Sound and Vision
When Ian Quiet took the stage at Shreveport’s Makers’ Fair on April 30th, 2011, it was only fitting: as a musician and performance artist he perfectly embodied the bold new grassroots fair and its creative spirit.
He was also debuting his fifth album, Like a Vegan, a record that encapsulates a decade of experimentation, of learning and honing his music and stylistic approach. The time was now…the direction, forward.
Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1980, he was drawn toward his muse early. “Music has always been a constant for me,” he says, “an insatiable thirst.” From singing in the church choir at two and three years of age to being lauded for his violin playing, the die was cast. After piano and drum instruction he gravitated further toward the flexibility of keyboards (indeed, he learned keyboard percussion on the very instrument he now performs with onstage).
Makers' Fair, 2011
After high school he had no intention of getting into any further formal instructional settings. “I knew I wanted to write my own songs, [and] whatever I was going to do was going to be unconventional. I just wanted to get busy.” So followed learning the ropes, with mall-sourced equipment with which he cobbled together a few tentative efforts that he posted, beginning in 2000, on the burgeoning mP3.com.
Quiet moved to Georgia at this time to try to find a voice and establish a rhythm, but only found disappointment. Back in Shreveport, he gathered up several songs he’d written over the past several years and – together with local musician and producer Christopher Alexander – recorded Vulcan’s Prayer, an EP designed to get Quiet out into the public eye and create some momentum.
An initial release garnered positive response, but Quiet was restless, and relocated to New Orleans to attend film school. As he was posting flyers for his first show there, he got the word: Hurricane Katrina was headed for the city, and staying wasn’t an option.
Back in Shreveport again, he rejoined Alexander to master the EP and give it a proper release in early 2007.
Lyrically oblique and driven by an urgent pulse, Vulcan’s Prayer builds steadily and is anchored by three key tracks: the lithe “Bon Chic,” with Quiet’s vision evident even at this early date, 5-minute set piece “Vulcan,” which rocks fervently while creating a surprising, sweeping depth, and mood-scape “Taking Off,” a composition that’s elegant and compelling in its restraint.
In the studio
Quiet speaks effusively of Alexander’s support, especially as someone who understood him immediately. “He came to one of my shows…he really clicked with it,” he says. “He said he wanted to collaborate, to record my stuff. He’s been such a blessing. He really helped me come out of my shell.” In so doing, Alexander helped Quiet abandon the approach of a “samples-based perfectionist” and become more “visceral…efficient. He helped me elevate my game.”
A 2007 joint experimental recording showcased the unique energy created between the two (and may yet see release), but for the moment Quiet returned to a number of tracks from the Prayer sessions. So began the next recording, Dancing God (originally to be called Highland Lifestyle, after the record’s first single). Alexander’s suggestion for the name change fit: now, the first two titles created a sort of “mythological-spiritual thing,” according to Quiet. Also, he notes “Where Vulcan’s Prayer was the tapas, this was the four-course meal.”
Things get underway with the lyrical and musical stream-of-consciousness “Highland Lifestyle, Pt. 1,” immediately followed by the blissfully brilliant “Pink Sunrise,” the first of a series of instrumentals that are intercut throughout. This segues to the lusty, pulsing “Piece of Meat,” a dazed rush that’s only reined in by “Ocha” and the undulant, mysterious “The Biohazard.”
Unfettered and fresh, “Relish” demands volume, and is followed by “Neo Disco,” a barnstorming rave-up that’s humorous while still dead on the mark. The ‘80s-flavored “Bass Amigo” expands upon that decade’s often-meager sound, while “Yo Grandma Stinks” is a daffy jam written by Quiet’s friend Lexi. Next up is the defiantly randy “Break Back My Mountain,” followed by the Raison d’être title track, wherein Quiet proclaims “…my god is not an angry god – he’s a dancing god, a loving god…”
He goes free-form with “Step Back,” a vamp built on the hook “Step back – watch your mouth – don’t clown,” which sets up the trippy “Wabi Sab.” We then encounter the spacey Beck-meets-Public Enemy wig-out “Coconut Donut,” all snare, ringtones, disembodied voice snippets and repurposed interview segments, which becomes “Home Sweet Home.” The proceedings come to a close with “Metro Samurai/Wee Meditation,” a tonal palette that waxes and wanes and creates a compelling, radically different musical construct. It’s a taste of other such contemplative fare to come.
