In a post-Blonde and Ctrl world, making R&B that stands out is as difficult a task as ever. Whether it be the rap-influenced drum programming or sleek vocals, so many songs blend into each other like a never ending algorithmic playlist. Whenever someone takes that mold and breaks it they have our attention and that is exactly what South Florida artist Q did just over a year ago with the release of his self-produced debut project, Forest Green. Q’s uncompromising voice combined with a myriad of musical influences from acoustic pop to soul and alternative rock displayed enormous potential in the span of seven tracks.
While Q is only 21, he’s been around music his whole life, growing up in and around studios. His father, Steven "Lenky" Marsden, is an influential figure in the dancehall and reggae scene, creator of the legendary “Diwali Riddim,” sampled by the likes of Rihanna (“Pon De Replay”) and Sean Paul (“Get Busy”) for multiple Billboard hits. In a full circle moment, it’s especially fitting that his father has a writing credit on “Take Me Where Your Heart Is,” the lead single on his major label debut, The Shave Experiment EP.
Now signed to Columbia Records, Q spent the last year working on the EP. The music is self-assured and mature, even if the songwriting is still vulnerable and intimate. The instrumentation is funkier and somewhat upbeat, which feels like a departure from his old sound. Q claims The Shave Experiment is one of the “first pieces” of his plans, and we think it’ll prove to be an important one.
We talked to Q about growing up around the industry, his love of sunsets and jazz, his visual art and, of course, his new EP. Read the full conversation below and listen to The Save Experiment on all platforms now.
You might have the coolest, yet most unsearchable name I’ve ever seen.
My name is Q Steven Marsden. [Laughs] That's my full government name. But I go by Q. 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.
You grew up in a musical family. What kind of sounds were playing around you as you were growing up?
My dad is a musician—a producer. I've been making music since I was a child. I grew up singing in the choir in my church. My dad always had me in the studio when he was making music there. Michael Jackson was playing. A lot of Earth, Wind & Fire. My mom loved The Winans. A lot of reggae artists like Dennis Brown, Bob Marley. Definitely the peak of ‘70s and ‘80s music.
Growing up, was there that sense of expectation for you to be musical as well?
No. I just know I'm good at it. Music is something that’s natural. Actually, no... I really did put some time into myself and into my music. A lot of rigorous ear training when it came to making songs. Like nearly two years ago, I would make songs and if I didn’t like a little piece of the song, I wouldn't even save the file, I’d just delete it. It had to be perfect.
Nearly two years ago, I would make songs and if I didn’t like a little piece of the song, I wouldn't even save the file, I’d just delete it. It had to be perfect.
Is that something you're still doing?
I stopped it now because I realized going down that route, you're just going to become a perfectionist and that not every new song you make is going to be perfect the first time around. So no, not anymore. But I still think being a little bit of a perfectionist has been helpful to me.
Speaking of new songs, The Shave Experiment EP feels like a departure in sound and aesthetic from your last project, Forest Green. What prompted that shift?
That sound—the ‘70s and ‘80s vibes—I always loved that type of music ever since I was a kid. Because you know, my mom used to play it a lot. I felt like it was very expressive and free, so I wanted to channel that.
Forest Green and The Shave Experiment are not really that different. Literally, I use the same drums and guitar. The baselines are all the same. It’s the exact same sounds with a flanger and a chorus. But it just goes to show that when you know how to use things, you can just transform sounds. Really, it's just three instruments and my voice.
The EP is entirely self produced. Is it important for you to have control over all aspects of a project?
Yeah, I guess it is important, but it's not important for me to have it be that way just so people are impressed. If I'm producing things myself, I'm just able to, at some point, get it exactly how I want it to be. I really don't work with people that much, but when I do it is a different experience.
The songwriting is a lot more self-reflective. You touch on different topics. Especially on tracks like “Alone.”
I actually made that song this time last year. I wasn't in the best place. You know, everyone goes through their things and I guess I really just felt like I was alone, even though it wasn’t true in the physical sense. I'm never the type to say those things, but to express it in a song and then be able to let it go and not stay with it was a different songwriting experience, for sure.
You also make visual art, including the last album cover. Are you in the same creative space making visual art versus making music, for example?
Oh no, there's definitely two modes. I just need music, music, music. But once I'm done with the project or once I'm done with music and I switch over to visual, I don't touch music at all. Because both of them deserve the same amount of time. I don't wanna go half and half. Like right now, I’m getting a lot of visual stuff together, now that the project is over.
How did the art start?
I'd always been into art as a kid. Then I got into photography. Then around 10th grade I got into cinematography heavy. I just wanted to make short films and just do a whole bunch of visual things like that. Sometimes I'll just make videos to songs that I like that aren’t even mine.
What’s the meaning behind the name The Shave Experiment?
It means what it says! [Laughs] Yeah, I was shaving off things from the music and from my life even. At the same time, I was experimenting with sounds and I was experimenting with my life in certain ways. I felt like one big experiment for a little bit and felt like I wasn’t controlling the narrative around my life. It didn't work out. Don't try it. That's what it really is. So that’s how you get the name, The Shave Experiment.
Let’s touch on the past a little bit. I know you've been making music for a while, under a different name with releases that aren’t available anymore. What would a 16 or 17 year old Q think of the new songs and the reception to them?
That’s a good question. He’d be like, “Yo, where did this come from? Where did this sound come from!” I wasn’t there, at that age. I was making rap songs and I was not in a similar mind frame compared to where I am now.
You know like, I'm from Florida, from Broward County. So, I was on that whole Kodak, X and Ski Mask wave. And the music I made reflected that, I wasn’t really listening to alternative sounds. But I also think the music I make now; I have way more artistic control over it.
Does it feel weird releasing a project at a time like this?
No, it doesn't actually. I'm very content. Whenever music drops, if it drops tomorrow or if it drops next year I'm chilling because I know this music is good and I know that it will do what it’s supposed to do. It can’t be stopped. Once it’s put there it can’t be stopped.
You've signed with Columbia since the last project. What has the process of being signed to a major label been like?
Honestly, it's been good. Like I've already known things about the music business 'cause my dad would tell me all of it. So now I'm experiencing everything he told me. Being on a label, it's not bad like how people say. You know, sometimes they want to get things done. Sometimes the plans might change. A person like me, I really understand how it works, even if I can get frustrated. But overall, it’s been great. Shoutout to them.
You mentioned your high school influences. What is influencing the music you make now?
Really now, it’s life. I live. It’s the sunset at this park I’m at. I don't even know what I listen to right now. I'm listening to jazz. A lot of jazz. Yeah, but I'm not making jazz music. I just remember how things sound, so I don't need to listen to it. If I wanna make sounds, it's really in my head already so whatever memory of the sound or influence I have I take it and I then I make it my own.
Like Shave, it sounds classic but not dated, which I tried really hard to do.
It sounds like you still.
It's because I didn't listen to anything to get Shave. I just used all the all the memories I have. Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire even. I just put two and two together and it ends up working!
How did your dad react to the new project—did he like it? I noticed he has a co-write on "Take Me Where Your Heart Is.”
My dad is cut from a different cloth, you know! He's just like “Yo this is weird, but this is good because I've never heard it before.” Yeah, so he admits this is some weird music. This is this time, but it’s good that he’s like that—he's a very brutally honest person.
Are you looking forward to performing these songs live?
I have yet to perform any of my songs live, ever! Sometimes I think, “Wow, I’ve done all this stuff, but I’ve never even played a show.” So we’ll have to see how it goes. I know I can do it, though.