's unique vision for the Minneapolis band Quietdrive
places them somewhere between the Beatles
and Pink Floyd
turned up to ten. The melodies are terrifically structured and the arrangements and multiple overdubs of strings and guitars are all executed with vision and insight.
, the newest CD, offers up ballads and rock stuff all threaded together with unusual guitar textures and haunting (alright, emo) harmonies.
and guitarist Justin Bonhiver
answer a bunch of questions about their new album and the unique place they represent in this pop/melodic/rock field.
UG: In a blog you said there was a theme/concept you had in mind before starting the record - can you elaborate?
When I was writing the record, I wanted to have a concept that I was working with, or a theme that I could draw more focus from. That theme was the word deliverance. It started out with one word, but developed into a story, about a good angel, that possessed the body of a human being. From there it moved to what if the good angel possessed a human beings body, and fell into the wages of sin, but after the fall of innocence realized that redemption is not a matter of black and white, but of a decision to move towards the light.In this sense, the arch angel leaves the body and becomes a delivered miracle, living in eternity as a fallen heavenly angel. Because isn't that what we start out as? Perfect spirits tainted by the demands of the body and the unfeeling world around us? That concept spread out over a few songs, but I didn't want to be strictly based around that way of thinking, so there are some songs that are nothing like that story, but fit into the human being experience.
Believe - Tom Petty "American Girl" type intro? great song; talk about guitar tones
With believe it started out with that drum beat, and I started laying out guitars over it as a massive intro to a song. It turned out so well that I made it the intro to the CD itself. With the guitars, we mostly used a few static melodies that give the aura to the song, (like in deliverance) and we have a bunch of different heavy low end accents that we applied to the changes.
Deliverance - title song - great guitar riffs - are you thinking radio at all when you create an album title track?
Wasn't really thinking radio, but I was thinking about disco for some reason. Then when we built out that beat, and tried to throw a disco bass on top of it, it didn't feel right with the melody I was trying to lay on it. So I threw away the bass line, and rewrote the melody and then we rewrote the drum party to fit the melody better. I didn't know it was going to be the album title track, but with the concept that I described earlier, it took on a life of its own after the words "deliver me" started to flow out of the speakers. I personally think Daddy's Little Girl is more of a radio track.
Daddy's Little Girl - are there keyboards in there? If so, who is playing them?
Matt our rhythm guitar player is also a piano player, so after I had written this piano melody to scatter across the intro, we decided to take it to the next level and keep that layer in the song as one of the featured instruments. If you'll listen real closely to the end of the song you can hear Matt letting go of the sustain pedal of the piano that he was playing on.
Amazing drum/bass sound - can you talk a bit about how you create a rhythm track? The feel is great and not just a straight 4/4 riff - are you always thinking about new/inventive ways to create rhythm parts
When I'm thinking of a rhythm track, I try and write to a basic beat. I'll spend a lot of time on the road coming up with beats, and store them into a folder on my computer. Then when I get home I'll take all my beats out and go through them, trying to find one that I'm really into for the moment. And then, after the beat is defined, I define the rhythm to the melody that is created. With the Daddy's Girl beat specifically I wanted to come up with something completely unique. Our drummer Brandon has a unique sense of shuffle, so its great when we can bring that out and lay it into a song such as Daddy's Girl.
You arranged the strings here - really excellent. Where did those chops come for being able to arrange strings? Are you playing the acoustic?
I've played in the symphony for years, and have been arranging things in my head for a long time. I've always wanted to do string arrangements, and this record was a perfect time and place for me to finally flex my string arrangement muscles.
I try and let Justin handle all the guitar playing. No sense in me struggling with it for an hour when he can usually get an idea out at 10 minutes tops. But with the acoustic idea, I wanted a flamingo type of style to the verse which really helps the feel of this west coast California style song about a pimp and a prostitute.
Do you ever feel like the strings are too over-the-top? Too much of a posturing thing?