Overall the record is a white-hot manifesto, a work of coherence and vision, and truly the birth of a rare voice.
“It came together very quickly,” Quiet says of Dancing God, “it was completely mixed and mastered within a few months, then released on my birthday in 2007 – July 25th.” The record allowed him to “color outside the lines,” and its mixture of themes and textures was crucial. “I didn’t want to be pigeonholed, especially early on. I wanted to show people I could do anything I want.” While Quiet regrets the comparative lack of promotion given God, there was a pretty good reason for it…
A series of performance art pieces at Shreveport’s Jackrabbit Lounge proved very fruitful, and the artist soon found himself with over 70 written and recorded songs. The decision to let audience reaction determine which numbers would appear on the next record was curtailed by the end of that series of live shows, but the songs were there.
Ten selections were chosen, with the remainder deleted, most of them forever. The involvement was total, and a few friends came on board to lend a hand. “It was really fun – whimsical, not so serious,” Quiet says. “There are more moods to who I am.”
The album, christened Save the Spotted Mermaid has a lot going on, and kicks off with “The Spotted Mermaid,” a straightforward beginning that branches out into a lush sonic fabric of dreamy, buzzing psychedelia. The Jason Keith-penned ambient nugget “Saturnalia” is followed by the aural hallucinogen “Angry Splatter Painter,” at once spiraling, breathless and manic (and a tune that got Quiet into trouble during one of the performance pieces when he animatedly created such a piece during the show).
Jason Keith is also featured on “Love Distortion” and alongside Jason Siren on the lysergic, atmospheric “Om Mani Padme Hum.”
Two other friends, Qarly and Lacy contribute vocals on several tracks, including “Mermaid” and “Saturnalia,” with Qarly co-writing the snappy rhythmic gem “Pumpkin Pie.” Lacy is there on “Bears,” a nod to Quiet’s indie, lo-fi delvings of the time, and a gloriously eccentric, sprawling piece that’s definitely fun.
Meditative “Jm L’Hiver” summons a lilting solemnity that Quiet shows an increasing facility with. After percussive interlude “Butch in Brazil,” Ian and Qarly bow out with one last thump on the noggin, “I Got My Jamz On,” and so ends a wonderful, eclectic dada spectacle.
He was able to promote Mermaid more, and the notice built. It was an early nominee at the Independent Music Awards, for Best Electronic/Dance Album, and the title track and “Painter” were nominated for Best Electronic Dance Track.” It was a great time, capped off by a 2009 performance at the McNeil Street Pump Station fest, where he met idol Bjork’s harpist Zeena Parkins, whose band was opening the show!
Ian’s obsession with, and immersion in so many musics led next to a project that began on New Year’s Day 2009 and consumed most of the year: a concept album of sorts, and a further exploration of several key themes, to be called PuPu Platter. Meredith Mighell (vocals and violin) and Megan Westbrook (vocals) were on the team.
His appearance on the album cover clad in a vintage kimono is a nod to opener “Memories of a Gaysha,” a slyly hysterical catalogue that sets the stage for a complex, engaging experience. Jason Siren is back for “Açaícide,” a moody, languorous and expansive piece that evokes King Crimson and Tangerine Dream. (Quiet, upon hearing the comparison states “I’m totally okay with that,” listing Tangerine Dream among a list of influences that includes Laurie Anderson, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Philip Glass, Brian Eno and Ravi Shankar).
The PuPu Platter shoot
He stretches out for the lark “Fortune Cookie in Bed,” before dropping a cross-pollination called “Exotic Raw Food,” a reverie salted with jarring, stormy beats. The glockenspiel comes to the fore on “Nama,” itself a moment of calm before “Sweet and Sour,” a humble meditation somehow lashed with vast, far-flung dynastic dreams that’s worthy of Berlin-era Bowie.
