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Barrelhousing John Davis from Q and Not U

Q and Not U played together for seven years before calling it quits earlier this month. Donít worry -- the split was amicable. According to their website, the three members of the band accomplished all they wanted to as a unit and have decided to go their separate ways. In a sense itís sad because the three albums they released were incredibly good and each was more interesting than the last. But thereís also something admirable about going out at the top of your game. If more bands made that decision, some of us wouldnít have to deny ever liking them in the first place (are you reading this Michael Stipe?).

Barrelhouse recently caught up with Q and Not U drummer John Davis who chatted with us about the bandís recent tour supporting Interpol, their evolution as a group, and his moonlighting gig as a DJ. (Please keep in mind these questions were written before we know the band was breaking up, so if you put the majority of the answers in the past tense, at least in your mind, you should be just fine.)

Barrelhouse: The band played a bunch of dates with Interpol in March. How did that come about? How did it go? Was it different than being the headliner or pretty much the same?

John: I suppose that came about 'cause some of the guys in Interpol knew of our band and liked what we did. We were only able to do a small part of their tour, but I'm really glad we were able to be a part of it. It was definitely different than anything we'd done before. normally, we headline and people are there for us. In this case, it was definitely a situation where most people didn't know or didn't care about us. So, that was a challenge.

Barrelhouse: Each of Q and Not U's albums sounds noticeably different than its others. Was it a conscious decision to make such dramatic changes with every album? If so, does it make the writing process easier? Harder? If the changes were the result of an organic evolution rather than something you planned, what do you think caused that evolution?

John: No, it wasn't a conscious thing. We just wrote the songs and they came out the way they did. I think there was always a fear of repeating ourselves, so that's something we wanted to avoid. But, mainly, it was that we toured so much and there was a good bit of time between each record. So, during those periods, we'd get into all kinds of new music and that would change who we were as people and musicians. The writing process was always difficult for us in that we never had much time to do it. So, we would write in concentrated bursts and come up with full albums.

Barrelhouse: What music did you listen to growing up? Was it pretty exclusively underground, independent bands or were you a fan of popular music as well? How much of what you listened to then influences the music you make now?

John: It was a mix of things. The very early years were mostly top 40 type stuff: Duran Duran, Def Leppard, Sting, Bryan Adams, Prince, The Police, Ozzy, Ratt, etc. In 7th grade, I shifted over to classic rock (Doors, Led Zep, Hendrix ... all of the standards) and some rudimentary college rock (U2, Replacements, Dead Milkmen, Clash, Jane's Addiction). The real turning point for me was the summer of '91, when I first got into more underground music. That summer I discovered Sonic Youth, Dinosaur, Minutemen/Firehose, Fugazi, Minor Threat, Black Flag and so on. That led to a deeper interest in punk, indie rock and D.C. music. All of the music from those days formed my foundation, so it's all a part of me and I listen to much of it frequently.

Barrelhouse: Do you listen to the radio much? What do you think of what you hear? Do you think there will ever be a time when a band like Q and Not U, that is a dynamic and interesting band that canít be easily categorized, will get mainstream play? Does it matter?

John: I don't listen to the radio too often, though I'm relatively abreast of what's popular. If I'm driving, I'm almost always listening to my iPod, unless i'm listening to a game. I've definitely spent many years listening to a lot of radio, but I don't hear anything new anymore, so I've lost interest. Formats that do play new music, like r&b or alternative, are so fatuous and repetitive that I can't stand to listen to more than a few minutes. How often do I need to hear the new John Legend song? Not that often. However, I do enjoy the local college stations when I'm within their signal and there are pockets of interesting music on the commercial stations, such as when you hear go-go or baltimore breaks at night. No, I don't think Q And Not U would ever be played on commercial radio at this point. I wouldn't mind if we did, but I can't see it happening.

Barrelhouse: Can you talk a bit about the band's writing process? Do each of you write songs on your own and then bring them back to the band for expansion, filling out, etc? Do you write together? Is it some combination of the two?

John: Our songwriting is a mix of many things. Generally, someone will bring in a part and play it for the others. If we like it, we'll all jam on it for a while and start putting a song together. Once we have the parts, we write it out and arrange it. At that point, the lyrics/melody are put together. Some songs are completely written out of jams while, occasionally, someone will come in with something that is mostly finished. Usually, it's somewhere in between.

Barrelhouse: You also work as a DJ. When/how did you first get into that? What kind of stuff do you spin? Is it something youíd like to do more of?

John: It's always been a casual hobby for me. I don't purport to be a true DJ. Essentially, I just play records I like and try to get people dancing. I started doing it around 2001 and have just taken gigs here and there. I would like to do more of it, for sure. Some nights will be disco, hip-hop, r&b, go-go and the like. Other nights will be more punky, new wave-ish. It just depends on the place and the people.

Barrelhouse: And now the Barrelhouse standard: Bearing in mind that we may use your answer to psychoanalyze you, what's your favorite Patrick Swayze movie?

John: Roadhouse, natch. Though I enjoyed Red Dawn, Point Break and Next of Kin.