What does QVALIA mean and how was it decided upon as your band name?
QVALIA is a Latinized stylization of the word Qualia, which means “the internal and subjective component of sense perceptions”. It’s basically the difference between the way you and I perceive the color red, or warm summer rain, or the taste of salt.
After graduating from college and moving to NYC, I spent four years writing music for commercials, indie films, music libraries and other artists.
QVALIA, is the contrast to all of that. It’s the sense of personal experience, an individual musical expression. It’s music driven by a private need to communicate, rather than market a product or an artist. The term “Qualia” seems to capture that idea perfectly.
Your music has a somewhat broad range from political topics as heard in ‘Sound the Alarm’ to a modern 80’s feel (as heard in Stardust) to songs with a music soundtrack quality (as heard in ‘White as Bones’). How does this relate to topics that you may observe or partake in as individuals and as something that encompasses the various aspects of your creativity?
To paraphrase Walt Whitman: we are large; we contain multitudes. Every living person is a walking contradiction, a vast collection of ideas, passions, aversions. The music’s broad range is simply the result of being a human being in my late twenties. “Stardust” is about growing up, “150” is about spirituality in an atheistic zeigeist, “White as Bones” is about writer’s block; these are all things that I’m preoccupied by.
It probably would have helped us professionally to throw a couple of fun, feel-good love or party songs in the album – music that’s fun and radio-friendly without too much inherent meaning. I’ve certainly done that before, particularly when writing for film and TV; but I don’t think I can do that anymore, write about something I’m not actually obsessed with.
Most bands that are starting out release an EP or two prior to releasing an album. Why did you guys go straight to releasing an album as a brand new band?
That’s certainly a very smart approach, PR-wise. But for us – again, it goes back to the idea of a creative compass and giving yourself permission to serve your work in the right way. It just had to be an album. It needed to have a particular rhythm. The last song’s final lyrics had to echo the first song’s first verse. It had to be cyclical, to bite its own tail.
Here’s the thing: most bands don’t make it past their first or second album. Things fall apart. Of course, I’m optimistic, excited, and have long-term plans for QVALIA; but the main idea was – and still is – if you only get one chance to do it right, to do it the way it needs to be done, how are you going to go about it?
Which kind of visuals can your audience anticipate in your live performance?
The main concept, which we’re all excited about, is Songscapes; immersive, interactive, 3d virtual environments that enhance the emotional resonance of the music. We’ll be releasing the first one very soon – and anyone will be able to experience it at home. We have a trailer for them right here.
In an ideal show, they wouldn’t only be projected or displayed in some way, but would also be interactive, respond to our playing, or the audience’s movement, the temperature in the room, and so on. All of this is certainly doable but, since we’ve only just started out, we want to take our time with it to make sure it’s done the right way.
Do you ever worry if people will envision something different in a song in comparison the to imagery, locations or soundscape that you may have associated to the same song in it’s development?
The beauty behind Qualia is the idea that everyone experiences the same thing differently, individually. I’m really curious about future response to the Songscape experience. That’s really the point – not telling the world how to feel, but creating these musical dreamscapes and letting people engage with them in a way that appeals to them.
The technology that lets you do all those things is very new, and interactive art is still somewhat of an uncharted territory. Sure, it’s been experimented with a lot – a recent example is Radiohead’s Polyfauna app – but our Soundscapes are more specific, more contextualized and narrative-based, not as randomly procedural or user-generated as these things tend to be. I like to think of it as a form of interactive musical theater.
So far, my favorite type of player response is the one I never expected. I’m hoping for lots of those.
If we were to time travel and see what was in your walkman, which tape would we most likely find in it?
When I was 10, my favorite tape in the whole world was Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous”. Remember “Will You Be There”? I think I wore out the magnetic tape replaying that one. Then one day I accidentally recorded over it, which broke my heart at the time.
Where are some of your favourite places in NYC to write music?
I used to do a lot of writing for/with other artists in studios around town, and for a while my home base was StadiumRed, which is a top-of-the-line facility that’s run by great people. Their 100-year-old Steinway’s sound will take your breath away.
However, for this project, being an introvert and a typical only child, I could only really write this kind of music alone. I took endless walks by the Hudson river waterfront, listening to demos and track snippets, and the melodies and lyrics came slowly, organically, over several months.
Production also took place at Caveman Studio, my co-producer Jake Birch’s Brooklyn studio. It’s a comfortable, creative space and Jake was the perfect collaborator for this project; intuitive, brimful of great musical ideas, and very organized – which isn’t my strongest suit. We had a great musical Yin-and-Yang thing constantly happening.
‘150’ sounds like a song on the soundtrack of a Ridley Scott epic drama. If your album were attached to a movie soundtrack which movie would it be and why?
Thanks! That’s a really nice compliment.
I like to think that some of the songs would fit the vibe of a Von Trier movie – maybe Melancholia, if Wagner hadn’t already covered that base.
“I Won’t Let Go” was originally inspired by the 2004 Ronald Moore reboot of Battlestar Galactica. The song changed drastically in subsequent versions, although one of the main musical motifs from that show is still hidden in the very last bars. So if they ever reboot the reboot, I’ll be expecting a call from their music supervisor!
Do any of you play Minecraft while listening to Hans Zimmer, Yoko Kanno, Yanni or similar artist?
Not yet, but that’s a wonderful idea! Minecraft is great – I never really got into it, but my favorite thing growing up was my Legos, so I see how I could easily develop an addiction if I let myself slip. I also love watching those Minecraft remake videos, where they construct a functioning gameboy, or all of Westeros. A Hans Zimmer score would be very appropriate as the soundtrack to the creation of an entire virtual universe.
If so then what is the most elaborate thing that you have created and what were you listening to at the time?
If I ever do it, reconstructing the Ivory Tower from the first Neverending Story film while listening to that Klaus Doldinger soundtrack would definitely be one of the highlights of my existence.
Which song from the album is the favourite of each of you and why?
Shawn says his favorite is Stardust. He loves the big halftime groove, the melody and the synth arpeggio parts. Pier’s favorites are Stardust and Breach – we’re both enamoured of early 90’s rock and whenever we play these songs he really gets into it. They also have synth parts that are particularly fun to play live.
I don’t think I have a favorite song, but I do have occasional favorite moments within songs – a lyric or melodic phrase that just works. Maybe that’s all you can hope for – to make something that, even years later, makes you think “yeah, I’m not the same person anymore, and not all of my work has aged well, but that bit is still good”. I think everyone wishes for that in some way.