Q and not U is the way that DC is Getting Down

If you haven’t been able to tell by now that I’m in love with living in Washington DC because of the music here, then you aren’t paying attention or you aren’t reading my record reviews. Since I was sixteen and could drive to the city to buy records and T-shirts I have been blown out of my pants by the art that has come from this town. There are so many bands and labels and shows and people that have shaped my whole existence and life. I’d say that at least half of the music I own comes from this town. When I sat down with Chris Richards of DC’s hot and young new band Q and Not U, I knew I wasn’t the only one. Richards is a GWU student, playing guitar and singing in one of DC’s most energetic and original bands. With a hot single earlier this year and a brilliant debut album, Q and Not U will resurrect the historical power that this city is known for.

Erik Gamlem: I’m going to ask a question and it’s going to sound really weird. And you’ll probably go “What?” Then I’m going to follow it up with some ideas about your new record that I found. When I saw you guys at Fort Reno Park, watching Harris play, I thought he was going to explode and self-destruct. Is he okay?

Chris Richards: Yes.

EG: Okay. The reason I ask that as sort of a foreground, going through your record, one of the major themes I picked up on was sickness. I get a feeling of obsessive compulsiveness. I was wondering what you think about current medicine practices in America and the way America looks at it’s sick?

CR: In terms of medicine and things like being in lyrics, it’s not really a specific political statement at least in my lyrics. I guess I’m pushing this question into a larger lyrical umbrella. The way we kind of attack the way were going to verbalize musical parts, I’m very into the idea that lyrics are not didactic. There are so many bands that you see they get on stage and they tell you this song is about a certain situation. That’s something that I’m not really into because I think that narrows the window of what the viewer brings to the music. I’m very into the idea that our band is a two way street that goes between people who are watching it and the people who are playing it. And those people who are watching it are if not important then the band itself. So, getting back then to what you were saying with a medicine thing, sure that’s one of the gazillion themes on there. And I know a lot of people have said, “Oh yea, your band has a really manic vibe. It’s very like clangy and kind of off set.” Well sure that’s probably there and if that’s what you see in it then that’s wonderful too because that’s something we all share. I never really thought of it as social thing on medicine ever.

EG: There’s a lot of, well not necessarily medicine, and I don’t remember what the song is, but your talking about waking up with a new haircut and the scissors. It just feels really like here’s a person that has a problem with image and this constant need to fit in. Almost and obsessive this is something that I do and I need to fix it but I don’t know how. Then the line repeats.

CR: There’s a lot of things like that at work too. Another element of our band is that we’re pretty much four individuals doing their own thing. Kind of existing in this one set. So of course I don’t speak for Harris or Matt or John’s lyrics at all. Look at my stuff, it’s pretty much like trying to encompass a lot of things that are pretty much all across the board. Trying to get everything were thinking about. So of course there are all kinds of body issues that are with us today and all kinds of social issues that are with us today. And all kinds of pure aesthetics issues. A lot of times lyrics are just the way the words sound coming out of your mouth or sometimes just the image their creating, what it would look like if you saw it. So it’s a lot of things that I want to keep all those things open.

I think almost like anything that you can read into it. I hate to sound so vague and like kind of limp wristed about it. I think the more open lyrics can be the more powerful they are as a vehicle. People can kind of take them and integrate them into their life. The focus isn’t so narrow as to say, “this song is about the lack of health care in America.” Although that’s great. I think punk is amazing for that, it’s a great activist field. But the kind of political field that I want to go for is the kind that empowers the listener and empowers the receiver of the communication. I think in punk rock there is too much bizarre hero worship stuff. And this is folk music. We all do this together in a community and it doesn’t have stars and it doesn’t have celebrities. It’s just weird. We did this interview in Florida and this guy said, “Now that you’re on Dischord what’s it going to be like for a lot of people to look up to you?” And it’s like I don’t want you to look up to me. I want you to look at us and we’ll look back at you and we’ll do this together. That might sound faux egalitarian or hookie community but that’s what our band’s about. We want to play on the floor and look you in the eye. We don’t want you be ten feet below us and some kid in some pit jumping around. And we’re up here where there are lights. At least for now. That’s what it feels like now

EG: The other idea that I kind of prepared was that with in that there is a thematics of youth and an attitude of fitting in, and an attitude of body image and fashion and people perceiving the way they think things are. In the context in which you and I operate, in this scene, there are certain cues that we pick up on. There are certain trends and manners of presentation. I was wondering how you either subvert that with in the context of your band or is that something your trying to address?

