Quinn XCII and Ayokay lived six blocks away from each other throughout their childhood. It did not take long for them to band together, and start making music.
Although Quinn XCII started rapping, when Quinn was at Michigan State University, he started to develop the sound his is famous for now, which has more of a laid-back, hip-hop, electronic, and tropical feel. Ayokay continued producing Quinn’s records, and they blew up. Quinn’s first label release, ‘Stung’, shot to #1 on HypeMachine, and shortly after, Quinn’s collaboration with Ayokay on ‘Kings of Summer’ hit #1 on Global Viral Chart.
At the Billboard Hot 100, we got a chance to sit down with Quinn and Ayokay, and we chatted to them about how they started working together, their new exciting record deal, their musical inspirations, their idols, and so much more.
You’ve worked together a while now.
How did you begin working together?
Quinn: We met in High School. So we’ve known each other since in the third grade. We live like, what? Six blocks away from each other, and in high school, we did make music together. It was really awful – it was me rapping, and him [Ayokay] getting beats of YouTube. And then we just kind of progressed into him producing his own stuff, and just kind of building to this thing, and we’re here now.
Ayokay: Yeah, we’re from the same hometown, we went to rival colleges, so it’s been so collaborative. We’ve always been so close, distance wise, which is why it’s so easy.
Do you have any funny stories from working together?
[They both laugh]
Quinn: Um… Where to start. [Looks to Ayokay] Any?
Ayokay: I don’t know that there’s any particularly funny stories. A lot of times we wanted to kill each other, and a lot of times we love each other. It’s a lot of back and forth. Right now I love him.
Quinn: Right now we love each other, but by tomorrow we might hate each other. No, it’s just a lot of, like, we’re on the road all the time, so I literally see him more than my family –
Ayokay: Yeah –
Quinn: My best friends, so it’s crazy, but we’ve just gotten to, like, we live together now in LA, so we just, I guess we’re used to it, but it’s always back and forth bickering.
Ayokay: Like brothers.
Quinn: We make the most of it.
Ayokay, how do you decide how to produce the tracks that Quinn sings to?
Ayokay: So I learned how to produce based around the beats that he was talking about earlier, that he used to rip of YouTube. They were really influential on me for what I did, because that’s just how I grew up, kind of, I grew up. That’s how I started recording music; it was with the beats that he was finding – just really colorful sound. I was really into Kygo, and Odesza, and Tycho, when they first kind of came on the map, and electronic music chilled out a little bit, is when I started producing. And that really works with him [Quinn], because our music is just laid-back, feel-good. It honestly was so dependent on the time, and electronic music is kind of when we started. And that was a big influence on us.
Ayokay: And he [Quinn] has a lot of input on the instrumental side, I input on the vocals, so there’s so much back and forth, which is what makes the music so –
Quinn: Good, I think.
How did you initially start collaborating?
Quinn: So you know what’s so funny? I was walking into our hometown gym one day, and Alex was coming out of it. And I was like: “Hey, are you still –“, like I kind of knew he was into music, but I didn’t know he was doing it, like, for years.
Ayokay: So we’d gone to college –
Quinn: Yeah –
Ayokay: And left high school, gone to college.
Quinn: Yeah, so this was like, Freshman year summer. So, I was like: “Hey man, what’s up? Are you still into music? Because I’m still kind of doing my thing”. And he was like: “Yeah, come over sometime, and we’ll see what happens”. And we started making more music; it just kind of snowballed into our own stuff. Yeah, it was just crazy. It was very organic.
Ayokay: Yeah, and the first song we did was ‘Violins’, which was way old, and it was off of his first EP, and it was the only original song off of his EP. And that was the one people gravitated towards most. Then from there, we kind of realized there was some sort of chemistry you know?
Quinn: We should make our original music, you know? We shouldn’t be singing over a Drake instrumental. We should maybe give this a try, and it’s worked out, I think, so it’s cool.
I noticed the last song in your set you through in a bit of Riptide.
Quinn: Riptide, yeah, so we like to throw in a lot of songs that we like. It’s not all covers, obviously, but when we can, it’s cool to kind of mix it up a bit. And everybody may not know the lyrics to the one song, but they know the lyrics to Riptide, so we gravitate to them somehow.
Because I knew the original, and Riptide came out of nowhere, and my mind was blown.
Quinn: Thank you so much, I appreciate it.
And it complemented your sound too.
Ayokay: And it’s a nice release when people can, like, all of the sudden he just changes up on them, and everybody knows the words. It’s so simple, it’s just a really nice release.
Quinn: Yeah, it’s really nice.
Do you have any specific musical inspirations or influences?
