“Nothing robs you of your human-ness like putting on a mask.”
– Lin-Manuel Miranda, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, October 1, 2019
He may have won a Tony, Grammy, Emmy, and a Pulitzer, but on this point, I disagree with Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Because there is a mask-wearing band – the Quiet Hounds – who have made it their mission to shine a light on humanity, especially the parts of it that are so often lost to our everyday busy-ness, digital distraction, and time.
If you’ve known me for any amount of time and have talked to me about music, I’ve probably talked to you about this band. Incredibly – and still most days, completely unbelievable to me – over the last eight years, the band has let me into their musical world. The William Miller to their Stillwater…So this blog post for me is a defining one. Kind of like the moment where William finally gets to sit down at the end of the movie with Russell and a microphone…
So here it is, an interview with Quiet Hounds. My interview with Quiet Hounds. I got the opportunity to ask the guys – Eric (vocals), Michael (guitar), Deke (bass), and Brad (drums) – about their new record, Everything Else Is Noise, which will be out next week, on October 11, along with a few other things I’ve always wanted to ask.
More than anything, what comes through in this interview is just how connected these four individuals are. In so many ways, they are radically different from one another, but those unique perspectives are what continue to fuel their fire. They surround themselves with incredibly talented, inventive, and thought-provoking people that help highlight their art, and vice versa. This journey that they are on together is more than simply a project or a band, it’s a musical brotherhood. They feed off each other’s creativity, they bend together to take new directions, constantly challenging each other to think differently – whether it’s about a melody or an interpretation of the world around them.
I’m always left challenged and excited by their music, shows, a few moments talking to them, or hearing about what they’re taking on next. I hope you will be, too, as you read their thoughts on their new record, our digital divide, or who would be at their rock n’ roll dinner party.
Oh, and one last thing before we get started… SHOW ANNOUNCEMENT: Quiet Hounds will be playing Charlotte for the first time on December 14 at The Evening Muse. Tickets are on sale now.
First of all, congratulations on the impending release of Everything Else is Noise, your sixth studio release. As with previous records, you’ve done the recording and production of this record on your own.
The band has been courted by some big guns – labels, producers, etc., but you’ve never taken the bait. Why is taking control of the process important to you as a band?
Eric: I believe at the end of the day, the making of our own material is the one thing we’ve always felt entirely capable of doing ourselves. It’s the substance of our very being, so we’ve never felt like we needed another party trying to pick apart our creative process. That’s not the type of help we’ve sought from any business type partner. We’ve typically done all our own creative, production, web, social, etc… so we look for partners that can help us with what we recognize is our weakness… reach. I won’t say that we’ve never sought the help of other talented people and organizations, but when partnerships aren’t offsetting our strengths to address our weaknesses, well… I guess we’ll say it’s never been the right fit.
Michael: Creative process is really the only thing we can control and ensure is 100% ours when we present a collection of songs. And trusting others with our craft is a hard thing to do when you are trying to protect something so special and intimate to our inner workings and artistic values.
Deke: There is a chemistry between the four of us that we discovered while making our first album, Southern Charm. It’s that chemistry that has inspired me to be a producer and want to continue making this art. From my perspective, the music industry at large is less interested in helping artists promote their art and much more interested in repackaging artists to sell a “polished” product. We’d love to have a partnership where the artists make art and the business partners help to get that art out to the world. Unfortunately, that partnership has not yet happened upon us. I don’t believe that our art needs to be changed by “professionals” in order to be worthy of being sold on a larger scale.
Brad: Right, we have been courted by some big guns and it was tempting to want to join them each time. Ultimately though, we believe that if a label sees value in our art, then we should be empowered to control the fundamental aspects over its creative. Handing 100% creative control to another entity would inherently change what made our music worthy of signing in the first place. We don’t want to be part of a dictatorship and we deserve a voice in our own creative direction.
Well, speaking of staying in control of your art, let’s talk about how you’re getting Everything Else Is Noise out into the world. You launched a successful Kickstarter campaign for this record. That’s definitely something new for the band. Talk a bit about why you made the choice to crowdfund this record. Did the results surprise you?
Michael: I was so surprised by our fan’s generosity. It is a true testament to the power of the people who love and support us. And that is why we do any of this at all. For them.
Deke: As with most things we do, it was an experiment. We have to ask ourselves, do we have the support we need to validate our attempts at pushing our music in a bigger way? I think this Kickstarter has shown us a couple of things. 1) We have an amazing close knit support system of friends, family, and loving fans. And we’re extremely grateful to these wonderful people who helped us nearly double our goal. 2) We have nearly 30,000 Spotify listeners per month that we were unable to speak directly to. The tools for us to interface with fans via Spotify (and other similar platforms) just do not exist. This is something we’d love to see worked on. I can imagine those fans would love to support us if they were aware of the opportunity.
