The Quavers Bring 'Porch Techno' to America The New Yorker describes the Quavers as moody and enchanting. The two Brooklyn musicians describe themselves as a "space-age Carter family." They stopped by The Bryant Park Project studios to demonstrate.
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The Quavers Bring 'Porch Techno' to America

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The Quavers Bring 'Porch Techno' to America

The Quavers Bring 'Porch Techno' to America

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OK, so we here at the BPP have just discovered a Brooklyn band. They're called the Quavers. The New Yorker describes them as moody and enchanting.


And they describe the New Yorker the same way. It's nice, mutual admiration.

MARTIN: It's funny. Mutual. They describe themselves as a space-age Carter family, and we say they are a captivating mix of nostalgic sounds and atmospheric new ones. The Quavers are comprised of Catherine McRae and T. Griffin. Catherine and T. came by our studios yesterday to talk and play some music for us. She brought her violin. He brought his guitar. They both brought their lovely singing voices. They also brought all kinds of gadgets that allow them to make weird - well, I shouldn't call them weird - interesting noises that add texture to their music. I asked them to describe that they brought.

(Soundbite of reverse playback)

Ms. CATHERINE MCRAE (Violinist, The Quavers) I have a space echo here and I have a looper and a few pedals, like, just a couple of distortion pedals and delay.

MARTIN: And you guys have been using this kind of looping technique for a long time?

Ms. MCRAE: Yeah.

Mr. T GRIFFIN (Guitarist, The Quavers): We've been doing this for about five years, I guess, sort of, like, learning how to do it and doing it. We realized early on that not having a drummer had enormous benefits, especially in New York City.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRIFFIN: They are personally often big and their instrument is huge.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRIFFIN: You know, we fit in a 1993 Saturn. With a drummer, there's no way. We'd have to get a van.


Mr. GRIFFIN: So we, you know, wanted to sort of gain the system, but we didn't want to be too boring, so we learned to use these little foot-pedal loopers. And so, everything you play, either through our samplers or through our instruments, can be recorded and looped around.

MARTIN: And I understand, sometimes you use Walkmans?

Mr. GRIFFIN: Well, so, you can - the little portable walkman, you can play through the pickup in your guitar, and so, whatever you have recorded on the Walkman you can - and then you can loop that.

MARTIN: Cool. Well, I want to get right into some of the music and let you go to town on all the cool stuff that you've brought in to make a little sound for us. What are you going to play?

Mr. GRIFFIN: This is a song from our most recent record, and it's called "Green Plastic Soldiers."

(Soundbite of song "Green Plastic Soldiers")

(Soundbite of old broadcast) Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible) And I would just like to repeat again what you and General Moore were talking about. They have left the lights on, even though they have some risk to life to do it.

(Soundbite of song "Green Plastic Soldiers")

THE QUAVERS: (Singing) Green plastic soldiers melt in an ashtray. I drank a hole in your birthday. Drove out to see you, I saw your mother's car. I just kept driving to the bar.

There's nothing left to do but go crazy, go crazy for you.

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible) of war, I could tell you in broad daylight.

THE QUAVERS: (Singing) They sent you home in your uniform. I shot your picture off the tire in the backyard. I'll keep the pills and the military discount. I'll let your sister pack the house.

There's nothing left to do but go crazy, go crazy for you.

MARTIN: That was a song called "Green Plastic Soldiers" by the Quavers. We're talking with Catherine McRae and T. Griffin, who make up the Quavers. So you guys call a song like that porch-techno, I understand.

Ms. MCRAE: Yes.

MARTIN: Describe what that means.

Mr. GRIFFIN: Well, it was a way of describing the way we want to use sort of modern, cheap, sample-y electronic stuff, but also make it something homemade so that it's not, you know, techno-like.


Mr. GRIFFIN: But also wanted to sort of expand things beyond, you know, two people, you know, strumming their guitars and playing their violins and singing because, you know, we want to incorporate a lot more sort of animation into the songs, if you know what I mean, like, just more of a sense of space and a sense of like a cinematic place for the characters in the songs to live.

MARTIN: So it's high-tech and low-tech at the same time?

Ms. MCRAE: Yeah.

MARTIN: I mean, we're going to post a vide online, but for those of you who are not in the studio, which is everyone but me, you're playing instruments, but at the same time you're pressing buttons and you're invoking this kind of old what sounds like archival sound...

Ms. MCRAE: Yeah.

