Q and Not U (3.16.05)

Posted on July 28, 2008


Chris Richards, it should be said, talks very quickly and very clearly, running through talking points and sifting through topics like his conversations were outlined on a PalmPilot. When I spoke with this singer and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, keys, bass, etc.) for Q and Not U over the phone last week he was predictably multi-tasking-walking up the steps of the gym in DC, dodging other pedestrians, about to head inside to see his little brother’s college basketball game, and conducting (which is really the apt verb here) an interview. It’s not hard to imagine him as the young CEO of in the fast-paced uber-optimistic dot.com world of the late ’90s.

Instead, Richards, John Davis and Harris Klahr helm Q and Not U, Dischord Records’ greatest hope, and perhaps the most blatantly posi (that’s positive, folks) indie-rock band that anyone with the slightest tinge of cynicism may ever get the chance to try and prove wrong.

The last time I saw Q and Not U was two years ago at a frenzied all-ages show at the Berwick Research Institute, a gutted brick factory building in Dudley Square publicized entirely by word of hipster mouth, and I paid $5 to get in. This month, they’ll be touring the US with Interpol, playing to huge audiences at places like the Orpheum Theatre and charging $25 a ticket-a tour buoyed by enormous amounts of marketing and business savvy on the part of Interpol and all parties invested in (and orbiting around) Interpol.

I suppose that is a sort of cynical way to put it, depending on your feelings about marketing and business savvy. Interpol plays music that a lot of people enjoy, in the end. But how does a band like Q and Not U, a band originally very much in the vigilant mold of DC-area punk rock ethics and aesthetics, reconcile themselves with a tour where most of the audience will be in seats, and where no one even has to keep an eye out for cops driving past the venue?

“It’s a gift,” says Richards. “To be asked by Interpol to play shows for that many people is a real gift and I’m really looking forward to it.” No suspicion of a distanced and indifferent audience who might not be all that receptive to the group’s all-for-one rallies? “I think it’s amazing to watch videos of huge concerts, like Queen playing at Wembley Stadium, and they just have every single person in that stadium going nuts. I really want to know how to do that,” he says, adding, “Not to compare us to Queen, I mean.”

While lots of indie rock stars observe cred-etiquette and behold their thousands of fans with humble confusion as to where on earth they all could have came from, or feign discomfort and embarrassment from the attention they’re getting, Q and Not U appear cognizant of the real score and aren’t pretending to have arrived through magic. Is this what it’s like to have indie-rock heroes who haven’t become ashamed of themselves by the time people get to know them?

“We just strive to reach people,” Richards says. “Punk has always been known for its antagonistic energy, but we’re really the opposite of that. We’re more into creating a kind of communal experience for everyone, on whatever level they want to experience that.” While the band certainly tends to wear political influences on their sleeves, their main objective seems steadily centered on getting people excited about participating in, well, pretty much everything.

Last fall, the band released Power, their highest-profile release to date and, accordingly, embarked on an international tour. The music on the CD took the melodic Fugazi-inspired post-hardcore jerkiness employed on their last album, Different Damage, and beefed it up with heavier synths and dance beats. Falsetto vocals, crystalline funk wikka-tikka guitars, surprising flutes and dubby melodicas each send the album in tangents nobody would have expected from these scrappy DIY kids just a few years ago. Richards remembers conversations he had with members of fellow DC up-and-comers El Guapo, who produced this disc with them, about trying to steal as many ideas from hip-hop music as anything else.

“Look, if you listen to the radio right now, you will realize that rock & roll is obsolete,” Richards says, “There’s absolutely nothing being done with it anymore. It’s people like Outkast and the Neptunes that everyone’s going to remember 20 years from now. They are the Led Zeppelins of this generation.” While Q and Not U aren’t striving to be the next Outkast (or Zeppelin, for that matter), their mix of chin-stroking experimentalism with room-rocking gusto is sure to land them on at least a few of the same playlists.

[Originally Appeared in Boston’s Weekly Dig 3.16.05]