I feel like with this song, it was the one place that I could put them over the top. I didn't do that in any other song and I wanted them to be featured. Its difficult to make that call when you are so heavily connected to the writing aspect of a song, and the production aspect of a song. But that's how it turned out and it could change in future mixes.
You produced the album incredibly. Can you talk about how you produce Quietdrive? How you produce your own vocal parts?
It takes a lot of effort, but I try the best I can to not think about production until we are ready to go into the studio and go to pre production. I think the most important part is just coming up with thousands of ideas and then when it comes down to the production element, focusing on the songs themselves and what they require to be the best they can possibly be. I usually have a very specific idea of what my head wants, and I'm very forward with that.
Matt our rhythm guitar player helps me focus on certain melodies that he likes. We wanted to spend more time on this record with the vocals, and on the next record we definitely will. That being said, I just use the same process for everything. Listen to the part until I can hear what needs to be there, and then execute.
Who were your vocal influences? Your range is amazing - did you take lessons? Sing along to records?
I grew up singing to records. I really got into singing Incubus, Reel Big Fish for harmonies... that was when I was 14. I started playing drums to Dave Grohl records, trying to pick up guitar from Pearl Jam, At the Drive In, and No Doubt... Thats how I learned everything, just from hearing it. The lessons that I did take were violin lessons, those concepts that I learned in that first instrument at age 10 were what gave me the strategy to learn all the other instruments. Watch and imitate great players, try different variations, and then come up with your own style.
Do you take input from the other guys in terms of a performance or final take? If they dig Take 1 and you like Take 2, what take gets used?
It depends but I implicitly trust the player if they are really proud of a take or they insist on it. But if I insist it usually has to trump the player because eventually I'm responsible for the decision that gets put on the record.
Motivation - amazing groove - is that a drum loop creating that sequenced feel? There are some amazing accents here - some dropped beats and it feels like the rhythm gets turned around (so you can't count 1 which is beautiful) - this must be deliberate, right? Talk about how you described these moments?
|"When I was writing the record, I wanted to have a theme that I could draw more focus from."|
That drum loop was just something I wanted to put into the verse to give it a little dynamic shift towards a club feel. This song is essentially one mans journey through nightlife in the city and finding a woman he can go home with. That little sequence is supposed to highlight his entrance into the club, and his transfixion on the girl that he sees. In this band we have so many characteristics that come out in the music, and one of them is forgetting about the one. You'll notice it on a few songs. It is very apparent in our earlier work as well but I try and stay away from it because its beginning to become my fall back. This is one of my favorites on the record, Birthday does this as well. We like to combine different feels, and we figured this was the best way to do it.
That crazy rhythm thing happening over the tag of the chorus over the lyric, "In this life." Describe that? How do you put in a strange time signature thing and make it work so beautifully without sounding like a jazz riff or something?
In our earlier days we would have 17/8 time signatures and crazy things that we did just because we thought they sounded complex and smart. Later we realized that it didn't help the song, then after that we realized that we couldn't get away from moving back and fourth from traditional beats, to non-traditional feels.
Quietdrive gets labeled as pop punk - is this accurate? They're labeled as alternative - I find that any band who have terrific songs/melodies as opposed to those horrible tuned down guitars and screamed vocals get labeled as alternative.
I don't like the way people have to put albums on shelves of stores and put them in as a specific genre. I wish music would be catered to the people that really listen to it, and not the masses who are trying to pick something up for Christmas. But I think that is changing with the advent of the search engine, and purchasing what other people buy based off a genius playlist. But I've always thought of us as a rock band, that's the spirit anyway.
After All - yet again there's a new and different feel here from the other tracks - where do all these amazing rhythmic feels come from? I realize this is Quietdrive's "sound" but can you explain how you're able to present so many different feels/approaches and make it all sound unified - make it sound like one band?
Thank you for the compliment. I don't know how this effect is achieved. Like I said before, it all just comes from a place that wants it to be a certain way. I'm glad it sounds like Quietdrive.
Pretend - first single - what was it about this song that screamed "single" to them? Is it truly the best representation of the album? Did they think it was the most accessible to their audience?
