Quinn Arlington Waters was sitting in his car with the window down, smoking a cigarette in Northern Liberties when he unknowingly exchanged the wrong glance with two of the wrong guys walking on the sidewalk.
“I could tell this was no good,” says Waters of the shooting that left him unable to make music for months. “So I put my car in reverse right away and by the time I could get in first gear and skid out…he ran up and blasted me.”
That was around this time last year, shortly after recording wrapped up on the alt-folk album Race Music, Waters’ debut under the moniker Caffeine Machine.
“I called my girlfriend and told her I loved her while we waited for the ambulance,” Waters says. “She didn’t think it was that serious since I was able to call her.”
He was hit in the back of his left shoulder. The bullet exited out his neck below his Adam’s apple also fracturing his collarbone, Waters explains, pointing to the scar of the exit wound.
“I could only feel my thumb in my hand and I was numb all the way up my arm for a while,” he says lifting his left arm straight up while sitting at a table in a somewhat seedy bar in South Philly. “I am just getting full motion back now.”
It was about five months before he could play guitar again, which essentially put Caffeine Machine on hiatus until he self-released Race Music last summer. The album as a whole is a listening experience that flows with ups and downs in tempo and 13-piece arrangements, appropriately placed instrumental segues and moving climaxes. Waters explicitly put on the back of the CD’s case that it “was created like in times of old, meant to be heard from start to finish.”
It starts with wrenching strings and horns on “Kerosene Theme,” inviting the listener into a scene of something mournful, then leading them into the gripping “Nothing to Me,” the album’s standout. The stomp-along, “Eros” feels like it was born in new weird America and shows Waters at his most adventurous, employing vocal effects and being a bit more daring behind the mic.
In fact, Waters says vocals were the only thing he was able to lay on the record while he was recovering from the shooting. Which may have come to his advantage on the tracks, “Simon Says Garfunkel,” “Red River Valley” and “Hades,” which reveal his range a bit more. At the intermission, “Kerosene Theme/Nothing Interlude,” highlights the strings and horn players at their most dramatic. But how Waters met the strings players to be on Race Music is more comedy than drama.
“I saw a girl with a violin case waiting for the bus at 3rd and Washington Streets,” he says. “And I stopped my car and just yelled, ‘Hey, do you do sessions? I’m doing a record, do you want to be on it?’”
That girl with the violin case was June Bender. She’s responsible for bringing the cello and viola players, Andrew and Veronica Jurkiewicz into the project. The trio’s combination with trumpet player Daud El-Bakara, saxophone and clarinetist Matt Clauhs as well as Pat Fitzgerald and Dallas Vietty both on accordian are what make Race Music stand out.
“People have told it sounds very cinematic,” says Waters. “I think having a video background might have something to do with making music that’s overly dramatic.”
The video for the delicate ballad “Drifting Away,” doesn’t match up quite the same as the other video off of Race Music. It features some emphatic dance moves by members of the ArcheDream for Humankind Theater Company in blacklight costumes, masks and makeup. Waters’ years of experience freelancing video production is what made the music video for “Nothing to Me” so riveting. It follows a story in reverse – a woman that murders her man after finding him in bed with another woman. It was shot in one take with a few of Waters’ friends.
What’s seen in the video for “Nothing to Me,” may be appropriate but Waters insists the heartbroken themes throughout the record are simply stream of consciousness.
“I wish I could give it deeper meaning like that,” he says. “But when I sat down to write, that’s just what came out.”
Despite Waters’ casual explanation of Race Music, there’s something to be said about his demeanor. The heart-heavy feelings he displays sound more genuine than he allows to come through. It’s as though Waters is telling a story, but it isn’t his own. Perhaps it’s because he’s a bit of a storyteller by trade and this record melds his video background and the music he writes. And Race Music, based around eros and the need for that life energy – love – is a story told whole-heartedly by Waters.
Caffeine Machine plays Connie’s Ric Rac, w/ Time Ghost, on Friday February 8, at 8 p.m. Admission is $10 at the door, more information at conniesricrac.com.