When Joseph Quisol picked up a guitar at 17 and began teaching himself to play with the aide of YouTube videos, he didn’t have a grander vision of where it might take him. At that point taking it anywhere at all wasn’t even a passing thought.
The singer-songwriter, who was born in Sacramento, Calif. and moved to Charlotte, N.C. in the fifth grade, was following youthful inspiration, not ambition, when he began making music, telling qnotes he started simply “because it was fun and I liked creating it.”
Just five years later he is already beginning to enjoy the type of accomplishments, and subsequent attention, that some lifelong musicians never achieve.
Quisol released the EP “The World Keeps Turning,” in February of this year, and while it only contains three tracks, one of which was also on his full-length album, “An Aural Autobiography,” released in 2015, it constitutes a leap forward in his sound.
This is nowhere more evident than on the newer version of the eponymous track, “The World Keeps Turning,” which appears on both releases. In both cases, his strong songwriting abilities shine through, with a clear understanding of how to layer melodies and add depth without falling into distraction and chaos. But it is this latest version that really jumps to life and stays stuck in your head.
He calls his blend of airy acoustic guitars, electronic beats, occasional smattering of horns, and sultry voice “Latinx Future,” which was fleshed out by a crew of
Charlotte-based musicians, with whom he first worked after returning home from studying political science at the College of Charleston.
After gigging around Charlotte with his band — Michael Gonzalez (congas), Nik Maldonado (percussion), Randall Davis (bass) and Kevin Washburn (saxophone) — as well as playing some solo shows, and recording the EP, Quisol received a grant to attend Harvard University for graduate school, graduating with a degree in Art in Education in May of this year.
It is an opportunity he doesn’t take for granted, and one that has built upon itself, clearing the way for further opportunities.
The biggest of those came while playing and organizing shows in Boston, Mass. like he had done in Charlotte with Queens Collective, co-founded by Celeste Moonchild — an arts and culture group he helped lead — at a DIY space on top of an apartment building. Someone who was duly impressed by what he was doing there told him about the Live Arts Boston Grant and encouraged him to apply.
“It was up to $15,000 to do a performing arts project. I pitched a project to do a collaborative mixtape on liberation featuring all queer artists of color,” he explained.
His proposal was approved, and he was awarded the full sum, allowing him to pay for the performances, the recording and the mixing and mastering. It also afforded the chance to hold a release show, tentatively scheduled for sometime in March of next year.
In addition to working with a number of Boston-area artists, he has reached back to his Charlotte connections for this project, featuring artists like R&B singer Dexter Jordan.
Sharing in the wealth of his successes is essential to him, and a testament to his belief in the importance of building and sustaining relationships and communities.
“There’s a song I am working on for this project called ‘Hidden Doors,’” he explained.
“And the idea is that Harvard is kind of like many places in the world where there are a lot of hidden doors. They’re doors that open if you know who to ask, or if you have direct connections, or if you have enough money.
“So, because I had this big scholarship [the Gates Millennium Scholarship, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation], they paid for my graduate school. If not for that key, I wouldn’t have been able to open this hidden door, such as Harvard. And without Harvard, I wouldn’t have had the resources, the connections to even know about these grants and apply for them.
“Now it’s about kicking down those doors and letting my people in, which is a line in the song.”
He is also working with Jay Kelley, with whom he performed at the now closed Eagle Speak Coffeehouse in South Charlotte, and Jasmine Fuego, who was also part of Queens Collective and is currently based in the Bay Area in California.
Quisol has family in that part of the country as well, on his father’s side, and is considering relocating there soon.
“On the one hand, I really want to build in the Southeast geographically, but I feel like the way things are going with my career and music, I want to spend some time in California,” he said.
Family has always been an important part of his life, and that has only become truer with time.
While the love and support were always there, when it came to his sexuality, they were not always so understanding.
“They’re a pretty conservative immigrant family: Filipino on one side, Puerto Rican on the other side,” he explained.
That intolerance was reinforced by his family’s church: the Mecklenburg Community Church.
They were drawn to the services’ strong musical component, as well as the community advocacy and organizing work it does for under-served communities, such as those experiencing poverty and homelessness.
It helped inspire Quisol’s own activism and interest in music, but it was far from LGBTQ affirming. The general understanding was it was only okay to be gay, but only if one remained celibate, he shared.
“And that’s been the church’s stance forever. I understand that’s just the way people were raised to think, and that’s the belief they hold onto,” he said.
He has since found peace in a more affirming church, and his family has come around to “not only accept me, but be supportive and proud,” he said.
When it comes to what he creates, he knows he has to “do it well, and to a high caliber because I can’t afford not to.”
“There’s definitely that pressure to do really well now, because there’s a lot invested in it, and I don’t want to lose it all,” he admitted.
And while he may not know exactly where life is leading him, one thing is certain: He is looking ahead with plenty of space left to grow, with no signs of stopping.
Quisol will perform at this year’s Charlotte Pride festival, held Aug. 18 and 19 in Uptown, alongside such acts as Superfruit, Jessica Sutta, Cupcakke, Ultra Naté, and others. More information is available online at charlottepride.org.