On a recent Friday night, as cars cruise down the Higgins Avenue drag and young kids crowd the sidewalks of Main Street, the hip secondhand store Crazy Daisy is open for business of the musical kind. A small platform, normally home to racks of retro pants, has been cleared for the evening and repopulated with guitars, amps and a drum kit. The Quiet Ones frontman John Totten is wearing his trademark tie and blazer and belting out a song called “Figure it Out.” Beyond the stage, the store brims with clunky old shoes and vintage camisoles. With a handful of people scattered on the floor and a few on chairs or standing, it feels like a secret rock show in an eccentric socialite’s closet—and that intimacy is one of the evening’s particular charms. The other uncommon draw is that the three performers on the bill are fractured combinations of local bands, including the Oblio Joes, This is a Process of a Still Life, and The Quiet Ones—and the musicians’ friendly collaboration seems refreshingly unconventional.
With all the night’s camaraderie, an observer might assume The Quiet Ones were a Missoula institution like the Oblio Joes, but the fact is, they moved to Missoula from their hometown of Chattanooga, Tenn., only in late January of this year. Tonight, The Quiet Ones’ core is John Totten as frontman and his brother David on guitar, with current backup from drummer Bob Martin, “Skootch” on tambourine and bassist John Fleming, who also plays for the Oblio Joes. The Quiet Ones are, strangely enough (considering their name), a loud rock ’n’ roll band. But two nights ago, on the same stage, the Totten brothers played acoustic guitars and rolled out some earlier tunes from The Quiet Ones’ first album, Your Inner Ear. This range of style, and the mercurial manner in which Totten brings in collaborators, are what makes The Quiet Ones a strange communal entity, and popular among fellow bands.
“When I think of the band The Quiet Ones,” says Fleming, “I think of the two brothers and a revolving cast of musicians.”
Now, with a mere seven months under their Garden City belt, the Totten brothers are packing up again—this time for Seattle, one of the top music locales in the Northwest.
“I’d say musically we did everything we set out to do when we came here,” says John. “We got acclimated quickly, made a lot of friends, found musicians to play with us. We’ve been extremely blessed.”
The Quiet Ones hatched around 2002 in the halls of higher education at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville when John and friend Mason Neely began recording songs. At the time, John was studying jazz but a movie helped launch him into the world of pop and rock. Coming home to Chattanooga for a school break, he and some friends watched Almost Famous, a movie about an ascendant rock band and the young Rolling Stone rock journalist who covers them.
“And at the end I was like, ‘Guys, I’m either gonna be a rock ’n’ roll journalist or a rock ’n’ roll musician,’” says John.
Around the same time, John read an essay on high art versus folk art, and was inspired by the idea that high art was made for other artists and God, while folk art created a sense of community among common people. Though he still loves jazz, he decided his studies were not following the vein he desired to practice.
“Jazz came out of a joint fight by African Americans,” John says, “and that’s when it was folk music, but now that whole thing is kind of dead. People like Wynton Marsalis combining classical music and jazz is taking the life out of it…intellectualizing it.”
Recently, in true populist form, John penned and recorded a song for former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, who is running on the Republican ticket for U.S. Senate in his home state.
“He’s a very moderate Republican,” says Totten. “His stance on abortion is that it’s a personal issue and [the Republicans are] saying that if he can’t take hard-right views toward abortion he doesn’t deserve to run as a Republican. He did some amazing things in Chattanooga and I believe he could do the same thing for the whole state. He’s been catching a bunch of shit…so I wrote him a campaign song.”
And it’s a campaign song with some warning from the common folk: “Ol’ Bob Corker, Ol’ Bob Corker/God will make your aim stay true/May you never take for granted/Common sense and fortitude.”
In addition, the band has an upcoming EP titled Nite You Surprised Me being released on local promoter and KBGA DJ Niki Payton’s label, CDB. Though residing in Philadelphia, Neely (who graduated from the Berklee College of Music) is still an essential part of The Quiet Ones; he laid out most of the EP’s tracks, with vocals by John and some guitar work by David.
“I like that there’s no ego about it,” says John. “If one person can think of something better than what you thought of, then we record it.”
Although the brothers hope to find a drummer in Seattle, they plan to continue utilizing Neely on future recordings, which would involve mailing a digital recorder back and forth across the country. And while musicians in Missoula often wave off Seattle as an over-saturated music scene, John sees it as a challenge.
“There’s only so much you can do in Missoula—and our hometown is the same way,” says John. “I find that I’m more productive when I’m feeling like the underdog.”
The Quiet Ones open for Racetrack Saturday, Sept. 3, at Higgins Hall. Show starts at 8 PM. $5. The band’s final show in Missoula before leaving is Friday, Sept. 9, at the Elk’s Lodge with Two Year Touqe and the Oblio Joes.