Q and Not U
Q and Not U are part of the intelligentsia of punk rock. I had the chance to chat at length, and using particularly long words, with the band, about DIY, touring and their politics when they played the Camden Underworld in July.
RN: If you could just say your name and say what you play that would be cool
Chris: My name is Chris Richards. I play guitar and sing and play bass and keyboards and other stuff.
Harris: My name is Harris. I play guitar and sing and play keyboard and other stuff.
John: I’m John and I play the drums.
RN: Cool. How’s the tour gone?
C: It’s been good. We were just talking about this with someone else. This will be 6 shows altogether in the UK and last night in Bristol was probably the best. It was on this ship, in the harbour and it was really cool. Harris said to me just before the show, ‘just imagine if all the music we were making was reverberated through the water and all the fish could hear it.’ That was our favourite show and I felt that the crowd were really alive last night.
RN: You’ve got the new album coming out, when will that be?
C: It’s due out mid September, beginning of October.
RN: So, it’s a little while away.
J: It doesn’t seem like a long way to me though.
H: Yeah, we have been working on it and thinking about it for probably a good year so far. What you just witnessed – the handing over of the test pressings and the proofing of the artwork – is sort of our last step hopefully and it feels like its coming to an end to us and it will coming out shortly.
RN: What sort of direction is the music going? I was just speaking to someone from Southern and they said…
C: What did they say?
RN: They said it was a bit more poppy, and less indie.
C: Yeah. [laughs]
RN: They said you had recorders as well.
C: Well it’s not a guitar or a rock record, in really any way.
J: It wasn’t a decision, it just happened naturally in a way
C: We have a bunch of instruments in our practice space and we just do whatever we feel and for some reason there just aren’t many guitary songs on the album. Harris just went into this synthesiser heaven.
H: Yeah, well I just got to the point, because in the last record we wrote a song that I started playing keyboards on and I never played piano or anything like that and I was really bad. I was a terrible keyboard player and over the course of the last few years touring so much and playing that song I’ve felt a new level comfort, it was really fun. To be able to actually play it, and come up with what I thought were interesting ideas so I sort of gravitated towards that stuff.
RN: Has it got more of an experimental feel to it.
H: I would say a less experimental feel than our past records. It’s more like…umm I don’t know…
C: I feel that the songs are the most poppy of any songs that we have done but probably also more sonically adventurous. It doesn’t sound like guitars, bass and drums so much. It think we tried to get a lot of different textures going on but I think there are plenty of hooks in it. I think that is just a symptom of listening to a lot of funk music and soul music and pop music. It just gets into your bloodstream and that’s what we are attracted to. I’ve had a really super intense relationship with the music of Prince for the past year and a half and that kinda came out for me at least.
H: I also feel that lyrically it is the most experimental thing we have ever done. I always felt, in terms of my songs, I’d always have a line that would come up and I’d be like ok, I’ll just write around this line, whereas with this record with the song that I wrote the lyrics for I had this idea of something that I really wanted to write a song about and I sort of pursued that a little for forcefully. I get that impression from Chris’s lyrics, and the way we sing them, the songs lyrically are a lot more considerate that anything we’ve ever done which I think is an interesting move.
RN: I was going to ask about your lyrics. I find them quite interesting. They are quite poetic but also trains of thoughts. What are you trying to convey with them?
C: The party line for me is that usually I like to have something that people are engaged by. I think a lot of songs that are very cut and dry, although I love songs like that, are engaging in a different way and I like things you have to investigate a little more. So that’s where I’ve been coming from in terms of writing records for this band since we started five, six years ago. But I think on this record, Harris is right, I try to address things a little bit more directly. There are songs about my family and a song about my city, just things that are a little more personal. Also too I hope I have framed them in a way that they are evocative enough to be more than just that.
I saw this really great lecturer when I was at college by this artist. He made these very diaphanous paintings, and they were very big and people at the lecturer were asking him, ‘what is this about, what does it mean?’ He was saying when you come to any piece of art, whether its music, writing, whatever, it a huge window, and then once someone explains to you what it means, where they are coming from, the window just gets snapped out. Its like a snapshut. He was just much more interested in having that whole image there available for you and you can just go wherever you want with it. That’s how I feel about music in general too. But at the same time maybe this time around maybe there is a bit more direction to it too. Its all very abstract.
