lot of what my music is about, actually.”
For those who have been following Quinn’s career the girl in question is not “Stacey”; the subject and title from 2020’s A Letter to my Younger Self. No, Stacey was the only senior girl with tattoos who, according to the lyrics, had been giving a freshman Temrowski “love since last June”. In a beautifully executed video that captures the complications of first love, Quinn XCII shares random facts of a capricious teenage romance. Young men don’t forget these things. And, if you’re one who needs reminder, this 2:50 track will pull you back in time to a similar moment you may be unconsciously holding deep inside.
Perhaps, not too surprisingly, Queen also broached the subject in a number called Fat Bottomed Girls. Found on 1978’s JAZZ album, it’s a more direct discussion, presumably about the upbringing of guitarist/songwriter, Brian May, whose “Nanny”, heap big woman made a bad boy out of him.
“I use women a lot as inspiration in my music, as I think some of the best artists ever have,” says Quinn. “Women are a great way to find inspiration and they often rip your heart out.”
The woman who eventually filled Temrowski’s heart, however, is known lyrically as Georgia Peach; Quinn’s Amer-i-can Pie, who four years ago said “Yes” to the pop star. Residing in California, the couple is now expecting a baby girl in January, 2024.
In a lo-fi video, set on Prom Night, 2010, in the singer’s hometown of Grosse Pointe, Michigan (but, filmed in LA), we learn the attributes of Quinn’s crush while he and his besties Uber home from Lacrosse practice. Suddenly, the music stops. Quinn’s buddy, Jake explains that his therapist wants him to say “No” more often – specifically, to these guys – and that he’s decided, after promising all week to pick up the booze, that he’s not going to do it.
“Goodness gracious,” says Friend Number Two.
“But, what I do have is melatonin,” says Jake.
Quinn and Friend Number Two exit the vehicle leaving nothing but expletives. The comedy ends with Quinn peddling a bike to his dates house in pink tuxedo with black lapel. I wouldn’t say XCII rocks a dad bod but it’s obvious that part of his rizz comes from his ability to poke fun at himself.
“I think we’re driven so much by culture these days to want to grab onto what we don’t have.”
In the video for his recent single, “Common”, featuring Detroit’s Big Sean, Quinn takes a satirical swing at its album title, with The People’s Champ hanging from uneven bars in yellow tank and white gymnast pants for the duration of the track – a humorous nod to the difficulty of Thom Yorke’s performance in Radiohead’s iconic “No Surprises” video – (maybe?).
“I’m a massive Wes Anderson fan and I think a lot of my videos are inspired by his symetrical, very colorful approach to making movies,” Quinn says. “As far as the actual songwriting, it’s always about catching lighting in a bottle and just running with that inspiration the second you feel you have a grasp on it.”
Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to explore Quinn’s love of Wes Anderson because I would have liked to discuss Rushmore, Life Aquatic and, perhaps, Moonrise Kingdom, as these seem to be aligned with the aesthetic of a kid from Grosse Pointe.
Quinn says his music begins with melodies. He’ll find himself humming something until he’s able to build a song. The process still feels new for the songwriter, which he says keeps things interesting. “To make really great art I think you have to be vulnerable and get out of your own way a bit,” says Quinn. “I know it sounds very meta but I think it’s important to go with life, and I think that’s where my lyrics come from; just leaning into the idea that you got to really just flow with what’s happening and just … trust the process.”
One of these bits of prose closes out The People’s Champ – Watch yourself in the sky explode – from the chill, Zenlike piece, All That You Need. “That’s one of my favorite lyrics that I’ve ever wrote,”Quinn says. “Quarantine definitely slowed my life down and I got really into mindfulness and sort of tried to figure out my neurosis a little bit, and the tagline from that song is ‘All that you need is what you can’t see but you’ve always had.”
“That’s beautiful,” I said.
“Thank you,” said Quinn. “What I mean by that is: “It’s” yourself. I think we’re driven so much by culture these days to want to grab onto what we don’t have, and are told we should … (laughs) … now, I can hear my music playing in the background and I’m thrown off … (laughing).
Quinn’s manager, Jesse Coren (Mutual Friends), who also handles ayokay, Chelsea Cutler, and Jeremy Zucker, was sitting in to assist now politely moves to shut a door in order to separate us from Quinn’s heard from the glass enclosed ballroom. “Thanks Jesse,” Quinn says. Jesse smiles. “Actually, I asked Jesse if he would play my music to keep my confidence up …”
The line, nicely delivered, earns a laugh from Management.
Apart from being a producer/DJ/musician, with millions of streams and a number of smash hits himself, ayokay (Alex O’Neill) is also one of Quinn’s childhood friends. They grew up together in Grosse Pointe but went to different universities; O’Neill went to Michigan, Temrowski to Michigan State. During summers and holidays the pair recorded songs in Alex’s mom’s guest room. Apparently, as any mom would, she often yelled at them for stuffing the closets full of her finer pillows so that they could fashion a vocal booth.
