If the third full length by L.A. duo Qui sounds like a radical departure, you probably were never really listening properly in the first place. Sure, perfectly taut vocal harmonies and precise, sparse instrumentation supplants much of the band’s early fume-huffing punk-noise here, but their penchant for challenging, button-pushing ideas is stronger than ever. Qui also employed harmonies and experimental structures on their previous album Love’s Miracle (2007) with former vocalist David Yow (The Jesus Lizard). But, Life, Water, Living… is clearly the band’s most meticulously refined effort at using melody and harmony as subversive weapons.
After a 5-year absence, Qui is once again back to the original duo formed in 2000 by drummer/vocalist Paul Christensen and guitarist/vocalist Matt Cronk. Life, Water, Living… features inventive song structures and warped pop sensibilities reminiscent of early Sparks and Frank Zappa with Queen-style harmonies… or something like if Badfinger were the Melvins. Throughout, it’s an album that subtly commands attention as it shifts from a soft whisper to a chuckle to a scream.
Life, Water, Living… was released February 25 on LP, CD and download in partnership with Cobraside Distribution. Ghettoblaster recently spoke with Cronk about the album, the departure of Yow, and who he’d like to collaborate with in the feature. This is what he confessed.
It’s been around five years since we’ve last heard from Qui, can you tell us quickly about some of the other projects that have kept you busy since then?
In 2009, we played All Tomorrow’s Parties in Minehead, UK. That was also the first of the Jesus Lizard reunion tour that went for the rest of the year. During that time, Paul started a band called Help with Pete Lyman (Dumb Numbers, owner of Infrasonic Mastering) and Pete Beeman (Guzzard, Burning Brides). I was dealing with some health problems and out of commission for a while. Paul also began playing with his ongoing duo, Paulene. They play bossa nova and classic country/western.
I know that Qui started as a duo, but did you ever have any hesitation in returning to the project without David?
Not really. We were a duo for much longer than David was with us. We released a record, toured, all of that. Certainly, we got a great deal more attention with David in the band and that is not lost on us. But when we began playing together again we talked about it, and talked it over with David and we all agreed that it was appropriate. It’s not as though there is any acrimony between us. In fact, David has done the artwork for our new record as well as couple other things.
How do you think the band is different now that you’re a two-piece again?
Well, there is one less guy on stage! There is also one less guy involved in writing and arrangement. David contributed a great deal to all the songs we wrote together. What was so surprising and cool was that he fell in so easily with the way wrote; it was seamless. I think what we are doing now is more dynamic in range than before, but that’s not to say we wouldn’t have done the same thing with David.
I suppose it is difficult for me to answer that objectively. A third party might have a better slant on it.
Does it feel like more of a continuation to the work you had done before David got involved or would you think it falls in line with the entirety of the band?
Again, I may not be the best person to ask. To me, it is all cohesive and makes sense. On the record we did with David, there was plenty of ensemble singing, quiet passages and so on. On the new record there is plenty of noise and dissonance. We have always done that.
How did the two of you reconnect? Was there an initial intent in wanting to do a new album?
We were in touch throughout our inactivity. Once I was back on my feet we got together and made some noise and found we still enjoyed it. For about a year, we just got together regularly and wrote songs. At that point we had no agenda beyond that. Once we had a batch of songs, and were feeling good about the whole thing, we decided to make a record.
Can you talk a little about how the songs on Life, Water, Living came about? Are you both still based in LA and able to meet and rehearse new ideas or did you have to use digital means to get the frameworks together?
Yes, we’re both in LA and have a practice space where we rehearse. When we started writing what would become the new record we hadn’t played in a few years and had tons of song ideas and riffs floating around in our heads. So we just started hashing them out in the practice room. It was a lot of fun. While there was no grand design, we did feel that since there was no one waiting anxiously for us and no gigs booked, we could stretch out a bit and play with some ideas we had about the sound of the band. As much as we absolutely love the record we did with David, we didn’t want to try to do the same thing again. We aren’t really interested in being beholden to a specific sound or scene like, “noise rock,” or “stoner metal,” or whatever. I find that really boring.
There’s definitely a lot going on stylistically with Life, Water, Living – do you think there are any songs or ideas here that might have surprised you back when you started the band?
Yes, I suppose so. Songs like, “Whateryadoin,” and “Awkward Human Interest,” weren’t really my speed back then. The rest of it I think I would have been quite pleased with.
Can you talk about how you ended up partnering with Toshi and Dale for the recording of Life, Water, Living?
We had known them both for years and Toshi had always expressed an interest in recording us. Prior to this record we had done almost all of our recording with Pete Lyman at Infrasonic and had a good working relationship with him. In the time we were inactive he had stopped engineering, sold his recording studio and began mastering full-time at his new Infrasonic Mastering. I liked the production Dale and Toshi had done for Tweak Bird so I called Toshi to see if they’d be into doing it. After checking their schedules we booked the time and off we went. The entire experience of making the record with them was wonderful for start to finish. We look forward to working with them again on the next one.
I know the album is being released in partnership with Cobraside, but it is a self-release, right? Is there any reason you decided to go this way?
The deal we have with Cobraside is for production and distro. They handle all of the manufacturing and distribution to retailers. So they are doing a big chunk of what a traditional label would do. However the day-to-day nuts and bolts stuff we do ourselves; mailings, PR, filling internet orders. It’s a fair amount of work but we enjoy it. As for why we chose to go this way, of the options available, it was by far the best. Prior to our deal with Cobraside, we spent a year signed with a label run out of Warner Bros. It was not a subsidiary, but a boutique label run by Warner’s staff with Warner’s distro and a few other perks. It was, by and large, a very disappointing experience that, after a great deal of bullshit, yielded very little. They did release our split 7” with Mike Watt, and for that we are grateful. Their operations manager is a great guy and was a pleasure, but the owners of the company jerked us around for a year before we just bailed.
When we started talking to Cobraside they were enthusiastic about our record, yet very pragmatic. There was none of this, “kid, we’re gonna make you a star,” nonsense. They explained how and what they could do, we felt comfortable with them, and that was that. So far they have done everything they said they would do and have been nothing but a pleasure to work with.
Do you think you’d consider working with another third member for Qui? Is there anyone that you’d particularly like to work with? Maybe let’s just restrict it to living folks – heh.
Absolutely. We are always game to try things like that. As for a wish list of collaborators, I could go on all night. Off the top of my head, Mike Watt, Marc Ribot, any former member of any lineup of Capt Beefheart’s Magic Band, Shannon Selberg of the Cows. We have done a little writing for female voices and would love to do more of that. We would both like to write for large orchestral ensembles and strings. It would sure be neat to play with a Melvin or two.
Really, anyone with something interesting to do or say could be fun. We’re game for whatever.
(Visit Qui here: https://www.facebook.com/quiband.)