Indie Rock is in a weird place right now, or maybe it’s always been in a weird place. Now, I guess, it’s just in a much weirder place. Having been co-opted some time ago by the mainstream masses, truly independent rock music - meaning both the musical stylings and the mode or conduit of release that accompanied it - has become something of a… novelty? An anachronism? Actually, I’m not entirely sure Indie Rock, as we knew it, even really exists anymore. Where once there was the tiny but emotive and powerful world of Death Cab for Cutie, there is now the giant, small arena filling world of Death Cab for Cutie. It made the jump from college radio to your local pop music radio station. Where do we go from here?
Enter: Quiet Company and their latest release, the triumphant and emotive, powerful and well-crafted Transgressor, which was released just this past February.
Transgressor quickly, actually, immediately cemented itself as one of my favorite Indie/Rock releases in recent memory. It’s catchy without being saccharine, powerful without being too on the nose, and packs enough emotion coupled with straightforward guitar work to make it feel complex without becoming so intricate as to be confusing. Grounded by appropriately emotive vocals and just enough quirkiness (by way of truly compelling, exciting, and fun keyboard work), Quiet Company take everything you love, or loved, about Indie Rock, and specifically about Quiet Company themselves, and turn it up to 11.
Hailing from Austin, TX, they’ll be embarking on a nationwide tour supporting Transgressor, with a local stop at The Southgate House Revival on May 17th. I was able to ask Matt Parmeter, bassist and former Cincinnati resident, a few questions about the record and the tour, what brings them back to Cincinnati, and what they have planned next.
Matt gave us a little bit of his background with the Queen City to start things out:
Matt Parmeter: I lived in Cincinnati from 1999 - early 2008, [and I] was in the middle of the '01 riots when they started (I was eating at the Skyline Chili at 7th and Vine). I worked as the systems administrator at CityBeat for two years, and during that time I started and named my studio after the Sterling Ice Cream Factory where I lived and recorded. I played in two bands called Semi-Automatic and Medic. Brian Kelley, the drummer for Medic, was an original member of Over-The-Rhine and toured with them for 10 years. I introduced Jenny and Corey Ward, who married and went on to start a successful restaurant called Tom + Chee, which now has something like 6 or 7 regional locations and is looking at locations in several more cities nationwide.
Your May 17th date marks the second time in the area in a relatively short amount of time. I imagine the first went well enough to bring you back around! Can you tell us about your past experiences in Cincinnati, and what made you want to come back?
MP: I lived in Cincinnati for over 8 years, so it's a homecoming for me. I always like to get back, visit friends, grab dinner at Tom + Chee. The first time we came to Cincinnati we played at Mad Hatter with Eric Tepe, and Walk The Moon was the opener on the late show. Eli Maiman and I were in a band together shortly before I moved to Austin, so it was nice to catch up. Last time we were there we played the new Southgate House Revival, and a bunch of fans and friends came out to see us and we had a lot of fun, so it was an obvious choice to come back and play it again.
Transgressor, your fantastic new album (it’s now a household favorite), seems a bit of a departure for you guys, at least as far as this set of songs is presented - louder, a bit more aggressive, just a little… bigger, I guess? And after repeat listens, it has the feel of being a very fulfilling distillation of all that things that make Quiet Company what it is. How did this album come into focus? Was there a difference between the creation and execution of Transgressor compared to your earlier albums?
MP: Transgressor was written quite a bit differently from previous records. Part of this was that Taylor wrote the songs while going through a really tough year. Part of it was the fact that the music was written more collaboratively than ever before. We spent about a year working on the writing and arrangement, and changed drummers and lost our keyboard player just prior to the recording, so the album became more guitar driven and the drums are much more detailed than before. Also, it was recorded entirely differently from all our previous records. Up until now we would record each part to a scratch track and then overdub each subsequent track. With Transgressor, we spent one day per song in the studio, we recorded the drums, bass, guitars and some keyboards live as a group, then went back for vocals and details like solo parts, additional keys, strings and choir. We tracked 13 songs in 14 days, which was much quicker than We Are All Where We Belong, which took a full year to record. We recorded this one with a producer, which was a first. We started out looking to work with Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra, and arranged and recorded a version of "The Most Dangerous Game" at his studio in Atlanta, but timing didn't work out to complete the album with him. After talking to a few other producers, we decided to go with Matt Noveskey (Blue October), and use The Orb, his brand new, amazing studio to track the album. Prior to this we recorded everything in my studio on an unlimited timeline. The restrictions forced us to make a lean, tight album that sounds really close to how we sound live, which is ultimately what we were going for.