J: I think its still pretty difficult to discern, if you don’t know what they are about as the writer.
RN: That’s quite interesting though, the analogy about the window. When the art world is so open to interpretation, so how do you feel about people interpreting your lyrics in perhaps the way that you didn’t mean?
C: I think its beautiful. It gives some of the most exciting feedback from people. For instance Soft Pyramid, this guy came up to me at a show in California, and if you are ever driving down the Pacific Coast highway and it starts fogging, the streetlights there make a pyramid shape on the highway. He was like ’soft pyramids is great, I really love how you are talking about driving on the Pacific Coast highway and seeing the soft pyramids in the fog,’ and he just assumed that was what I was talking about because that was his world view and I was like ‘well that was totally not what I was talking about at all’ but just to know that that image translated into something in his own reality was really beautiful to me, and that’s what I feel ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ or something like that can’t do. Granted Brown Eyed Girl might be a great song and can do other things but its cool that people can bring their own experiences to it. Its empowering in a way. That’s the way I feel about punk rock, it empowers you to a certain degree. I’d hope the lyrics will do that rather than confuse people.
I think you have to have evocative images, or be saying something forcefully or have these images that will pull people in a little bit. Otherwise, you are just spouting off language.
J: I can’t say I agree though about it having to be more abstract in order for it to be something that you can relate to.
C: Oh absolutely.
J: If anything a song as simple as ‘Love Me Do,’ if anything more people can relate to that. It’s certainly more immediately relatable. It could be a love song by Paul McCartney, or it could even be Ohio by Neil Young. Where there is this really simple political statement, if anything, I get most moved by those kind of songs, as opposed to things that are more obscure or obtuse. There can be fragments of songs where its ‘nonsensical’ but I think most bands, even if I can’t figure out their lyrics on first listen, I know they are not just bullshitting. They are talking about something.
We get that question a lot, not so much anymore because I think people are used to it, but they ask what do your lyrics mean, do they mean anything. I think people are a little more used to the fact now that our lyrics are a little more obtuse or vague at first.
C: I think that people can definitely relate to didactic songs or story telling songs for sure, but I like the idea of if you say ‘Love Me Do,’ people can be like that reminds me of my hospital stay or something.
J: yeah I totally agree with that. For instance the song ‘Are you a Believer’ by The Make-up reminds me of when I was getting stitches in my head.
J: Because that was what was in my head when I getting stitches.
C: But that isn’t to do with the lyrics.
J: I guess but there are all kinds of ways of something like ‘Love Me Do’ can mean something, I don’t think those are separate things. But ‘Are you a Believer’ is a good example because its like are you a believer in what? It’s totally wide open. The sentence is a little more direct and that’s where I feel we’re getting a little more closer to.
J: I have a theory on what are you a believer is about but I don’t know if that’s what they are talking about. I have a theory and I think I’m right but I who knows. I’d hazard a guess. I like the idea of having the lyrics wide open to anything, to any way of interpretation but I don’t feel that’s the only way to do it.
RN: So you are still working with Dischord and Ian Mckaye. How is that?
C: It’s been great. Ian’s been like a really awesome mentor with us personally and musically. He’s the biggest cheerleader that we have and he really believes in our music so we are really lucky to work with him. Dischord – it’s a great situation because you are pretty much free to do what you want and they are amendable for trying anything that we really want to try. Which is really great. A lot of labels have a real regimented way of working, and they do too, but I think they know that we want to grow and try different stuff and they are willing to go down that route with us and we are not on their ride. We are doing what we do and they have our back so it’s a really great situation to be in.
RN: It’s interesting that you used the word mentor. Do you feel that you are the next generation to come through with a very different sound? And to use to word mentor it suggests a generation gap which obviously there is.
C: I don’t know, I think music is always changing.
J: He’s a mentor in the sense that Ian and other people who have been around since the early eighties and late seventies like Don Zienita who does the engineering on our record and other people that we have learned a lot from that are maybe younger than Ian but who are older than us. Its just the way it goes in the music scene. You learn form people who were there before you so it can be as far back as Ian and Don and Bad Brains and Teen Idols and all that, or it could be as recently as bands like Jawbox who we learned a lot from also.
H: Or even someone like El Guapo who our age, who we are learning from who are our peers pretty much.
