In some ways, Lennie Quest is the product of a small Midwestern town, while in others the culmination of a lifetime of experience from a globetrotting traveler. The name itself is the moniker of Dalton Krum, who adopted it to produce his pop-inspired rap over the past several years, but the music which followed hasn’t been limited by local influence. The National Guard opened the world up for Krum, who has used that and higher education to extend the reaches of his creativity, culminating last year in the release of a ten-track album titled DEEP DEEP DREAMER. Connecting via email, we discussed the album, as well as discovering inspiration from loss, how his time focusing on music at Millikin University impacted him, and what message he’d share with his younger self if given the opportunity.
villin: Through a few past interviews you’ve spoken to the roots of your musical journey, including growing up in choir and recording off the beat to Lil Wayne’s “How to Love” in middle school. If your current self could give music-related guidance to your younger self, what would you say?
Lennie Quest: I actually think about this a lot; not necessarily what I would say to my younger self, but rather just acknowledging how happy my younger self would be if he could have heard the music I’m making now. Everyone’s journey is different, and at times I definitely have imposter syndrome when it comes to my abilities, but the growth has been real and it’s healthy to be cognizant of that. I would tell myself to keep in mind not to rush things, to ask more questions, and that it’s okay to make really, really hard decisions. At the end of the day, I care what others think about me and my work to an extent; that’s the vulnerability of being creative in any medium. There are those who believe in me and my abilities and those who don’t. I feel like that’s a lifelong issue, but that’s a tangent.
villin: As an outsider looking in, this past year appears to have been really significant in your world. Aside from a few other notable personal experiences, you released the 10 track album DEEP DEEP DREAMER. The album is loaded with collaborations, including French artist Jay Da Panthera, who you connected with in Decatur. That meeting seemed to have arisen out of your work managing the recording studio at Millikin while you were there. Do you think something like DEEP DEEP DREAMER could still have been made had you not landed at the school and developed the relationships you did along the way?
Lennie Quest: So I met Jay from an event I created with Suite 704 (a local studio/creative-ventures business in Decatur, IL). For my last internship, I really wanted to do some event planning and something for the community. I came up with a 48-hour song challenge; which obviously I’m not the first person to ever have the idea for one, but it was the first time something like that had ever been held in and for the community. Jay is an employee of Suite 704 so he was a part of the planning process, and through chatting with him I found out about the music he makes and knew that I needed to make a collab happen before I graduated. Having a whole verse of French on a track still is exciting for me, and I’m grateful that I came upon that opportunity.
Art is an expression of artists’ experiences, so I’d say that DEEP DEEP DREAMER definitely is a product of the connections and abilities I grew both in college and back in Iowa. I was fortunate to have some great features, both from people at Millikin/Decatur and Iowan artists. All of that said, I’ve been making music for a while now, and I would have still been working on music no matter what happened. It wouldn’t be DEEP DEEP DREAMER, but there’d still be an album.
villin: On the topic of the album, explain the album art for me and what significance the title holds for you.
Lennie Quest: That photo is from Leah Marlene’s American Idol homecoming show in Normal, Illinois. If you look closely, the faces in the back turned out really weird, almost AI-like. To me, the title coincides with the photo; it’s me in a sea of people (which represents society), and I’m just a part of it, existing and doing my own thing. To be an artist truly for the love of the craft feels like a very deep dream, and it always has been. It’s easy to feel lost in the void of the lives of those around you, and that’s the general feeling I was wanting to convey.
villin: After graduating with degrees in Music Business and Commercial Music, you landed in Pennsylvania for a military school before transitioning south to another role in Florida. That barely seems to scratch the surface in terms of what you’ve seen of the world, though, as you’ve also traveled extensively as a member of the National Guard. How do you think seeing so many different locals and interaction with so many different people has informed your work creatively?
Lennie Quest: I’ve been fortunate to have many unique experiences in my life. I think overall they make me more well-rounded as an individual and instill confidence in myself and my work. One of the most significant times I felt impacted was during the making of my album Genesis that I made while deployed to Kosovo. At a time where I didn’t have the ability to record vocals, I took it as a chance to embrace the change of my surroundings and put that energy in a change of style. That album is all over the place, and I’m really proud to say that. It reflects what I was going through at the time. Most people would think that a bunch of experiences would have you pull in a bunch more influences, but I kind of feel the opposite of that. I feel like everything has culminated into me becoming more of an individual in my sound. I don’t necessarily try to sound unique, but people tell me that I do. It’s very confirming to be told that.
villin: It’s hard to know what the lasting value of an experience will be when you’ve just experienced it, but what do you think you’re most grateful for stemming from your interactions with Kevin Guarnieri at the school?