After reaching back to Dancing God to expand upon “Bass Amigo,” Quiet unleashes a dark, dry, impressionist track called “Chinese Dragons” before once more trawling the collective unconscious and emerging with “Sweet Potion,” stirring the pot and sticking up Kraftwerk and Jean-Luc Godard in the process. He then lofts “Je Cherche” out into the shimmering sky, and the listener is left to get to grips with yet another vibrant tapestry.
That listener also benefits from an ongoing internal dialogue.
As regards the creative process, Quiet observes that “I’m at war with myself always…part of me could just go off and be super-artsy and make ‘that’ record that nobody wants to hear – there’s a time and place for that. And then there’s the part of me that wants to sit around and write catchy drivel also.”
He understands ambiguity, about the need to produce things that sometimes take people out of their comfort zone. Over repeated listening, he feels, dislike can become recognition, then even approval…there’s an aspect that makes a person feel that “There’s something in it that I have to hear again.”
Show prep –
The stage was set, so to speak, for the next project.
As Platter was set for mastering, so began work on a record whose name extended a tip of the hat to an Ian favorite, Madonna.
Working titles included Gangsta Raw and Half Naked, Completely Raw in homage to Quiet’s adoption of a raw vegan diet in January, 2010. The final name, Like a Vegan “just happened, and the selection was made final by fan votes.
He began field-testing new material in May 2010, and the feedback to the Madonna/Gaga informed set was “…phenomenal. I wanted to show people that I could do stuff that was poppy, that was catchy.” A DJ suggested that Britney and Rihanna were the keys to current pop and radio exposure, and Quiet took that as a challenge. Now to create something that was “kind of an experiment – kind of pop, also.
“Mr. Christopher” was in the new mix, as were Ellen Stetson, Jason Siren, Tommy Hoover, Frances Flournoy, Robert Trudeau and Jay Marks.
Trudeau-mixed idyll “Bodyguards” begins the proceedings, followed by the buoyant “Dry Your Tears.” Everyone’s favorite orange gourd is back on “Pumpkin Patch,” a spry lark of a tune underpinned by Alexander’s bass. The insistent “Gyrate” is followed by a dense slab of trance-state heaviness called “Statik,” the better to shake things up a bit.
Quiet knocks “Everything But Mayo” out of the park, combining simple drum machine-and-synth with a slice of life moment to priceless result. He revisits Dancing God’s “Coconut Donut” and appends it with Hoover’s meaty guitar work. On to “Raw Vegan Wedding Cake,” a singularly breathtaking number that takes things to the next level.
Pop culture’s salad bowl gets overturned for “Oz de Jour,” and Quiet plays here to his greatest strength. He can begin with a template of a few tropes and use those as a point of departure for whatever vivid, kinetic paths his imagination takes. Sparkling keys and a tight arrangement finish the set with “The Gift.”
Again, Chris Alexander’s presence was key. “He gets it…he’s made it work,” says Quiet, adding “He’s spoiled me greatly. It would pain me to have someone else master that album.”
The new album
So continues Ian Quiet’s path. So rarely does an artist create a world so fully realized, then invite the listener inside (Prince comes to mind). He’s in a good place right now.
He appreciates the phenomenon of the Internet and such tools as social networking, observing “You’re only as limited as you want to be,” and has a growing affection for his hometown. “I’ve had more happen for me and my music in Shreveport…you don’t have to leave here. Make it work for you.”
He does admit to a “stupid fear,” that of “…[dying] tomorrow,” and not having even gotten close to leaving behind a suitable legacy. It’s unlikely though, and Quiet’s growing throngs of listeners only have more deft, idiosyncratic musical forays to look forward to. Amid the teeming heaps of derivative sludge the music lover is ever more faced with, Ian Quiet creates music that’s fresh, exciting, and devoid of the contrived, the arch and the pedantic, and that’s a blessing indeed.
Zeal Media Ltd. © 2011
Shreveport â™« Louisiana