On 2021’s, Change of Scenery II – also recorded during quarantine – the duo set up shop this time in ayokay’s parental oceanside home in Newport, Rhode Island. The track ‘Look How Far We’ve Come’ is a celebration of the artist’s friendship and musical output, which dates back to 3rd grade. “It was beautiful, man,” says Quinn. “And, again, doing this during quarantine was also unique, because the world was shut down, and here we were just making music to make music; and to just fall in love with that process and realizing how grateful I am to be doing this for a job.”
No word on whether the lads destroyed mom’s pillows.
“I had a very lucky start to everything. It’s just the cards I was dealt. I know a lot of people don’t have that luxury.”
Temrowski describes his hometown as “very black tie and cut throat”. Most people strive to be doctors and lawyers. Not a lot of parents preaching, “go be a musician.” Because, he grew up in a middle class section of an affluent community his parents encouraged him to be whatever he wanted; as long as he first went to college to get a degree.
“It definitely reminds me how grateful I am to grow up where I was, because as I ventured off into adulthood I realized that a lot of the world does not live the way that Grosse Pointe is structured,” Quinn said. “I had a very lucky start to everything. It’s just the cards I was dealt. I know a lot of people don’t have that luxury. So, I try not to take things for granted.”
Temrowski seems very humbled by his life experience. I’m sure any fan of his discography will attest that Quinn is a genuine soul. So-called privilege has not spoiled this guy. And, he’s just so damn polite. “I live in LA now and people joke: they say, ‘I could tell you’re from the Midwest the second you walked up to me,'” Quinn says. “There is this likeness about us and this community; I don’t know what is. Something about the Midwest. I think it’s that and a combination of my parents telling me to ‘keep your head down, work hard, and don’t get too ahead of yourself.”
The door opens and from the ballroom comes a track off ayokay’s 2016 EP, 4 ft to Infinity. Quinn takes a moment and smiles. “I think it’s my friends. I think it’s certainly my family. I think it’s the water, actually; the lake I grew up on. Kings of Summer is literally about just growing up on Lake St. Clair and having the water in your backyard.”
“Lately, I’ve been singing Iron & Steel in the shower,” words falling from my mouth like a fanboy.
“Oh really?,” Quinn says. “Thank you, man! I appreciate that! Iron & Steel is one of my favorites. It’s a deep track.” Again, he seems genuinely moved that his music is getting over on people.
Iron & Steel is another one of those tracks that is all melody and catchy tones. It’s minimalist in its approach but in being so there is more opportunity to relate to Quinn’s prose. “It’s funny you say that though, because I really can’t play any instrument. I sort of dabble with all of them, but I can’t by any means shred on the guitar, or give you a crazy piano solo,” Quinn says. “What I can do is sort of tell you exactly what I want the music to sound like. So, I will mumble literally to the producers I work with like, hey, I like this chord progression, and I think we end up keeping those simple elements in the song. So, it sounds a bit more minimal, almost playful, or more childlike.”
Some are architects and some are craftsmen – respect all round – but Quinn XCII has put together crews over the years that have worked to produce a five album plus stream of extremely listenable music. Over 3.3M monthly listeners on Spotify agree. His music plays across every platform and his audience engages positively. The artist just has an uncanny way of connecting with people who want to live life, top down, cruising along the coastline, during magic hour.
“There is this sense in Detroit that we’re underdogs, and having to make a name for ourselves, and having to prove others wrong, and I think that has really been my M.O. for my career,” Quinn says. “As much as I’ve been able to do, there is this sense of underdog mentality that I’ve always had. And, even though my name is not one that always comes up when you’re thinking about who’s a musician doing big things, I kind of love that, because it reminds me of where I was raised.”
America loves an underdog. And, Detroit has produced many of them from Eminem, to Big Sean, to Jack White, to Aretha, to Quinn XCII. “People around here don’t get down on ourselves because we’re underdogs; it just makes us work harder,” Quinn says.
It’s strange because Quinn XCII has already developed an iconic sound. He writes timeless, melodic tracks, with harmonies that embrace his listeners. These are love songs; soulful letters sent to that space in our hearts and minds that force us to move forward with our heads up. Temrowski’s work is intelligent, his lines are meaningful, and he reveals just enough bad boy to let us know that he’s down. All of it with the Indie feel of an emerging artist.
“I hope I never lose that,” Quinn says. “I’ve never made music for people’s validation, but if I could say one thing about what I hope people get, it’s that I hope I come off as someone who’s always trying to out do their last work and is still striving for the best thing they can put out … And, Detroit probably shaped me to be that person.”
When he’s not producing music, Quinn says he’s been listening to singer Teddy Swims, who has just released a new album XCII calls incredible. “It’s very soulful. His voice is absolutely insane. He’s almost like a male version of Amy Winehouse,” says Quinn. “And, it’s got those power ballad chords but still feels like a Motown record.” Leon Bridges is another artist Quinn loves. “He really has defined himself as someone who’s trying to bring back that classic, Sam Cooke soul sound.”
