By Paulina Herran
The masked members of the band Raccoon Jay have been gathering a University of Dallas fan base for the last four years. Members include seniors Joseph Quinlan and Zach Kraus, sophomore Mary Grace Quinlan, and 2014 UD alum Zac Moritz. Joseph is a keyboardist, guitarist and sound editor; Mary Grace plays guitar and piano; Kraus plays the drums; Moritz plays guitar; and both Quinlans give vocals for the band. The group that started off as Joseph’s solo project, named after his self-proclaimed spirit animal and a songbird, has now developed into a band that plays a mixture of music with a unifying punk theme. Approaching the end of a long journey to record their debut album, Raccoon Jay shared insights into their songs and how each one was inspired.
All band members have varying tastes in music but are joined together by a love for punk. As such, the songs can sometimes vary in style but are ultimately the sound of Raccoon Jay.
“The song comes together with everybody involved,” Joseph said.
“Joe is the genius behind the songwriting, he has the piano and the guitar,” Mary Grace said. After a humorous quip from Kraus, she amended, “and Zach is the genius of the drums. Zach also offers a lot in our live performances.”
The members of Raccoon Jay bring their own diverse past experiences in music to the table, transforming the band into a melting pot of talent and skills. With a background in performing bands in high school, Kraus brings a lot of energy to live performances.
“I’ve always kind of been in bands, I’ve never been a solo artist,” Kraus said. “It was great we came together because Joe helped bring out the creative side in my musicianship and I sort of help bring out the all-encompassing full band kind of mood.”
A unique aspect of Raccoon Jay performances are the bands of black face paint that the players wear across their eyes. Reminiscent of costumed bands from the ‘80s, Raccoon Jay wear these “masks” when they perform because of a devotion to the raw beauty and importance of lyrics.
“For us, it makes a little statement that it doesn’t matter who we are and what our lives are about, it’s about the music,” Joseph said. “The anonymous aspect of musicians should prevail more than this glamor that’s seen in current performers.”
In wearing the masks, they remind the audience that the identity of the persons of the band should take a backseat to the actual music.
“To them (Joseph and Mary Grace Quinlan) it makes that statement, I just think it’s badass,” Kraus, the self-proclaimed band comedian, said.
With such a sharp focus on the music, the lyrics to each song are even more meaningful to the band and offer keen insight to their own experiences. Their song “Fingerless Fist,” for instance, began as a piece of poetry by Mary Grace that was inspired by a true story. It was transformed into what they called an “anti-Taylor-Swift-breakup-song that has a bit more of a punk-in-your-face aspect to it.”
“We like the idea of a classic breakup song with a bit of a hard rasp to it,” Mary Grace said.
Their other songs emphasize varying experiences. A few include “Hushing in the Dark” in which Raccoon Jay want to evoke how it feels when change occurs and how people generally handle it; “Hibernation,” which confronts the harsh obstacle of depression and trying to overcome it; and “No. 1 Single,” which is shown in the music video as a perspective on how individual people are easily ignored in large crowds much in the same way independent artists are in the midst of big labels.
“It’s been a history for Raccoon Jay, it’s been four years,” Joseph said. “And it really is possible to make an excellent album on your own.”
The songs are representative of the unique and identifying style that they wish to preserve and share with others.
“I see music nowadays and just get very frustrated by some of the songs that come out because you just hear these songs come out that have the same line repeating over and over again, and they’re popular on the radio and the overall theme and meaning of the song is terrible,” Mary Grace said. “It’s just there to distract you rather than change you.”
With the goal to change modern-day music, Raccoon Jay is devoted to their authentic sound and they find immense support from their fan base.
“We would like to thank all of the fans of ours at this university. We have suffered quite a few bummers with a few events here but what made us walk away every year from Battle of the Bands knowing that we never placed was knowing that we had the most fans of any act there,” Joseph said. “We played the most originals, and even though we played the most originals, we had the most people singing our songs. It’s really incredible how people are willing to learn the songs and just scream them right back at us. They come up with their own masks on, and I just think we have the best fans here at UD. That’s what keeps us going, for sure, and we hope they stick with us.”