I don't think this song is a single. I didn't feel that way and haven't about this song, this song was written in a time of trepidation that I went through with various styles.
You recorded an extraordinary cover of "Time After Time" (which is one of the most profoundly amazing songs ever written). How did you decide to cover this track? Were you fans of Cyndi's particularly?
No not at all. I am now. I just decided to re-write it because I've always wanted to do a cover song, and this one was the first one that I did. Maybe I should try it again.
In some ways, is "Time After Time" a song you wish you had written?
Not at all. I write songs that I want to be in existence. I just thought a different version of the song might be intersting to have in existence as well.
Hollywood - unbelievable intro - can you talk about how it was created? I get a little bit of an Eagles "Hotel California" feel from the intro - correct/incorrect? Great little acoustic break over the lyrics: "I just call your name and say I wanted to be attached to it (acoustic lick)/I just spell your name and say I wanna get through to you (acoustic lick)" - talk about how you gave so much presence to that little acoustic lick - it's perfect, better than if you had done it with an electric
That intro was created after it wouldn't leave my head for about 3 days so I had to go in and record the track. When we went in and did that, I wrote it all on acoustic guitar before we worked up the electrics, so I wanted to keep a little of that acoustic feel involved as well as a nod to the previous version that I had recorded. I always do that for some reason. Give people a little history of the song back, like in the bridge of time after time.
Are you playing the acoustic guitars? You play violin bass (what tracks)?
No I don't play the acoustic guitars on the record, I let Justin hammer them out with precision.
Does it take time to fine-tune your ears to be able to orchestrate in this fashion? That is, using an acoustic for a little lick as opposed to an electric. Or using strings without sounding schmaltzy (Yiddish word for sickening sweet!).
I think just going in and out of the studio and coming back the next day you'll realize a lot about what you did the day before. Thats a great way to fine tune tones and changes.
Give me a pencil sketch of:
Leaving Dramatics EP - you released this yourselves? How realized were the songs? Did they bear a resemblance to the songs/band on Deliverance?
We released it through Epic, they wanted us to come up with a little ep to release to the audience. I don't know why they didn't release it to itunes, but they just did to indie stores. Really hard to come by though. The songs were realized, but only one song is completely unique to the record, that was Leaving Dramatics. I wrote that in London sitting in Hyde park. I just wanted it to be on an EP and this is the one it ended up on. I think this was basically a b-side to "When All That's Left is You"
When All That's Left Is You - working with Butch Walker/Chris Lord-Alge?
Chris doesn't really allow people to work with him too directly. He likes to pump things in and out of his studio. Not saying that he doesn't know what he's doing, but working with him on a day to day basis wasn't exactly doable for us because we were on the road. And when I did show up at the studio he had his mind pretty set on what he wanted to do.
Butch was a little more open to the process, he would point out the gaps in what I was working on, and I would fix them at the studio with him. Great man, great producer, I just felt that we were rushed working together since he was going on a tour to japan 6 days from when we started our recording process for our 3 songs that we did with him. If we would have had more time I feel like he would have been more at ease and would have had more time to think things out.
Take Me Now - great guitar lick - tapping? Can you talk about how you created the effect on this lick (for the intro, as an example) - How do you layer guitars without making things sounds cluttered or muddy? Is there a U2 vibe going on here at all?
It's mostly hammerons. U2 was a big influence on many of the sounds that I was creating. But also this song draws heavily upon the Rise From The Ashes intro that we did as well. Thats one thing that Justin can bring out of the guitar is a focused, crisp sounding feel to all of his. I kept most of the heavy low end guitars supporting the high end solo so that they wouldn't get in the way.
You left Epic Records earlier this year - they felt stifled creatively? Didn't Epic give them the opportunity to reach bigger audiences because of the size/power of the label?
Epic wasn't allowing us to release records on our timetable. We felt like they were pushing the recording of this record back, and pushing our vision of what we wanted our music to be. There was just no way for us to deliver this type of a record to that label and for them to take us seriously. Ultimately, you have to make a decision. Do you want to create more music in your lifetime, or do you want to sit on your ass and not release music? It was simple for us. So now we have one record out, another on the way, and more after that.
