By O’Hara Shipe
Quinn Christopherson sits in a corner booth at Dark Horse Coffee. The 26-year-old’s petite frame is enveloped by well-worn padded bench and his head is scarcely visible above the table. He has a noticeable arch to his back as his gracefully long fingers nimbly play with his drink cup.
“I didn’t start playing music until I was 19. My dad had bought me a ukulele for Christmas, or maybe it was my birthday,” he explains in a sweetly quiet voice.
Christopherson doesn’t remember the exact moment he became a musician—but given his non-traditional ascent to Alaska music royalty, that isn’t surprising.
Although he has been quietly making music and developing his signature style for the past 7 years, much of that time was spent wrestling demons.
“I was a full-blown alcoholic,” says Christopherson matter-of-factly. “I’ve been three years sober now, but my oldest sister is still going through that. I think she is affected by growing up with my mom’s addiction differently than me.”
His sister’s battle, which is painfully recounted in Christopherson’s chilling single, “Raedeen,” offers an unvarnished look into the singer’s life.
“You know my mom, she checked out. Popping pills turned to pipes. Skin and bones, she wasn’t around. But Raedeen you were there. Picked me up after school. Held my hand, made me food,” sings Christopherson.
The deeply personal song is something one might expect to hear from a seasoned artist who has had years to come to grips with sharing the most intimate details of their lives with complete strangers. But Christopherson bravely wears his vulnerability on his sleeve.
“I only have two songs out on Spotify right now but that’s really intentional. I want to release my music when the time is right,” says Christopherson as he spins his plastic coffee cup on the table.
His other single, “Erase Me” is a recounting of his very recent transition from female to male.
“I have a lot of trans people that come up to me and thank me for sharing my story but honestly, I don’t know how not to. I love people. I love relationships with people. So, I write about people,” explains Christopherson.
But Christopherson doesn’t just write about his personal life. In 2017, he very publicly let the community witness his transition into manhood. Just a few months after beginning hormone therapy, Christopherson entered himself into the “Stars We Are” singing competition.
“I remember starting that competition and it was when my voice was dropping little by little each week and each week I had to show up to Williwaw and sing a song that the judges had picked for me. It wasn’t a ‘come play your original music’ kind of thing. It was a singing competition, so everyone wanted to sound like Alicia Keys,” says Christopherson with a chuckle. “Like every week I was coming in with a different voice. So, everyone was coming in and killing it and I was just over there like, ‘I don’t know who I am.’ Like, I would be a different person each week.”
Even undergoing what can best be described as a second puberty, Christopherson took home a third-place prize in the competition. The timing may not have seemed ideal, but it allowed Christopherson a platform to rediscover himself and in some ways, shaped him into the performer that he is today—an unpredictable showman.
“I remember one week where all I could do with my voice was just sort of scream. It was really bizarre, there were so many nights where I just sort of flew by the seat of my pants, but it got me out there,” says Christopherson.
Now only 18-months later, Christopherson is about to embark on a nation-wide tour as the 2019 NPR Tiny Desk Contest winner.
“I have a lot of songs that I’ve written but haven’t released because I was waiting for the right time. I’m sort of thinking now might be the right time,” laughs Christopherson who was also awarded a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award last week.
Christopherson’s music is available on Spotify, iTunes and YouTube. You can also follow his journey with NPR Music by visiting npr.org/music.