for the boys
Quinn XCII and Noah Centineo Take Their E-Friendship to the Next Level
Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery to find some inspiration. For Mikael Temrowski, the 28-year-old musician from Detroit known as Quinn XCII (pronounced 92) it meant leaving his home in Los Angeles and escaping to the East Coast—Newport, Rhode Island, to be specific. It was there, by the ocean, where Quinn XCII crafted his latest album Change of Scenery II, the follow up to his breakout 2015 EP Change of Scenery, which the singer-songwriter recorded in the basement of his childhood friend and collaborator Alex O’Neill, also known as ayokay. Quinn XCII’s music is the type to make the listener feel happy and sad all at once—or, as Noah Centineo, the actor, internet crush, and long-time fan of XCII’s music described it: “It’s like a dancing in a burning room type-of-thing.” The two stars have been cyber-friends for a long time, but on the occasion of the singer’s latest album and his socially-distanced performance of Change of Scenery II at a drive-in theater, Centineo and Quinn XCII took their E-relationship to the next level. They met over Zoom to discuss the “secret sauce” to writing honest, relatable music, always looking for the silver lining in things, and meeting Chelsea Cutler in the SoundCloud DMs.
NOAH CENTINEO: Dude! How stoked are you? Oh my god, I’m stoked. We’ve been friends, through the internets.
QUINN XCII: It’s been weird. I guess we’re more like cyber friends— which is a weird way to say it.
CENTINEO: We’re E-friends.
XCII: Things will be getting serious now. We just got each other’s numbers, and now we’re texting. We’re just about to meet each other. I can feel it.
CENTINEO: Slowly but surely, we’re getting closer and closer. I found your music, man, when I felt like the world was magical, and I was pretty damn young. It was the first installment of this album, actually.
XCII: What was the first thing you got introduced to?
CENTINEO: The first song I ever heard by you was “Intro (Slow).”
XCII: That’s so old. That’s such an old song, dude. Oh my gosh. Crazy.
CENTINEO: That was the first song I ever heard by you, and I would scream it. I would literally scream at the top of my lungs. I was 19-years-old, and I played it like 100 times on a road trip with a girl that I did not know. We just took a road trip together.
CENTINEO: We dated for a while. It became the song of our relationship.
XCII: Hold on. I’ve got to back up. You two just took… were you with other people, or just you guys?
CENTINEO: No, it was just us.
XCII: Why would you do that?
CENTINEO: I met her at a friend’s birthday party, and we were like, “We should go on a road trip,” and we actually did. And “Stung” became, like, the song.
XCII: Well, I’m honored, dude. That’s so cool. But the first moment I saw you singing my lyrics, you were in your car, similar to right now. You were shirtless driving, and the song was called “Or Whatever,” from my first album. I remember, we got like 12,000 followers. This is right when like To All The Boys came out. And all my girlfriends were like, “How do you know Noah Centineo? How do you know him?” I’m like, “I don’t.” I’m like, “Who is he? You’ve got to fill me in.” They don’t think I’m cool, but they think it’s so cool that I know you. That’s great.
CENTINEO: I think one of the main reasons I’m so attracted to the music that you make is because it sounds like you’re having a conversation with me when I’m listening to your music. I really feel like you’re talking to me. You’re so brutally honest.
XCII: Thank you, dude.
CENTINEO: Is there a secret sauce? Is this something that you’ve kind of always been able to do— discern your emotions in a certain way? What’s that process like?
XCII: I don’t really know. I’ve always been into creative writing. I was really into poetry and shit, using words in ways that would just make people scratch their head a bit. I got into rhyming. I just think one day I was like, “I’m going to write a rap.” I wrote like 16 bars. It was awful, but I loved the process of it.
CENTINEO: How old were you?
XCII: I was 16. I was in high school, and I got shit for it from my friends and stuff.
CENTINEO: Of course.
XCII: I was like, “I’m kind of hooked,” so I spent the next few years just working on stuff. I don’t know. I think it’s just maybe like a god-given thing that I have a way with words.
CENTINEO: Even if they’re about really serious and unfortunate things, your songs still have this uplifting quality to them.
XCII: I’m glad you say that because I think that’s the one thing I always try to do. Even if I’m talking about something fairly sad or depressing—a heartbreak or whatever, I want to make sure the production has this happy feel to it. You’re kind of getting two worlds.
CENTINEO: You did that on Change of Scenery one, right? With “Fool for Your Love” or “Demons.” These are not happy songs, but the way that you’re singing them, it’s like a dancing in a burning room type-of-thing.
XCII: Dude, 1,000 percent. I just think I’ve always wanted to make happy music because some of my favorite artists are Kid Cudi and Jack Johnson, people that we’re able to always make me feel positive no matter what they were talking about.
CENTINEO: Would you say that you’re an optimist?
