Ecstatic Voices
4:31 pm
Thu December 5, 2013

For An Ex-Christian Rocker, Faith Lost Is A Following Gained

Originally published on Fri December 6, 2013 10:57 am

Taylor Muse is the 31-year-old bandleader and songwriter of Quiet Company, an indie-rock band from Austin. A native of East Texas raised in a Southern Baptist church, he now reluctantly carries the banner of "that atheist rocker from Austin."

"Every band that I was in up until college was a Christian band," Muse says. "It was part of our identity as people, our identity as a community. It was everything."

Muse's life in his hometown of Longview revolved around the church youth group, the praise team, choir rehearsal, mission trips and Bible study classes. Then came moving away from home, going off to college, discovering the writings of avowed atheist Kurt Vonnegut, and getting married.

"Eventually, I came home from work one day and just told my wife, 'I think I'm having a little bit of a crisis of faith. I just realized today that I can't make a case for Christianity that would convince myself,' " he says.

That realization led to the release of the 2011 album We Are All Where We Belong, a startlingly frank exposition of a young man's loss of faith. The record made a big splash in Austin; last year, Quiet Company took home 10 honors at the Austin Music Awards, including Best Band and Album of the Year.

The refrain from the album title"where we belong" — is at the heart of Muse's problem with Christian theology. He says he was taught from the Bible that good Christians don't store up treasures on earth: They're supposed to store up treasures in heaven.

"They're always making the statement, 'This is not your home, this is not where you belong,' " Muse says. "I wanted to make a record that said, 'No, actually, this is where you belong. This is your one chance to make your life into what you want it to be. This is your one chance to make the world what you think it can be.' "

The humanist community — a term used interchangeably with atheism — was slow to take notice of the album. Greg Epstein, the prominent humanist chaplain at Harvard University and author of the book Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe, recalls being skeptical.

"I get sent so many weird things from around the United States," Epstein says, "so I kind of assumed it would be crap. And then I listened to it, and it was brilliant."

Epstein says what Quiet Company did is emblematic of the modern humanist movement, which is not about railing against organized religion, but about being good people and affirming life.

"It's not an album decrying God," Epstein says. "It's an album about what it means to live life that happens to be from the perspective of somebody who knows who he is, and happens to be a humanist and an atheist."

This may be blasphemy back in East Texas, but the band has found a loyal audience in Austin. Before an evening concert, fans have already begun to bunch up in front of the stage next to giant arena speakers on the Congress Avenue Bridge.

"I find it very reassuring," says a 25-year-old bookstore stocker who gives his name as Tux. "When they released the album, I was going through a little bit of a faith crisis myself. And that was my soundtrack during that period."

Quiet Company's appeal extends beyond those struggling with their own faith. Greg Wnek, a devout Catholic who says he likes the humanist band, chatted amiably with Muse after the show.

"I appreciate that he's comfortable enough to sing about that but still shake my hand, even though I have three crosses, and even though I'm completely Christian, and I have not lost my faith, and I'm heavily rooted in it," Wnek says.

While songs about non-faith built Quiet Company's fan base — last year, they were asked to entertain the American Atheists convention — the musicians are uncomfortable being the rock 'n' roll standard bearers for atheism. Muse says they're ready to move on.

"At the end of the day, what we're setting out to be is everyone's new favorite rock band," he says. "We're not trying to be 'the atheist band.' We're not trying to be the band that hates Christianity. I wrote 15 songs about atheism. And I said everything I wanted to say."

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Now, a question. Can non-belief in God become a belief system itself? That's the question we consider in today's installment of our series, "Ecstatic Voices: Sacred Music in America." NPR's John Burnett has the story of an atheist indie rock band from Austin, Texas called Quiet Company.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Taylor Muse is the 31-year-old bandleader and songwriter of Quiet Company. He's a native of East Texas, raised in a Southern Baptist church, but he now reluctantly carries the banner, that atheist rocker from Austin.

TAYLOR MUSE: Every band that I was in, you know, up till college at least was, like, a Christian band, you know? It was part of everything. Like, it was part of our identity as people, it was part of our identity as a community, like, it's everything.

BURNETT: It was all about the church youth group, the praise team, choir rehearsal, mission trips and Bible study classes. Then came moving away from home in Longview, Texas, college, discovering the writings of avowed atheist Kurt Vonnegut and marriage.