Is the day of the major label really over? Has the internet/MySpace, et al leveled the playing field? Is that necessarily a good thing since every guy who picks up a guitar now feels he is Paul McCartney. Aren't we just subjected to so much more garbage?
I don't think so. A great song is a great song. AND, you have to love the way we find new music today. Technology has a way of evening this playing field, as well as cluttering it up.
Secret - Kevin Bowe plays baritone guitar - describe the parts he plays? Why did you bring in someone to play baritone guitar? There's a feel like the Gypsy Kings meets Pink Floyd? How was the atmosphere for this song created? Was it a hit and miss thing looking for that gypsy feel? The muting of the electrics? The timing on "I'm just an arrogant boy" is insane -how did they come upon this?
He plays an insane low part on just the last chorus, which is the penultimate part to the, "I'm not the only one that can hear you..." which I feel is the strongest part of the song. We were aiming with that gypsy feel to just help the song evolve and be linked to the spanish feel of daddy's girl.
Is the writing/performance on Deliverance e at a higher level than When All That's Left Is You? That is, could you have written these songs back in 2006 when you did When All That's Left Is You? Have you honed your writing chops since that last album?
I think we gained a lot more road experience, and we learned how to play our instruments. Our band was ready for me to create more intense elements, and I took them to the cleaners on this last record. Its going to take a couple weeks on the road until everyone can really play and get into their parts. We are always becoming more cohesive as a unit, and that's what makes a band great live.
Starbright - you created loops for this track - describe? There are strings here - are they synths or live strings?
All the strings that I did on this record were both synth and real. I had to do a bunch of the real ones over all the synth ones, but I couldn't play the cello so I had to synth those.
The loops that I did were done before I started writing the record. I wrote this song in a night behind the keyboard of my computer because I was frustrated that I couldn't go into the studio to flesh it out on drums.
That 5-note bass lick (same note) just kills me - it is beautiful. When this was being tracked, could you sense that the urgency of it was in the simplicity?
|"I wish music would be catered to the people that really listen to it, and not the masses who are trying to pick something up for Christmas."|
I think it was perfect when it came out of my head, sometimes that happens. It was so simple, yet so catchy, we had to keep it the way it was. It was one of the best parts of the song in my opinion.
Your playing is terrific. Your drum sound on "Believe" just brings me to my knees. Explain a bit about your approach to the band? How you work up parts with Droo?
Well, usually we go into the studio, we slow things down over half the tempo of the song, and slowly bring them up. During that process you begin to understand more about the parts and how you can meld and transform it to fit more accurately.
General Questions For Entire Band:
In a world where, for every Quietdrive, there are so many bands with no clue about melodies and songs, is it sometimes hard existing doing what you do?
We try and not think about that way, but rather, how can we continue to distinguish ourselves from artists that have talents in areas that we don't have yet.
Is there still a premium placed on great composition versus tuned-down guitars and turned-up amps?
Its all a matter of preference, most often when you are young, you play music like you're making love. Hard and fast. Then when you're older you realize that a song should be all about quality, not how low or loud or fast you go.
Do you think it has to be a confluence of band and right place/right time before a group can really happen? In other words, trends do change and sometimes they need to turn more towards melodic-based groups and away from the hardcore elements before a band like Quietdrive gets a real acknowledgement. Agree/disagree? Or does a good band get discovered even amongst bad groups?
Agree, from response before. All bands are metal bands from the start, and then they realize that there is more to life than leather pants and double kick pedals when it comes to music.
Can you talk about what was the most difficult track here to conceive/record? Why?
Secret. It just took so long to envision and find a home for every part that was being played. But I really love the way it turned out. Recording it took 30 vocal tracks, plenty of guitar tracks, and a bunch of other effect tracks. In all I think the number was around 108 tracks.
You're touring in UK/Europe - a tour of Japan is planned? Unplanned?