C: Not to sounds corny but I feel the music scene in Washington is in essence like a family. People watch out for each other, support each other and take care of each other. Its cool
H: We definitely learned a lot on a music level and certainly on a personal level from different people in all those bands. People our age, people who sometimes older, people who are way way older like Don and Ian
H: It’s something you don’t always think about either, how we all impact on each other.
RN: Do you feel privileged to be part of the DC scene?
C: You don’t really think about it so much because it’s just the world you are in. I have a very good relationship with my parents, but I don’t sit when I go to bed every night and go ‘gosh aren’t my parents the greatest, I’m so lucky to have supportive parent.’ Its just natural. There are times when you reflect and go ‘wow I really am lucky.’
It’s something you appreciate more when you see bands who are going through hardships with their label or they feel alienated from their city or whatever but that is when I really start to cherish what we found in Washington and where we grew up. At the same time it just feels natural. I don’t wake up every morning and go ‘I’m so blessed,’ although maybe I should.
J: Reflecting upon it, definitely, I do make a point in my life when ever it occurs to me. It’s little things that I like to think about. I’m so glad that everyone is here right now or I’m so glad that I can do this. I just was thinking about it, I don’t know it was this morning or yesterday but people have been asking a lot about Dischord and about DC on this same thing. And it’s something that yeah we are really lucky. Our friends here who we are touring with are like wow you got to see Slant 6 eight times and you saw Hoover ten times, that’s pretty fucking lucky. But we just happened to have been born in the right time and in the right place to have been able to see Fugazi as many times as I have and to know whoever. It’s great and I feel really lucky to be doing it.
RN: That’s cool. I was looking on your website and you have got links to Indymedia and things like that as well as more lefty media sites. Is that really important to you guys?
C: I think definitely. Right now things are really fucked up with everything that is going on in America and the youth there. A whole generation is taught to feel that they don’t have a choice, or they are just misinformed by the American media. I think it has really led the public astray. If people are interested in our music we are just trying to make information available and let people know there are media outlets other than Cable News Networks and Rupert Murdock. It’s just to give people more options.
J: Especially because with a lot of younger people who like our band they don’t automatically know. I think the idea behind doing that was that it was a good way for someone who just randomly clicks on any of these things to absorb some information and make their own decisions based on that. The thing is they aren’t opinions that are readily available in the mainstream which is the well from which most people get their information. It’s mainstream news sources like CNN or Fox or MTV or People magazine.
C: Or your parents.
J: The readily available news sources are not sufficient. We think its fairly important, and even if we don’t agree with everything that is on every one of these websites it’s just important for people to have more resources to gather information from
C: We’ve also met a lot of people on tour who want to get political involved or feel that they are not entitled to have a position on any issues because they feel that they don’t know enough about them so we want to do anything we can to help provide people with information.
J: I like having them there for me! My web browsers has all these ready linked in it. The more information we can have the better.
RN: Speaking to people from America I’m always really shocked that they look at things like the Guardian and the BBC which to me aren’t even that unbiased.
H: Yeah, I mean I religiously watch BBC news every night because it’s the only way to find out what’s going on outside America that involves Americans. But yeah, I’ve talked to a few Brits who are like ‘you read The Guardian? Really?’
J: There are no unbiased news sources. It doesn’t matter, it’s not going to happen. But, the good thing about reading The Guardian or the BBC website is that they give an alternate viewpoint. That’s why we put Al Jazeria website on our page. We don’t necessarily agree with everything they do. I mean I think they lack taste pretty often but I think it’s important for people to know that there are different ideas out there.
I think most Americans in general really suffer from a lack of different viewpoints and that is a battle that has been raging in the United States about regulations of how many radio stations, of how many televisions, of how many newspapers one company can own. There are certain towns where four companies own all of the media sources.
RN: Do you think that is part of the American psyche. The attitude towards other people and an American way. It seems quite narrow, is that part of the way people are brought up, to be selfish and individualistic?
C: I think you can maybe blame some of that on the lack of information that people are getting but I don’t think that the majority of Americans are narrow minded.
J: Are you talking shit about my country?
