Q and Not U: An Interview with John Davis

John Davis is in a new band called Georgie James. A rock band from his longtime home of Washington D.C. They were supposed to play at the Casbah at the end of this month but had to cancel their west coast dates cause John has been super sick. I saw them in Austin last summer at Emo’s and they put on a great set. Vocalist Laura Burhenn anchors their weighty classic rockish riffs with a nice female touch that isn’t too demure. Go see them when they come back. For the time being, go back and listen to Different Damage and No Kill, No Beep Beep!

Q and Not U’s unique blend of rock and sound was in it’s infancy in their 2000 release, No Kill No Beep, Beep, yet after a lineup change (Matt Borlik left the band in fall of 2001) and subsequent revitalization and re-evaluation of their goals as a band has led Q and Not U on a new musical journey that is an evolution on their latest Dischord Records release, Different Damage.

John Davis (drummer, vocals, percussion) of Q and Not U says, “We were worried after we parted with Matt if we could still do this (music). It was a relief and very liberating and we felt like we could do and try anything we wanted to do.  If I wanted to start using a maraca instead of a drum stick I could, or if I wanted to use a tambourine instead of drum stick I could or even if I wanted start using a cow bell I could, anything I wanted to do I could and I was encouraged to experiment.”

In contrast to the sound the writing process for John, Harris (guitar, bass, vocals) and Chris (guitar, bass, vocals) didn’t change much.  “The fundamental way we wrote songs didn’t change.  Essentially we wrote them where someone would come in with some parts and we would jam them and tape it.  We’d write out the part we thought was cool and label the parts; we do A then we do B twice or A one more time.  We’d write it out like that and that’s basically how we still write but we became much more experimental.  Fundamentally there wasn’t a big change in how we wrote but we definitely became more experimental,” John says about being a three piece.

Both, No Kill, No Beep Beep and Different Damage, have the same relative passion as far as the music is concerned, although Different Damage is an interesting expose on what happens when a band sheds convention and starts writing for themselves and from the gut with the intent of breathing new life into their music.

In reference to the first Q and not U record, John says that, “I’ve listened to the first record once or twice lately and you know there are moments in it that I like and there are moments in it that I cringe, many moments.  I think it’s just a more conventional record.  To some people when they heard Different Damage maybe certain people were used to No Kill, No Beep Beep. We were getting comparisons (from No Kill) to these other bands like At the Drive In, I don’t think we sound like At the Drive In, I don’t even like At the Drive In but I think certain people would hear elements like they’d hear two guitars dueling and draw a conclusion.  And we would get comparisons to Fugazi and at the time I thought we didn’t sound a thing like Fugazi but looking back and listening I’m like, oh that does sound a lot like Fugazi.  But we grew up in the D.C. music scene; we were knee deep in the D.C. music scene for our whole lives so of course we are going to pull from those influences.  But it was different on Different Damage and it will change even more on the next one.”

Different Damage is an amazing album, and markedly different from No Kill.  Its a sound that hasn’t been polarized and used as a buzzword for some music writer yet and it contracts and expands on so many different levels to leave the listener breathless the first time around.  Different Damage with its stark timing change’s, various instrumentation (baritone guitar, melodica, keyboards, 12 string guitar, synth and lots of percussion) and clever lyric and musical eccentricities that give a certain warmth to the music that was hinted at but wasn’t quite as apparent on their first Dischord release.

John Davis is a music aficionado as much as he is a member of a great band.  He received his first guitar at the age of 12, took guitar lessons for two years, played guitar in his high schools yearly review where he played an interesting cross section (over 45 different songs) of cover hits ranging from The Beatles to Motown while playing in variety of high school bands as a guitarist.

During the summer of 1998, in John’s last year of college, Q and Not U formed.  His highly musical background and family (his father was a radio DJ) have summarily made John what he is today.  “My family, they weren’t musicians really but my Dad was in radio.  They listened to music all the time and music was just a part of who we were.  That’s what I grew up around.  Even when I wasn’t old enough to be in bands I was making up bands that I was in, drawing up fake album covers and having my own radio station.  Those were things that I did when I was a kid.  So it’s seemed kind of natural for me to go into music.  But playing music was something that came to me when I was about twelve.  So at this point, (music) has been in the majority of my life.”