Lennie Quest: KG is an amazing human being. There is a mutual respect between the two of us that is really special. He’s a very blunt person. There are no games, and I really respect that. I admire that man, and we still text every few weeks. His career is beyond impressive; make sure to check his credits on AllMusic. One time he brought an electronic keyboard into the studio and I asked him about it because I know he doesn’t play. Casually, he told me that he’s had it for years from having to buy it on a whim for a Justin Timberlake session. Miss him a lot.
What I gained from him were experiences of genuine interactions. I could sit down and talk to him for hours; not even just about studio topics, but just about life. I felt separated from my peers through my different journey, so I honestly didn’t really have many friends in college. I had better friendships with some of my professors than students, which was comforting when coming back to campus from deployment. Before I left Millikin, I was grateful to be invited over to his home for dinner with his family. Although I had never met KG’s wife or kids before, it had always been obvious that his family is the most important thing in the world to him, so I was a little nervous. It was a great hang though, and it’s honestly one of my fondest memories from my time at Millikin.
villin: In your Sheesh Media interview, there was mention of a friend of yours who passed away and a comment was made about how his death resulted in you leaning further into your music. To me though, I interpreted that part of the conversation to read as something beyond simply influencing a drive to create and make the most of your time, but rather, fulfilling an obligation to live as best you can for however long as you can do so. Does that resonate with you and how have you seen that sort of feeling show up in your work, if so?
Lennie Quest: Cori’s passing had a profound impact on me. I’ll reiterate, it’s not like we were friends since kindergarten or even best friends, but his freestyling abilities and love for the craft were unmatched, and that was inspiring. I’ll agree with you that his passing affected more than just my work, but that’s where the bulk of it went. I think losing anybody affects people differently; it’s just another reminder of the time limit and unpredictability of life. I’ve lost a few family members within recent years, all of which I wish I’d spent more time engaging with. Once they’re gone, that’s when you have all of the questions and the thoughts. It hurts, and it makes you want to be more open with the people that are still in your life. Those losses also make you want to be a better person. I’m not perfect; I’ve made many mistakes, and I know that I will continue to, but I learn and I grow. That’s the human experience.
villin: Besides DEEP DEEP DREAMER, 2018’s Weeknights and a slew of singles, you’ve also released beat and production-focused tracks along the way. You’ve done that, however, under your given name, Dalton Krum. Why the separation between “Dalton” and “Lennie”?
Lennie Quest: I wanted to keep those projects separated because of their different vibes and intentions. Although I love to play with different styles no matter what I’m doing, Lennie Quest releases are still a lot more focused than Dalton Krum releases. “DK” is my ultimate playground, where I can just do whatever I want. Maybe one day there will be a crossover episode!
villin: You and I had messaged briefly a while back after you’d been at a studio summit in Nashville, specifically naming the Welcome to 1979 studio as a stop on the trip. What did you take away from that experience? Would you like to open a recording studio of your own someday?
Lennie Quest: For those of us that were selected to go, working the summit was almost like a test. One thing co-owner Chris Mara essentially said was that if someone couldn’t handle keeping the coffee pots full or making sure that there were still paper towels in the bathrooms, then how could they be trusted in a session? Makes sense. We got the chance to sit in on some panels, meet new people, and have a great closing conversation with Chris and Yoli (Chris’ wife and other co-owner of Welcome to 1979). The mastering and vinyl work that they do there is jaw-dropping; they recorded a session directly to vinyl when I was there. I had a great time, and whether its for a job or just to say hi, I hope to find myself back there one day.
When it comes to opening my own studio, I’d have to say no. Unfortunately I’m really out of the loop when it comes to local studios, especially in Iowa City. I remember going to Elite Sound and Design (ESD) in downtown Iowa City, but it’s long gone. Alex Arthur has done incredible things with Carousel Studios in Des Moines. I know there are other places like Flat Black in the area, but I do feel like IC is missing what it used to have for rappers. I would be interested in producing/engineering for local artists, but I don’t think that I’m the one to open a brick-and-mortar studio. I don’t know. Never say never.
villin: Looking ahead, have you had space in your world to think about any new music you want to make in the future?
Lennie Quest: Even if it’s being worked on at a snail’s pace, I’ve always got something in the back of my head. I’m excited to legitimately get back at it, but for now I’m just writing and working on my production. I’m really proud of DEEP DEEP DREAMER and I still want to push that farther. I’m sure most of you reading this probably don’t even know who I am, which is cool! No better time to jump in.