Being original is hard, he said, when thousands of other musicians are trying to do the same thing. So he listens to a lot of music, most notably music he grew up with, like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chuck Berry, Boston, Foreigner, Journey, Johnny Cash and Fleetwood Mac. If he hears something he likes, he takes the beat and uses it as inspiration.
"This is what people like," Quest said of writing music. "This is what I like. Let's write songs like that, if I can — popular songs that people can relate to that I liked, things about life or about ideas, in terms of lyrics."
His other love is surf-guitar instrumentals, inspired by those Dick Dale and the Ventures.
Armed with the influence of the groups he grew up with, Quest's lyrics are based on life experiences. At the same time, he tries not to over-interpret songs for people, he said, and tries to be clear about what he is trying to say.
"I tie that to an experience of a life thing, or a philosophical frame of reference," Quest said. "Songs can be very meaning-laden without being real distinct. There may be a mystery, which allows other people to reinterpret the lyric. Music's just what it is."
Quest, a music and voice teacher, performs mostly cover songs at his gigs, interspersed with some of his original music. As an independent artist, Quest has control of the creative process and "where my music is and where it isn't," he said, speaking of people who would want to use his music in other projects.
"I wrote these things as a craft," he said. "They stand alone, the songs. Although I allow the listener to interpret — especially when it comes to lyrics — I really am very particular about whether or not somebody else puts a song with some other scene, like in a movie, and then it's all reinterpreted as something else, when that's not what I meant at all."
For more information on Quest and his music, and to listen to samples, visit http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/questmichael.