His involvement in school band consisted of playing in the show choir and being part of his high schools yearly review.  “It was insanely big. We would do like 45 songs.  They would put tons of money and production into it and each song would be it’s own production number.  I was the guitar player from tenth through twelfth grade.  I remember we did KISS one year and I had to wear Ace Frehley make up.  Or another year I was George Harrison and we did a Beatle’s song, it was cool and a lot of fun.  I also learned a lot about playing guitar because my parents had these old complete Beatle’s songbooks.  It had all of the chords of course but it also had all the songs drawn out for guitar, it wasn’t tablature but when you look in those old timey books they sort of have the chords spelled out for you.  I learned a ton about different chords (from the books).  I learned a lot from being in show choir and that yearly show we did.  I learned what certain things mean; I learned about modulation and what it means.  I learned so much and it was probably a big part of my foundation as a musician.    I think back on it and think, ‘that was a lot of fun.’  It’s something I’ve thought a lot about getting back into once this band starts to wind down and I’m living a less nomadic existence.  Where I’m going to be home for longer periods of time.  I’ve thought about maybe being a high school English teacher and maybe being able to get involved in the music program.  In the way that it helped me (school music) I think that I would be into helping kids learn about music.  We did a lot of obscure songs in that review, songs that I heard for the first time and I learned about rock and roll music.  Everything from doo wop and early sixties stuff to seventies more obscure AM hits.”

In regards to playing drums he says that, “For as long as the band’s been going, that’s like as long as I’ve seriously played and that is about five years.  I played off and on before that but I’ve been messing around on the drums forever.”

Adding, ” I played guitar for a long time, I played a guitar for about 15 years.  I think it was just the kind of thing that, playing in bands occasionally I would sort of mess around on the drums at practice and stuff.”

Q And Not U just returned from a short North American tour to their home in Potomac MD., which is about twenty minutes outside of Washington D.C.  “We went out at the beginning of June and we just did some various spots in the U.S. that we had to make up.  We had to cancel some shows in spring because I broke my foot.   I was playing street hockey and it was the day before we were leaving (for tour) and I kind of stepped wrong on the stick and it broke (his foot). So we had to cancel about 35 shows.  So there was a lot of shows we needed to make up so we thought we’d take care of some of that this summer so we went out with two weeks, mostly in the Midwest, then we were home for a couple of weeks.  Then we did like five dates in the U.S. and about 8 or 9 shows in Canada.  That was at the beginning of July and we’ve been home for about a month.  Then we’re home for another couple of weeks, then we go out for another U.S. tour for 6 weeks.”

John went to college and graduated with a degree in English from the University of Maryland, which is in College Park, just north east of his hometown.  “I didn’t really do any musical stuff with the school there.   I had always been in bands, but it was in school that I started getting into writing about music.  I was the arts editor of the school news paper for three years and I did a fanzine all through college, learning about different journalism things.”

Aside from Q and Not U, John works at the performing arts library at the University of Maryland, “There’s a little segment of the performing arts library called the International Piano Archives at Maryland, and basically its a collection system for piano music, its all classical piano music and it focuses on piano music from the first half of the twentieth century and generally American or people who have immigrated to America have contributed.  We have whatever they decided to submit, like programs, letters, etc.  We have about 97% of all the issued classical piano music.  I designed their website also.  So I came in and designed the whole thing and its pretty much done but there is still some proofing and tweaking to finish up, and they just renewed my contract for another six months and I’ll be doing another website for them.”

“And it’s totally flexible so whenever I leave for tour they’re like, ‘Alright see ya later!’  Because its not a ton of work to do so as long as I get it done that’s all they want,” John says.

John’s musical taste is eclectic.  His most recent play list consists of mostly vinyl but several cd’s like; The Ruts-The Crack/Grin and Bear It.  Trojan Records-Nyabinghi (Rastafarian Reggae, heavy afro influence), Funkadelic-Uncle Jim Wants You, Max Romeo-Ultimate Collection, Donny Hathaway-Everything is Everything (Old School R&B), Bo Hannon-Dom Um Romao (Afro-Brazilian music).