CR: Sure. In terms of existing with in a scene, absolutely. I feel like were a punk rock band operating out of Washington D.C. It’s a community that we’ve grown up in. The fact that we’ve grown up in it and admired it so much and now get to be a real active member in it is testament to what a really great scene it is. That’s what really shocks me. Five years ago, if I was to go back in time and tell myself what would be going on. “You’re going to be doing this and meeting these people and this person is going to help you out and you’re going to help this person out and you’re going to exchange ideas with these people,” I would have about had a heart attack. Because back then, I grew up in Annapolis Maryland. So even though I thought I was a part of the DC punk scene I was still a little removed because there wasn’t a lot going on in the suburbs. So in terms of working the scene I think that we do. I want to address that. I like the regionallity of it. Were proud to be from Washington. There’s elements of a Washington sound that if people want to say were indulging in or taking part of then you can accuse us of that all day. That’s fine with me at least. It’s not like a conscious “let’s be a DC punk band.” But it’s the stuff that we lived and breathed the past years of our lives. It makes sense where were coming from.

I know that’s important too. I don’t like going on tour and seeing bands who could be playing with us anywhere in America. That’s weird. I like when we go to Florida and there’s a bizarre kind of Florida spazzy hardcore sound. It’s very interesting. Even if the bands aren’t that good there’s a regional flavor to it that’s just amazing. You like to go to Chicago and here whatever different kind of sound. That’s the really neat thing about touring is seeing the regionality of it. I hope that we can kind of break that same thing when people are in DC seeing us and also when we go out of town.

In terms of trying to get back to your social cues and things like that, I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean whether you’re saying…

EG: Take hip-hop. There are certain stylistic aspects, clothing aspects and perception of life that to be accepted with in that you have to follow. With in our community there is a certain manner of dress that is very common. There is a manner of politics, the way that you’re supposed to look at things. Especially in DC. You don’t need to be in the know but you need to be open for these things. The kind of thing about this community that has always weirded me out is that it’s supposed to be about acceptance a lot, about accepting different things. But when you get down to it there is not a lot of that. There aren’t a lot of women involved. There aren’t a lot of different cultures involved. Sexuality is kind of a hush hush topic. But I think that you all raise some interesting points about it.

CR: I know what you’re saying with like punk rock saying “yea, we accept everything in punk rock. It’s a total equal playing field.” But then there are certain guidelines, like certain fashion guidelines, certain behavioral guidelines. Some of which I agree with, some of which I don’t I guess. But the main thing is that we don’t want to pre-meditate anything. Like in the very beginning of our band, in our total infancy we were like “let’s wear uniforms” and we were going to have elaborate stage set up where we were going to have all these television on stage. We did it for one show and we had plans for other stuff. But the more we got into that area, the more you start to realize that stuff is totally unimportant. Before we even had a chance to start putting in a lot of work which is that kind of angel, we just realized there’s a lot more power in what just comes naturally to you. If you just kind of open the floodgates and see what happens.

With us, I don’t think were consciously trying any guidelines or even really critique them. Maybe subconsciously were critiquing them at certain points, which would be great. But I know what you’re saying with the whole idea that punk is an open field and sometimes it’s not. I hope that we can foster the idea that it’s an open field. One thing that we really want to do, at least with the bands that we play with in the punk scene, we want to play with as many as we can. There was one show last winter, it was The Most Secret Method and Kill the Man Who Questions and Zegota. That’s a crazy show for us to be on because it’s not bands that we typically play with. I think that it’s really neat, even though it’s all with in the punk scene I was really happy that we could open for the Dismemberment Plan in one month and then open for the Make*Up one month. We definitely want to try run the gamut with kind of bands that we play with. People perceive certain circles in DC, but those starts to dissipate very easily when yr outgoing and communicate with people. That’s been a thing for a couple years there’s a certain DC circle over here, certain dc circle over here or these bands would never play together. We’re definitely against that idea full on. We want to play with every body’s band who we like.

EG: I think a lot of people are like that around here.

