Q and Not U: Interview
The Democratic Songwriting Meat Grinder
Dischord trio Q
& Not U continue to age gracefully, moving upwards and onwards as they continue
their assault on the senses. A very different band recorded and released 2000's
sturdy No Kill No Beep Beep (Dischord), a record that boasted a quartet
instead of the mighty trio Q & Not U would later become and flourish as. John
Davis, Harris Klahr, and Chris Richards followed their debut with the upbeat,
hook-driven Different Damage (Dischord) which once again moved the trio
further and further away from their debut.
The band's latest release is Power (Dischord), which once again pushes
the group to the most distant point possible, using such new studio tricks as
beeps, blips, disco-driven beats, and enough falsetto to make Freddie Mercury
swoon. Guitarist/vocalist Chris Richards and I traded e-mails recently and
discussed the band's allegiance with Interpol, South Africa, The Neptunes, why
Pitchfork is making him paranoid, and why he'd love to bring his acoustic
guitar onstage next month.
What does writing a Q & Not U album entail? Has it always been a partnership?
We all work on music on our own, but everything we introduce to the band goes
through the democratic songwriting meat grinder. Sometimes we bring in little
riffs, sometimes we bring entire songs, but they always come out much different
(and usually much better) than when they were first introduced.
What musical elements have you not brought into the fold that you'd like to add
to the next LP?
It's hard to say because most of those things come to pass on the fly. I would
really like to follow Harris' lead and learn to be a better keyboard player.
John has started singing more on stage and I think it would be great if he wrote
lyrics for the next record. I've also been really into Bowie and TRex of late,
and I'm interested in their use of acoustic guitars in a high-volume setting.
And all those Houston Screwtapes make me wish I could sing in slow motion.
Are you still happy with Dischord? Any thoughts of moving on?
Dischord is our home, so we can't imagine moving out unless the lease expires or
the house burns down.
Do you get fed up at all with D.C./politically-inspired tag the band tends to
carry around with the press?
Not really. I would much rather a "political" tag follows us around than some
kind of lame genre tag. But the entire point of music is to defy
classifications. That's why artists and critics are in a state of perpetual
warfare. But I would rather be recognized for our politics than for some lame
rock journalist buzz word that we didn't invent.
How did the tour with Interpol come about? The combo seems like oil & water.
You really think so? I am really paranoid about how influential Pitchfork
is right now. They said that Q & Not U touring with Interpol was like Kenny
Loggins going on tour with NWA or something, and now everyone is saying that
we're a really odd match. I don't think touring with Interpol is that strange.
We're both independent rock bands. There are guitars and amps and drums. I think
they have good taste in music and I was flattered when they invited us to travel
Do politics and politically-motivated lyrics belong in music? Or does it become
more of a soapbox mentality when politics appear as lyrics?
Yes and yes. Obviously, it applies differently to different artists. I've heard
some truly inspiring political music of late, and some contrived bullshit as
well. It's like asking if people if they should write love songs. There are
gonna be some Aaliyah songs that break my heart and there are gonna be some Boyz
II Men songs that I can't hang with. But as long as politics exist in our world
it's going to be reflected in song. And that's a beautiful thing.
You guys are constantly on the road; do you prefer playing live to the studio?
Actually, no. Everyone in the band has a different take on touring, but I think
we are just starting to unravel our unspoken commitment to the road. We founded
the band under the Black Flag mentality of constant grinding, but after six
years, it's taken its spiritual toll on certain members of the band. I think we
have a brighter future in the studio than on the road in 2005.
Share a little bit about how the South Africa trip came about. How was the
A promoter friend of ours in Denver had just spent a year in South Africa and
encouraged us to take a crack at it. His friends there wanted to start hosting
American bands, so we were the first group to take the plunge. As a tour, it was
a rocky road. But six months after the fact I am so glad I was able to see this
fascinating place and play our music there.
What bands or artists are you currently enjoying? Who moves you and reminds you
quality music does exist in 2005?
Quality music is all always around us, people just need to stay open and stay
hungry. My favorite song right now would be the new Amerie single "One Thing." I
really need to study all the Rich Harrison tracks that are floating around out
there. I think the Neptunes are getting better and better, and it's getting hard
to fathom. When are they gonna trip up? "Let's Get Blown" and the new "Drop it
Like It's Hot" remix are just ridiculous. I think all the Houston screw business
is fantastic, Swishahouse and such. But I have a funny feeling about the Slim
Thug record -- like two rights might make a wrong. M.I.A. is over hyped, but
still incredibly interesting to me. I can't wait to see what Animal Collective
does next. Xiu Xiu has found new ways to break my heart to pieces every year --
but I'm in love these days, so maybe I don't need to hear a new Xiu Xiu record
just yet. There's a new dance night in DC called Krunk where they play lots of
Baltimore Club, and I'm thrilled about that. I just picked up this DJ Technics
record in Philly yesterday and it's bananas. Unrest played a fantastic reunion
show in DC on Thursday. Manhunter and Food For Animals are the next generation
of greatness to come out of DC. I was a little disappointed by the new LCD
Soundsystem record, but I think I had unfair expectations. I think dude is on a
righteous mission and his music will sound great when the noise dies down. Six
months after the fact, Ciara is really killing me. For some reason it took "1,2
Step" to make me like "Goodies." I think "Stilettos" is a better Crime Mob song
than "Knuck if you Buck." I can't wait to hear the new Daft Punk record. In the
meantime, I am enjoying that Mylo album from last year. My roommate just played
me that new Hood record and my other roommate just turned me on to this French
pop band Phoenix. Sometimes they get a little too close to Maroon 5 territory,
but I still love them. Everyone loves Camron and the Diplomats and so do I -- I
think they're the new surrealists. And if there is a god in heaven, the new
SuperSystem record is going to blow up larger than life.
Would you guys ever consider side projects or producing other band's work or do
you tend to stay focused on your own band?
Everyone in the band is constantly writing and playing music, and not all of it
feels right for Q and Not U. John is probably the best guitar player in our band
and he's always working on things. Harris told me that he's working on a bedroom
reggae record; I think it's in the vain of those crazy Serge Gainsbourg reggae
albums. I just recorded a solo joint up in Canada with Tim Hecker. I hope to
release it under the name Ris Pau Ric and tour behind it this summer. As far as
production goes, I think Harris has always had it on his mind. He just made a
killer remix of "Wonderful People," so maybe that's a sign of things to come?
Power flaunts a true amalgam of styles and musical genres; do you feel
the band is continuing to move away from the "more punk rock feel" of your debut
Thanks! We've always felt that punk is more of an attitude or mentality than a
style. So in a sense, I think our records have become more "punk" over the years
as we continue to set ourselves free from our own musical boundaries and
expectations. It's not like we're busting new genres every five minutes, but the
band is always growing inch by inch. So to answer your question: It's probably
safe to say that we will never make an angular post hardcore album with dueling
guitars ever again.
For me, electronic drums, better dancing, more vocal effects, and hopefully an
acoustic guitar on stage.