Not a bar band

In an age when music is widely feared to become more disposable thanks to the nature of digital media, Nashville singer/songwriter duo Quote’s debut album The Pace of Our Feet is quite literally bound to stand out.

Inner life: Justin Tam, pictured at right, makes music with his best friend Jamie Bennett. “It’s been really rewarding traveling with my best friend, somebody who cares about academics, metaphysics, truth,” Tam says.

An album/book combination package, Pace contains 10 songs, all narratives, each accompanied by a work of prose or long-form poetry and a visual image. This creates a kind of multimedia triptych effect every time the listener starts on a new track—that is, if the listener follows along with the booklet.

Justin Tam, who writes the majority of the lyrics (his creative partner Jamie Bennett adds many of the musical touches) isn’t sure what response to expect from the public.

“I think there’s a demographic for it,” Tam says, “but it definitely requires more patience. In order to really get it, you’ve got to have the physical thing. I don’t know how people are going to react.”

Nonetheless, Tam and Bennett felt the risk was worth taking. As Tam explains, Quote actually came together around the very idea of marrying music with literature. Hence the band name.

“Jamie and I started writing together with the idea that we’d do a book and a record,” Tam explains. “Before I started writing for Quote, I wrote more in the first person: These are my feelings; these are my philosophies on religion, or whatever. This has gone into writing from a third-person, narrative standpoint. It’s a really interesting exercise as a songwriter, for sure, but we wanted to take a deeper look at those narratives.”

Childhood friends who met in a San Diego church group when they were 12, Bennett and Tam had had a close relationship, thanks to the setting that brought them together.

“We were in this … ‘accountability group’ is what they called it,” recalls Tam with a chuckle. “There were certain things that you shouldn’t do, like check girls out, or whatever. So you were given a partner. Jamie was my partner. We were assigned to meet together and talk about how we were doing with our faith. At that age, talking to someone about deeper and more difficult issues and caring for somebody on a spiritual level was very crucial, at least to my development. That created a development of inner life that I feel like, if I didn’t grow up in a church atmosphere, I wouldn’t have had. It was definitely a spiritual connection from the beginning.”

Naturally in such a close relationship, Bennett and Tam had discussed music and played here and there, but they hadn’t actually written together. By 2003, Bennett was enrolled in a writing program at California State University-San Marcos, while Tam had moved to Nashville to study music business at Belmont University.

Then, on one of Tam’s Christmas visits back home from school, the pair wrote their first song. Bennett wrote a short story based on that song for one of his classes, and the driving basis for Quote materialized from there. The project got underway in earnest in 2006 when Bennett relocated to Nashville. It wasn’t long before the musical chemistry caught up to the personal chemistry.

“Jamie grew up on prog rock,” Tam explains, “so, when he sits down to play anything, he always plays something really different. I always write very much in a box. After being in Nashville for like six years now, I tend to stick to form. He writes outside the box, which is really healthy for us. Nashville’s a song factory. People sit together in rooms all day long trying to write the next pop-country hit so they can get it cut by the whoever the pop star of the moment is.”

Quote, with its rich, earthy country-folk and literary ambitions, clearly stands apart from such mainstream concerns. And the album’s production adds additional weight and dimension to the notion of musical backstory. The songs creak and groan with life thanks in part to the masterful touch of producer Mike Odmark (the brother of Jars Of Clay’s Matt Odmark), while the participating roster of up-and-coming writers and painters provides audiences with an opportunity for deeper levels of reward. And, for all the risks and extra work involved, the experience has rewarded the band, too.

“We started this project because it combined our passions,” Tam says. “It’s been really rewarding traveling with my best friend, somebody who cares about academics, metaphysics, truth … it’s not like we’re a bar band that gets drunk every night.”

[Saby Reyes-Kulkarni is a freelance writer.]

who: Quote
what: Lyrical indie folk-rock
where: Gaither Chapel, 310 Gaither Circle, Montreat
when: Thursday, Nov. 6. An 8 p.m. question-and-answer period precedes the music. Free for students, $5 suggested donation for others.


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