MUSE: Eventually, I came home from work one day and just told my wife, I was like, I think I'm having a little bit of a crisis of faith. I just kind of realized today that I can't make a case for Christianity that would convince myself.

BURNETT: That realization led to this album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BLACK SHEEP AND THE SHEPHERD")

MUSE: (Singing) The river's wide, but I could not swim across it, so I convinced myself I'd walked upon the waves.

BURNETT: In 2011, Quiet Company released this CD, titled "We Are All Where We Belong." It's a startlingly frank exposition of one young man's loss of faith.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BLACK SHEEP AND THE SHEPHERD")

MUSE: (Singing) But I lied, and I knew I'd lied, did everything I did to soothe the family pride and I just don't think I can keep it up now. 'Cause I never heard Jesus speak to me, not in any way that I'd consider speaking, but I bowed my head just the same.

BURNETT: The record made a big splash in Austin. Last year, Quiet Company took 10 honors at the Austin Music Awards, including Best Band and Album of the Year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BLACK SHEEP AND THE SHEPHERD")

MUSE: (Singing) But luckily I held out long enough to see everybody really makes their own destiny. It's a beautiful thing. It's just you and me, exactly where we belong.

BURNETT: That refrain, which is the album title, "We Are All Where We Belong," is at the heart of Muse's beef with Christian theology. He says he was taught from the Bible that good Christians don't store up treasures on Earth. They're supposed to store up treasures in heaven.

MUSE: You know, they're always making the statement: This is not your home. This is not where you belong. And I wanted to make a record that said, no, actually this is where you belong. This is your one chance to make your life into what you want it to be. This is your one chance to make the world what you think it can be.

BURNETT: The humanist community - a term used interchangeably with atheism - was slow to take notice of the album.

GREG EPSTEIN: I get sent so many weird things from around the United States, so I kind of assumed it would be crap. And then I listened to it and it was brilliant.

BURNETT: Greg Epstein is the humanist chaplain at Harvard University and author of the book "Good Without God." What Quiet Company did is emblematic of the modern humanist movement, Epstein says. It's not about railing against organized religion. It's about being good people and affirming life.

EPSTEIN: So it's not an album decrying God. It's an album about what it means to live life that happens to be from the perspective of somebody who knows who he is and happens to be a humanist and an atheist. And that's really special.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PREACHING TO THE CHOIR INVISIBLE, PART II")

EPSTEIN: (Singing) I'll make a deal with Jesus Christ. Speak just one word I can hear, prove you're alive, and I'll believe you're there.

BURNETT: The band has found an audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Check one, two. Test, test, test, test, test, test, test, test, test, test, one, two, check, check, check. Not going up at all?

BURNETT: Before a recent evening concert, Quiet Company warms up while devoted fans bunch up in front of the stage next to giant arena speakers on the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin. A 25-year-old bookstore stocker who gives his name as Tux says the album helped him accept his non-belief.

TUX: I find it very reassuring. When they released the album, I was going through a little bit of a faith crisis myself. And, you know, that was my soundtrack during that period.

BURNETT: Quiet Company's appeal extends beyond those struggling with their own faith. Greg Wnek(ph), a devout Catholic who likes the humanist band, chatted amiably with Taylor Muse after the show.

GREG WNEK: I appreciate that he's comfortable enough to sing about that but still shake my hand even though I have three crosses on and even though I'm completely Christian and I have not lost my faith and I'm, you know, heavily rooted in it.

BURNETT: While songs about faith and non-faith built Quiet Company's fanbase - last year, they played the American Atheists Convention - the musicians are uncomfortable being the rock and roll standard bearer for atheism. Bandleader Taylor Muse says they're ready to move on.

MUSE: At the end of the day, what we're setting out to be is everyone's new favorite rock band. Like, we're not trying to be the atheist band. We're not trying to be, like, the band that hates Christianity. Like, I wrote 15 songs about atheism, and I said everything I wanted to say.

BURNETT: Quiet Company is now at work on its fourth album. Taylor Muse says it'll be about relationships. John Burnett, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AT LAST! THE CELESTIAL BEING SPEAKS")

MUSE: (Singing) So lift up your head. Don't worry about death.

BLOCK: And if you have sacred music you'd like to tell us about in your community, we'd like to hear from you. You can tell us at nprmusic.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.