CR: I don’t know what it is. I don’t think the younger bands aren’t so much. It seems like the younger bands are all for it. I don’t know what the older bands feel. Obviously if a band like Burning Airlines and what ever. Maybe with bigger bands everyone just wants to play there own show where there is the headliner and then two bigger bands shouldn’t share a bill. That’s the really good thing about DC, one equal attitude that exists among all DC punk band is that the bands that are more successful and bigger want to have younger bands play for them I’ve noticed. That’s been awesome for us, lend us a lot of support, The Make Up, Dismemberment Plan. The Most Secret Method has been so nice to us. Burning Airlines has been nice to us. Faraquet, tons of bands who are older then us have really reached out to help us out. I look forward to the point where there are bands who are younger then us that we can help out too. If that’s ever a situation, who knows if we’ll ever be in the position to help people out.

EG: What are your thoughts of about branching out of that aspect. Over the last year with a lot of people I’ve talked to there’s been a little bit more talk about involving different kinds of arts with in this community. They are important and they are what make this different a lot of what else goes around.

CR: Well there is definitely a vibe going around DC right now. The biggest has something to do with Art-O-Matic in Tennlytown. I’m an art student at George Washington University, which is a non-sequiter of sorts for some people. Like “What? Really?”

But when I first heard about Art-O-Matic I was just getting involved in it to show some of my visual artwork. I didn’t even know they were going to have any music going along with it. Then when I found out what music it was going to be, there is all kind of DC music going on. Punk or the punk scene seems to be a main contingent of it. There is electronic music night a hip-hop night. I wish there was going to be some go-go but it unfortunately doesn’t seem to look like there will be some of that on the schedule.

Never the less that’s definitely an example. Stuart Lupton, The Ruby Dare, Basehead which is DC hip-hop, American Workplace and Tone played a show at Art-O-Matic. That’s great. That’s a cross-pollination of visual art and music.

Also there was a really great show at La Casa this summer. It was the All-Scars, the Quails, and El Guapo. There were all kinds of art on display by local artists and stuff. DCCD has their art shows, like photo shows. Now! Music has art hanging up in their place. It’s cool there has been a cross-pollination of visual music and music arts. There is a lot of spoken word stuff going on this month, actually the night of the Le Tigre show there is some spoken word performance. That’s something were really lucky to have active in DC for real.

It seems like the scene is pretty healthy right now. There’s like house shows, there’s big ass club shows. There’s big ass park shows. A lot free big shows, free small shows. It seems like it’s pretty neat. We have some really good record stores in town. Maybe it’s just because I’m more active in it, it seems like it’s more real to me now, I’m more involved with things then I’ve ever been.

EG: I’ve been involved in some sense since a very young age. It’s going on almost ten years age. DC definitely goes in waves and last year I was about say “fuck this town, I’m ready to go. There’s not going to be anything else, no bodies going to top it!” But it definitely does seem like there’s a new healthy growth. I feel like there is not a lot of, and maybe it’s just my perspective, a lot of younger kids involved. One thing I’m wrestling with is, do they know about it? I don’t remember how I got involved; it’s kind of hard to pinpoint.

CR: Before I hit that, which is really a point that I really want to touch on, DC needs to stop waiting for the second coming of like 1993 or something. I know I was really anticipating who would be “the next big DC band?” That was my burning question when I first moved here four years ago. “Who’s going the next person to lead the way.” Every one is anticipating what this big next band is going to be. I’ve heard people say “who’s the next Fugazi going to be?” and all these really weird questions. We need to get out of that mind set. People are like “It’s ebb and flow, so when’s our tide gonna come in? When’s it going to be great again?” Stop thinking that way and waiting and really look around. Right now there are so many good bands in DC. I think that people aren’t getting behind them as much as they could. Of course you should like the bands. You shouldn’t just like a band for the sake of supporting your community. You should like them because you really like them. I just really think there are so many good bands on in Washington. Kind of embrace what’s there and really open your eyes and see what’s happening.

Like right now, The No-Go’s when they first started I was like “Oh right there friends of ours. Cool. There in a band, great.” And now in the last month, ever since they announced their break up, I realized I better open my eyes because this is the last time I going to see them. I think they also started playing a lot better because I think they knew they were terminal and just kind of turned it. I’m so proud to have seen that band, and played with them and know those guys. Now that they’re done it’s like “shit, it’s over.” It’s one of those things where you need to just really be aware of what’s going on. There’s a hay day going on all the time. Five years from now you’ll look back on today and go “that was the best time in DC.” But right now your just going “oh yea, it’s fun.”