C: I think it’s true. I think that perception gets out of hand. I think the main population of Americans that I think are maybe doing the most harm to the way democracy works in our country are the people who don’t care and they don’t care because they are misinformed. I think that’s more harmful than extreme right wing fundamentalist Christian whatever rednecks. That’s not even the majority of the population. The people who are really harming the democracy are people who do have compassion for their community. They are good people but they just feel, I don’t know, intimidated by the lack of information they are getting about what is going on in the world. They are not participating in what’s going on because they just don’t know what’s going on. That’s really harmful and that’s where I think media consolidation is really doing the most harm.
J: I don’t think that its so much that Americans or even the traditional American thinking is to be narrow minded. For lack of better expression its come to be numb minded or no minded. There’s these blinders in a sense of you know ‘I’ve just got so much to deal with, my life is so hectic already, I can’t be worried about children in Iraq or worried about what my government does, as long as I’m paying my rent and I’ve got my cable TV and two cars, I’ve just got to take care of me first’. So that’s maybe more of the problem. I think that’s what we are learning most about Americans. They are right in the middle. They will go whichever way the wind blows. That’s why America is changing right now and why people are feeling Kerry is going to win, because mainstream America is drifting against Bush, but who knows what way it is going to blow in the next few months.
RN: It’s interesting what you said about the American people focusing on their own lives. It’s also something I see in British culture.
C: I would agree with that to some degree. I do feel that American culture is a selfish culture. It’s unfortunate. I think people are personally compassionate towards one another whether it be on the street or whatever. But I don’t think they apply that to their world view. It’s interesting that everyone is worried about how many hours they are putting into their jobs but I don’t know what it will take to can change that. It’s kind of a symptom of capitalism. So much of it is based on what you own and what you are making.
H: I think a large part of it is also based on the idea that America is so young compared to the rest of the world and the rest of the Western World and industrial culture. And two, America is on it’s own in a way. It’s by itself to a certain degree in the world. In Europe, England has it’s own thing but France is right across the water. There’s all these really stitched cultures, they are all together and have to deal with each other, whereas America is like this 8000 pound Gorilla sitting in the Western Hemisphere. And that’s who we are. Not to say Canadians don’t have their own thing going on or Mexican culture isn’t strong but we are definitely the dominant force.
C: Sure, that’s the way the governments feels. And that’s the way Americans are taught to feel. My mom grew up in rural Minnesota and my Grandfather was a WW2 veteran. The values she was instilled with as a kid were good values and loving values but also that the idea that you were living in the greatest place in the world, the most privileged place in the world and you should be thankful for it and you should stick up for it. The dialogue I’ve been having with her for the past three years since Bush took office is really about if you really believe that, if you do you really think America is the greatest place in the World and you think it’s so privileged then you need to challenge ideas that are hurting the culture. Its’ not like this blind patriotism too. I think it’s a real conflict.
On paper, there are a lot of righteous American values. On paper I agree with that stuff. Being proud of your country, that’s wonderful, working together for the common good, that’s great, being compassionate to the world, fantastic. But I think the way our government implements their practices, they use all of those ideas and block Americans off from what’s really going on. They will defend everything they are doing using those buzz words when in actuality they are exploiting all the values they are supposed to be promoting, which is a pity. But that’s another thing about the media, because the media is not going to challenge them on that. They are just complicit with that whole attitude and people just end up feeling that War on Iraq is the righteous thing to do. That we’re creating a democracy there or whatever which is pretty much a totally fallacy. We’re destroying that country.
J: I think in making a democracy there, its the same way the US governments props up other governments. It’s the same way the US government has done to other countries like Chile or wherever. It’s about having a pro US government in that region so essentially the US has a satellite in that region.
RN: It’s interesting what you said about people taught that America is the best. People of my grandfathers generation were taught that the British Empire was best. But now people of my generation have greater feelings of a guilt complex but maybe America hasn’t caught that.
C: Right. Maybe it will, who knows. I definitely feel wherever you are you should love, I mean I love America, not because of the way the government indulges in its practices, but I love the American people and I love the culture in that I have been raised and things like that, and I feel every culture should feel that way. The thing is I think government exploits those feelings.
H: The government is not the people. Touring through Europe a few years people were like ‘all Americans are shit,’ but well no Americans aren’t shit. The American government does some really shitty things in the name of American people I think its too easy to confuse those two things.
C: Its problematic too because the whole government is saying that ‘American’s are behind us’ which is not true.
