With lineup solidified, Quartjar brimming with fresh ideas

randall brown/special to knoxville.com
Quartjar is, from left, Malcolm Norman, Randall Brown and Tory Flenniken.

randall brown/special to knoxville.com Quartjar is, from left, Malcolm Norman, Randall Brown and Tory Flenniken.

For a decade Quartjar (initially The New Randall Brown Quartet) has performed blues rock with a signature lyrical wit that seems to get better with age. Creative-writing major and longtime music journalist Randall Brown prides his music on a lust for metaphors and symbolism, but recognized early on that audiences would not engage deeply enough to ponder such devices without a fleshed-out backdrop. After a number of iterations, Brown has filled Quartjar with its most cohesive lineup to date. With a new batch of unrecorded material to road test, the band will lend a set to this weekend’s Hard Knox Roller Girls Fundraiser.

Beginning his music career with punk and grunge acts, Brown began this trio with an overall theme of progressive blues delivery for very un-bluesy subject matter. Over the years, the stylistic incorporations have fluctuated, and with the most recent collaborations of bassist Malcolm Norman and drummer Tory Flenniken, the band’s new material explores everything from folk to funk while remaining unmistakably Quartjar.

“You can’t go wrong with a blues groove,” says Norman. “It moves you in a way that a lot of other types of music don’t. So if it works out with upbeat lyrics then that’s all the better.

“We’re all pretty much on the same page. This band definitely has its own vibe. A lot of times we’ll start off our rehearsals with someone just playing a riff, and the next thing you know, we’re asking ourselves, ‘Why didn’t we record this?’ Because we’re never gonna remember it again, and it could have been a great song down the road. A lot of stuff we do just gels that instantly. I think we could go stand on a stage right now and play music together, create it on the spot, and people would hear it and think, ‘That’s a pretty cool song,’ and not realize we improvised it.”

Or as Brown puts it, “We’re able to jam without sounding like a jam band. ... In describing our sound, the first thing I want to say is ‘blues prog.’ I can’t really form an idea of what that sounds like. It almost sounds like something that would be terrible, a train wreck. But somehow we find a middle ground. I just call it classic rock.

“All the people who’ve played with me have been great friends, but for some reason with this current lineup, it has really gelled. I feel like it’s worked its way from just being Randall and some guys he found to play the songs he wrote to an actual band where everyone’s pitching in. The newer material is from all of us. The kernel of the idea can come from any one of us anymore, and that feels good. It feels good to be more of a team.”

Described as “ridiculously available,” Quartjar’s material is lurking around virtually every corner of the web. However, its latest work is presently as ethereal as its tentative album title. As with most lyrically powered acts, Quartjar’s offerings tend to be thematic. With the band’s most recent release, 2011’s “42,” the band delved into the world of aging, represented through various animals, most notably on “Noble Rhino.” For the group’s next album, Brown has centered the songs, or titles really, on the cryptic sasquatch combined with a space travel motif. Brown points out that only one instrumental song currently features anything “squatchy” at present but explains that in true “Mama Mia” fashion, the band’s concept albums are really only made conceptual in post.

“I like to say we have a whole new album, but you have to come hear us play it live,” Brown says. “It only exists when we play it. We have an album tentatively titled ‘Squatch,’ and that comes from watching too many bigfoot shows. We have a concept for an album cover. We want it to be a furry album cover with the title stitched in. ... Knowing all the clichés of concept albums, instead of coming up with a concept and writing a bunch of songs to it, we’ve got a bunch of songs, and we’re gonna try to bluff our way into a storyline.”

Performing a set of its new material, Quartjar takes the stage Saturday night at The Well, joining The Swinging Tire Drinkin’ Choir, Hey OK Fantastic, Pegasi 51 and Steel Eagle for the Hard Knox Roller Girls Fundraiser. The event kicks off at 7 p.m. and has a $7 cover.

Back to the Future: Monday night, theatrical Baltimore synth-pop act Future Islands returns to Knoxville for another Pilot Light performance. Also on the bill is Chiffon. The show is slated for 10 p.m., and admission is $10. Tickets are available in advance through ticketalternative.com.

God bless Americana: Preservation Pub hosts a night of Americana Monday night with sets from Guy Marshall and Motel Rodeo (Johnson City). The show starts at 10 p.m. and costs $3.

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