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  • 2:58:51 am
  • Saturday
  • 20 July 2024

Q And Not U’s Christopher Richards Speaks Politics

After some mutual admiration, Christopher answered questions about the band’s beginnings, its disappeared member, DC gentrification, and other hairy politics.

Q and Not U has its origins in the Maryland/DC-area, beginning in and around the year 1998. In the beginning, there were four. Today, after 2 full-length albums, and some extensive touring, both nationally and internationally, there are but three: John Davis (drums, percussions, vocals); Harris Klahr (guitars, vocals, synth); Christopher Richards (guitars, vocals, bass, synth).

What is the origin of Q and Not U? Take us through the events at the very beginning. How did it all start? Where did you guys meet?

Well, the long story goes like this... We all grew up involved in the DC-scene and basically met each other through music. I went to high school with Matt in Annapolis, MD and played in a band with his little brother. Matt would often drive us to our shows in his Pontiac because he was the only one old enough to drive. Matt eventually started playing bass in his own band and we would set up shows together.

At that time, I was a huge fan of John’s band, Corm, who were playing constantly in the DC-area. He also ran a mail-order distro from which I purchased a seemingly endless stream of Emo 7“s which currently lurk in the depths of my closet. I met Harris in 1996 when I saw his old band, The Glenmont Sound System, play at a place called Resin House—this was basically the young punk rock house where everyone played and hung out. Mike Kanin lived there and kept the energy high—he played drums for the Better Automatic and went on to play in the recently defunct Black Eyes.

Anyway, Resin House was the epicenter for suburban teenage punks circa 1997, so when we all found ourselves bandless in the summer of 1998, I rounded everyone up to play in Q and Not U.

Where did you play? How did you make a name for yourselves?

We started playing shows like crazy in 1999—the DIY scene was really vibrant at the time and there were lots of small venues open to us. There was a bizarre anticipation in the air that year—I think people were waiting for the next crop of bands to rise up, or something. I feel like we did a show in every punk house and church in the greater metro area that summer. We even did a tongue-in-cheek “DC Tour” where we played four days in a row. That was such a wonderful time—we felt so good about our music and we had attracted such a wonderful energy from people in the DC-scene.

What ever happened to Matt Borlik?

After a lot of touring for “No Kill No Beep Beep” in 2001, things were not working out with Matt, both personally and creatively, so we asked him to leave the band at the end of the year. He just started a new group in DC called Like Language. I saw them play last week and they reminded me of a faster version of early-Unwound. Very aggressive sounding.

After Matt’s departure, how did the sound change (if at all)?

Well, I think the sound is always changing so it’s difficult to say to what degree Matt’s departure affected that. We definitely felt more free—free to play new instruments, free to try anything. As a trio, there was more sonic room for everyone to operate in. I really cherish that freedom to this day.

If I hear correctly, the band is currently working on a new album. How far have you gotten with that?

As of Memorial Day weekend, we’ve got a dozen songs in the bag and we hope to eke out a few more before we start recording in mid-June.

As far as the sound is concerned, what direction(s) are you moving in (musically and lyrically)? Is it changing? Why or why not?

We think the new songs run a pretty healthy gamut—we have some serious street jamz, some medieval folk sounding ditties, some ragged punk romps. I hope we surprise people, and I hope we excite people. The lyrics are still being written right now, but I’m trying to be a little more direct than I’ve been in the past. I’ve always been hung-up on trying to eradicate any biographical, first-person element from my lyrics, and make it more about “we, we, we” instead of “me, me, me.” I think that might change this time around. For instance, I really want to write a song about my brother. And you probably haven’t met him.

Take us through a normal, song-writing session. Who does what and when? Who is the primary song-writer? Lyricist?

Not to dance around your question, but there isn’t really a tried and true formula. We arrive at much of our music from just improvising together in practice, but recently we’ve developed a tendency towards crafting things on our own clock before presenting them to the band. Sometimes we make a more compelling case if we present our ideas to each other in a more realized state. In the end, everyone writes their own parts, but I think cultivating things in the primary stages helps establish the vibe a little more clearly. And everyone writes. John (drums) brings guitar riffs, Harris (guitar/keys) brings bass lines, I come up with ideas on a drum machine. It’s all very open. This band is really a kick to play in because I think we’re always finding new ways to communicate with each other. And I love that.

Anyone who listens to Q and Not U cannot deny the political awareness imbedded within the songs. Explain how your political views and ideals transition into the music?

John once came up with a crude, but rather trenchant analogy for making music in this band that goes like this: he said that writing songs is essentially like taking a shit. You put all of this stuff inside of you; let your body absorb it, and then you shit your finished product. So if you listen to Rufus Thomas all month, even if you don’t cognizantly try to emulate him, something about Rufus Thomas is going to show up in your music. I think this is why the best musicians probably have the best record collections. You are what you eat!

And that goes for everything. If you’re consuming a lot of news media, if you’re reading a lot of fashion magazines, if you’re watching tons of French new wave films, if you’re obsessed with the NBA playoffs, if you’re learning how to meditate, if the heat index is really freaking you out—that’s all going to come out in your music.

