“Make peace with all your demons when you just don’t have the strength to cast them out.”—Quiet Company, “Seven Hells”
The last time I had spoken to Quiet Company’s lead singer/songwriter/founding band member Taylor Muse was on a 2010 phone call in which Muse had to step away from his insurance adjuster day job to answer questions about the band’s EP, Songs for Staying In. It wasn’t long before Muse was only working for the music, and in 2012, the band won an unprecedented 10 Austin Music Awards, including Band of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year. Not a bad haul in the Live Music Capital of the World. Now, nine years after their debut album Shine Honesty, comes the release this week of the band’s sixth album, Transgressor. Combining the energy of a live record (listen to its opener Seven Hells) with the experienced polish of a studio project, it could be their best work yet. This time in person, we discussed the new album, finding band members on Craigslist and the value of “grown-ass men.”
: What do you think of the band’s progression since its first album, Shine Honesty?
Taylor Muse: I like to think it’s better every time. Shine Honesty was basically a solo album. I did all the music except drums on that record. At that time I was in this not-terribly-dissimilar situation from how I was last year, where I was just feeling really defeated, kind of ready to just give it up. Back then I was thinking, I’ve got all these songs, my band had just broken up, and I didn’t want these songs to fade into complete obscurity. My buddy recorded it for me, and I was signed by this tiny, boutique label. They convinced me to put another band together. So that’s when I found Tommy Blank on Craigslist. We’ve been together ever since. Matt Parmenter’s been with us for six or seven years now, who we also found on Craigslist. I’m really lucky not to have been stabbed at this point. Almost everyone in our band has come through Craigslist.
: What did you write in the ad?
Muse: I’m sure it was “Indie rock band looking for musicians. Influences are Beatles, Smiths, Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, Superdrag maybe.” You know, “no drugs.” I may have put “got a record deal” to sweeten the pot. So every time we’ve looked for people it’s probably been a very similar version of that first Craigslist ad.
: After being together that many years with the same two guys, is there a comfort factor?
Muse: Matt and Tommy and I have been together so long. When I started Quiet Company, it was in the mentality of a solo project where “You guys are playing my stuff and that’s the way it is.” I had control issues creatively. And I still do. I’m not any better probably [laughing]. But the difference is that we’ve been playing together for so long there’s a trust there. I think that for one reason or another I ended up with really great guys that are all on very similar pages as to what we think is cool. Or maybe just our sensibilities have finally tuned together, maybe our cycles have lined up after so long. We know where each other’s buttons are. There’s just a trust there. The trust that I can say, “hey this doesn’t work.” Or, “I don’t like what you did and we need to do something different,” and not fear too much emotional distress from that. I think it’s just that we’re grown-ass men. If you can’t take criticism, then what the fuck are you doing here anyway, you know?
: You say you like to think it’s better now. What do you feel you have that you didn’t have before?
Muse: I think the band—we’re probably approaching 10,000 hours playing music together—we’ve just gotten to be better musicians along the road. I think I’m a better singer than I was. We took vocal lessons for a while, together. I just spent my morning doing vocal warm-ups. We’ve been at this for a while now. Coming on nine years. We’ve come a long way and there’s still a million miles to go. In some ways I think to still be standing is its own accomplishment. We’re still putting out records that we really love, that we believe in, that we’ve created something worthwhile and that the world will enjoy.
: Your songwriting—do you feel like it’s developed differently over the nine years?
Muse: Oh, yeah. Like I said, I’m not controlling as much of it as I used to. I’m still bringing lyrics, melody and chord structure into the band. But [Transgressor] was arranged completely collaboratively, which was the first time we’ve done that.
: And your producer?
Muse: Yes! It was a really good experience. Matt Noveskey [who produced Blue October] is a really lovely guy. It was the most fun I’ve ever had making music.
: How many songs?
Muse: We recorded 13 songs. Eleven went on the CD, and if you get the vinyl you get two extra songs.
: Tell me about Kindness. It sounded different from anything I’ve heard you do.
Muse: We’d never really done a song like that. And we almost didn’t do it this time. To us, [the way we first played it] that’s how it naturally goes. And we just didn’t want to do that for some reason. We just had it in our heads that we had to change it, had to make it weird in some way. And so we did the big, full band, country-ish version of it; and we did this real ambient version of it which was the pre-production version. We came in to record the record and I just said, “Guys, let’s just let it be what we all know it really wants to be and just do it with acoustic guitar and a little piano and vocals.”
: I remember in some earlier work your songs showed a struggle with faith and spirituality. I felt in listening to Transgressor that it’s still there but you’re more accommodating.
Muse: I’ve had a couple people say that they hear that, that maybe there’s some imagery or something I’m not really thinking about. But for me, I purposely didn’t put any faith-based stuff on it. Because we did Where We All Belong—the whole record was about it. So I was thinking, I don’t want to make a whole career out of taking swings at Jesus.
: But there’s spirituality.
Muse: Sure, but I think that’s just going to always be with me. It’s how I grew up. It’s ingrained in me. And I like it. It’s powerful imagery. But in Transgressor there’s nothing discussed. The devil’s in there, demons, angels. But that, to me, is all metaphorical imagery. I’m not really making a spiritual point. I’m not talking about Christianity or atheism or anything.
: So, it’s not a comment on that previous struggle you had.
Muse: I’m commenting on a totally different struggle. We’ve had one review that’s like, “Muse’s spiritual side is in full force.” I’m like, “Is it?” I purposely did not do that. But I guess that I’d forgotten that I did use certain imagery.
: The album was recorded in 14 days. So there was a lot of preparation before you got into the studio?
Muse: Right. We had all the songs done before we went in. There was no second-guessing. We knew what the vision was. We knew what we wanted to sound like. We wanted to sound raw. We wanted to sound like it did in a [live] room. There weren’t a whole lot of changes. Just tiny things.
: Did you rehearse the songs a lot? And before live audiences?
Muse: Yes. That’s when we put ourselves through the ringer. So when we came in for the actual record we would be able to do it well, do it live. It’s part of why I enjoy listening to this record a lot more than our other records. Like with Belong, we obsessed over it for a year. We second-guessed everything we did. With this one we didn’t second-guess anything. Because we made those decisions. We committed. We went in and we just hammered it out. We had a great time doing it. And then, the record’s done. It was seven days, then seven more days and we’re out. Then we handed it over to Tim Palmer to mix it. Then we kind of waited for someone to pour honey in our ear. We didn’t have time where we say, “What’s going to happen? Is it going to sound okay?” We knew Tim was going to help make it sound awesome. We knew it was recorded well. We just knew that we liked it. And everyone else is liking it so far.