A Q&A with Qiet’s James Maddox

Originally, the artistic vision of a very young Christopher Vincent, Qiet came to live when James Maddox, Alasha Al-Qudwah, Lacey Hazel, Russell Snyder, Max Venoy and Raphael Godfrey all joined the band and helped turned Vincent’s vision into reality with their ability to play a variety of different instruments. In fact, the band has publicly described their sound as possessing elements of classic rock, indie rock, jazz, European folk and others in a way that brings a couple of New York-based bands to mind – in particular, Butcher Knives and Bad Buka but with subtle differences, including the fact that Qiet is based in West Virginia. 

Now when most people think of indie rock, certain locales immediately come to mind: New York; Buffalo, NY; Cleveland, OH; Toronto, ON; Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; Los Angeles, CA; Austin,TX; and others. Sure, when it comes to West Virginia they’d probably think of Loretta Lynn, Brad Paisley, Fred “Sonic” Smith (of the MC5 – and also known for being Patti Smith’s late husband), Bill Withers, and others but indie rock, probably not. And as James Maddox mentions in the Q&A below, being from West Virginia had some advantages for the band. Since there wasn’t much of an indie rock scene, the band could craft their own sound without feeling bombarded by  demands to sound like what the popular trend of the moment was. 

And with the release of the first batch of singles off the band’s self-titled debut, which was officially released today, the band has quickly and perhaps improbably put themselves on the national map. “Little Window,” and “The Indie Song” may well be two of the most anthemic songs you would have heard in the first couple of months of this year; however, they’re both very different songs thematically. The Indie Song" smartly eviscerates the pretenses of the average indie rock band. “Little Window,” which starts off with throbbing bass chords, similar to Alice in Chains’ “Would?” is a straightforward rocker – well, straightforward for a band whose sound owes a debt to chamber pop. 

Before the release of the album, I spoke to Qiet’s James Maddox about West Virignia, and how it influenced the band; the local and international influences on the band’s sound; and much more. Check it out below. 

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WRH: How did you get into music? And when did you know that it was your calling?

James Maddox: Each member of Qiet has a long history with music. Many came to it on their own, others had it forced onto them. 

WRH: Who are your influences?

JM: Qiet is from West Virginia. Exotic as possible without being corny, WV has provided a perfect incubation because there aren’t a saturation of artists. We were able to find our own sound without bombarded. Roots bluegrass and gospel affected us, both because of begrudging respect and a need to separate from that culture.

Though Qiet exists within WV, the members have a history of expanding their cultural borders. Much of Qiet has moved to other cities or lived in other parts of the world. All these influences play a part in how the music is produced. 

WRH: How did the band meet? When did you realize that you all had a creative chemistry? 

JM: On a dating site. It was awkward until it was awesome…

Christopher has made Qiet his main artistic push when he was fifteen. As time passed, he discovered other members to bring his artistic creations to full life. This amalgamation of veteran talents has been in operation within the industry for the past two years.

WRH: How would you describe your sound?

JM: Qiet is music for music lovers. 

WRH: Your sound pulls together a number of influences including indie rock, folk, classic rock, classical, jazz, musicals, flamenco, and a host of others making your sound difficult to conveniently pigeon hole. And odds are that for a number of listeners, your sound may be either unusual – or their first introduction to European folk music. What has the response been to you and your sound live? And in an age where everyone in the music industry thinks in terms of “RIYL” (recommended if you like), and comparing bands to other bands, have you dealt with anyone who has completely missed the point?

JM: Our lack of a straightforward marketing grip has made the waters of the music industry a bit tumultuous, but everything seems to become clear once we’re given a listen or the opportunity to play at a new venue. That being said, we are both in dread of and excited about expanding our exposure in the industry because of this particular problem. 

WRH: As I’ve listened to the album, I’ve had some interesting associations come to mind – circuses, big, Brecht musicals set in decadent Weimar Republic Germany and things like that. Has that conceptually influenced your sound, the songwriting and your visual presentation? 

JM: We certainly enjoy when images are associated with our music, but everyone seems to have their own—and that includes individual Qiet members. As far as any of that effecting the music or visual presentation, we like to be theatrical and try out new approaches, but nothing would be considered the “Qiet style”. We just need to be creative.

WRH: Being based in New York, it can be easy to forget that other places have comparable and worthwhile music scenes. What’s the music scene like in West Virginia? 

JM: West Virginia is a strange location in that it’s at once largely separated from the music industry and completely saturated by the promotions and lifestyles of that same industry. Which means that we’ve been seeing the movements of the industry, but have been left to develop our own style.

WRH: The band has 6 core members. How does the songwriting and recording process work with you? And when do you know that you have a finished song? 

JM: Christopher brings in the skeleton of the song, then Qiet as a whole creates the mass and the muscle. We know it’s finished when the audience is happy.

WRH: The material on Pet Driftwood is rousingly earnest and at times anthemic; it feels as though it’s speaking directly to its listener – and that the emotions and observations behind the songs would be deeply familiar to the listener. Is this intentional? And how much of the material comes from your own personal experience and those of others?

JM: Most Qiet songs tell a story. This literary influence that seems to inhabit every Qiet song has been able to connect with our listeners in a way that we’ve become very proud of. 

WRH: Because of the songs emotionality, I can imagine your live sets being rousing and almost unpredictable. Has there ever been a set where someone has gone a little too far? 

JM: We haven’t reached that point yet. But it will be interesting if it ever happens.

WRH: You’re starting to get some attention across the blogosphere. How does that feel to have your work recognized and praised by critics, bloggers, etc.?

JM: So far, the way that critics, reviewers and fans have reacted to Pet Driftwood has been amazing. We’re happy that all the time spent on this particular release has been so well received. 

WRH: What advice would you give to artists trying to make a name for themselves?

JM:  Be a leader, have no idols, follow your intuition, your emotion[s], and don’t deny or ignore inspiration under any circumstance.