And, while he was in town for the Hilton Experience – which, he and his wife, Macy timed perfectly to coincide with their Grosse Pointe baby shower – Quinn hit the Dirty Dog Jazz Café to catch some local performers. He also cites the Teskey Brothers from Australia, for those looking to round out their playlist. “Anyone that is just willing to wear their heart on their sleeve and be vulnerable, I respect.”
Back in the Ballroom, Quinn’s guests have finished cocktailing and are seated around a long table in the center of the room. Comprised of two couples – one, from Austin, Texas, the other, St. Louis, Missouri – they are thrilled to be dining with Quinn XCII.
My understanding is that the Hilton Honors Experience was sourced in conjunction with Live Nation and included a one night stay at The Godfrey, Detroit (Curio Collection by Hilton), the before mentioned cocktail program, the meet & greet, with photo opps, and a playful, multi course, meal, curated by the culinary mind of the Champ himself – realized by Chef Nyle Flynn, former sous Chef at Detroit’s Selden Standard.
“I have a food blog that I run that’s a total parody of people who take their food blogs too seriously,” said Quinn to his guests; whom after a few drinks and an hour of previous conversation began to settle in more as his extended musical family than out-of-town fans. “I’m a cook but also just a big fan of eating and trying new stuff. So whenever we can do food related activities and fan based activation, I always jump on the opportunity.”
Then he offered sincere thanks to the table for joining him.
Welcome snacks and wine were shared amongst the party while Quinn introduced his culinary partner, Chef Flynn. “I’ve always said that if I wasn’t a musician I’d love to be a chef. I don’t think Im cut out for that at all but I love that culture; chefs with tattoos … I think they’re the common age rock stars,” the table laughed. “Those are the guys I look up to, so it’s cool to do stuff like this.”
Chef Flynn stood at the head of the table and confidently introduced the first course; Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, with Parmesan, Caper, Calabrian Chili. Chef bowed, exited, and the table enjoyed their meals while they asked Quinn questions and shared their connections to his music. They discussed favorite songs, where they were when they first heard Quinn XCII, and expressed what his music means to them. One fan said she discovered Quinn through Chelsea Cutler and Temroski went on about their musical collabs as effortlessly as he would any of those chill lines in one of his songs.
Dude’s got flow.
And, he’s the consummate host. Midwesterner all the way. His wife, Macy must have been thrilled to bring him home to meet the family. His parents, proud to have raised such a fine, young man.
Chef came out for the second course; a play on Quinn’s favorite. The artist-cum-foodie explained that we have a thing called ‘Detroit Style Pizza’. And, that his favorite pizza, while found throughout the nation, is based here in Michigan. Jet’s Pizza. Though, he also cited Buddy’s. He then went on to explain that one of the things we do in the Midwest is to take pizza and dip it in Ranch dressing …”
“What?” I yelled.
Not out loud but to myself.
You don’t put ranch dip, or pineapple, or ketchup, or anything else like that on pizza. How many more people do I have to meet that loves doing this? My wife does this. Her entire family does this. Even my own brother has been known to dip his pizza in ranch. It’s an abomination!
“Finally,” I thought. “A chink in this guy’s armor.”
Chef Flynn went on to discuss his interpretation, which on the menu read: Pizza Bites (nicely plated and executed), Sourdough, pepperoni, banana pepper, best ranch ever. Chef bowed and left the table.
“Enjoy,” said Quinn and his guests dug in. Reluctantly, and in an effort to have 10% the grace as the Host, I did the same.
“Damn,” I thought, after my second bite; flavors exploding over my palate. “This s**t is goood. Must be something in the studio after a little weed.”
And, so the evening continued like that through 6 Courses that included, Tortellini Fall Squash, Cioppino Saffron Tomato Shellfish, Lamb Meatloaf Roulade, followed by a beautiful Pistachio Cake.
Well done, Chef.
Through it all, Quinn engaged with his guests, answering questions and sharing stories about life and music. There was a lot of wine and a lot of laughter, and it was apparent these participants were genuinely pleased with the outcome. In an industry not generally known for its kindness Quinn XCII more than lived up to his hype.
He is truly the The People’s Champ.
When the night finally came to an end there were long, Michigan Goodbyes. Friendships made, once in a lifetime experiences had, due in large part to the vibes put out by the host.
“Hey Quinn,” I said. “I’ve got one last question relating to your song, Another day in Paradise.” The video, about a panda bear who meets his bunny, was produced by ayokay and shot on the streets of Detroit prior to it’s “rebirth”.
“What’s your definition of Paradise?”
“It’s everything,” Quinn said. “If you just realize you already have everything you’re looking for – and, you don’t question it – then paradise becomes THAT … it’s sitting on the couch talking to you … it’s sitting in traffic … it’s having a cigarette …”
“Thank you all for coming to the Quinn XCII experience,” said one of the producers of the event. “If there is nothing else we’d like to invite you to enjoy a drink in the lounge.”
The experience dispersed.
“Did Quinn just compare me to traffic and cigarettes?” I thought.
Yes. He did.