XCII: I would say I’m way more of an optimist than I am a pessimist. I definitely tend to have tunnel vision, as some people do, especially in the times that we’re in. It’s easy to be negative. But I would say for the most part though, I try to look at things on a positive note, and I think that definitely reflects in the music that I make. Through things like meditation and things that I’ve been doing lately, that’s grounded me more in being an optimist. What about you? I get the sense you’re the same way, but I could be totally wrong.
CENTINEO: I definitely would say I’m an optimist.
XCII: I feel like you have a very good aura about you—great energy. I think I texted you this, but I saw the last movie of yours recently. My wife and I took an edible, and we had a great night.
CENTINEO: Amazing. I’m for sure an optimist, but I also at times have such a defeatist personality. I defeat myself before I even start. Because we’re multi-dimensional as people. Sometimes you feel like you are in the best headspace you’ve ever been in, and you’re the most talented motherfucker in the room. Other times you feel like, “Why am I doing this in the first place? I should never do this.”
XCII: 100 percent.
CENTINEO: This new project, can you tell the story? How did this album came to be?
XCII: I made it with my buddy, Alex. He goes by Ayokay. He’s a producer. He did the whole first EP with me. I’ve known him since like the third grade, which is crazy.
XCII: We were classmates. We went to different colleges. Our freshman year of college, I saw him at a local gym. I went to his house in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where I’m from, and we made a little recording. It was terrible, as most things were at the time, but we had this chemistry. It was an unspoken kind of bond we had over music. That has really shaped our friendship and strengthened us as collaborators and best friends.
CENTINEO: I love that.
XCII: We went through the next three years going to school. We made this EP, and we had access to the studios at University of Michigan because he was studying in the School of Music there. We made it six songs. We put it out on SoundCloud, and it started to get some traction.
XCII: In the last three, four years, I made three albums, and they were all with different producers. He wasn’t really in the mix. Ironically because of quarantine and the pandemic, I feel like I took a step back a bit. Once everything happened and touring was canceled, I was like, “I feel like this is the right moment. I don’t know why, but I feel like this is the right moment to get back with Alex and make something.” It kind of reminds us of why we got into this business in the first place, which was really just to make music because we loved doing it.
CENTINEO: What a full circle moment. Why did you name the original Change of Scenery?
XCII: We did it because it was right at the cusp of us leaving college and entering the “real world.” So it was quite literally a change of scenery. It was the transition between going from the last point in your life of being a kid to being an adult for the first time. Now, what’s ironic Change of Scenery II, we’re now both in Los Angeles, and we went to Rhode Island to clear our heads a bit, and try to find inspiration in a different way. I just want to tour the damn thing. I just want to go back on the road and play concerts.
CENTINEO: So, you created a sea shanty for this album. Where did the idea of a sea shanty come from? It’s fantastic.
XCII: The album has definitely a nautical vibe to it because we made it out in Rhode Island. I don’t know if you’ve been to Newport before. It was kind of unintentional, but we just kind of took on the vibe of the city and incorporated it into the music. My manager, Jesse, saw on TikTok these dudes called The Trills. They’re like an a capella group, but they recorded themselves doing a sea shanty, and it kind of blew up. So I wrote one and sent it to them. They sang it. I just love being able to use humor.
CENTINEO: I totally relate to that. One of my favorite parts is definitely having moments to be able to share Noah with people. I want to talk about your relationship with Chelsea Cutler a little bit because it’s so clear that you and Chelsea have an incredible working relationship.
XCII: Chelsea is the best. I met her through SoundCloud actually, like the DMs of SoundCloud. I don’t suggest anyone go into the DMs. DMs are a dark place, but SoundCloud DMs are like the Upside Down of Stranger Things.
CENTINEO: Oh my god.
XCII: She came out to a show I had in New York. I ended up getting her on a song called “Flare Guns,” that was like one of my biggest songs. I wrote that song on tour with Louis The Child. I wrote the whole song at a gas station. It became such a staple and my fan base’s favorite song of mine. Basically, our fans are the same people, which I love. Then there’s this guy Jeremy Zucker too, who’s a part of our little collective. He reached out to me on SoundCloud. Our collective’s called Mutual Friends. How do you remind yourself to have fun with your work?
CENTINEO: I think my gratification with acting comes from having these moments on set of honesty and vulnerability. I fell in love with going on stage and performing.
XCII: Were you always an entertainer in a way?
CENTINEO: I’ve always loved positive reinforcement from people. The first time was when I was playing Mowgli in The Jungle Book when I was in fifth grade. I remember from the first line until my curtain call, it was like my soul was on fire.
XCII: That’s amazing, man. I could picture you as a little Mowgli. I really like to have that image in my head right now.
CENTINEO: Right? It’s the hair.
XCII: It’s the hair.