For nearly a century, radio has been the main driver of music discovery for most people. But online streaming is threatening that supremacy, with its popularity and growth propelled by the listening habits of Generation Z. Simply put, they are very online.
Graham Jonson is proof of that shift.
The Portland, Oregon-based musician began uploading his self-produced beats and instrumental songs to SoundCloud as the one-man band quickly, quickly when he was only 13 years old. He hoped to find an audience for his music on the free streaming service that was experiencing something of a cultural moment at the time.
“Initially, there was no reaction whatsoever,” says Jonson of those early recordings.
But by the time he was 16, things had changed dramatically. Some of his songs were being heard by millions of listeners, drawn to the music of quickly, quickly not by radio DJs but by word of mouth and the crowdsourced algorithmic power of the Internet.
Now in his early twenties, Jonson is following a slightly more traditional path. He’s signed to the Brooklyn-based record label Ghostly International and recently released his full-length debut album, “The Long And Short Of It.”
He still performs under the stage name quickly, quickly, but the new record represents a significant departure from the early lo-fi hip-hop instrumentals that he sheepishly refers to as “novelty” music.
“Until about 2018, I was pretty much exclusively listening to electronic [music] on SoundCloud,” Jonson says of his narrow early influences. “I got a Spotify account in 2018 and I think I’m way better for it,” he says, referring to the streaming music giant as if it were a vinyl record collection handed down by a loved one.
In this case, it might as well be.
Jonson’s clearly broadened his palette, embracing more conventional songwriting craft on “The Long And Short Of It” and taking inspiration from soul, jazz, and even alternative folk musicians like the late Elliott Smith (who was also a Portlander). Notably, he also sings on his new compositions, the consequence of a “lot of experimentation [and] tons and tons of scrap demos” recorded at his home in Portland’s Kenton neighborhood.
But the real standout elements on the album are its meticulous arrangements and the lush production. “The Long And Short Of It” is a remarkably polished effort for such a young artist and producer, a clear result of precocious online origins.
Jonson is aware that not long ago, his story would have been virtually impossible. But while the means may have changed, he says the end goal is the same for young musicians; they just want to find an audience.
“But I mean, yeah, it’s still crazy to see it actually come to fruition,” he adds.
Graham Jonson joined OPB to chat about quickly, quickly’s new album and how he’s transformed that project from a curiosity into a full-fledged songwriting career. Read excerpts from the interview below (or play the audio at the top this page).
Jerad Walker: You’ve just released your full-length debut album at the age of 21, but you’ve actually been making music for quite a while. How old were you when you first released [your music] onto the Internet?
Graham Jonson: I think the earliest stuff that I released, I was probably 13 or so on SoundCloud. Unfortunately, it’s all gone. It’s faded into the digital wasteland of the Internet. I think I just deleted the track. They are completely gone. But yeah, I think I was about 13.
JW: What was the initial reaction?
GJ: Initially, there was no reaction whatsoever.
It took me probably four or so years to start getting any type of traction online. But once it happened, it’s very cool to see. It’s kind of a bit of a dream come true.
JW: By the time you were 16 or 17, your songs were getting millions of listeners. Some of them are up into the tens of millions at this point. Were you surprised by that?
GJ: I was. I still am, to be honest. I think in my mind, ever since I was a kid, I only had one plan and it was to be a musician. And I didn’t know if it was going to work or not, but I kind of thought that I didn’t have any other discernible skills.
So I’m really glad that it did work out… But I mean, yeah, it’s still crazy to see it actually come to fruition.
JW: There are obviously different levels of fame, but I think it’s fair to say that you were Internet famous for a teenager. Does that screw with your head?
GJ: Yeah, I mean in some ways I think I would be like a W-tier internet celebrity, even on the internet, you know? [laughter]
But what little bits of fame I guess I’ve been able to see have been really cool. It does kind of mess with my head when I realized that a large portion of my initial success was under what I consider to be kind of the novelty genre of lo-fi hip hop. So I’ve been trying to work pretty hard to kind of break that mold, I guess.
JW: Fast forward to today and you’ve just put out the new quickly, quickly record, “The Long And Short Of It.” This is the first time that you’ve sung extensively in your recorded music. Were you self-conscious at all about recording your voice for this album?
