Harmonizing Humanism: Quiet Company

On Saturday, I had the great pleasure of interviewing two members of the band I gushed about last week: Quiet Company. I skyped with Taylor Muse and Tommy Blank to talk about the band, Taylor’s path away from religion, their latest album, and what they think about mixing art and rationality. Check out our conversation on the video, or read the transcript after the jump!

By the way, their latest album, We Are All Where We Belong, is available for a measly $5 right here. Go download it!

MAL: Give me a little intro about the band. When you got started, what you guys do — all that great stuff.

Taylor: Well, Tommy and I are the only original members left right now. We met in late 2005, and I had made the first record by myself and it had gotten picked up by a small boutique label and they said, “You should get a band and play some shows.” And I said, “What a novel concept!” And I found Tommy on Craigslist and he showed up at my door and he had an awesome goatee. He played piano in my closet.

Tommy: It was a pretty unique audition because, basically I’d sit on the bed and strum a guitar and he’d say “Okay, he can play guitar, that’s good,” and he had a piano set up in this walk-in closet and I went in, played it, and he’s like, “Okay, he can play piano, that’s all I needed to know,” and then, “I’ll let you know.”

Taylor: Yeah, I’d never auditioned people before. It’s a terrible, terrible process, but it worked out all right. We’ve had a slew of different drummers and bass players and stuff, but this lineup that’s together now has been together for over three years, so this is the lineup.

MAL: Do you guys usually write the songs together, or Taylor, do you do most of it?

Taylor: Yeah, I do all of it. I’ll bring the songs in, and they’ll change when we start playing them together a little bit, but for the most part, the structure’s there when we come in with them. We’re trying to do less of that, and start trying to shape them from the ground up as a band.

Tommy: I feel like there were five or six songs that we did do that with, and then we realized that if we did do the record in that fashion, it would be years and years before it was actually completed. So we did a lot of that when we were at rehearsals, kind of practicing through, and the idea was that we were gonna be able to do everything live, which wasn’t the case with any of the previous records. And then there came a time crunch, and then we finished the rest of it just as a recording.

Taylor: We used to do demos, and I’d just come in and say, “Here’s the demo,” and everyone would learn their part off of it, and we’d record a better version of it without me sucking it up on all the other instruments. It’d be pretty similar to the original concept, though. But with this record, we didn’t want to do that. We were like, yeah, we’re gonna take the time and play it all live and shape it, but like Tommy said, it just took forever. We’re not one of those bands that gets to sit around and practice three times a week. We’ve got jobs and families and responsibilities.

MAL: Life gets in the way.

Taylor: It really does, it really does.

MAL: This is a skepticism, atheism-type blog about art. Basically, in that vein, how much — I was noticing this last album was like, way about, you know, losing religion. How much do you think that theme kind of ties in with other albums? Do you think this is a pretty new thing for you?

Taylor: I like to think that if you look at all of our albums chronologically, you can see a progression. Because in Shine Honesty, I’m still very much Christian. I write about heaven as a person who actually believes he’ll go there. But then by our second record, Everyone You Love Will Be Happy Soon — my buddy Cameron calls that the “writing on the wall” record. There are elements of someone going “What if this is all bullshit?” you know? And so by the time we made this record, it was very much a “Okay, this is all bullshit” type record. So I like to think that it’s not necessarily new, but it’s the first time we’ve come out and said anything about it. Every time before, it was kind of dripped in metaphor.

Tommy: It was funny, I was listening to a track from Everyone You Love [Will Be Happy Soon] the other day, and it was a kind of indication of how far the songwriting’s come. One of the lyrics is “There must be a god somewhere watching over us,” or something along those lines, and I was like, “Man, we’ve come a long way from this.” I’ve seen Taylor, personally, make the full circle thing. I think it has a lot to do with him starting his family and push coming to shove in terms of where he really stood on all of those issues, because he actually had a person where he was going to have to be responsible for shaping their image as well.

MAL: That’s such a big thing especially with atheists and skeptics and stuff — what do you teach your children? Especially with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and all that stuff. If you’re not going to teach them about God, how far are you going to go?

Moving on to We Are All Where We Belong: I thought that that one sort of covered all the bases of losing religion, because it had what do you teach your children, what happens when we die, kind of regretting all the years you wasted — I was hearing a lot of those themes. How does the rest of the band feel about these things?

Taylor: Well, now we’re all pretty similar, as much as two people can be, I guess. We’re still pretty vastly different about how we think about a lot of things. There’s a couple of us that are, for a lack of a better term, deist. And if you want to get as loose as possible on the term, I guess I could be too. I don’t know. Tommy has always been, as long as I’ve known him, an atheist. He’s kind of one of the guys who opened the door for me into it. We were on tour for 200 or so days a year, and we had this other guy in the band named Tim. He was our drummer and was a great guy, but he was really devoutly Christian. So there was this weird dynamic in the band all the time, because there was Tommy, who used to care a lot more about atheism than he does now, and then the complete opposite side of the spectrum, you had Tim. And I kind of felt like I was somewhere in the middle all the time. They would kind of argue in the band. Well, not argue, but —

Tommy: Philosophize.

Taylor: Well, Tommy would make fun of Tim. And the kind of things that people would believe and stuff. But I would always have that moment of, “Man, I find myself agreeing with Tommy more than I do with Tim.” And that was kind of an eye opening experience for me. And I’ve always had that voice in the back of my head going, “Do I really believe this stuff?” I don’t know if your remember when Columbine happened, and there’s the story — and who knows if it’s actually true — but the guy, he put his gun up to this girl and he said, “Do you believe in God?” and she said yes, and so he shot her. Do you remember that at all? And people were wearing t-shirts that said “She said yes.”

