The D.C. ‘sound,’ reinvigorated

    [Part 1 of 2]

    When Q and Not U began as a four-piece in the summer of 1998, mixing
    post-punk with disco and pop sensibilities, they almost immediately
    took to the streets, playing shows in punk houses and churches in the
    Washington, D.C. metro area. It wasn’t until 2000 that the band
    released its now-legendary debut, No Kill No Beep Beep,
    a mix of eclectic pop and pure aggression set amidst the D.C.
    post-hardcore milieu. The result, produced at Inner Ear Studios by Don
    Zientara and Ian MacKaye, purveyor of all things D.C., was incendiary.
    MacKaye produced everything for the band, including its 2002 follow-up, Different Damage, until it’s third full-length, Power,
    released in October. For that, Q and Not U headed to Brooklyn, N.Y. to
    work with Rafael Cohen and Pete Cafarella — members of another
    Dischord band, El Guapo. And with Power, the band, now a
    three-piece that includes Harris Klahr on guitar, Christopher Richards
    on bass, and John Davis on drums (all share vocal duties), has proven
    itself one of the most versatile and captivating in the genre.
    Prefix spent some time with Davis to talk about Power, politics — their Web site boasts links to Votenowar.org — and making music you can dance to.

     

    [more:]

    Prefix Magazine:
    How many interviews do you think you guys have given in general?

    Q and Not U:
    Ever?

    PM:
    Yeah.

    Q and Not U:
    Not that many. A few hundred maybe. I don’t know. We’ve been together for a while.

    PM:
    Do you remember any interviews that went really badly?

    Q and Not U:
    We’ve been pretty lucky; we’ve had a few that have been more boring
    than bad. Many have been e-mail interviews. But sometimes you get some
    cool questions. It’s certainly been more boring than bad though. Kind
    of the same thing.

    PM:
    Do any stand out?

    Q and Not U:
    I did a fanzine for a long time, so I have a lot of experience with
    interviews and always try to be cooperative. A real good one was for a
    friend of mine; it was a fanzine called Status.
    I don’t know if it’s still around, but I did an interview with them
    about two years ago that was really enjoyable and in depth, and since I
    knew him he had some insight and questions that were more unusual. But
    I usually just talk about the band.

    PM:
    You guys have been together for about six years. When you first started, did you think of it as a long-term project?

    Q and Not U:
    No. Actually, around the summer of ’98, when we started jamming
    together and practicing together, I was playing in another band. I was
    also trying to start a band in which I played guitar — that’s always
    been my first instrument.
    So, Q and Not U was sort of a side-project, and I was just going to
    play drums because I had fun playing drums but really wasn’t a drummer.
    The band that I played guitar in was going to be the real band, but it
    just didn’t work out. This was a side thing that became the main thing.
    But once we started playing in ’99, when we were all really dedicated
    and things were going well, I knew it was going to be good.

    PM:
    Are you really happy with how things turned out?

    Q and Not U:
    Sure. I really don’t know any other way they could have gone. I’m
    satisfied with our trajectory at this point and what we’ve done and
    accomplished. We’ve been all over the world and put out a bunch of
    records on a label that we really wanted to work with and have played
    with bands that we really wanted to work with.

    PM:
    In the past albums, Ian MacKaye and Don Zientara have produced. Why the change?

    Q and Not U:
    We just wanted to try something different. We recorded with Pete and
    Rafael from El Guapo at Pete’s apartment in Williamsburg. Pete was kind
    of the engineer/producer and Rafael was the producer. We all worked
    together on ideas, and it turned out great. It’s my favorite thing
    we’ve ever done by far, so I’m really happy with it. Hopefully people
    aren’t too terrified by it. It’s kind of weird.

    PM:
    What’s different about it?

    Q and Not U:
    I think each record we’ve done is a distinct personality. Our first
    record was very much who we were at that age and time, so to me it’s
    very young sounding. For the second album we were new as a trio and we
    were just discovering that sound; it’s kind of darker. This one is
    really positive and very unbridled in its energy; it’s really rhythmic
    or rhythm heavy. Different Damage
    was pretty rhythmic too, but it was not as much about dance rhythms as
    it was about African and jazz rhythms. That’s on this record too, but
    now there’s a much heavier dance influence. That’s been on all of our
    records since the beginning, but it’s a little more forward this time;
    that’s what we were in the mood for.

    PM:
    A lot of press has been given to the New York rock scene and the
    whole dance-rock scene, but not much of that has spilled into D.C. Is
    it getting overlooked?

    Q and Not U:
    Yes. It’s never gotten that much attention. Fugazi and certain bands
    have here and there, but generally it’s not known for its “scene.” The
    D.C. scene is certainly famous, but in the media-hype way. It’s never
    really talked about other than the early straight-edge scene.
    Plenty of bands from D.C. have been ignored, and we’re just sort of
    used to it. In a way we’re kind of lucky; it’s a trade-off. It would be
    nice to get some attention, but at the same time we’re just completely
    off the radar and there’s no influence of an outside media presence. So
    all kinds of strange music are allowed to grow on their own happen. So
    you’re not going to hear of a band from D.C. that has been together for
    six months signing to a major label. That happens in New York, but that
    doesn’t happen in D.C. Bands are allowed to grow there, and sometimes
    they implode before they can even do much of anything. I’m sure if we
    lived in New York a long time ago big labels would have come knocking,
    but because we’ve been in D.C. we don’t have to deal with any of that
    stuff. So we just do what we want.

    PM:
    I never thought of it that way. That’s an interesting perspective and advantage.

    Q and Not U:
    Yeah. I mean it depends on how you look at it. We’ve thought about it
    and it’s a pretty positive thing. The music’s more natural.