Hot off its first tour opening for rapper Xavier Omär, Chicago-based hip-hop/soul duo Iris Temple is quickly making a name for itself as one of the city’s brightest new talents.
The up-and-coming group consists of Kansas City, Missouri natives Quinn Cochran, 22, and Quinn Regan, 21, who goes by the stage name Quinn Barlow. The PHOENIX sat down with the pair to talk about Iris Temple’s history, unique sound, recent tour and future.
Cochran and Regan met at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in Kansas City where they shared multiple classes their junior year.
“We weren’t really friends but slowly got to know each other through [the classes],” Regan said. “We had band class together, so we knew pretty soon on that we both did music. We kind of became friends because we were bad students. We sat in the back, didn’t really pay attention, sang a lot of songs and were generally disruptive. But it worked out.”
Regan and Cochran’s friendship continued through graduation, when they decided to move to Chicago for school. Cochran went to Columbia for music, and Regan went to DePaul but soon dropped out and moved back to Kansas City. Cochran said he’ll graduate from Columbia this spring.
While the two were separated, Cochran said they often sent musical ideas back and forth to each other. Cochran secured a job in Kansas City over summer vacation, and he and Regan decided to set up a small studio in an empty warehouse Cochran’s dad owned for his electronic design company.
“At night [the warehouse] was totally vacant, so we ended up writing all night every night,” Cochran said. “We hit the ground running quick and made our first project in two months.”
The two said they quickly realized they could make something special together, so they decided to officially team up and get to work. They moved back to Chicago, and the name Iris Temple came soon after.
“The name pretty much came out of nowhere,” Cochran said. “It was just two cool words I thought of, but the meaning stemmed out from that. ‘Iris Temple’ means eyes and mind, so like how you perceive the information you take in … or it could be some mystical place.”
Cochran and Regan admitted Iris Temple’s music is hard to describe. A blend of soul, hip-hop, jazz and rock, the duo’s music is something utterly unique and refreshing for Chicago’s indie music scene. When composing their songs, Regan said he and Cochran don’t follow any rules.
“It’s basically what we think would sound good [at that point in the song] without discounting any genre,” Regan said. “Our sound really comes out of that spur of the moment flowing and feeling of the song and thinking critically about where it should go.”
Iris Temple refuses to pin itself down to a genre with its blending of natural and synthetic sounds. From Cochran’s hard rock guitar solo on “Parade” off the EP “Vistas,” to the soft, muted trumpet on the single “Lemonade,” to the chatter of birds behind the beat of “Ferns” off the EP “Duality,” the duo always delivers interesting soundscapes for its listeners to envision.
However, when it comes to live performances, Cochran argued nothing beats the sound of real instruments.
“When we play live, I love the sound and energy of people playing these instruments,” he said. “Playing with a track is fun because people want to hear [the song] how they heard it in their headphones, but the most fun shows are playing with musicians because the energy is so different.”
Regan praised the group of friends he and Cochran often enlist to join them onstage, a group whom Cochran met in Columbia’s music department his freshman year.
“Our friends we play with in the band are so, so talented,” he said. “[They’re] guys who grew up in the church and can play along with any chord change the first time they hear a song — just incredible musicians. It’s super cool to see [our] songs get reinterpreted.”
Regan and Cochran said they love making music in Chicago because it’s an exciting time to be a musician in the city. With an attitude Cochran describes as creative freedom, where artists do whatever they want, Chicago is a fresh, exciting location to be making music in.
“There’s some trailblazers in Chicago making music that nobody else is making,” Regan said. “It’s cool to call these people my contemporaries. There’s something special going on in Chicago right now. It’s very free and uplifting. Most musicians I’ve encountered are very uplifting of each other, and I think that’s really beautiful.”
Cochran added that the door has been left open for up-and-coming talent like Iris Temple.
“The state of Chicago music is so up in the air right now, because in 2013 Chance [the Rapper] is just blowing up, Vic [Mensa] is blowing up,” he said. “Their roots are still here, but they’re gone. Everything is kind of reforming now, like who’s going to blow up next?”
The next household name may well be Iris Temple. Its modern spin on the soul genre should have fans across the country clambering for more, and one person who took special note of its talent was manager Mike Luna, who quickly signed the duo.
Luna said he’s confident Iris Temple has a bright future.
“I had been following Iris Temple on all the streaming platforms and social media for awhile, and I kept seeing organic growth in [its] fan base,” Luna said. “I was convinced it was a matter of when, not if, they were going to ‘pop,’ and I want to help them get there.”
Another artist Luna manages is up-and-comer Xavier Omär. After Cochran and Regan told Luna they’d happily go on tour, Omär invited Cochran and Regan to open for him on his debut 15-city “Pink Lightning Tour.”
At first, nothing particularly struck Omär about Iris Temple, but as Luna played Omär more of the group’s music, he began to take notice of the duo’s talent.
“Every time Mike would show me a new song of theirs, it was so much better than the last,” Omär said. “The instrumentation and attention to the nuances of the production and writing showed that these guys were real artists and not just a couple dudes who like to sing.”
When Regan and Cochran were offered the gig, they were ecstatic.
“A couple months ago, we started working with Xavier [Omär’s] manager, and he asked us if [touring] was something we could do,” Cochran said. “I’m still in school at this point, but of course I’m going to say yes. Nothing’s getting in the way of this.”
Regan said he promptly quit his job, and Iris Temple went on its first tour, which lasted a little under a month. The duo learned a lot from the experience, mainly how to take care of themselves on the road and play for larger crowds.
“It’s crazy practice playing 16 or 17 shows in 20 days,” Cochran said. “You don’t get many chances to feel the energy of performing for hundreds of people every night. So getting that was a really big confidence boost because you realize, ‘Oh, I can do this, and people are going to like it,’ but it’s also like, ‘Man this s— is hard.”
Omär said he was impressed by Regan and Cochran’s performances on his tour.
“I was more than pleased [with Iris Temple’s performance],” Omär said. “They were ready every night, their stage presence grew with every performance and I feel like the guys from night one are not the same guys that performed on the final night. [They] really proved themselves.”
Iris Temple’s future looks brighter than ever, and the duo has high hopes for 2018. Their most popular song, “Ferns,” recently surpassed 500,000 plays on Spotify, and their second most popular song, “Lemonade” isn’t far behind with roughly 450,000 plays of Feb. 6. Because of the exposure they gained from the “Pink Lightning Tour,” Iris Temple’s fan base has been slowly growing despite its seemingly small numbers and Cochran said it’s up to him and Regan to execute their game plan.
“We’d love to do a festival,” Regan said. “We’d love to do a music video … just doing all the things that encapsulate being an artist.”
Iris Temple’s music is available to stream on Spotify, Apple Music and Soundcloud.