When that happened, I just remember thinking, “Man, I would have said no. Someone’s putting a gun to my head, I’m saying whatever it takes for them not to shoot me in the face.” But that always stuck with me, I was like, well, maybe if I don’t feel that strongly about it, that I’m not willing to die for it, maybe I don’t believe. Maybe it’s not that important to me and I just want it to be. I think that’s the central theme — or one of the central themes — of the record. Not that I’m mad about it or that I hate everyone who believes that, or whatever. It’s just that I’m so disappointed that I didn’t find it to be true. If there’s any sadness in the record, it comes from that: someone who really wanted it to be true, and had a lot invested in it and just kind of came to believe that it wasn’t. People talk about how hopeless the record is — well, Christians talk about how hopeless the record is. I just don’t see that, but I do understand them picking up on the disappointment factor in it.

MAL: Yeah, and I see the disappointment factor, but I kind of consider it to be really hopeful. It’s like, yes! You don’t have to tie yourself to this thing that you don’t see!

Taylor: Things are pretty strictly drawn along party lines. Anyone that’s a freethinker or a humanist at all, is like “Oh, what an uplifting record! It’s so joyful and celebratory!” But then all my Christian friends are like, “The message is obscene. It’s such a hopeless record.”

Tommy: It didn’t occur to me that anything we were doing was controversial at all until after the record came out, and I got a phone call from my folks. I think the quote from my mom was like, “I liked it better when you guys wrote nice songs.” It was really almost a humanistic ideal that was being espoused in the record that I was like, “Man, this is actually really good. Human beings should treat each other right because it’s the right thing to do, not because of any fear of punishment or anything like that.”

MAL: And that you should live your life. That’s another big theme. Just enjoy.

Tommy: Deferring your life — your earthly existence — for some bigger eternal reward has been a trick I think a lot of people have fallen for over the centuries.

MAL: One thing we talk about on the blog with a lot of people is the idea that it seems like creative people, artists, tend to have very supernatural, not necessarily rational ideas about the world, and it seems to be a sort of an assumed thing that that’s something you need to have as an artist. You can get some flack for not being [that way], or even sometimes feel like you’re not getting the same inspiration that someone is that has all those ideas. What do you guys think about that?

Taylor: I definitely think that it does kind of lend itself to that. For me, I grew up in a really loving, Christian family, and in church all the time. I’ve always been a fan of using religious imagery, even when I’m not making a religious point. It’s just kind of second nature to me because it’s just so engrossed in our culture, you know. I have kind of had the thought of like, can I do that anymore? Can I get away with that? It’s kind of always been my fallback. It’s like, am I hypocritical if I still do that, kind of play at that angle and use that imagery? I don’t know, maybe everyone else just finds it really convenient, too. As far as it being a spiritual element — I have a lot of friends who have said “Music is the reason I believe in God,” and stuff like that. I think I’ve said that, probably. I know I’ve said that — it’s on film somewhere.

I think that there are a lot of other rational people making art, and I think that maybe what we need to do a better job of is making our art reflect the fact that we are rational, as opposed to just not talking about it at all. Cursive has a record called Happy Hollow. It’s one of my favorite records, and it’s kind of a concept record about small towns and religion and stuff. That’s one of the few records I can think of that really artfully takes on the subject at all. I know so many people who are making art and that are free thinkers or humanists or rationalists or whatever, but they don’t talk about it. It’s not something they sing about or care about really, so we don’t have a real strong presence in the artist community whereas you know, spiritual people — that’s the word, “spiritual,” no one’s religious anymore, everyone’s “spiritual” — they run the show, and they’re constantly talking about it. I don’t think that we have any shortage of people that are rational, I just don’t think we’re being loud.

MAL: Something that I’ve noticed is that in the rational art forms it’s common to sort of — when you do talk about it, sometimes people will hit you over the head with it. Like sometimes, it’s like “THE ART IS ABOUT ATHEISM!” That’s something that I thought you guys did really well. It weaves in with the music and it’s like it meant to be there.

Taylor: Yeah, we had a discussion early on about how we would market this. Because we have a lot of Christian fans and we certainly didn’t want to alienate them. But we also wanted to put out honest art, so it had to be about this because that’s where I was and that’s what I was consumed with at the time. But we decided early on that for this to work, and for this to be acceptable to Christians as well as atheists, is that it had to be personal. It had to be about me and what I think, and not saying you should think this too, but just kind of give a voice to those people who have felt these things but not really condemning anyone for not having it. I think there are moments that are a little bit like, I don’t know–

Tommy: There are one or two calls to action, but for the most part, I do think it is an introspective kind of experience. I think it’s a good thing that we presented it that way, because everybody’s personal experience is their own, so it’s their right to do that.

Taylor: We tried not to be too overbearing about atheism as much as we wanted to be celebratory of humanism and life in its own self.

You can learn more about Quiet Company here.

Ashley Hamer

Ashley Hamer (aka Smashley) is a saxophonist and writer living in Chicago, where she performs regularly with the funk band FuzZz and jazz ensemble Big Band Boom. She also does standup comedy, sort of, sometimes. Her tenor saxophone's name is Ladybird.

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  1. Nicely done, Smash! Def gonna download their record. Also, I’m inspired to start doing some of my own songwriting again, with a skeptical/atheist/humanist theme.

    Also, I love and have been very inspired by so much art, of all kinds, that has very obvious spiritual themes. I think what moves me, sometimes to tears, is the passionate yearning, for love, enlightenment, peace. I know the same kind of passion can be expressed through the arts about the wonder and awe of the universe just as it is, and about people just as they are.

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