J: That is part of the problem. A lot of people outside of the United States assume that everyone in America is in favour of this because that is what they have read in their magazines or their newspapers. I think for people outside of the United States, its their duty as well to find other news sources. They are just getting fed lies too. There definitely is a part of the United States or a contingent that is in favour of war and is pro Bush but there is definitely a huge contingent that is not and has been against the war. Not everyone has gone along with it. You only need to check the protests against the war.
C: We had a huge protest against the war. We all went to the war protest last April and a friend of ours had his friends from Germany writing him an email saying thanks for going to the protest. It got more media coverage in Berlin than it did in DC.
J: And with Bush his spin on it was ‘that’s great. I’m out here fighting for their rights to be able to do that.’ Him and the administrations take on those protests was of arrogance. Cheny, Bush, Rumsfield are definitely very arrogant. They are businessmen and they are hawks but that’s how they have gotten where they are, that and family ties. They feel the United States is a business and I’m the CEO and they feel that in order to succeed they have to be cut throat. You can’t be a wimp and you can’t worry about humanitarian things. You have to make as much money as possible and that’s how they view it.
RN: Just quickly to go back to what you said about loving America. I always get a bit concerned about patriotism and nationalism and those sorts of things.
C: Well, Do you love punk rock?
RN: Yeah, but I wouldn’t say punks are better than whatever.
C: It’s not a superiority thing. I don’t say America is the best meaning it is better than Italy. It’s just loving where you’re at. I love music and I think you should love the culture that you are a part off. It feels good and we can support each other. Of course I’m totally fascinated by other cultures and I love travelling and I love music from all different cultures of the world. Absolutely. But I do love where I’m at.
DC scene for instance, I care about those people. Do I love the DC scene, absolutely I do and I feel patriotic about DC or whatever. But I feel a lot of those things have been co-opted by power structures and I don’t feel that way at all. Its just a culture of people who I love very dearly.
J: I mean I remember before September 11th, Chris and I were living in the same house and from our landlord when we moved in, there was an American flag over the door. This was before September 11th. After there was a very huge boom and everyone had a flag over their door but even then it was like the American flag was this very loaded thing. We were talking about it, and to me the American flag is not about the government but is about the people and that’s what I love about America. I love the people. I love how different we are from one another. I mean just what a huge and interesting and unique country it is. I remember we were talking about that, about whether or not the flag should to stay and of course that totally changed after September 11th. The flag became very nationalist and it suggested complicity with what was going on. It turned into a mass mindset rather than celebrating what was interesting about America. Of course it can turn into something else.
I mean its like any person, the United States is like a person and there are great things and there are bad things. You can do good and bad. Hopefully the United States in the long run will end up doing more good. Obviously we all know we have a long history of bad things that the United States has done. But certainly England, Holland on and on, Germany, whoever. You can just look back and have a long list of a lot of horrible things that so many countries have done. It doesn’t matter if you are a Western country, Eastern, if you are Third world, whatever, every country, just like any person does a lot of bad shit. But that’s just something you have to work on within your country.
H: Its very easy to get very disenfranchised by your government. like ‘well that’s not for me, I’m not part of this anymore’. But we’re Americans, that’s where we are from. I would rather have America be for me rather than have to give it up to someone who I believe has nothing to do with American ideals which is what I believe are freedom and loving the world.
C: That’s fucking true man.
H: To say I love America, is not about being Nationalist or Hawkish. It’s about other things.
J: The ideals of America are very interesting and they just exploited really. People can very easy exploit it and just use it in a way to gloss over a lot of the bad stuff that most governments seem to do. It’s a fight to make sure the good things get done and the bad stuff aren’t as best as you can but unfortunately in our lifetime its not going to change. We can make things better, many things have improved in the United States over the last 50 years even though other things have gotten worse. I think that is just human nature and we just have to keep fighting.
RN: With the elections coming up your asking people to vote. Do you think its important as well to do things that aren’t related to putting hope into governments.
H: Oh sure, direct action yeah.
C: I believe in direct action but I am alarmed by… at least direct action groups in America have this attitude that voting is bad and that it’s just this total futile exercise, which I don’t agree with that. I think voting is very, very important this year and making the mainstream political climate less toxic for us and the rest of the world is really important and very, very easy for young people to take a hold of. Also too, getting involved with your local government and community, that stuff I think is great but I don’t think it should belittle the importance of getting involved in the election this year.