MARTIN: And you're kind of producing as you go as well.

Mr. GRIFFIN: And we're also opening ourselves up to all sorts of chaos.

MARTIN: That's true. How do you guys do your work? Is one person - I assume you kind of work with the skills that you've got and one of you is better at other things, but is someone a primary lyricists, someone is responsible for putting together what you're going to sample? How do the - how do the responsibilities break down?

Mr. GRIFFIN: Well, Catherine's better at everything, but I write the songs.

MARTIN: Good answer.

Mr. GRIFFIN: I write the songs, but we - to the extent that I can sort of play them on the guitar and sing them for her, and then we really work on all the arrangements together.

Ms. MCRAE: On this record, we really developed on tour. We had these skeletons of songs and then we went on tour in the Midwest in our black Saturn and played in a bunch of bars and basements and kind of developed those songs with all of the other equipment that we had on that tour, and so that's sort of - and then we came back and recorded it. Isn't that how we did it?

Mr. GRIFFIN: Yeah. Yeah, totally.

MARTIN: Let's listen to another song. What are you going to play for us next?

Mr. GRIFFIN: We're going to do a song called "God Made Cars."

(Soundbite of song "God Made Cars")

THE QUAVERS: (Singing) Oh, I don't need the napkin map you drew for me, 'Cause I can see where your eyes are Bright as supermarkets, wide as highways.

And the summer spilled her nail polish all over my steering wheel. "You know you'll never get that off , but there you are." That's why God made cars.

So get a light-up globe and plug it in the dashboard lighter, And fill the windshield with glow-tape stars. That's why God made cars. That's why God made cars. That's why God made cars.

There's a billboard for every broken heart And a shoulder to pull off and cry on, 'Cause no one can see you there when you're in your car. That's what you told me, and I believed you.

MARTIN: That was "God Made Cars" by the Quavers. I want to ask Catherine about your violin. You've been playing for how long?

Ms. MCRAE: Since I was three.

MARTIN: Since you were little? It tends to be that way with the violin. People pick it up when they're really little.

Ms. MCRAE: Yeah.

MARTIN: And did you imagine that you would be doing something like this at one point in your violin career?

Ms. MCRAE: No. I was classically trained and I played with an orchestra for a few years. And I always played with bands in high school, and I was kind of a punk rocker when I was in high school, and so I felt like I had to merge the split in my personality a little bit. And really, since I added all of these pedals and everything, it's a different instrument. It's not really the same as just playing the violin, because it's a different way of hearing it, and you hear it through an amp instead of right under your ear, and so it's just become - it's like a new instrument.

MARTIN: What are criteria for a good show for you? What do you need to have happen so you can walk off the stage at the end of the night and feel like, yeah, we kind of rocked that?

Mr. GRIFFIN: Blood.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRIFFIN: God, you know, there is something that happens when you're in a room with a group of people where you can really feel people's attention lock. I mean, I've played in loud rock bands and that's really powerful, but it's more powerful to have a quiet room and feel people's attention locking like that.

MARTIN: Well, I want to give you guys a chance to play one more song. What would you like to play for us going out?

Mr. GRIFFIN: This is a song called "Nellie Bly."

(Soundbite of song "Nellie Bly")

THE QUAVERS: (Singing) Wake up, my darling, we're going to New York. I'm going to drive you over that crooked bridge In the back of my dad's Ford Taurus.

And we won't need a ticket. We'll just watch the lights Rolling down from the top of the riverside church Out to the Nellie Bly, Just for us.

And you know I will be happy on the day that I die, If I see the lights of New York City Reflected in your eyes.

MARTIN: That's the Brooklyn porch-techno duo, the Quavers. They're comprised of T. Griffin and Catherine McRae. To hear another song and to hear a video of their in-studio BPP performance, go our website.

(Soundbite of song "Nellie Bly")

THE QUAVERS: (Singing) Your little brother laughs at me. Your mom thinks we're a sin. But we could be whoever we want. Let's try it. You be Kim. I'll be Thurston.

And if we leave this morning, We'll be there by the fourth. We could park down by that red hook dock, And watch the fireworks Bursting.

And you know I will be happy on the day that I die, If I see the lights of New York City Reflected in your eyes.

PESCA: That was a really lovely song.

MARTIN: It was.

PESCA: And that is it for this hour of the BPP. We are always online at I'm Mike Pesca.

MARTIN: I'm Rachel Martin. This was the BPP from NPR News.

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