Introducing Q, the unsearchable musician whose falsetto is taking R&B to new heights
With the deluxe edition of his The Shave Experiment EP, the single-lettered project of Q Marsden will blow your minds.
Q is someone who is destined to stand out from wherever you find him.
On the streaming playlists that have bolstered his breakthrough, his name is one unlike any other; the musician's pseudonym being just a single letter - the letter Q. Then, there's his voice. You see, under even the most boring and unoriginal musical alias, Q is someone who could stand tall through the sheer power of his falsetto, and the aching and complex blend of emotions that he is capable of communicating through his voice. It's almost unlike anything else we've ever heard before, and it's a reason why Q is quickly blossoming into one of R&B's defining names of tomorrow.
Born Q Steven Marsden, the Florida-raised musician has always seemed destined for greatness - "My dad named me the letter Q because he just thought I'd be destined for something good, so he just wanted to name me something weird," Q told Complex in one of his earliest interviews - and since making an entrance with his debut The Shave Experiment EP last year, greatness is what has come to Q; the musician blossoming into a focus artist of 2021, with all signs pointing towards this year being a breakthrough year for someone whose journey isn't even close to finding a peak.
"I've been making music since I was a child," Q tells Complex. The son of Jamaican immigrants, Marsden grew up amongst a hotbed of culture, surrounded by music from a young age via both his parents - "Michael Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire, Bob Marley," he lists off - and the local church, of which Q sung as a part of the choir. His father produced for Sean Paul and his mother played alongside Beenie Man and Bounty Killer; musicality is something not so much ingrained in Q's psyche as it has been inherited, passed down by the family, community and culture that surrounds him.
In 2018, Q made a debut with Thoughts, a sprawling, 12-track first record littered with acoustic R&B, presenting tidings and snapshots of a performer beginning to find their way through the complexities of impactful art. Then, a year later, he grew closer in the form of Forest Green, a nine-track second record that boasts it's album-opening single Lavender, a breakthrough moment that presented Q beginning to blossom, and hit newfound peaks as he continued to do so.
Shortly after writing Forest Green, Q began writing what would eventually become The Shave Experiment, a potently rich collection of songs that with its unveiling last year, welcomed his major-label debut - via Columbia Records, no less - and an opportunity for Q to express the evolution and growth that was already beginning to underpin the project. "Evolve and change and hope, nothing more and nothing less," he says, on the ethos of The Shave Experiment. "Because in life, a lot can happen."
The Shave Experiment attempted to dissect all those things that can happen through indulgently rich R&B. The viral Take Me Where Your Heart Is takes you on the rollercoasting ride of romanticism, for example, while Alone contrasts it with something starkly different: "I'm alone and I can't solve it, I need someone to help me now," he sings.
What made The Shave Experiment so impactful, however, was in how Q could squeeze every ounce of emotion out of the lyrics; how his powerful falsetto would power through ceilings and trail upwards into the stratosphere, with a sense of lasting potency we haven't quite experienced since the arrival of someone like Sampha, or Childish Gambino's Awaken, My Love! pivot to R&B (something which deeply influenced Q's music too, as well as Drake's infamous Nothing Was The Same).
"As much as we have control of music, you think it'll be perfect when it's done on this big scale," he told Vice last year. "Wondering what could be perfect and what could not be perfect is all nonsense sometimes. Genuinely presenting something as this is me, this is my voice, this is the guitar, and this is how I play it. It's not the best but this is what I can do. When you use what you have to your best ability, people respect that. There are no boundaries with the music, you create it."
The Shave Experiment (Director's Cut) is a new, extended take on the EP that further shows what Q can do through his music; that further show the abilities that make Q's music such a transformative and healing experience. There are the original five tracks, plus seven more (six, if you don't count a talking monologue early on the record) that showcase Q's craft; songs like If You Care - a favourite, thanks to its segment on Colors influential channel - presenting the same, impactful songwriting that Q continues to emphasise through his work, as well as the evolution that's being felt within that - even in the space of just a year.
