New Quiet House LP expertly articulates the pursuit of adulthood
Take only what is essential.
Through all that Quiet House does, that seems to be the prevailing ethic. The local band, which is releasing its debut album Friday at Velour Live Music Gallery, has crafted an intimate, sweeping set of orchestral folk on its new LP. Among local music, theirs is a unique, somewhat unprecedented setup: one guitarist/vocalist, a drummer and a string quartet. Not your typical six-piece. But on these songs it feels tailor-made.
“It’s me trying to use restraint,” said singer Stuart Wheeler, who wrote and composed the songs. “How can I make a song that is good without relying on these other things to be good? How can I use just three chords in a song and still make it interesting?”
A music composition major at Brigham Young University, Wheeler became increasingly interested in string quartet arrangements. He first wrote these songs to be played solo, but organized a string quartet last year, and composed string arrangements to accompany the songs for a one-off gig. The show went so well, though, that he made it the norm.
Wheeler’s string arrangements are vibrant and sophisticated, interacting with his guitar and vocals more dynamically than is typically heard in contemporary music. Strings usually play a more complementary role in singer-songwriter fare, but not so in Quiet House. In many ways it’s a necessity.
“When it’s that sparse, I mean, we don’t have other things going on in the band really, so the strings can’t just be this background role,” Wheeler explained.
Alyssa Pyper, who provides violin and backing vocals in Quiet House, studies classical violin. Getting to play this style within a non-classical group — one composed of her close friends — was a no-brainer.
“I find it really fascinating to have a singer-songwriter project with these intricately composed string parts,” Pyper said. “It’s not just that we love the project, but we really enjoy being with each other and working with each other. I wouldn’t be surprised if that comes across.”
Stephen Cope, who runs Studio Studio Dada, produced the album. While Cope’s production work is known for being more experimental, he led the charge to keep this album simple and organic. Much of it was recorded live — it often sounds like you’re sitting in a single room with the band members as they play.
“The parts of the songs that are a little more raw, or a little more vulnerable, do humanize it in a really nice way, that will make it relatable, and more incredible — that this could be a real thing that wasn’t processed or altered,” Cope said.
The contrast between simple, pastoral folk guitar and sophisticated strings is frequently thrilling. Wheeler’s lyrics and vocals bridge the gap. His voice, nuanced and spacious, buoys his introspective, intrepid lyrics. And they tell a story. Wheeler sings of becoming his own man, while sifting through his familial, geographic and religious roots, deciding what to keep and what to leave behind. It’s a journey full of relief and deliverance, mixed with confusion and pain — reorienting, repurposing and redirecting one’s faith.
It’s an archetypal theme — one common within local music, and to twentysomethings generally — but lyrically and emotionally, Wheeler frames and articulates that theme in a broader perspective. There is a definite lyrical, musical, emotional and thematic arc throughout the Quiet House LP. But it’s also open-ended. Wheeler doesn’t give a final word, and he doesn’t want to. He’s still figuring out what’s essential.
“They’re questions I’m working through still, and I expect to be dealing with on some level for the rest of my life,” Wheeler said. “I think that writing these songs has made me a lot more comfortable with exploring my thoughts and feelings and beliefs, and made me more comfortable with ambiguity and not knowing answers to things.”
QUIET HOUSE ALBUM RELEASE
When: Friday at 8 p.m.
Where: Velour Live Music Gallery, 135 N. University Ave., Provo
Tickets: $8 at Velour, $10.50 at 24tix.com
Also on the bill: Bat Manors, L’Anarchiste