MIGHT Quinn be Glasgow's greatest band? Frontwoman Louise Quinn can count Madonna as one of her fans, Alex Kapranos used to play guitar with the husband and wife duo, and their bass player now works for the world-renowned composer Craig Armstrong.
The ber-cool Parisian producer Kid Loco turned down the chance to work with Madonna in order to produce Quinn's second album, Luss after falling in love with frontwoman Louise's voice. For a band that have clocked up such impressive credentials in the six years they've been together, surely it's only a matter of time before they are nudging the likes of Franz Ferdinand for pride of place.
"It is quite difficult, especially when we know so many people who are hugely successful now who were our peers," admits Louise Quinn, though she insists she's not the slightest bit jealous of Kapranos's success. Having seen Quinn play King Tut's years ago, Kapranos was so spellbound by their brand of infectious synth-pop that he went backstage after the gig and begged them to let him join.
"At the end of the day I can't feel jealous because it's just Alex, you know? Also, it's quite good to be able to impress my nephews by saying he used to be in our band. It was great when he was in Quinn for those couple of years, but Alex needed his own space. He was getting frustrated because we were just happy to play small gigs to not that many people."
In the end it was Quinn who suggested Kapranos leave and set up his own band. She says that a lack of ambition and a suspicion of the music industry are partly to blame for her band's low profile. Bizarrely, in Serbia, they are huge stars after one of their tracks made it into the top 10 in the charts last year. They were invited to play a festival in Belgrade, where they were mobbed by fans, and courted by national television and radio. Quinn even received an offer from a Serbian dentist to do her teeth for free in exchange for tickets to one of their gigs.
Back in Scotland, however, it's another story. They have never been signed, despite major label interest around the release of Luss this summer, a sultry electro-pop gem married with Loco's lush, chill-out production.
"IT WAS NEVER a conscious decision to do it all ourselves," explains Quinn, who, alongside her husband Bal Cooke, ended up releasing Luss on their own label, Tromolo, named after a popular club night they run in Glasgow. The couple made the album in their own studio, located in the spare bedroom of their south side flat where today Cooke, the sound engineer and computer whiz, is busy designing a flyer for their upcoming Inverness gig.
Quinn proudly points out the well-worn sofa where Loco parked himself for two weeks. "He worked us really hard, morning to night," she recalls. "Then he'd take the mixes away and work on them in his hotel room into the night." Quinn's upcoming single, 'The World Is Upside Down', ended up being almost 10 minutes long because Loco was so smitten with the band, and Louise's voice in particular, that he said he could listen to it forever. When he discovered their first album he promptly flew Quinn out to Paris to sing on one of his tracks, 'Kill Your Darlings', and she's been singing for him ever since. It was that track which led Madonna to seek out Loco and announce that "Louise Quinn has a wonderful voice".
"He was like, 'I do not work with rubbish people,'" says Quinn, affecting a French accent. "I think he's had a few offers but he'd rather work with Marianne Faithful and Jarvis Cocker.
"We went down to London for meetings with some of the major labels but we were managing ourselves at the time and weren't the best at negotiating deals," she continues. "People were saying, 'this album's brilliant, love, but how are we going to sell it? Is it Courtney Love or Sophie Ellis Bextor?' We just sat there looking totally blank."
Quinn is neither, though she does have Ellis Bextor's style, and the ethereal vocals of Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. Today she is dressed in a vintage black cocktail dress, ruffled shirt and patent heels and is quite the 1940s glamour puss, all blonde curls and red lipstick. Yet she is timid and softly spoken and says that she has always been too "self-critical" and lacking in what she describes as the cynicism necessary to sell a band. In many ways she seems younger and more innocent than her 30 years. Quinn confesses that recently she was on a train in the same carriage as Kapranos but was "too shy" to say hello to him. When you've heard her purr and lyrically strut her way through Luss - she is not far off a Scottish Alison Goldfrapp - all this comes as a bit of a surprise.
Part of it is down to bad experience. When she was in her early twenties, she fronted a band called Hardbody, of which Cooke was also a member. This, in fact, is how they got together. After just 10 gigs, Hardbody got signed to Sony and suddenly they were playing to huge audiences, being photographed by Scottish photographer Rankin and jetting off to New Orleans to make an album. "It was too fast. It was all about a focus on me and that caused resentment. We were supporting James and playing to 3,000 people and I was dressed in some underwear that a stylist had got me from M&S. When I think about it now..." she trails off. "They were having two-hour meetings with 20 people about what type of trainers we should be wearing. In artistic terms it was tough and in the end we just hated each other. I think it took me quite a long time to recover from that."
In the end, the boys were dropped and Quinn was kept on as a solo artist. Marketed as the next Natalie Imbruglia, it didn't work out - Quinn is far too interesting for that - and eventually Sony dropped her too. Then the managing director of Chrysalis flew to Glasgow to tell her in person that he wanted to put out an album for her. This ended up being Quinn's first album, In Between Worlds, on which Kapranos plays guitar. In a way it's a chequered history, but Quinn seems happy with the way it has worked out, making albums in her own home with her husband and with their two cats milling around in the background. She may covet more success but the quiet life suits her better.
"I think if I'd really wanted that success I could have got it," she says. "We could have sold out so easily and jumped on the electro-pop bandwagon because we were doing it before everybody else on In Between Worlds. But I don't think I would have been able to live with myself, and I just believe that what's for you won't go by you. I guess I'm just not cynical enough. Who knows, maybe I will make a classic pop album next time round, but it has to feel right."
The World Is Upside Down is out on December 4 on Tromolo Records. Quinn play the Classic Grand, Glasgow, on Thursday and the Market Bar, Inverness, on Friday.