It felt like there was a lot of passion and energy that went in to the release itself, through promotion on social media, as an example, so I think it’s safe to say that there was even more passion and energy put into the writing and recording of the album. Can you talk a bit about the writing and recording process for Trangressor? Was there a sense of urgency or purpose with this release that was different than the albums before it?
MP: Getting back to the basics of trying to be a great live band and capturing that on tape was really the main purpose behind the way we wrote and recorded this album. We had a lot of writing sessions, but things didn't really start to gel until we started working with our new drummer. The rhythm section clicked immediately, and it took about two months of writing and rehearsal to lock everything in so we could go into the studio and play it live and really focus on the performances and energy. We talked a lot about "doing it right", meaning we wanted to have an engineer who wasn't also in the band, a producer, a killer studio. That extended to how we released it, meaning waiting for a year before letting it out, getting a team of radio and promotion people to help us, signing up with a label run by people who love the music, etc. We feel that we're releasing our best material ever, and we wanted to make sure to give it every opportunity to get out there and be heard by as many people as possible.
With that, these are still very much Quiet Company songs, but because they’re a bit different than your previous output, how has it been working them into your current sets? Or, how has it been to focus on the newer songs as part of this release cycle, while trying to work older songs into the set?
MP: Because these songs were tracked mostly live, working them into the set has been really easy. We can pick the flow from old to new that makes the most sense, since there are a few songs on the album that feel like bridges from the previous material. As a band, we've performed the older songs hundreds of times, and they've evolved slightly with the live band, so to us it feels like a pretty seamless integration.
I had the pleasure of asking you some questions the last time you came through, some of which were centered around your more region-centric touring agenda. It seems like, though, you’re able to travel further, for longer amounts of time now. What’s changed since then? And with that, how does it feel coming back to some of the places you’ve been recently, are there any expectations as far as attendance and reception are concerned?
MP: We've been steadily growing, and that makes it easier to tour a little longer. We signed up with a booking agent who's also made it a lot easier for us to pick up good shows and route tours that make more sense. Coming back to recent places, we usually expect a few more people and a few more that know the songs and sing along when we play. For the most part we've seen that growth. We make a point to reach out personally to people we've met when we've played to let them know we're coming back, and that's helped a lot. It's a lot of time put into emailing and messaging, but it definitely pays off in better shows with more people.
As well, you guys have kept busy since the last time you were in town, with one-off’s and festival performances, and with the tour for Transgressor, it seems like you’re working off of the momentum you built up pre-release. What’s next after this tour? How do you keep that momentum going?
MP: After this tour we're excited to have a few great one off shows tied together into mini-tours. We have three dates with Dashboard Confessional and Third Eye Blind in Austin, Toronto and San Francisco, and we're doing some shows in Colorado and working to turn the San Francisco date into the kickoff of our first run to the Pacific Northwest, which I'm pretty excited about. It's beautiful country up there, and there are a lot of parallels between Portland and Austin, so I'm expecting we'll have a great time up there. We're also, as always, in the process of writing and demoing new material, so in between runs we'll be using our down time at my studio working up songs for the next album.
We’re really looking forward to having you back in Cincinnati in a couple of weeks! Is there anything else you’d like to add or mention?
MP: We're looking forward to being back in Cincinnati too! I'm pumped to have Ohio Knife opening the show. I've been friends with Scotty since the Jackass days, so it will be great to reconnect and see those guys tear it up.
Be sure to check out Quiet Company on May 17th at The Southgate House Revival, and to give Transgressor a few listens beforehand - for a taste, here’s single “Understand the Problem.” The album and their live performance are both very much worth your time.
Sincere thanks to Matt for taking the time to answer our questions!