That said, I think our band has quietly found our political voice over the last few years because we’ve been consuming—and to some degree, choking on- world events as they transpire. We never had any kind of specific political awakening. It’s just gotten into our bloodstream. And obviously, we’re outraged by the agenda that the administration is pursuing, and we’re saddened that our fellow Americans feel so helpless, when we should all be getting in the act.

Do the various members ever disagree on the issues? Does this affect the song-writing process? Has it ever been a problem? If so, when? And how?

For the most part, our politics are all on the same page. We disagree mostly over how to present our views. We just have to keep ourselves in check because we don’t want to proselytize, and we don’t want to be known as “that political band.” Sure, politics is a part of it, but we don’t want that to be the party line. And we need to try and keep things positive. I’ve had to catch myself on stage in recent months because my comments on Bush have slowly descended into rather pointed, one-dimensional rants. And I shouldn’t do that—we want to keep things positive and make people feel strong and beautiful and empowered. I know that sounds grandiose, but I believe it. Music makes me feel like I’m worth something.

What are your thoughts on gay marriage?

I’m totally for it, and I think we’ll see it legalized everywhere in America in the coming years. That might mean 20 years, but it’s still going to happen. I really feel that the division on gay marriage is a generational division. I’ve met very, very few young people who are against it—and that includes very conservative, very Christian-right folks. So once our generation takes the reigns, it should get resolved. But hopefully we won’t have to wait that long. And then how long before America accepts it socially? That’s going to take a bit longer.

When ranked among the states, our nation’s capital is #4 in the category of “highest levels of poverty.” 16.3% of its inhabitants live below the poverty line. This is a land consisting of a high minority population who live in some of the worst neighborhoods in the country, i.e. Anacostia. It thus seems strange that such a place could stand as the figure-head of our nation. This is not to mention the close proximity DC has to such affluent regions such as Montgomery County and the Arlington area. Did this land of irony play a role in the formation of the band? In the bands politics? The bands mission? If so, how, and does this influence continue today?

Because of the federal government, DC is a city of moneyed transients. Very few of our most affluent residents are natives to the city. People come here for four years to make their name, and they go back West to run for Governor. So there’s not a lot of investment in the city—and by that I mean not only financial investment, but cultural and spiritual investment, as well. (I should note that I moved here from Annapolis, MD in 1997 to go to college—Does that make me part of the problem?). Gentrification is a really sticky issue here, and it’s always sweeping across some sector of the city, for better or worse. Things would be infinitely better if D.C. won statehood, but I don’t think the G.O.P. is too psyched about a predominantly black population being able to elect anyone to Congress.

What are your thoughts on this war in Iraq and the so-called “War on Terror?”

I feel that the war on terror is a complete farce and very little has been achieved. Bush has been alarmingly unsuccessful at disrupting al Qaeda, and has transparently used our nation’s vulnerability to manipulate foreign policy for his own political and financial interests. I know that I’m not saying anything new, but I’m still stupefied by the lack of outrage from the American public on this stuff. History will not be kind to George W. Bush.

What are your thoughts on the Iraqi prisoner abuses? Who should be punished? Who is at fault? Should Rumsfeld resign?

I thought the images coming out Abu Ghraib were absolutely devastating, but sadly, I wasn’t surprised. When it comes to warfare, this stuff is par for the course, right? It’s naive to think that the army isn’t a cross-section of human values. Sure, you’re going to have motivated, caring, patriotic individuals on-board, but you’re going to have just as many blood-thirsty, uneducated, rapists. Rummy’s failure to step down should be a giant red flag waving in the eyes of America. It’s another painfully clear sign of the administration’s arrogance.

What are your thoughts on the up-coming election? Do you endorse a candidate? Why or why not?

Have you seen these bumper stickers that read “Dated Dean, Married Kerry?” Not only is this a sad comment on American family-culture, it’s a sad comment on contemporary politics. We’re always settling for something less than extraordinary. I just don’t get it. I would agonize over it if this election wasn’t so unique, but removing Bush from office needs to be everyone’s number one priority.

Where do you see the United States going as a nation?

Just for my own spiritual wellness, I prefer to look at our nation’s potential rather than our nation’s direction. George Bush always says that “We live in historic times.” And he’s right. We’re living under the worst president possibly in US history. The Roman Empire certainly comes to mind. But if I didn’t think we could turn this mess around, I would have moved to Montreal by now.

Back to the band, what is the future of Q and Not U? Where do you think you are headed, musically, lyrically, personally?

The Roman Empire certainly comes to mind. No, just kidding. We can’t predict what will happen to our band because we’re totally free. I think there’s a degree of unspoken commitment to one another, but life is crazy—who knows what will happen? I can only hope that we’ll continue to enjoy our chemistry together and keep creating music that engages people.

And I would like to tour Brazil.

William Wallace
Wednesday, 09 June 2004

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2024-07-20 02:58:51
Regina Spektor, Regina Spektor, Emily Haines, Owen, antiwar, Denali, 4AD Records, Owen, Denali, Bella Lea, End report.