Getting to like younger kids. I’m really worried about that too. I asked my little brother, he’s a senior in high school. We are very tight. Culturally were pretty opposite. He’s an athlete at school, listens to a lot of great hip-hop music. Are interests are pretty on the opposite sides of the spectrum which is cool, because were so tight and we get a lot of perspective from each other. I love him to death. I’m always probing him about what bands are at our high school now. It was a real fight to have a band in Annapolis because there were no venues to play in Maryland. There were no even community centers to play at. Nobody would allow you to do it. I guess there had been a real tumultuous punk scene that went through Annapolis in the mid eighties and all these community centers are still afraid to have events. Which is a shame. Suburban culture’s big dilemma is that kids have no cultural outlets so they just waste their time with television and drugs. It’s a nightmare. So I’m always probing my brother, “which T-shirts are kids wearing. Look for At the Drive In T-shirts. I know young kids like that band.” He was trying to tell me that he hasn’t noticed this. “Are there any kids with mohawks? Any kids with leather jackets.” I’m just probing to see if there is anything out there. Maybe he isn’t observant of that. He says there are kids who are into your metal, Korn, Limp Bizkit stuff, but he doesn’t notice any kind of punk kids at his school. That was really alarming to me. At least all the time when I went through high school, there were at least four or five punk kids that knew about hardcore. Maybe punk’s number is up with kids.

The thing is I go to shows like two nights a week and I’m always like “jeez, there’s never any really young kids here.” Then I think back when I was in high school, and I know my family was somewhat strict with me growing up. I could only go to a show once a month because going into the city was like going into the murder capital and my parents wouldn’t be to comfy with it. If you go to a Dismemberment Plan show there are definitely a lot of young kids there. We’ll see what happens. Going back to what I was saying, trying to predict the second coming of the DC scene. At the time when Better Automatic was playing and El Guapo had just started playing and Resin was at it’s high point, Jen Hit, Impossible Five, I was like “oh wow, who’s going to step it up and rise to the champion level.” But it’s cool because all the people in all those bands have stayed active and are still playing music now. I’m sure there bands that age that I just haven’t heard yet. Like Epson Energy with Paul and Lee and Daniel. Well they’re not together any more because Lee went to college, but there was a band that was in high school. A band who rocks. A band who was insane.

EG: When I saw them this summer, my eyes popped out and I was like “They’re so young and it’s so great. Thank God.”

CR: There are a couple guys who I go to school with at GW, there only two years younger then me, so I wouldn’t consider them “the kids” or anything. But they have a band called Buzz Henna. There’s all kinds of age groups working right now. I think it’s easier to play shows with more frequency when yr not in high school and when yr not in college and you have a little bit more time on your hands. Like John was in Corm and Jason Simon was in Impossible Five and now like us and Dead Meadow are all kind of the same age and all kind of playing out with equal frequency. They’re another great band.

EG: People use easy categories to describe music. And the one that I hate the most, and maybe it’s because I grew up in this town, is “the DC sound” and the “Dischord Sound.” I’m sorry but fucking Branch Manager doesn’t sound a goddamn thing like Hoover. I’ll go so far as to say that thirty percent of my record collection has to do with just Dischord, not to mention all the other bands. I’m kind of wondering, especially since over the last few years Dischord hasn’t put out a lot of records and now are putting out your band and Faraquet, which are very different, what do you think of that assessment, because I know it’s going to come up with you guys.

CR: When we first started doing the record, Ian told us, “get ready,” because a lot of times with Dischord, when you sign with the label, immediately you enter the realm of being compared to Fugazi relentlessly. Which is funny, because you think of very seminal bands like Nation of Ulysses and Jawbox, and to imagine that you read all these reviews “it’s Jawbox influenced, it’s Nation of Ulysses influenced, it’s Slant 6 influenced.” All of those reviews when they came out were like “this band sounds just like Fugazi.” So it’s really interesting.

As far as the Dischord sound and the DC sound, I’m really into the idea of a regionally and a local flavor and a folk element behind it. I hope it’s not pigeonholed as just that. I hope that when people read something like “DC sound” or “DC aesthetic” I hope they don’t just say, ‘it’s just that” and pigeonhole into this little category. When I hear something like “DC sound” I kind of get very vague aesthetic idea and also I know it’s probably going to be something pretty good. Dischord is a really reputable label. It’s my favorite record label if I had to pick one. So when I hear “DC sound” I don’t know what it’s going to sound like but it’s probably going to sound pretty good. I think it’s something again where the onus on people then it is on the presses depiction of it.