Brad: In this day and age, recorded music is practically free. In most cases, it is consumed on demand and at no cost. But music is not free to make. That’s not a sustainable model. We decided to ask our fans to help support us. We created a plan to get as many ears on our music as possible (within a budget), and we humbly asked our fans to help us execute it. We are so incredibly grateful for the support that we received.
A handful of your songs on past albums have alluded to the new human tendency to be digitally distracted. But with this record, from concept to title, you’ve really focused in on the idea of “overload, noise, and distraction.” What is it about this theme that keeps you coming back to it?
Eric: For me, now more than ever, it became a matter of personal health. I can see that all this noise is affecting my own personal quality of life, the relationships with the people I care about the most. I’m gonna sound like an old man, but nothing drives me more bat shit crazy than to see individuals at a dinner table all staring at their phones. Have we lost our capacity to just be with one another? And I’ll say as a creative, it’s rather destructive. It’s like a constant fire hose of information. Without time to reflect, to process the world, how can we arrive at any meaningful perspective?
Michael: The world is inundated with unnecessary content and noise. We have overdone the digital age and now we are clouded by fog and nonsense. We just want to focus on what is real. What is tangible and of some comfort and help to our fragile society.
Deke: This concept is all Eric. I can’t speak to the initial seed of the theme, but once it was established, we leaned in hard. I think Eric’s lyrics on this album are close to home and very personal and at the same time some of the most widely relatable yet. The ironic thing is, I would say this was the most focused on making a record we’ve been, maybe since the beginning. The album more represents the “Everything Else” part of the title. It’s blocking out the noise that allows us to focus on the things that matter.
Brad: I think it’s that we’re all such busy people. Not just the band, but society as a whole. We’ve become so removed from the way we were brought up. There’s a general lack of connectedness despite everyone’s connectivity. For the band, we’re all just completely inundated with responsibilities that pull our focus away from making music. Everything Else Is Noise developed organically and is a snapshot of our life in time.
What’s the one thing you want people to walk away from listening to this record with?
Eric: I want people to feel empowered. Like they have a choice to shape the world they want to live in. I want them to feel inspired and connected to others. I want them to give a shit about craft, about the complexity of sound and cadence, about taking a minute to lift their heads out of their damn devices and wait in line without taking a hit of social speedia.
Michael: Songwriting coupled with honest emotion can still be attained. And that true production lies in the craftsmanship of the players and they way they represent the songs. Not by a machine.
Deke: The feeling I have when Eric shows up with the first pass of a finished melody. I want everyone to experience that. It’s like hearing a new song from the music of old that shaped me. It’s untouchable.
Brad: I want people to feel like they’ve discovered something; a diamond in the rough. Their new, favorite band that is still unknown. The feeling of, “I listened to them before anyone else knew their name.”
Many of your songs are grounded in the historical, whether it’s “Beacon Sun” from the Megaphona era or “Antioch” on this record. What’s the significance of making a nod to history?
Michael: Music is the oldest form of storytelling. And history makes the very best story. Because it’s real. It’s a piece of time and substance that has been forgotten and should be retold over and over.
Deke: Well, we are old people so we have a lot of history… Just kidding, I’m not that old. In 2011, we had a friend of the group tell us about his profound experience visiting Andersonville Prison in South Georgia. Before that, “Beacon Sun” was just music and a lyricless melody. The story of Camp Sumpter and the thousands of souls who died there had quite an impact on us. We finished the song “Beacon Sun” and began working on the concert, “An Ode to Lost Souls.” Later, we visited Andersonville Prison and filmed the video for “Beacon Sun” with our good friend Scott Lansing. This experience has forever shaped the way we look at the art we create. There’s endless beauty, sadness and hope waiting for us in the past.
Brad: There are so many stories that are worthy of re-telling from our past. It’s like an infinite resource of inspiration. Not just from a lyrical perspective but also from a storytelling and performance standpoint. It’s a means for us to link our lives today to the things that brought us here.
The band has a reputation for thinking outside of the box with performances – from your early theatrical concerts to your more recent DinnerBell concept, or even edgy collaborations like the video for “Emperors.” Any hints as to what you’ve got up your sleeves next?
Deke: Over the years we’ve had so many ideas that we’ve wanted to explore. It’s always a joy when we find a way to achieve one of them. We have a lot of irons in the fire right now and hopefully some will make their way into view soon.
We’d also love to put out a call for artists who want to collaborate with us. We’d love to continue exploring collaborations with artists of all types.
Brad: Ditto what Deke said. We operate best with other creative individuals to bounce ideas off of. We would embrace the opportunity to work with anyone trying to create meaningful experiences and beautiful art.
Some of your fans may not know that all of you have full-time jobs outside of music. This is the new reality for many musicians today. How challenging is it to have a “day job” and carry on a careers as musicians?
Michael: Extremely. We do not have ample time needed to complete all the tasks we have for the band on a day to day basis. Having a day job takes us away from our art and lets time push creativity out of the way.