Yes touring UK/Japan right after the 1st of jan. We are more than excited for people across the sea to hear the music that we believe in so passionately.
We touched on it earlier that Epic Records didn't understand you. Was it something specifically about the music they didn't understand? I would think they'd hear Deliverance and start salivating over what they had.
I believe they would. I don't care if they do, because majors are on their way out until the government does more to govern the internet. We are in a position to release music the way we want to, and that is all we want at this point in time.
The same lineup has existed since day one - has it been difficult? Have there been some big hurdles to get by?
Yeah its always difficult getting to know your brothers. But once you start saying whatever you want to say, and can 5 minutes later be friends again, thats a great relationship. Because you have to be able to be honest with people. If you can't get the truth out of the way, you will continue to spend energy dancing around it, and not use that energy to do the things that a band needs to do in order to be successful.
The band is from Minneapolis - do bands from Minnesota sound like Quietdrive?
I don't think they do. I wouldn't be able to tell though.
Did the title of the album have anything to do with James Dickey's novel?
How do these songs translate live? Are you even better live than on record? Is it difficult to present all the parts/the vocal harmonies?
We use a sampler for all our sequenced effects and tracks. Kirby and Justin fill in on all the vocal harmonies that they can. Its difficult but we are very close to completely replicating what we do on a record, live. I think its a mixture of me producing the record, and being able to make sure we can achieve all the layering that is needed. But we are still finding things to constantly improve on.
When you listen to Deliverance, do you ever think, "Anybody who digs anything from the Beatles to My Chemical Romance, has to like us?" In other words, if people like, in general, what you do, how can they not totally appreciate us?
I agree. I look at it from that angle, and the next day I look at my life and wonder, "What am I doing?" But I can't stop making music. Its what I demand of myself and what drives me.
Last question (and remember, you're been under oath from the beginning): What is that people would not like about Deliverance? I'm not talking about hardcore fans of metal or whatever. But fans, again, who dig what you tend to do, what might be their negative take on the album.
I understand why you would ask a question like this, but it doesn't make any difference what people think that don't like the music. we're not in this for them.
And how do you react to the criticism?
Treat it as a message board. People can say what they want, but its just like writing on the bathroom stall. Most of its untrue, and the rest of it is comprised of dicks and pussies.
The tones/textures/techniques on the album are remarkable. As I mention each song below, if you would please offer your input in terms of what you played part-wise and instrument-wise and any strange things you might have done, that would be great.
I played pretty much all of the guitars on the new album. It was cool to work with Kevin as the producer because he knows my strengths and weaknesses from playing in the band together so he knew exactly how to push me and exactly how to build up my confidence. We would typically track guitars from 11am to 9pm, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter at the "Boiler Room" studio in the WCCO building downtown Minneapolis. As you can imagine the "Boiler Room" was a tad bit hot and I have a funny story about tracking in it. When laying down the clean dancy style guitars you hear on the title track Deliverance the guitar pick kept slippy out of my fingers because my hands couldn't stop sweating in the heat. We tried gaff tape to no avail. So the obvious next choice was chewing gum and it worked great! For guitars we used: Gibson Howard Roberts "Fusion" semi hollowbody, First Act Delgada custom, First Act Delia, Fender Stratocaster, Quietdrive "Swarmy" custom, Paul Reed Smith McCarty solid body, Paul Reed Smith McCarty hollowbody and a Taylor C414 acoustic guitar for all the acoustic parts. For amps we used: Koch Multitone 2x12 combo amp, Boogner Shiva 2x12, Fender Bassman, Fender Princeton 15inch, Gibson Tweed and a Savage audio 2x12 cab. For pedals/effects we used: Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail reverb, Visual Sound Jekyll & Hyde Ultimante Overdrive, Boss Chorus, Boss Tube screamer, Woolly Mammoth fuzzbox, Boss RE-20 Space Echo. I am probably leaving out a few things but this is the meat and potatoes of what your hearing on the new album. We are so happy with the final product and we are glad your digging on it too!
Interview by Steven Rosen