So granted we’ve been doing voter registration on our tours, just because so many young people in America don’t even do that. The lack of involvement in politics is so extreme that just getting them through the door on that issue is important enough to us. On our website we have a thing that says if you are interested in putting an activist table up at one of our shows then get in touch with us. So we encourage people like that and try and do benefit shows in DC every season for local charities and that’s always really important too.
RN: What do you make about people like Michael Moore.
H: As an artist I don’t really respect Michael Moore that much, I mean I don’t think he’s a great film maker. He makes powerful films that are very effective. With Fahrenheit 9/11 I think it is an important film right now. Just also, we were talking about this the other day, he’s kinda an alternative news source, definitely in America. There is no war footage, there is no pictures of soldiers fighting in Iraq and that is helping wash over a lot of the affects of the war for most American’s. For me seeing the film and seeing the mutilated bodies of American soldiers and civilians, I mean I’ve been following the war, since it began. I’ve been very interested in it.
RN: Didn’t you guys when you played with Fugazi in London come out wearing arm bands and gags.
C: Yeah, I’ve worn arm bands to protest to the war. I think Ian even said at that show ‘your government and my government are getting together to plan something.’ That was fucked up.
J: Yeah we were there in November and the war began in March. There was a huge build up. The summer of 2002 was like well, we’re gonna be invading Iraq sometime next year. It’s kinda like there’s an element of surprise year, letting them know, we’ve got nine months.
C: And also so that the war was just so planned. It wasn’t like a reaction to something. Yeah, not planned very well.
J: As far as Michael Moore, I have seen all his movies and I do like the fact that he is seen as someone who is very adept at putting a message out. He definitely uses extreme methods. It is propaganda, sometimes it’s not always fair but I believe that the message he is putting out there is a good one and that movie definitely is important. Also its firing up the troops. The base who are against the war, who are against Bush. Seeing that movie definitely got me going.
C: It was amazing too coming out of the theatre. It’s not like a no culture, it’s a numb culture, movies are a huge part of that. I can’t think of a more dazed feeling than coming out of a huge blockbuster, the movie euphoria that you just spent two hours in a dark theatre eating popcorn, now you are just walking out into the night. After that film everyone was charged. Everyone was talking to each other and looking round, and its just something that doesn’t happen after you go see I robot. So on that level, as a pop figure, I think Michael Moore is great. Now you can slam him for fighting fire with fire, using similar tactics to what Fox uses for the right, as a pop figure he is great. To have people arguing outside the movie theatres in DC, it’s amazing. People who saw that were tow blocks away from the Saudi Arabian embassy which was in that film. It really struck everyone in this really intense way. I think it was beautiful on this whole cultural level.
RN: To go back to something you said earlier about punk rock being empowering, is that something you really want to do with your music.
C: I think so. I guess I should say all music in general is empowering. and a verification of life. You know what I mean. I think the best music, the music that I really care about is the kinda music that makes me feel alive and that life’s worth living and getting out there and doing it.
RN: Are there any other bands that you are quite influenced by.
C: As far as pop music goes I think hip hop is really, not killing rock and roll but definitely coming the dominant pop music and the most interesting. I would never listen to rock and roll pop radio anymore but there’s hip hop radio stations I listen to. So on a pop level I’d say that. As far as bands on the underground go I’m still totally fascinated by our friends El Guapo. I think they are one of the greatest bands in America right now. We’re very close to their music and I have an intimate relationship with them. I feel the stuff that they are making is just unstoppable. Its really powerful stuff.
RN: I was wonder where you see yourselves fitting in with being part of a hardcore punk label. Is it more say the Kill Rock Stars scene for example or indie scene.
H: I just don’t think of Dischord as a hardcore punk label. I think that’s how it started but for the last 15 years it’s been so varied. I mean I understand where that perception comes from but it just seems they haven’t been that way for a long time.
C: I think part of our band is that we take pleasure in not fitting in anywhere. I feel part of the underground and I part of Washington DC but we don’t want to be part of a movement, we just want to make music that people care about hopefully and that we care about. There’s a joy in that for us.
This interview was originally in Rancid News #7. Visit the shop for more information!