On Oct. 24, 2000, Dischord Records released No Kill No Beep Beep, the classic debut by Q and Not U. The cover is an arresting, whimsical snapshot of the punk-rock community that spawned the record—the band asked its friends and peers, most of them under 25 at the time, to pose for a portrait that would show D.C. wasn’t just a town of old punks. In this week’s Washington City Paper, Q and Not U’s members reflect on their rookie achievement. On Arts Desk, we’re catching up with some of the community Q and Not U immortalized.
In the late ’90s, Pennsylvania native Shawn Brackbill was living in Pittsburgh. In fact, he never lived in D.C., and he came across Q and Not U through a rather unlikely series of events. “I was in Baltimore at a Rainer Maria show,” says Brackbill. “There were a bunch of copies of Held Like Sound, which is a zine that John Davis used to do. So I took a few with me because they were free, and I wrote him an e-mail telling him I took photos of bands as well. I sent him a bunch of my work and he liked it, so he used a bunch of them in a few issues of Held Like Sound.” The collaboration might have ended there, if Brackbill hadn’t ended up in town on just the right weekend. “I was in D.C. for a show with some friends of mine, we drove down from Pittsburgh. I told John I was coming down, and John wrote back and said, ‘Oh, my new band is playing our first show that weekend.’ So we stuck around and went to WMUC and saw [Q and Not U]’s first show. I met them in the parking lot outside.”
That chance meeting led to a working relationship that lasted the entirety of Q and Not U’s career. “I did the cover for all of the records and the first single before No Kill No Beep Beep,” says Brackbill. “I booked a show for the band on their first tour, in Philadelphia, and they came to Pittsburgh where I used to live and book shows. I think I helped them with their second out-of-town show.” Brackbill would go on to play the role of fan, friend, photographer, booking agent, roadie, and tour manager at various points for the band over the next few years.
As he did more for the band, Brackbill essentially figured out his craft along the way. On the day of the No Kill photo shoot, he says, “I didn’t really have any lighting experience, so I had to figure that out as we went… It was definitely warm in the room because we were using hot lights for the shoot. I had never used strobes so I went for the hot lights. It was what I consider one of my first ‘professional’ shoots.” Brackbill continues: “We shot that day, and I think I took the film to a Ritz outside of D.C. near Rockville. We got the film developed there, and we sat around in the mall looking at the photos the next day.”
As a much more accomplished artist now, Brackbill still looks back fondly on his early work. “I’m pretty pleased with how it came out,” he says. “At the time we shot it, there wasn’t an option to shoot digitally. When you have 30-something people collected to do a shoot, and you can’t see how it looks, you just say, ‘Well, I hope this works.’ It would’ve been nice to know what I was getting as I was shooting.” The piece has followed him around since then. “I’ve met folks from the U.K., and I’ll tell tell them I’ve been there a couple times on tour. They’ll ask ‘With what band?’ and I’ll tell them. They’ll say, ‘Oh, that record cover, we did a tribute to it one time.’ It’s definitely one that people recognize and remember, which is nice.”
Since 2000, Brackbill has continued to work as a photographer, and he’s now based in Brooklyn. “I still do a lot of music,” he says. “I do photo work for Mojo magazine and a lot of photo work for labels like Matador and Sub Pop. I recently did a video for Pissed Jeans, and I’m doing fashion as well. I did New York Fashion Week for five seasons. I’ve also done album covers for Kurt Vile and Pissed Jeans.”
Brackbill adds: “It’s been a while since I’ve been back [to D.C.], but that’s just because I’ve been so busy. I hope to get down there soon to visit my friends.”
In case you missed it, here’s the rest of the series.