Quinn XCII Almost Chose Office Life Over a Career in Music. Now He's Playing At All Your Favorite Festivals

Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Governors Ball
Quinn XCII performs onstage during Day 3 of the 2018 Governors Ball Music Festival at Randall's Island on June 3, 2018 in New York City. 

When Mikael Temrowski was growing up, he was that stereotypical shy kid who didn’t speak up much in class and kept his feelings to himself. Although he made music to express himself in private, the now 25-year-old never thought he’d turn music into a career.

No, really: Five years ago, the singer-songwriter better known as Quinn XCII was working toward an advertising degree from Michigan State, preparing to commit to potentially decades of in-door office life. Today, he’s got a major-label deal (with Columbia Records), a debut album under his belt (last year’s The Story of Us), and a slew of festival dates. He’s already checked Shaky Beats, Governors Ball, and Bonanza Campout off his list — next up, he’ll bring his fusion of pop, hip-hop, reggae, and EDM to Osheaga, Lollapalooza, and Outside Lands. For Temrowski, there’s no turning back now.

“Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I could do [advertising] right now,” he says with a laugh. “I wasn’t the best student. I didn’t really have an idea of how I was gonna make money. All I knew was that I loved music.”

Growing up in Detroit, Temrowski had supportive parents, but he recalls feeling an inherent pressure to pursue a path in life similar to that of his future-focused cousins, who were on their way to becoming doctors and lawyers. But during his junior year of college, when he started uploading the music he was making between classes to SoundCloud, he realized songwriting could be more than just a hobby. “Strangers were coming to shows and sharing [the music],” he recalls. “I was like ‘This is insane, I don’t even know this person and they’re into what I’m doing — it’s not just my mom and her friends.’”

He initially chose Mike T as his stage name, but after deciding that it felt too much like a nickname, he chose an acronym of sorts that he learned from a college professor — “Quit Unless your Instincts are Never Neglected” — and paired it with the Roman numeral for the year of his birth (‘92). Temrowski says coming up with an alias helped shape the direction of his music in a major way. 

“It’s definitely let me become more vulnerable and put down exteriors that I might’ve had up before I started a career in music,” he says. “It’s a cool way to be like, ‘Listen, if you have a passion you want to pursue, then go for it.’ I don’t want anyone to wake up one day and be like, ‘Why didn’t I go after that dream when I had the chance to?’ The kids I perform for, they’re like 17 and young working adults – now’s the time to go after their dreams. That’s how I felt in college.”

Since his first show on the Michigan State campus in 2012, Temrowski has largely catered to a college crowd. That’s partly because of his own age, but it’s also because his reflective tunes, inspired by past relationships (Temrowski is happily engaged to his college sweetheart, Macy), help his peer group tap into something deep. “Our friend group, as guys do, they make fun of each other — music’s the only way I could be vulnerable and talk about my feelings,” he explains. “But when they come to my shows, it’s this really genuine moment … Some of my friends are bigger football-player dudes, and they’re bawling like, ‘Oh, my God, dude. I didn’t know you were so emotional. I’m so proud of you.’ It’s opening up my friends. It’s like therapy for them.”

His genre-agnostic sound, a natural fit for the streaming era, has also caught attention. Temrowski credits that to both Detroit — it’s the hometown of two of his biggest inspirations, Big Sean and Mike Posner — and his longtime collaborator Alex O’Neill, better known as producer ayokay, who produced his first two projects. “He kind of created this subgenre of all these inspirations we grew up listening to, mixing electronic, reggae, hip-hop and fuzing it into this big mess of sound,” Temrowski says. “I think likewise I helped him out on the production end. We had this little dynamic duo thing going.”

Temrowski’s aesthetic hasn’t gone unnoticed in the music community, and he’s since been recruited for collaborations with the likes of Illenium, Prince Fox and Gryffin. Most recently, he teamed up with fellow Columbia artist Phoebe Ryan on a track titled “Middle Finger.” 

“He knows what he likes and knows what's cool, but is also super open to try new things,” Ryan says of Quinn. “He's also just a dope person with a great vibe, and genuinely fun to be around.”

With more than 4 million monthly listeners on Spotify and a packed summer schedule, Quinn’s spirit is clearly resonating. And while he is noticing, he’s trying not to take anything for granted — and he’s hopeful that the 2018 festival circuit is only the beginning.

“The energy and the positivity at my shows are just so palpable,” Quinn says. “Until you’re actually in a room with people singing words, so invested in what they’re seeing on stage, you don’t really understand its fullest potential. There’s people on different continents who know my music! It’s so humbling to know that people care that much about what you do, and it’s really cool to show family and friends everything that I’ve worked for. I think it’s finally connecting. It’s still connecting.”

Festivals 2018