It Started With a Piano: The Story of Casper Musician Quinlan Valdez
It started with the piano. In his mind, he remembers it as something that was bigger than life, a towering mechanism of ebony and ivory, metal and strings. The rest of his family, his two brothers for instance, could look at the piano and see nothing more than a chore, something that needed dusting every week. For his parents, it was a nice piece of furniture, sure. It added to the overall aesthetic of the home, but it was rarely used.
For Quinlan Valdez, though, that piano was the start of something wonderful. It began his love for music at a very young age.
“My first playing experience was in first grade,” Valdez remembered. “There was always a piano in the house, but nobody ever played it. I kept looking at it and I decided that I was going to put it to use.”
That’s exactly what he did. He took lessons, at first, but quickly realized that he didn’t want to replicate pieces that other people have created. He wanted to create his own music.
Fast forward to 2021 and Valdez is a 20-year-old journeyman musician (well, his journeys extend as far as his mom’s car takes him) who plays piano, guitar and the banjo. He has become a fixture of The District’s venues, playing at Metro Coffee Co., Frontier Brewing Co., David Street Station and more. His songs, in the vein of Bob Dylan or Neil Young, tell stories. Usually, those stories come from heartbreak, loss and various other experiences that suck dealing with at the time, but usually make for good stories down the road.
This was a lesson Valdez learned at an early age when he would frequent various coffee shops and playing spaces around town, watching and, most importantly, listening to the artists that have come before him. That’s when he realized exactly what it was he wanted to do.
“It started when I started listening to other people’s songs; I mean really listening,” he said. “I was realizing that I could channel really crummy emotions through this stuff, and I wanted other people to be able to do that.”
Valdez is no stranger to ‘crummy emotions,’ either. For the past several years, he has been battling seasonal depression; an affliction that affects nearly 3 million Americans each year.
“I’m coping with it a little better,” Valdez stated. “I’ve had friends who try to offer me certain activities, but that’s never been for me.”
The one solace Valdez has found throughout his battle with depression has been music. It’s been less of an escape (there’s no escaping depression) and more of an expression. Any musician or writer or artist will tell you that sometimes the best art comes from the worst pain and Valdez has come to embrace some of those not-so-great feelings, channeling them into music.
“You almost need to have depression or bad experiences, no matter how much you dread them, if you want to move forward with [music],” he said. “You have to kind of be a loner to be a musician.”
Valdez has friends to confide in, but he is, self-admittedly, a ‘loner.’ That did not stop him, however, from reaching out to a fellow musician- one who served as a huge inspiration.
“In 2010 I saw Jalan Crossland for the first time at Artcore,” Valdez remembered. “I had no clue that you could be a local musician. It was either, do it as a hobby in coffee shops or you’re as famous as Taylor Swift. I realized, though, that [Crossland] doesn’t do any of that. He just drives around in a van and plays. I told him ‘I wanna do things the way you do them.’”
So, he did.
Valdez has been playing local gigs, as well as a few out of town shows. This is called ‘paying your dues,’ and Valdez has no qualms about ‘putting in the road time.’
“When you become something like an artist or a musician or a writer, your mindset begins to change. I come from a family that demands comfort and security. But as a musician, you don’t need a lot of things, like a house, because you’ll never be there.”
Perhaps one can chalk it up to youthful naivety, or earnestness, but Valdez said that he doesn’t envision himself having a “solid foundation” like many of his peers, and family members, work so hard for.
“You can’t have a solid life, at least to write the songs that I write,” he said. “I get to see how three other siblings raise a family. I realized how solid it is. You have to have a steady income, you’re around the exact same people every day.”
There are some people who enjoy a “stable life.” They find great happiness and fulfillment in working a 9-5 job, coming home and spending time with family. Some people, however, need something different. Some people are born for the road, that’s all.
Jalan Crossland certainly was, and he has made a name for himself in Wyoming and beyond for being the journeyman musician that Quinlan Valdez aspires to be. In fact, Crossland has been such a big influence on Valdez, that he actually reached out to him 5 years ago.
There would be no sliding into DM’s for Valdez, though. For one, that wasn’t a thing yet. More importantly, however, was the fact that Valdez wanted to show Crossland just how much he was influenced by his music, so he pulled out a history book to find out how people used to communicate.
“I had written him a handwritten letter, which nobody does anymore,” he said. “I told him that I was starting to write my own songs and told him that he was my main inspiration for all of this. I didn’t hear back from him, but I got to meet him again in Ten Sleep [Wyoming]. I’m pretty fair friends with him, now. He likes my stuff.”
That nod of approval from his biggest inspiration was all Valdez needed to know he was doing the right thing. In addition to honing his piano skills, he also taught himself the guitar, as well as the banjo and he utilizes all three during his shows.
Quinlan Valdez has played all over Casper and though he does want to expand his horizons one day, he realizes how important the development of Downtown Casper has been to his own journey as a musician.
“The only [major] things I remember that happened when I was a little kid were NicFest and the Central Wyoming Fair and the parade,” Valdez claimed. “Now, there are so many more things, so many more opportunities.”
Valdez has received many opportunities throughout Casper, and he plans to continue to hone his craft while channeling his emotions- hopefully into something that will help somebody else.
“Every time I’ve written a song, no matter how current the situation is or what’s going on in the song, I write it down and once it’s done, the feeling is gone,” he stated. “Once you have a song written, it has its own life. You put that piece out of your life that you know you had, but you don’t need it anymore.”
Valdez might not be aware that his songwriting technique is actually a vital part of any sort of “therapy session.” It’s the idea that we can take an experience, even a bad one, take the good from it (lessons, happy memories, etc.) and “give the rest back.” That idea makes each experience an important one, something to learn from, something with meaning. For an artist, this opens up a wealth of storytelling opportunities as well, and that’s exactly what Valdez does. He takes his experiences, even the bad ones, and he makes them matter. He allows himself to be vulnerable on stage and, because of that, he has built a reputation as one of Wyoming's rising musicians.
Valdez said this his shows are akin to pulling somebody aside, sitting them down and saying “let me tell you a story.” He makes his audience listen and, if they do, they might find out something about themselves.
It’s a Friday night. The lights are dim. The coffee shop is full of people talking, laughing and sipping a warm drink. It’s a familiar scene, but one that he will never get used to. As he takes the stage, picking up his guitar and making sure his banjo is nearby, he smiles. He sits in his old wicker chair that he brings to every gig and he plucks a few strings to get the audience’s attention. As they begin to quiet and turn their eyes to the stage, he smiles one more time.
“Hi, my name is Quinlan,” he says. “Sit down, let me tell you a story.
“It all started with a piano.”
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