There's an emotiveness that constantly draws you back to all of Q's work; the Director's Cut of The Shave Experiment included. There's something remarkably special in the way he can communicate the most relatable and familiar of feelings - loneliness; longing; romanticism - and turn them into bursts of soulful poetry, rich with the reflections and catharticism you'd expect from someone long beyond Q's age and experience.
Then, there's the way that Q frames it all; the extended take of The Shave Experiment being entirely self-produced, much like the rest of Q's work. "If I'm producing things myself, I'm just able to, at some point, get it exactly how I want it to be," he tells Complex. Q is a multi-talented, multi-faceted force, and he's well and truly taking R&B to new heights.
As The Shave Experiment (Director's Cut) arrives, we talk to Q about his musical journey, continued sense of evolution and how they come together on the new, extended EP. Read it below, and keep an eye on Q Marsden as he blossoms into a defining force of 2021, and a next generation wearing every ounce of themselves through their music:
I wanted to start by going way back to your beginnings in music, which I know came really early on because of your parents’ background. When did you start playing around with music, and how did that evolve while you were growing up?
I started to play around in music around 5. It started to evolve more when I sold my first guitar for a MacBook Pro. I just recently listened to Nothing Was The Same by Drake and instantly became inspired by the production.
When abouts in the process did it come to making music of your own?
When I first heard Nothing Was The Same!
I know you’re from South Florida, an area that has had a mammoth impact on hip-hop culture in the last few years. I’ve read you talk about how you’re inspired by the emotiveness of the acts that have come from that. What is it that you’re drawn to in that, and how does it shape your own writing?
Well it really stems from a Florida native who passed away named XXXtentaction, at first I wasn’t a fan but then I realized the vulnerability in his music and the rawness that people connected to. I never really had that in my music, I was just floating around. I would also say he allowed me to realize the diversity more in sound.
In saying that, your music isn’t hip-hop per se; it’s more soulful, more R&B/pop-like. Where do you think that side of your sound comes from?
This side comes from my mom raising me on people Michael Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire, and more. My mom also really loves R&B, she loves Jill Scott a lot lol.
So last year, you put out The Shave Experiment - your debut major label release, and an EP that really increased your trajectory. How did you navigate being thrown into the deep end of what I guess is this greater sense of success? How did you find it?
I have been just taking my time and creating what I want to put out. This is just the surface you know...there is much more to do...and to how I found it, I just kept making music and enjoying the process until others started to realize.
How do you think that having greater success and fanfare behind you has changed how you write? Or has it not made an impact at all?
I am finding that out now... to see whether it does or doesn’t. I will have an answer to that one soon.
You’ve just put out the Director’s Cut of The Shave Experiment, which includes new tracks on top of the original EP. Can you tell us a bit about these new tracks, and when abouts in the process of making the original EP were they made?
These tracks were made around the same time of the rest of them. I just wanted to have a bigger picture for this with the little canvas I was given. I wanted people to hear the sounds that I really resonated with, making it more of a Q sound I would say.
Why the name the Director’s Cut, by the way? Was there specific thinking behind calling it that, and not a standard deluxe edition or something?
It was called Directors Cut because I had the say on what I was going to be put on the Director's Cut, as well as changing the tracklist to my liking.
I noticed that all the tracks on the deluxe EP are self-produced/written as well, is there anything that draws you to having that full control over your work? Is collaborative songwriting something that’s attractive to you at all?
I have been making music by myself in the years that I have been on this earth. You know... Just like when a producer and artist gel, they work together and don’t switch it up, Drake & 40, and even more. Well, I am a Producer, and I am an Artist. I work well with me. Now if someone comes along and shows me something whether it's production or lyrics and it's amazing, I'm here for it. Until then... I'm chilling.
I’m sure there have been many lessons and learnings amongst the creation of this EP and its Director’s Cut, and the growth that has come alongside that. What do you think you’ve learnt about yourself - musically, personally - in the creation and release of this work?
I have learned that where I was is not where I am now, and it's for the better and that’s musically and personally.
How do you feel like that may inform what you do in the future?
New music... that’s all