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Interview with Lovely Quinces

This leading Croatian alt-rock singer-songwriter composes and performs in English. Jonathan Bousfield speaks to Dunja Ercegović of Lovely Quinces

Sanjin Kastelan

Lovely Quinces is the slightly ambiguous nom-de-plume of Split-born strumming siren Dunja Ercegović. Hearing her music for the first time, you would be more likely to assume they were from North America or the Antipodes than the Mediterranean fringes of Central Europe. Her long-awaited debut album looks set to provide Croatia’s guitar-driven revolution the critical mass it needs to make an international breakthrough. It's been picked as a contender for European Indie Album of the Year - an accolade previously claimed by likes of Adele, The XX and Caribou. With globetrotting success beckoning, we stopped by to chat with this emerging Croatian talent.

How did you start out as a songwriter?

At around the age of 11 or 12. I learned how to play guitar but hated playing other peoples’ songs. Even now I only know about three covers!

Why did you choose the English language?

I’ve been learning English ever since I was five and I’ve always been under the influence of English-language pop culture. I never paid much attention to Croatian music and there are still a lot of popular Croatian songs that I don’t really know; I was always in my own little bubble.

How did Dunja Ercegović become Lovely Quinces?

Like most things that come out of me it was done on impulse. When I posted my first song on the internet I realised that I didn’t have a name. But dunja is Croatian for ‘quince’ and one thing led to another... Lovely Quinces was supposed to be a temporary solution but I just got stuck with it! I actually wanted to be Johnny Panic, a character from a Sylvia Plath story, but found that there was a UK punk band already called that.

Is it accurate to talk of a singer-songwriter scene in Croatia and did it actually help you get started?

There was a Facebook page called Bistro na rubu šume [‘Bistro on the edge of the forest’] that brought musicians and songwriters together and that was where I posted my first songs. Bistro released a couple of compilations, and promoted a couple of club nights. I played my first gig at Začarana Močvara, ‘The Enchanted Swamp’, the monthly singer-songwriter and folk-rock night held at the Močvara club.

Are you primarily an autobiographical songwriter or do you pick up stories from elsewhere?

A bit of both. Sometimes my songs come from listening to a friend’s stories. Sometimes I write a song about something that has never actually happened to me, only to find that it does happen to me a year or so later – so some of my songs actually turn out to be prophecies...

You gave up life in Split for Zagreb…

I don’t think I would be where I am now if I had stayed in Split. It’s as if the music scene in Split is on stand-by, and people don’t express enthusiasm for alternative music. 

Your forthcoming album will feature songs recorded with a full band. Do you see Lovely Quinces’ future as a solo acoustic performer or as a group?

It sounds strange but I’m not that big a fan of acoustic singer-songwriters. I’m more into a dirty sound like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or Modest Mouse. But having a band is a hard thing. I had to start on my own in order to form myself. So if I ask people to play with me now, at least they’ll know what the deal is.

You certainly attack your guitar with punk-like fervour when performing live.

I actually love playing guitar as if it is a drum kit. I’m into the mantra; the rhythm. To be honest I’ve never been that good a guitar player, I’m just good at pretending I’m a good guitar player…

You’ve also got a reputation for inter-song patter that some people find funny and disconcerting in equal measure. ‘Playing guitar with a plectrum is like having sex with a condom’ is one of Quinces’ oft-quoted pearls of on-stage wisdom…

On-stage attitude is OK when it comes from a guy. People don’t expect it from a girl. But the stage for me is a safe place where I can be exactly who I want to be.

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