A member of Madison bands including 90’sdreamboy and Skizzwhores, Quinn died on June 11 at the age of 27.
Photo by Eric Sorensen.’
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.
Ash Quinn left an indelible mark on Madison’s music community through his work in bands including Skizzwhores, Sassy Come Home, 90’sdreamboy, Token Minority, and Call Them Q. He died on June 11 at the age of 27.
Quinn was a generous friend and collaborator who threw himself into supporting other musicians, projected both kindness and rock-star charisma, filled up notebook after notebook with lyrics, loved animals, and delighted in preparing beautifully plated vegan meals for people he cared about. 90’sdreamboy, Quinn’s most recent project, celebrated the release of its debut EP in March at Bos Meadery, just before COVID-19 effectively wiped out Madison’s live events. (Note: Quinn used different pronouns at different points in life, but most recently used he/him/his pronouns.)
Family and friends are working on planning a public celebration of Quinn’s life, but safety concerns might delay that for a while. A former bandmate has set up a memorial website and there has already been a successful fundraiser to help Quinn’s family with funeral and memorial expenses.
Quinn was born in Madison in 1993, grew up in Middleton, and spent his entire life in the area.
Quinn’s younger brother, Matthew Frisch, remembers Quinn’s “fighting spirit’ and willingness to stick up for people and stand up for what he thought was right. Frisch credits his brother with providing tireless support and encouragement that got Frisch through tough times. “I remember those moments when it was just siblings talking,” Frisch says. “I was always able to tell Ash whatever was on my mind.”
Frisch also points out that Quinn was a source of strength and positivity for others even when things in his own life weren’t easy.
“I think people often misinterpret or don’t realize that even though a person’s really kind, they can be struggling with so much stuff that they had no idea about,” Frisch says. “Maybe people saw Ash’s kindness and assumed that Ash was doing fine, when in reality Ash battled with these emotions and struggles everyday. I think Ash’s kindness kind of masked that..I don’t think people had any idea how strong Ash really was.”
Quinn’s mother, Rose Quinn, remembers taking her kids to a toy store and Ash asking for his first guitar. “Ash is leaving a legacy…the positive impact, doing good without any expectations,” Rose Quinn says. “At concerts, [ash would say] ‘Shout out to my ma!’ I loved that.”
Quinn grew to love music at a young age. Quinn took lessons and took part in some school band classes, but was largely self-taught on guitar, bass, drums, saxophone, and vocals.
Quinn also taught himself how to cook. Just before his death, he was working on getting a vegan personal-chef business off the ground called Herbivore Uproar. Before that, Quinn worked as a chef and/or cook at local restaurants including Fuego’s, Monty’s Blue Plate Diner, and Next Door Brewing Company, as well as catering companies and a stint at the Maple Bluff Country Club.
Quinn’s resourcefulness and determination, and a love for bands like Bikini Kill, led him to punk. Quinn formed his first punk band in middle school. At age 16, Quinn began playing in a band called Half-Assed Shits, as Quinn explained in a 2014 interview for the local music show Wisconscene. That band eventually morphed into Skizzwhores, a punk trio that combined a grimy, grunge-y undertow with defiant brightness. As the songwriting and sound developed, and the lineup changed, Skizzwhores eventually became Sassy Come Home. The band released a couple of EPs and one full-length album, 2017’s Insomnia Mania.
The standout tracks on Insomnia Mania, including “Heroin Gun,” “Ghost Of The Century,” and “Eye Of The Storm,” capture Quinn’s vocal versatility, and his gift for balancing snarl with melody. The band’s lyrics take on subjects ranging from addiction (“Heroin Gun”) to rape culture (“Manifest These Times”) to anxiety (the thrashing “Growing Pains”), never wallowing but instead bristling with righteous fury. On “Counting Sheep,” the band oscillates between jangling clean guitars and charging, scuzzy riffs, the sense of panic mounting as Quinn proclaims, “What I hate most of all is the fact that I’m having the same dreams over and over again / I don’t even want to go to bed.” Listening back to this record, it’s clear that Quinn knew how to combine the bare-bones immediacy of a good punk song with plenty of sonic and emotional nuance.
“Our first show as the main line-up for Skizzwhores was on Halloween at the Frequency where we played tribute to Joy Division and Bikini Kill. Ash and I shared a passion for Riot Grrrl and grunge music,” says Dave Bonson, who first joined Skizzwhores as bass player, then became the drummer for that band and Sassy Come Home. Bonson says Skizzwhores/Sassy also had more recordings in the can for a planned second album.
“Ash never let himself get boxed in during the songwriting process,” Bonson says. “Weird off-time things just worked and everything was unique. Ash was always open to input from the other members of the band and no one ever felt pressured or afraid to voice their opinion. Overall, Ash was just always excited to write and play no matter the situation.”
At one point or another Quinn played most of the places that host rock bands in Madison—including the High Noon Saloon, The Frequency, Mr. Roberts, the Majestic, The Wisco, Bos Meadery, Mickey’s Tavern, Communication, Art In. Skizzwhores toured the U.S. in 2015 and opened for R. Ring (Kelley Deal of The Breeders’ other band) in 2017 at The Frequency. But as busy as Quinn was writing and playing his own music, that was only one part of his contribution to the local music community.