Eric: Aw, man… while we’re at it… day jobs, families, marriages. It’s a lot of things that tug and pull at each of us. But honestly, things that add so much color and dynamic to our art. Gotta live life to write about it, right? And we’ve been doing it for so long, I really don’t know what it’d be like without it.
The balance is like finding pockets of time at odd hours to write and establishing some routine to meet with each other to explore ideas and get creative with where we want to go next. I’d say that the mutual respect we all have for each other’s personal lives and genuine care we all have for each other goes a long way. We’re like family. When that’s the creative dynamic you’ve got, finding the time to keep making music together just becomes a part of who you are.
Deke: It’s a little different for me. I haven’t had a day job in at least 10 years. At some point I realized I couldn’t function on someone else’s clock. I’ve just been making ends meet as a musician and a producer in all that time. It’s both awesome to do things my way and also pretty difficult. But that’s how I have to do it. The good news is, when it’s time to make a QH record, I go pretty hard.
Brad: It’s exceptionally difficult and I’ve been to what I thought was my breaking point several times. What’s equally exceptional is that these guys supported me through each of those times and never gave up on me. One time, I was such a pill that Michael once thought I had mono for an entire year! Just kidding… These guys remind me of what it means to be a good human being. They push me creatively, support me, and love me no matter what. How can anyone not be inspired with that kind of a team surrounding them?
Since Quiet Hounds’ inception, you’ve been fairly quiet about the identities of the individual band members. Although you’ve not been super protective of your identities, it’s just been something that hasn’t been all that important. But with the release of this record, you’ve dropped the proverbial masks, even revealing your names in the Kickstarter video – Why now? Why this record?
Michael: It was never really a focus of ours. The masks were a part of the art and the presentation and they morphed into a statement. We just wanted people to listen to the music. And that is still true. But now they can see how attractive we are.
Eric: Yea, I echo that we kinda stumbled into the masks at the beginning. Made things a lot easier given other projects we were all in at the time. With this record, reaching out to the people that supported us for so long in order to make this record really happen required more of a personal touch. I don’t know that it was a group decision, or an intentional thing. Perhaps it was what felt most natural given the relationship we’ve developed with our closest fans over the years. + we realized that Brad is way too good looking to keep behind a mask for this long.
Deke: It’s who we are that makes Quiet Hounds what it is. Though I do believe the music speaks for itself, it’s long past due for us to share who we are within this.
Brad: The masks are part of our identity, too, and always will be. But as far as revealing ourselves more, it just felt like a natural evolution. We continue to tell our story and at this point in time, it felt right to open ourselves up to our listeners more than ever.
Okay, Lightning Round – ready?
Who’s the band Scout Master – you know, the organizer?
- Eric: Deke + Brad = Breke
- Michael: Deke
- Deke: Everyone leads in some department. But I’m the meanest.
- Brad: Mikey connects the right dots to create the most opportunities. We all wrangle the details. Also, Breke is now an official moniker.
Most likely to take band practice off the rails?
- Eric: Definitely Michael.
- Michael: ME!!
- Deke: Russ*…
- Eric: Oh gawd, yes, Russ for sure.
- Brad: When Russ, Dave, and Ben are all at practice with us, forget about it. It’s like a four-hour high school reunion, except it’s fun.
Biggest tastemaker in the band?
- Michael: ME!
- Eric: Yea, Michael.
- Deke: Michael.
- Brad: What they said.
- Eric: Probably me.
- Michael: No nerds here.
- Deke: I play Dungeons & Dragons…
- Eric: Ok yeah, Deke is totally a nerd.
- Brad: Probably Eric. No wait Deke. Yeah, definitely Deke.
The Stones or The Beatles?
- Eric: Beatles
- Michael: Beatles
- Deke: Who are the Stones?
- Brad: Beatles
Best new artist right now?
- Eric: Phoebe Bridgers.
- Michael: Fruit Bats.
- Deke: The Stones?
The band can have dinner with 10 musicians – living or dead. Who are they?
Tom Petty, John Lennon, Chris Cornell, Rufus Wainwright, Paul Simon, Michael Stipe, Roger Waters, Maynard James Keenan, Fiona Apple, Eddie Vedder, Shannon Hoon.
(Krissie aside: I let them slide with more than 10…)
Quiet Hounds new studio album, Everything Else Is Noise, will be released on October 11, 2019, on all digital platforms. Fans can listen to the first single, “Antioch” now on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, and Google Play.
Check out the next single, “River Delta” (my favorite song on the new album) exclusively on Pop Matters.
*While Eric, Michael, Deke, and Brad are the original and core members of Quiet Hounds, a number of musical friends have lent their talent to the band’s recordings and live shows over the years. Russell Sauvé and Dave Daly have been steadfast members of the Quiet Hounds horn section (among other things); multi-instrumentalist and recording hero Ben Holst has been an active member of the QH circle for a number of years.