Quality Living’s indie pop/rock sound creates a relaxed atmosphere that puts listeners at ease and encourages them to let their imagination run wild while interpreting the music. Their songs tend to focus on a specific emotion or vibe whether it’s fear, nostalgia or the wonder of a daydream. The Pop Break had the opportunity to interview Quality Living about their North Jersey origins, band dynamics, songwriting and their latest song release, “Death Toll.”
Who is a part of Quality Living? (Names of your band members & the instruments you play): There are seven of us. Albert Chua plays guitar. Steve Serr plays bass. Ben Oliveira handles a mix of guitar, percussion, and backup vocals. Joe Caravaglia also lends vocals and percussion, but mostly handles trumpet. Danny Augugliaro, who we linked up with recently, plays keyboards. I play guitar and sing lead. Our drummer (and engineer/producer) for years was George Serr, Steve’s brother, but George very recently had to take a job down south. As luck would have it, a couple of excellent drummers have stepped up to fill the gap for now. We’re still sort of reeling from losing him.
When did you form as a band: If you can believe it, most of us met in high school, a millennia ago. We started playing music together sometime in ‘03 or ‘04. We’ve gone through many names, people have come and gone and come back again, and we’ve straight-up hit the reset button a couple of times.
That’s probably my fault, as Quality Living was the result after our previous band, Morning, had begun to feel stale for a number of reasons. So, rather than just go in a new direction, I got carried away with this idea that we had to blow it up. That was around 2014, I think. All we did was change the name, but that minor gesture ended up acting like rocket fuel.
I see that you are based out of Ringwood, which is as far north as New Jersey goes. What is the music scene like up there? Where do you tend to perform: If by “music scene,” you mean “cartoon bears and squirrels,” then it’s great. Ringwood is so beautiful and so quiet. It’s the type of setting that very much fosters inspiration. I don’t want to leave. However, the days where you could reliably find a rock show here are mostly gone. While we were growing up, we were totally surrounded by musicians and rock culture.
During Emo’s Hot Topic heyday, I remember there being a few all-ages spaces near us that would get fairly packed up. Ever since the scene shrunk and solidified into a few hotspots, the area around Ringwood has been sleepy. Once in a while, things pop up. I’ve been throwing little shows at Hansil’s in Oakland, and there was a moment where I thought about making that place a “home base.” Those shows have been a lot of fun. But at the end of the day, it’s probably better to go to where the scene lives rather than trying to bring it to us.
After all of your previous experience creating and playing music together, how has that impacted your band dynamics and how you work together as Quality Living: You hear all the time from people in bands about the little complications and interpersonal quirks that tend to slow things down or distract from the purpose, and I don’t think that affects us as much anymore. There’s a degree of trust and comfort that acts as the reward for coming all this way and not giving up. We are definitely a family—mildly dysfunctional, but supportive and cooperative. We know each other. It must be weird for anyone new coming into the fold. We all give major props to Danny for settling in so quickly.
Our songwriting process, as well, is a reflection of how much time we’ve spent working together. The days in which I would have micromanaged everyone’s parts are long gone. I come to them with a song’s basics and lyrics, and then I abandon any idea I might have had about what the song was going to sound like. Who’s in the band is really important for the sound—George’s absence, for instance, is going to have a pronounced effect on how the new songs sound.
If you could create your own genre name to describe your music, what would you call it: Overworked-procrastinating-nerd-rock-pop-and-also-indie?
What does Quality Living stand for? What message do you want your music to convey to listeners: No one’s ever asked us this question. Quality Living is sort of the band’s mission statement embedded in its name, which is hilarious to me. I don’t mean that in the Homegoods-ish sense of “Live. Laugh. Love.” I think it’s more like an invitation to not be numb to things, bad or good. Also, take a break once in a while. We are pro-taking breaks.
So your newest song “Death Toll” just came out on October 13. I’m wondering, what is this song about and what inspired it: I’m gonna feel very silly explaining this, but bear with me. The root of inspiration was a nightmare I had. In it, I was in my bathroom, where you really want to feel secure while you do bathroom things… so of course, a burning, brutal red light comes pouring out of the bathroom mirror, filling the whole room. Nothing else happens, but I am frozen in place, and I’m overcome with the sense that there was a demon in the room with me. I felt freaked by that dream for a few days. Then the lyrics fell into place, and I think what ended up coming out was a song about fear, which I liked because it was not an emotion we’ve explicitly dwelled on in the past. What it says about fear, have fun with that.
I really like how chill “Oh No” is, and how it creates a very relaxed atmosphere. There’s also a sense of nostalgia, reflecting on fond (or not so fond?) memories of basement shows in the summertime with someone you like. Where does the “oh no” come in? What do you like best about this track: Thank you! It’s fond and not-so-fond. It’s the Fondness Spectrum. Memories are complicated. “Oh No” started as just a catchy phrase that implied conflict or worry, so I rolled with it. It sounds to me like a realization of sorts setting in, but I don’t want to say more because I run the risk of ruining it. You already very eloquently described my favorite aspect of it, which is that relaxed vibe combining with unsettled nostalgia, and, I really like Steve’s bass playing in this one. It’s the first track he recorded with us.
From releasing your debut album as Quality Living in July 2016, to your singles “Oh No” and “Death Toll” that you put out in 2017, how do you think your music has evolved over the course of the year: So on that debut, we were focusing on steady grooves. We wanted to make thoughtful, pretty music that made you want to dance. We worked that into a few songs, released the album, and then, we had no more unifying motifs. When we came back to writing, it was just us and our very-disparate influences and our silly emotions and experiences. All we knew is that it was not our mission to keep doing what we’d already done. “Oh No” and “Death Toll” are two examples of us following a new idea to its logical conclusion. Then, early next year, we’re sharing another two songs that exist in their own little realms before recording a bunch more. There’s a different smattering of influences at work every time. I’ve honestly never had this much fun writing songs.
Do you find that you tend to come back to similar themes or ideas when you’re writing songs? If so, what are some of those themes and how are they explored in your music: No, not really. I admire songwriters who can wrap things into recurring themes, but I don’t think that works for me; I don’t feel like life is that organized. You could probably say that I have a few phases or patterns. Whenever I try really hard to convey one theme or stay with one idea, it inevitably starts to feel ridiculous that I’d try and force it. I don’t like giving it away too easily and I think songs are more fun when interpretation isn’t cut-and-dry.
What is the best part about being a member of Quality Living: I gotta speak for myself here, of course. Not sure if I can tell you just one thing. It’s that the whole of it is gratifying. Maybe in an alternate universe, we made a few different choices, lucked out, and sold a lot of records. Things could always be better. The best part of being in our band is that I’m happy.