Quinn: So we grew up right out-, we’re from the Grosse Pointe, which is the suburb just outside of Detroit, Michigan. And Detroit is obviously big into Motown and Soul music, so for me, I grew up listening to Michael Jackson, and the Jackson 5, and James Brown – all of the really old-time legends. So those guys, and even nowadays, Frank Ocean, Leon Bridges; all these soul singers I’m really into. So that’s my inspiration. And even with Drake, and the mainstream guys, I still think they’re really influential, and they have a unique taste. So I kind of just pick pieces from everyone. His is obviously –
Ayokay: Yeah, I grew up listening to Coldplay, and then I got really into Odesza, and Tycho, and Kygo, and all of them. And I don’t know, we were inspired, I think that a lot, like, Jack Johnson was huge when we were in high school.
Quinn: The kind of Islandy, simple melody, but we pull from everything. I think the big thing about us is that we pull a little but from every genre that we like. Which is why it’s such a nice hybrid, because we just pull from everything.
If you could talk to any artist, dead or alive, who would it be?
Quinn: Michael Jackson, for sure. I don’t have his number, but if I did when he was still alive, that would be unreal.
If you could ask him one question, what would you ask him?
Quinn: One question? Oh my gosh.
I’ll give you two.
Quinn: [Laughs] Oh shit, okay. Um, just like, his work ethic was so insane, how he just keeps – I feel like he, in my opinion, is the best performer ever. Just his stamina, and how he never skipped a beat. It is tiring up there, so if I could ask: How do you stay, like you’re a machine, how do you do this so much? There’s like a thousand I could ask him, but that’s off the top of my head, that’s one.
How about you?
Ayokay: And I hate repeating the same name, but again, Odessa. I would ask them: how do they sample their vocals? The way that they chop up vocals is the most unbelievable thing in the world. And I asked, I actually met one of them once, and I asked him, and he kind of blew me off, because, I mean, understandably, it’s their secret. But one day, if I had them in a room, I would day: “tell me how you do that vocal”.
I read this, I don’t know how true it is: you didn’t start writing music till about three years ago?
Quinn: About, yeah, four to five. It’s been like a five-year period that we’ve been writing our own originals. Yeah so like, five.
That’s pretty recent.
Quinn: Kind of crazy, yeah. But this is like, we’ve been working for six years now. It’s definitely not an overnight type thing. This is a lot of work, and a lot of years into it. But our own original compositions, they’re all like three years old, so, yeah.
Ayokay: Even less than that, because I think the start of it was when I started producing for him.
Ayokay: And that was less than two years ago, so since then it’s kind of been just like a whirlwind. It’s just building on itself. Before that he was rapping, but I almost count that as before, you know? But it really started, I think, when we put out our first original project, which was ‘Change of Scenery’. So it’s probably been close to two years, maybe a little less.
How long does it take you to come up with each song, and produce it?
Quinn: We’re really meticulous, and we take out time with everything. So for us – it kind of varies for each artist I think – but for us, it takes, for a full-length project, like an album or an EP, at least five to six months. Ours is like 7 or 8 months, because we really want to get every little detail down perfect, and I think it’s worked out so far. But if there’s one little minor thing, it’s like, all right, we’ve got to get back in, and change it, or it’s just going to bug us. But there’s days we’ll crank out a song in like, two days, it’s not that rare. But most of the time, we take our time, it’s definitely a slow creative process, but I think that’s the best results; you get the best out of it that way.
Ayokay: I feel like he does sometimes when he works with other producers, but with my stuff, it’s not like we finish a song altogether, and then move on. We do ninety percent of it, start the next one, do ninety percent of that, seventy percent of that, and then at the end we come around and we finish them off. So they’re not finished until we’re ready to release the project, which I think is – you have a fresh ear for six months that you’re sitting on it, and you can come back, and you can edit it. So I think that’s another big thing.
This is your first festival?
Is this the biggest audience you’ve had so far?
Quinn: No, this was a great audience. We’ve played, I don’t know, like, we opened for Chance the Rapper in Michigan, and that was like 4000 people, which was way more than we –
Ayokay: Way ahead of our time.
Quinn: We should not have been on that stage.
Ayokay: Way ahead of our time, yeah.
Quinn: That was amazing. But, I don’t know, like –
Ayokay: Since we’ve been doing our thing –
Quinn: Probably like 1500 people is our max audience, but it doesn’t really – it honestly doesn’t matter. As long as it’s positive energy, and –
Ayokay: The vibe is so big –
Quinn – People show up. As long as the vibe is good – I hate using that word – it’s the most important aspect.
At what point did you guys go: hey, maybe we could do this for a living?
Quinn: Uh, probably after Change of Scenery. The first EP that I put out under my name, and he produced the entire thing. It just got such an awesome response, and it catapulted us to a bigger audience. I don’t know, that was probably the moment where I was like: maybe it’s worth trying to do more, maybe we work harder at this. Honestly it was never a doubt in my mind; I always wanted to do this, I just didn’t know how long it was going to take. And things I think, happened quicker than I thought, maybe.