Danielle Jordan, who played with Quinn in 90’sdreamboy, points out that Quinn’s generosity and willingness to help out on all sorts of fronts made a massive difference. “Ash was never just playing the show,” Jordan says. “Ash was organizing or running merch or running someone else’s merch or picking up people to get to the show—it was always something additional.” Jordan even recalls Quinn both catering and playing one of his band’s shows, then playing another show the next night.
“I think it’s important for people to know that Ash was one of those people in Madison that always made you feel welcomed, always made you feel at home,” Jordan says. “If you were at a show in a crowded bar and you saw Ash and you didn’t know anyone…Ash was always like, ‘Hey, yeah, why don’t you tag along with me?’ Ash was really good at being a bridge for the scene and for people in general. I found that incredibly special about them. They would offer everything they had to someone else if they needed it.”
Jordan continues: “[Ash] could talk to any musician in any type of genre of band, and it didn’t matter what kind of following the band had. There was no pedestal put underneath anyone in Ash’s eyes. Everyone was the same and deserved respect. I think everyone should know that they were really passionate and excited to talk to everyone and get people connected and make music.”
Musician and journalist Emily Mills, whose band Damsel Trash first shared a bill with Skizzwhores in 2014, remembers Quinn in much the same way. “Ash was the epitome of the punk rock ethos—the queer, inclusive, raucous, DIY, community-building true meaning of it,” Mills says. “He was always so damn friendly and enthusiastic—about his own projects and about everyone else’s too. Willing to dive in head first to set up the shows he wanted to see happen, lending a helping hand where he could, and just always being this bright, supportive light (even though I could tell part of him was deeply shy). Just zero bullshit.”
One big highlight of Quinn’s live-music career came during the Women’s March in January 2017, when another of his bands, Token Minority, played before a massive crowd on the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol.
“I was beyond humbled,” Quinn told The Badger Herald about that performance in an April 2017 story. “So surprised with the turnout: 100,000 people. I think I can speak for us all when I say that’s probably the biggest crowd any of us played in front of.”
Dana Gordon Rowe, who played drums for Token Minority and Call Them Q, also recalls how much that performance meant to Quinn. “We spent weeks practicing in an unheated warehouse to prepare,” Rowe says.
Collaborating with Quinn also influenced Rowe’s work as guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for their own band, Woke Up Crying. “The thing that drew me to Ash’s music was the overlapping themes in our lyrics. He was a way more prolific lyricist than me,” Rowe says. When Woke Up Crying released its debut EP earlier this year, Rowe wanted 90’sdreamboy to play the release show, “because, without Ash, Woke Up Crying would have never happened. I cried a little when I saw Ash after the show and told him how much I appreciated how he got me set up.”
“Ash was a great bandmate,” says Angie Remington, who played bass in Sassy Come Home and Token Minority. “When I was learning the songs he would take time to give me tips and tricks to make it sound better. He believed in the band and he believed in me, which helped me grow as a musician.”
Drummer Vivian Lin met Quinn when Sassy Come home played a 2017 show at The Wisco as part of the Hot Summer Gays series. They caught up a while later, when Sassy played a local underground show on the same bill with Glassmen, for whom Lin was playing drums at the time. (Coincidentally, Lin has a music project called Token Minor, not to be confused with Token Minority.) They eventually started playing together and formed 90’sdreamboy, with Quinn on bass and vocals and Danielle Jordan on guitar and vocals.
“From a musical standpoint [Ash] just seemed so non-judgmental, which I really appreciated, and I think that’s [an indicator of] someone who’s actually really confident in what they were able to do,” Lin says. “Ash really understood how songs worked.”
On the I <3 90'sdreamboy EP, Quinn and Jordan trade off on lead vocals, and the band runs the gamut from dark post-punk to shimmery pop. Quinn’s contributions let loose with humor, playfulness, and queer sexuality—and all those things at once on “Bound,” a duet with Jordan based on Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon’s characters in the 1996 thriller of the same title.
“It’s hard to find people who really can carry the front-person role in the band and who’s also really good with lyrics,” Lin says. “That’s another sense in which Ash was really prolific. There are notebooks full of stuff. It’s amazing.”
Jordan met Quinn when they realized they were both trying out for the same band in Milwaukee, The Upside, and drove over together from Madison. In the car, the two started talking, listening to music, and getting to know each other. When Jordan eventually joined 90’sdreamboy, she found that Quinn’s ideas about songwriting and penchant for unconventional time signatures pushed her out of her comfort zone in ways both frustrating and rewarding.
“Ash would always say, ‘Why don’t we throw this in there,’ and I would think, ‘how the hell would that fit?’ And we would play it and it would work,” Jordan says. “With Ash, you’ve got to let things go, you’ve got to let things flow, and you’ve got to try new things. You’ve got to let every structure you’ve known just crumble.”
Like just about everyone who knew Quinn through the music scene, Jordan was also captivated by his stage presence and his ability to pull off a good punk scream. “You never knew what was gonna happen onstage ever,” Jordan says. “Ash [taught] me that it’s supposed to be fun and it doesn’t have to be perfect, and as long as you’re having fun, it’s going to be perfect.”
Bonson reflects that moving away from Madison gave him even more perspective on how special Quinn truly was as a friend and collaborator.
“The entire time I was on the West Coast I was looking for people to play with,” Bonson says. “I never found anything that worked right for me. I never felt right with anyone I played with. Took me a while before I realized I was just looking for Ash.”