New York band QTY, aka Dan Lardner and Alex Niemetz, grew up in parallel Bowie-soundtracked worlds just a few blocks away from each other in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Having first met eight years ago, the duo instantly clicked over a shared love of ice-cream and music idols – that killer combo of mint choc chip and Jennifer Herrema.
Now both in their mid twenties, they are no newbies to the NYC music scene, having been in bands for most of their adult lives. Following the split of their first band, The Grand Rapids, in 2013, and then losing all their equipment to a fire in a shared practice space, a mutual friend introduced Lardner and Niemetz to Jamie Oborne, owner of the British label Dirty Hit. The next day, the duo sent several demos to Dirty Hit and soon received a call inviting them over to record their debut album with legendary producer Bernard Butler in London.
Here, they talk Lou Reed, law school and writing songs for Rihanna.
“When me and Dan met, we bonded over Silver Jews, Royal Trux – that type of stuff.”
Eve-Marie Kuijstermans: How did you first get into music?
Dan Lardner: I remember growing up with my parents listening to Bob Dylan and stuff. I thought Bowie was the best songwriter in the world. When I met Alex, I met someone who shared my exact same interest and thoughts on music. We made plans to make music together and now we are eight years later and we are here. We did not give up and that’s what made us who we are now.
Eve: The week you got the record deal with Dirty Hit, Alex was accepted for law school? Was it a hard decision?
Dan: Yes, that did make me a little nervous to be honest.
Alex: Yes, but this is way cooler than going to law school. Very few people get the chance to do what we do. Playing shows is the best thing. Even driving to a venue with all your shit and sitting there for hours, is all worth it when you get to play the show.
Dan: Even when you are in a car back from the show and you’re hung over and everyone around you smells awesome, you think back of those trips and think, wow we really did have the best time ever.
Alex: I can always go to law school, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“I’d love to be a ghost writer for a R&B star. That’d be a cool thing to do, any pop or hip hop star. I’m waiting for Rihanna or Beyonce really”.
Eve: What were you listening to when you were growing up?
Alex: The first CD I got was Bowie album from my dad. I have expanded a little since then. When me and Dan met, we bonded over Silver Jews, Royal Trux – that type of stuff.
Eve: And how do you tend to write songs?
Dan: I literally sit on this chair, Alex sits where you’re sitting and we just bounce ideas. Now the album has been recorded it can feel a little weird. Of course we have started writing new songs already.
Eve: When is the release date?
Dan: Around October, so not for a while yet but it’s going to go by so fast. Four more songs will come out before then and we will be on tour for most of the time. After we come back from SXSW, we will hit the road and we’ll be on tour pretty much until the album comes out. Our songs play a lot on the radio in Australia so we are hoping to go there and we’re excited to visit European cities like Prague and of course London.
Eve: You recorded your album in London with producer Bernard Butler, how was that?
Dan: It was awesome, but it was hard work for six weeks. We were made to wake up early every day and we had about two days off the entire time – we love to complain but it was pretty awesome. It was our first time out of the country and it was the happiest I have ever been in my life. We had an apartment together in London and did what we loved best. We did our dream thing.
Alex: Bernard really got it and it was amazing to work together. We also got the chance to hang out a little, he insisted we go to the Tate, which we did.
Eve: How does New York as a city inspire you?
Dan: We were both born and raised here so it inevitably inspires and influences us but then we also pretty much just live in our own world, our own bubble, and we don’t get too much into the scene. When I was younger, I partied a lot more and would go out a lot. Now we just pretty much do our thing and try not to get distracted. We make our music because it’s what we love to do. We do our thing, write songs, play shows and we hope people like our songs for what they are.
Dan: We can’t exist anywhere but in NYC. Walking around East Village is like the set of Sesame Street; all these cool characters always pop up out of nowhere.
Eve: How do ideas for new songs come about and how do you work together?
Alex: Dan would usually write a lyric and ask me if it makes sense or if I get it..
Dan: If Alex understands what I’m trying to say, we’ll expand on the song. Alex is the smart one of us two though, she was the one getting into law school so I always ask her.
Alex: We balance each other out. We have a lot of songs we can still record. We only had limited time when we were in London so we recorded the best ones really. We didn’t really have time to experiment. It was good having a third party there as well to pick the best songs.
Dan: There was one song we kept trying to push, we wrote it just before we got on the plane. Bernard would tell us it wasn’t a song and I’d be like, “It has lyrics, Alex plays guitar, it’s a song.” It wasn’t really, he was right.
“For us it’s about the collaboration. There’s no leader in QTY, we make all decisions together and luckily we rarely disagree when it comes to the band.”
Eve: Do you guys ever disagree?
Alex: In music, almost never. In life, yes. But we make up within an hour or two. It’s good to disagree sometimes or it would get too dull between us. We need that tension.
Dan: For us it’s about the collaboration. There’s no leader in QTY, we make all decisions together and luckily we rarely disagree when it comes to the band.
Eve: Are there any songs that you can play on repeat and never get bored of?
Alex: For me, Street Hassle by Lou Reed is a good one. A lot of Arthur Russell stuff too.
Dan: There’re tons of Magnetic Fields songs. I am more into albums personally, I can listen to an album and look forward to certain songs.
Eve: What are your favourite bands, new and old?
Alex: I liked Girls, that was the last new band I really liked. I like the Dirty Projectors as well. I’m actually mainly into hip hop and R&B, I like the new Solange record for example. I’d love to be a ghost writer for a R&B star. That’d be a cool thing to do, any pop or hip hop star. I’m waiting for Rihanna or Beyonce really.
Eve: What’s the first song you vividly remember and made you want to play music?
Dan: My dad played an important role. He always listened to The Pixies and Frank Black’s solo stuff. He would drive me and he would blast it. Years later when I was hanging out with older kids they would play Pavement or The Pixies and I’d know all the words to those songs. My dad is from Detroit and we would drive there quite often, he claims that my Bowie obsession comes from this one time where he played Ziggy Stardust the entire way when I was really young. I don’t really remember it apart from I wasn’t that into it. We actually got robbed on that trip and everything including the Bowie record was stolen. Years later I bought the record for myself.
Alex: My dad was very much into Bowie as well, surprisingly, but also Television and Patti Smith. I saw Patti Smith first when I was thirteen. That was a big influence.
How should we listen to your music?
Dan: On loud speakers, zen the fuck out and put that shit on top volume. Wear comfortable clothing and sit in a nice chair. Listen and don’t listen to the words.