Ayokay: Yeah, I think that’s when we realized how real it was.
Ayokay: Our manger, who was kind of the third eye, obviously, he would tell us: “I’ve managed other artists, this is not normal, how fast this is growing”. And what we saw as the result of the six songs on Change of Scenery, and how quickly it moved, we were like: “Holy shit! There’s clearly some demand for this”. It just moved so fast. I think that’s how we knew we had a place.
There were some guys in front of us at your set who knew every single word to every single song. What’s it like to experience that?
Quinn: It’s like the craziest thing ever. It never get’s old. It’s indescribable to make something, and have so many people know it word for word. You can’t really describe it, but it’s the best feeling ever. And it makes us want to do this more. We see people’s faces and their reaction; it’s a motivation for both of us. And once we get back in the studio, once we do a show and it’s like: “Oh, these people know the words”, it’s like, alright, let’s get back and make more songs, so they can know the words to this next one. It’s awesome.
Ayokay: I feel like everybody is good at one thing. We are just lucky enough to be good at one thing that has such a crazy reach. You guys are probably great at what you do, and professional.
Quinn: [Laughing] Probably?
He’s like… Yeah… Good luck….
Ayokay: [Hangs his head, and laughs] Sorry. But it is just crazy; we just got lucky enough to be good at the one thing that has such an outreach.
Quinn: Yeah, absolutely. Everyone loves music, so I think it’s such a blessing to do this, because it helps people in so many ways. It’s just very rewarding in that sense.
Out of all the songs that you’ve release, or maybe not released yet, which one is your favorite?
Quinn: I think its Full Circle. Kings of Summer is our biggest one, obviously that’s the easy answer, I think. Full Circle is mine though. I just love playing it live, and everybody knows the words – it’s just a really cool, raw vibe.
Ayokay: Yeah, it’s like hip-hip meets tropical, it hits hard, but its pretty. To me, Full Circle is our best vibe. It hits hard, it’s amazing.
What is your best memory so far from working in this industry?
Quinn: I don’t know. We just signed a record deal, so that’s crazy.
Ayokay: Yeah, that was crazy.
Who did you sign with?
Quinn: We signed with Columbia Records. So obviously that’s amazing, you know, you can’t put into words how cool that is.
Ayokay: I feel like Texas, it’s got to be Texas. We just went to Texas.
Quinn: So our song, Kings of Summer, there’s an athlete on the Texas Rangers baseball team who uses it on his opening, like, his walk-up song. We performed the song in the baseball stadium a couple weeks ago, and that was crazy, because I’m a big sports fan, and I never thought I’d be able to do this in the sporting world, and to have it cross over, but it’s really done that well. So that was surreal.
Ayokay: And they treated us like royalty.
Quinn: Yeah. We got to meet all the players.
Ayokay: It was amazing. Unbelievable.
Quinn: They were fans of us, and I was like: “Holy shit! That’s Bob, that’s so and so”, I was trying not to freak out.
Ayokay: And just seeing how reactive the song was there, it was so crazy. The bussers at the restaurants, in the stadium, all knew us, because they had heard the song through the walls, and they Shazaamed it. It was crazy; it had such a crazy spread. We’re not from Dallas, we have no attachments in Dallas, and it blew up so much there, it was so crazy and insane.
What are you guys working on now?
Quinn: So Alex… Do you want to speak about you project?
Ayokay: Yeah, I have a debut EP, and Kings of Summer is the lead single off of it, that will release hopefully early October. That’s like, seven songs.
Quinn: And then we’re both working on my debut album that we’re going to put out through the label. I’m hoping that will come out early wintertime. Just a lot of new singles are going to come out, a lot more music. We have a ton of time now on our hands to just get to work. We are going on tour in October, so we kind of want to be in the studio as much as possible before that, so we can show this new music to the fans and stuff.
Ayokay: We debut one of the snippets at the end of our song Never Done This, we have a snippet of this song: One Day At A Time, that is one of our favorites that we’ve done. And that will be, maybe, the lead single off of his album.
Quinn: Yeah. Just a lot of cool stuff. Just back to work. Just a lot of working, but it works out in this year. Soon enough its going to come out.
When are you guys back in New York?
Quinn: On tour we will play at Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan, and then in Brooklyn we play the next day at the Music Hall in Williamsburg, I think is the venue, I don’t know the specifics. It’s in October, I think.
Ayokay: It’s on the tour flyer right? Or is it not announced yet?
Quinn: You can find it on the tour flyer, yeah. We have a tour flyer coming out soon with these new dates, and it’s all on there. So if fans want to buy tickets, that’s how you can do it. But yeah, that’s the next time we’ll be in New York. I can’t wait. New York is an awesome city. It’s great.
If you’re interested in seeing Quinn XCII and Ayokay live, follow these link to keep track of their tour dates: