In-Time Interview: Quiet Company

Well, this is the longest In-Time Interview we’ve done yet, so let’s keep this intro short. Quiet Company’s We Are All Where We Belong was one of our favorite albums of the year, and we thought it warranted an in-depth discussion with the band in order to explore its many nuances. Fortunately, Taylor Muse and Tommy Blank agreed to an online chat while we synced up the record at our respective houses – or what we refer to as an In-Time Interview. What follows is a direct transcript of the conversation we had. To listen along to the record you can stream or buy it here.

“The Confessor”
Carter: So what are we about to hear? Would you introduce this album for us?
Taylor: This is Quiet Company’s We Are All Where We Belong – the quintessential Quiet Company record.
Carter: We’re starting off with a slow, pretty track here. Why is this the opening track on the album?
Taylor: I always knew this would be the opener.
Carter: Why?
Taylor: I definitely wanted something simple to start that would build. Later when we decided to use those first lyrics again in “Black Sheep & The Shepherd” it became a good way to introduce the two halves of the record.

“You, Me & the Boatman”
Carter: You’ve said this is your break-up album with religion, but “Boatman” seems more about love with another person. In that sense, it’s almost more in line with Songs for Staying In. How does this song fit in thematically with the rest of the album?
Taylor: Well it has the lines about not caring about the past or future because this existence is all we have. It’s all about living in the moment and not having faith in the afterlife, which cheapens the time we have here, in my opinion…Besides the greatest love stories are told against the spectre of death, and religion isn’t much more than organized panic about death, so it fits.
Carter: That sentiment about this existence being all we have could depress a lot of people…Why do you find it so liberating?
Taylor: When you consider that the people that believe that also have to believe that MOST people will be tortured forever then it becomes a much better fate. Wouldn’t you say?
Carter: I’d take nothing over eternal torture, yeah.

“Preaching to the Choir Invisible, Part I”
Tommy: Also, the idea that this life is just biding your time for some future reward lessens the value of this moment in time.
Carter: So it’s about really making the most of our time here.
Taylor: Yes, and I’ve always liked how Douglas Adams put it: “Isn’t it enough to see that a meadow is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too.”
Carter: Nice…This song gives us the first appearance of the album’s title…Can you explain why this is the phrase you settled on for this record?
Taylor: Well, I’m not sure if it’s hard to believe or not, but I listen to a lot of Christian music, and in Christian music – well, in Christianity in general, really, they’re constantly reminding themselves that this world is not their home and one day this will pass away for their true existence in Heaven.
Carter: So it’s a pretty direct retort to that – man, that’s even deeper than I had expected…
Taylor: I wanted to do something counter to that and remind everyone that, in actuality, this is where you belong. This is the time you have to make your life worthwhile. This is your only chance to make this a better or worse world to live in, and thinking contrary to that isn’t doing anyone any favors.

“Set Your Monster Free”
Carter: So, you feel like the belief in an afterlife prevents us from focusing on this world? Can’t the two co-exist?
Taylor: Sure, but I don’t see why they’d need to, personally.
Carter: Touche…So this one is an ode to your daughter…do you have a daughter, or is it not that strictly autobiographical?
Taylor: Ha! Yeah I do, I just put her to bed, actually.
Carter: Was she a catalyst for this record and the feelings that it embodies?
Taylor: Definitely. It was the epiphany that if I don’t want to fake anything in front of my daughter, I would have to start being honest with everyone about my doubts or flat out lack of faith.
Carter: You suggest here [in “Set Your Monster Free”] that you hope she doesn’t have to go through the same experiences you did with religion, but couldn’t that be a valuable experience for anyone to endure – or would you rather people not have to bother with it?
Taylor: I actually had overwhelmingly positive experiences in the church, but in hindsight, I don’t like the person that it made me in a lot of ways. So I’d rather her always just be too skeptical and inquisitive to buy into it.

“We Went to the Renaissance Faire”
Carter: Do you want to elaborate on that? I mean, it seems like you might get a lot of flak from religious folks for this record…Did that worry you at any point?
Taylor: We worried a lot about it, but we’ve actually gotten overwhelmingly positive reactions from Christians. They relate, mostly, even if they don’t agree, and many are just glad that we’re joining the conversation.
Carter: It’s not a conversation that happens a lot in pop music.
Tommy: Also, the record contains little, if any, judgements or calls to action. It’s more about conveying a personal experience than anything else.
Carter: Well…there is that line about “swallowed that shit for so long…”
Taylor: Yeah..we didn’t say “no judgements,” I guess.

“Fear & Fallacy, Sitting in a Tree”
Carter: Since there aren’t a lot of popular artists out there tackling that topic, were you worried about the reception from secular rockers?
Taylor: No, we never worried about the reaction from the secular side. We’ve never felt persecuted by anyone for this record, I certainly don’t want to give that impression.
Carter: Sure, sure. It just is unique in its subject matter, it seems, and you must’ve known there’d be a response to that in some capacity.
Taylor: I just think it’s a topic that people on both sides appreciate honesty on, and I’m proud that we can say we made an honest record. We didn’t pull punches, but we weren’t trying to offend anyone either.

“Are You a Mirror?”
Carter: Amen. Well on the last song you talk about fear a lot, on this song you seem to fear your daughter’s thoughts of you when she grows up – there’s a lot of fear on this record… You alluded to religion being organized panic before… What’s the relationship you see between religion and fear?
Tommy: Fear is a compelling motivator.
Carter: It is, for sure. Look at the George W. Bush administration.
Taylor: I don’t think fear is really a bad thing if you don’t let it make all your decisions for you. I think fear of death is the most natural thing in the world, and I think if we all thought there was no afterlife, then that fear of death would go a long ways toward world peace… But I certainly fear my daughter’s disapointment and this song showcases that as well.

“Everything Louder Than Everything Else”
Carter: So this is as good time as any to talk about the music. We’ve been so focused on the lyrics, but what role did the music play in helping convey the lyrical themes?
Taylor: For the most part I think we were just trying to write catchy, epic rock songs, but there are moments like on “The Confessor” where the ironic church organ is strategically placed and whatnot.
Carter: I suppose I’m curious still about reception – the lyrics are devoid of the irony that a lot of bands have these days, and the music is pretty catchy and major key and the like…do you worry about sounding kind of…I don’t know…not contemporary, or anything? Do you know what I mean?
Taylor: I don’t think so.
Carter: Like, a lot of attention is going to electronic-y stuff like M83, or to more harder rocking bands like whatever’s on 101x a lot of the time. You guys don’t really fit into either end of that spectrum.
Taylor: Who knows? Maybe if we were more easily classifiable we’d be rich or some shit.
Carter: Yeah, I guess I just don’t see the hipster/pitchfork crowd being able to let down their guard enough to open up to this, you know? … But I imagine that’s not really a concern of yours when you’re writing music.
Taylor: It’s not, but it starts to plague you when you start having meetings about how best to promote yourself. Then it does get a little maddening trying to find a place for yourself in the spectrum of what’s cool.

“The Black Sheep & The Shepherd”
Carter: Earlier you mentioned this song as the start of the second half of the album…Why repeat the opening lyrics here, and what do those lyrics mean to you?
Taylor: It’s just my admission that I was deluding myself for a long time.
Carter: You told yourself you were a believer when you weren’t?
Taylor: Well, I allowed myself to ignore the problems with faith for the sake of comfort or convenience. I did believe it, though I was never truly sure how much.
Carter: So you’ve got me wondering here with the music and this conversation – do you think there’s a place for faith in someone’s life, or does it do more harm than good?

Taylor: Tommy and I are debating the definitions of faith and trust right now.
Carter: Oh, cool…can I hear?

Taylor: Ok we got it. Faith is bad.
Carter: Oh, good. Glad we solved that.
Taylor: No but seriously, I would say that faith isn’t great because it implies something supernatural to me.
Carter: And that’s…distracting from the now? From the terrestrial?

