Shane Butler is debating the semantic difference between solitude and loneliness. Perched on a boulder in Chelsea Riverside Park, the vocalist and guitarist of Massachusetts-bred psych-folk band Quilt has just taken in an exhibit of Ken Price’s works on paper, which are on display at the nearby Matthew Marks Gallery.
“I love the ways in which Price’s works often flip over on top of themselves in terms of the light-dark spectrum,” says Butler. “His images are simultaneously horrifying and humorous, beautiful and tragic.” Butler could also be ruminating on the ten songs — many of which dabble with such contrasting tones — from his band’s lauded album Plaza, which came out in February.
Not that there needs to be a distinction between the two: An untitled Price piece (sadly, not in the show) graces the cover of Plaza, the melodic third record from the talented four-piece. The 1992 illustration depicts a room empty except for an armchair between two windows that offer glimpses of a palm-tree-lined city landscape: Its eerie playfulness echoes the lovely mystery and open-endedness to many of Quilt’s songs, which they’ll play with the help of a string quartet on June 23 at Bowery Ballroom.
A year ago, Quilt were searching for the right image to grace the cover of their album but found themselves overwhelmed by the options. “We had a lot of architectural desire at the time,” says Butler, “but we didn’t know how it was going to take shape.” Then Anna Fox Rochinski, the band’s co-founding singer and guitarist, spotted the Price work on Instagram, took a screenshot, and showed it to the band. That was it, says Butler. “Going forward, I couldn’t associate the record with [anything else], because I felt it spoke for so many of the songs. The heart of it just felt right.”
Intuitive instincts engaged, Butler wrote a long, personal email to Jackson Price, the artist’s adult son — who has managed his father’s estate since his death in 2012 — asking to use the image for the cover of Plaza. To the band’s delight, permission was granted.
It’s unsurprising that Quilt settled on a work by an acclaimed artist: Both Rochinski and Butler hold degrees from Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and when the band isn’t touring, Rochinski works as an art handler, installing shows for a Hudson Valley museum. She sees a connection between Price’s mix of artistry and accessibility, and Quilt’s. “A lot of Price’s drawings remind me of technical illustrations you would see in an airplane safety guide or a booklet on how to operate your DVD player,” she says, sitting next to Butler in the park. “They’re familiar and graphic. To me he feels comforting and kind of immediate, but there are unsettling things under the surface. [He’s] sardonic and funny and sad.” Rochinski’s songwriting takes a similar approach; “Hissing My Plea” is a sunny pop track, but her inspiration came from the sordid details of a real-estate-related murder in Hollywood in the 1980s.
As the afternoon shadows grow longer, Rochinski checks the time; her train back to upstate New York leaves Penn Station soon. Butler lives closer, in Brooklyn. But the pair, both 28, who have known each other for nearly a decade, share a collaborative spirit despite the distance. “When you reach that crystallized point of all members just being like, ‘Yeah! That’s it!’ ” relates Butler, putting on his ball cap and ambling toward Tenth Avenue, “it’s a really awesome thing.”