GJ: Totally. Yeah, 100%. It took me probably like a couple of years, I want to say two or even three years maybe, to really come to terms with how I can use my voice. [There was a] lot of experimentation [and] tons and tons of scrap demos, and I’m still not always completely content with how it sounds. I think I still have a lot of working it out to do. It’s at a way better place than when I started. But yeah, it was a huge hurdle.
JW: The [vocals on the] song “Shee” really stand out to me. You’ve got a falsetto!
GJ: Thanks, man. That’s one of the oldest songs on the album, probably reaching up to about the three-year mark now. And that was definitely one of the first songs that I actually felt happy with my falsetto aside from just singing in the car and really killing it. [laughter]
JW: Does writing for vocals kind of open up what you can do with the song — did it make you think about songwriting in a different way?
GJ: It totally did. Yeah, because coming from a beat background, I had never actually paid attention to traditional song structure… And when I started singing, I realized that that’s not always going to work.
I started just listening critically to a lot of singer-songwriter stuff to try to pick up on some of these techniques and different ways that they structure songs and it definitely opened an entirely new door. I think I’m way better off from a structure perspective now than I was three years ago, even in my beats. I can switch it up now.
JW: I feel like I hear that in “Everything Is Different To Me.” It sounds like you’re kind of playing with alternative folk-rock sounds of the 90s.
GJ: Yeah! And it’s funny because it wasn’t even super intentional, but when the song came out, I got a lot of people saying it reminded them of Wilco. I think pitchfork or somebody said it sounded like Wilco mixed with Lil Peep. [laughter]
And people are mentioning Elliott Smith, which is amazing. I think it’s really cool, but it wasn’t necessarily intentional.
JW: Yeah, I thought of Elliott Smith as well when I heard this. He was really a titan of that genre in the mid-90s. Coincidentally he was a Portlander. Did you grow up listening to his music?
GJ: I did, [but] probably not as much as I should have. It really took me a while to actually branch out in my music taste. I want to say until about 2018, I was pretty much exclusively listening to electronic stuff on SoundCloud. I got a Spotify account in 2018 and I think I’m way better for it. That’s when I really got into stuff like Elliott Smith and The Microphones, jazz — everything pretty much.
JW: The new album’s got a really broad sound. Despite that, there’s an undercurrent of soul-jazz that runs through almost everything that you do. Sometimes it’s subtle, but you throw it out to the forefront on the opening song, which is called Phases. Is that your formal musical background?
GJ: I’m not really trained as a jazz pianist per se. I can’t read music. I can’t sight read. But I think just from listening to a lot of music and kind of training my ear... [I’ve been able] to pick stuff up. So I think I kind of developed a jazz sensibility from just listening to jazz, but I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a jazz pianist. Like I can’t play fiery runs and all that. I just fiddle around and try to fit in where I can.
JW: It’s funny you say that you’re not classically trained because when I listen to your music, your skill as an arranger and composer is what really steps out. Have you done any production for other artists?
GJ: Here and there. It’s not something that I do a lot of. I try to stay versatile though, to some extent, and I still make a lot of beats. They don’t always have release potential like they used to but I’ve been making a lot of beats just trying to send them out to rappers. Recently I’ve been wanting to record a jazz trio — there’s a bunch of crazy jazz players in Portland. I think it’d be really sick to try to level up my recording skills and maybe record other people. So yeah, that’s something I hope to get into.
JW: Graham, there was a period where you briefly moved to Los Angeles. You actually wrote the song “Come Visit Me” about that period in your life. I feel like this was a bigger thing in years past, but did you feel pressure to move to a bigger city to pursue a music career?
GJ: I think I did. I mean when I moved to LA, I had just graduated high school. I was going to try to give the whole music thing a proper shot. And I think I did feel pressure to move to LA. Especially because all my Portland friends were in college, and I was kind of the last one still in Portland at my mom’s house. So, I think I think there was some level of pressure — people always telling me that LA Is the place to be. Or maybe it was something that I kind of brought on myself just thinking that I can’t do this to the full extent in Portland anymore. But yeah I think I think that was definitely part of the reason why I moved to LA. And then I moved to LA and it turns out that it’s all fake and that you can just make music wherever you want to. [laughter]
JW: What are your plans for the year as you roll out this record?
GJ: I’m trying to put together a live band right now, which will be the first time I’ve done that for my own music. I used to be in a pop-punk band from seventh grade to like sophomore year of high school. But that was the last time I actually played in a band at all. So, it’ll be a really fun endeavor. Hopefully [I’ll get] some touring done early next year.