“The Easy Confidence”
Taylor: Well, I think an argument can definitely be made that Faith has moved people for thousands of years to do great things. Kind things. Generous things. So it’s not really a question of what’s “bad,” to me. It’s a question of what’s true, and I think it’s untrue. I also believe that all those great things would probably have been achieved anyway because people are generally decent, and a much better argument for morality can be made through natural devices. For example, if I want to live in a world where people are kind, generous, creative, and intelligent then it stands to reason that I should aim to be those things as well.
Carter: The golden rule in action…Well, “The Easy Confidence” comes across as the angriest song on the record – mostly thanks to the music, I think. You’ve positioned this record as an honest conversation, but what role did anger play in your realization of your new approach to religion?
Taylor: I certainly understand why people think that but I don’t feel like it’s anger as much as it’s disappointment…that lead to anger, I guess.

“Midnight at the Lazarus Pit”

Carter: Why did you want to use Biblical references, like the Prodigal Son or Lazarus, in a record that is theoretically a rejection of what the Bible represents?
Taylor: “Lazarus Pit” is actually a Batman reference.
Carter: Is it really? Whoops…
Taylor: Yeah, Batman is awesome.
Carter: You can’t blame me for thinking of the Biblical one, though, considering the context.
Taylor: No, it’s definitely a Biblical reference, just not mine.
Carter: Well, the original question stands, especially considering the uses of “Hallelujah” coming up.
Taylor: I’ve always had a penchant for Biblical imagery, and I know kids love irony so…
Carter: There you go. Now we know where you fall on that cool spectrum.
Taylor: Right?…Every album we’ve made ends with a “Hallelujah” so we had to keep up the theme.
Carter: It’s just convenient this time that it fit into the overall motif so nicely.
Taylor: Yeah, plus it’s just a really pretty word for celebration.
Carter: This song is gorgeous, by the way, and so many of your tracks throughout your discography are just plain beautiful – do you try to write pretty songs and melodies, or does it just happen?…Man, that string arrangement is great, too!
Taylor: Thank you so much. Matt [Parmenter] doesn’t like this one because he’s a huge asshole.

“Preaching to the Choir Invisible, Part II”

Taylor: Melodies are always my #1 priority. And we were fortunate to have a few amazing string players to help us with all the orchestral arrangements on this record. They really made a lot of my favorite moments on the thing.
Carter: We’ve left out Jesus of all of this…This is the third reference to lacking concrete proof of Jesus, in particular. Why is that such a sticking point for you? Is that a necessity for engagement in religion?
Tommy: Taylor’s checking on his daughter. I think the specific reference to Jesus is related to Taylor’s personal experience. You write about what you know.
Carter: Amen – that sounds true for most songwriters.
Tommy: This is my favorite song to perform live, by the way.
Carter: Oh! Why’s that?
Tommy: We started playing it live before the recording process and really got to build it for a while. Also, it has such great dynamics.

“Never Tell Me the Odds”

Carter: Was there a particular song in and amongst all of this that was kind of the starting point for the theme of the album?Where you said, “We’re going to do an album about faith?”
Taylor: I don’t think there was one song, but rather a moment when I realized that I was only writing about this and I had to just give in to the idea that this is what our whole record was going to be about.
Carter: Your song titles are so enigmatic! Why is that? And…What is this one referring to?
Taylor: I don’t know, I’ve always just really liked long, funny-ish titles. This one is “Never Tell Me the Odds (This is the Worst Crazy Sect I’ve Ever Been In),” which is a Star Wars reference followed by a Futurama reference.

“At Last! The Celestial Being Speaks”
Carter: This song title/structure implies there’s been a kind of narrative arc to this album – what do you see as the story told by the album? Where have we ended up here?
Taylor: This is the only version of God I could imagine existing.
Carter: Is this advice from God advice that you’re willing and able to take? You just spent an hour in the album worrying about life and death and faith, among other things…
Taylor: We spent an hour COPING, is what I would say. But yeah, if there is a God, I’d imagine this is how he feels about us.
Carter: “Those silly people,” kind of thing?
Taylor: Yeah, kind of, “I gave you life; you wanted meaning too?!?!”

Carter: That was such a conclusive song, befitting the end of the album. Why have this coda with “Perspective?”
Taylor: As a kind of disclaimer on the rest of the record. I wanted something to say “I know I just spent an hour being real serious about some deep shit, but in actuality the most important thing I can think of doing with my life is hanging out with my wife.”