Everyone (well, almost everyone) is aware of the talent we have floating around in Tulsa, and the Red Dirt scene is established enough to speak for itself. In Tulsa, however, we often overlook the talent to our West and many of the bands coming out of the Oklahoma City and Norman music scenes. Over the past year, however, one band in particular has emerged out of Norman to create a buzz throughout the state and down into Texas.
That band is The Damn Quails, perhaps ironically, a group that doesnít quite fit into the overall Norman scene that it has been a part of. Being a college t own, when I think of Norman, I think college town and indie rock, with Blackwatch Studios and a number of bands that have recorded there ó Chrome Pony to Jacob Abello to Sherree Chamberlain immediately come to mind. What I donít usually think of is Americana and country bands.
Although I wouldnít classify The Damn Quails as country, they definitely melt their fair share of country influences into the mix. Touches of bluegrass, folk and blues also work their way into the formula with a growing catalog of songs that hit home with their rustic, rootsy arrangements and lyrics that ring true from the first listen.
If you listen to the band and initially think of Red Dirt icon Tom Skinnerís Science Project or the circle of acts that take up residency at The Colony, you canít be faulted. Although this group isnít part of wither of those circles, it did originate out of a similar scenario as the core of the band, Bryon White and Gabriel Marshall initially came together roughly two years ago at a ìsong swapî at The Deli in Norman.
According to White, ìIt really started out with just me and Gabriel. We had been playing around the same circles for years ó we both had punk bands in high school ó and weíve played shows together, but weíd never actually played together."
As it turns out, Marshall was playing in a weekly song swap circle at The Deli and when John Fullbright stepped out to tour, White took his place in the circle. From there, the chemistry between the two began to build and the songs started to flow. To this day, the duo continues to play at The Deli on Monday nights and while the additional players flow in and out from week to week, the ensemble has grown considerably, with up to 10 people on stage at the same time, adding fiddle, mandolin and whatever else fits to the mix and exchange of songs.
From there, The Damn Quails took flight as a band and vehicle for the collaboration between White and Marshall with the band being signed earlier this year to 598 Recordings, a label that was founded to release Mike McClure's new album -- which is on its way in the near future. Before that could happen, however, McClure took notice of The Damn Quails and made them the first outside band signed to the label. McClure even took the helm with Joe Hardy to produce the band's debut disc, which came out Oct. 25, Down the Hatch.
The irony: the two parties hadn't even met just a year ago. According to White "We never met until New Year's Eve last year. We went to see Tom Skinner and were hanging out at this party and met McClure there. A couple of months later, we opened a show for him and that's when he started to take notice."
When discussing the new disc with Gabriel Marshall, I commented on how the songs open up in layers and he attributed that, at least partially, to the producers. "I think the layers come from us being such a big band," he said. "We play every Monday night at The Deli and just kind of work everything out with whoever shows up that night. When coupled with Mike McClure and Joe Hardy, I don't think it could have come out much different. Their minds kind of work in a weird way, so if there's a layer that's possible there, they find it and put it there."
Aside from the weekly Deli gigs, The Damn Quails have two distinctly different iterations. On one hand, White and Marshall play some shows as an acoustic duo, exploring a more intimate side of the group. With a full band the dynamics change, but the caliber of the players keeps it in a realm that doesn't distort the songs or the band identity.
As good as the new CD is (and it's one of the best Americana/country albums I've heard this year), The Damn Quails reputation has really been built around its live show and I've been hearing rumblings about the group for well over six months, even though White and Marshall have only played here a couple of times and never with a full band.
When asked how the show changes with a full band, White laughed that "We tend to drink a few more Jaeger-bombs and whiskeys now and then, but other than that, it's pretty much the same. The dynamics of the band are more extreme, so the loud parts are louder and the quiet parts are more quiet, but we really try to play to the crowd and what the vibe of the crowd is that night. We let the audience response dictate and some nights we're a little more rock or a little more bluegrass or country."
The Damn Quails finally brings the full band lineup to Tulsa this Saturday night for a show at Mercury Lounge and between the long weekend and the Merc crowd, you can be sure it will be a more upbeat, if not downright rowdy night. I've already been getting calls and emails about this band from friends in Texas and Nashville and the crowd is turning heads and grabbing attention everywhere it goes.
With a strong initial response for Down the Hatch, it seems just a matter of time before The Damn Quails blow up and start more regional touring, if not nationally. This weekend, however, you'd be smart to stop in and see them at Mercury Lounge as the band rolls up all its Oklahoma influences -- from country and bluegrass to rock and blues -- with a high energy show that draws everyone in. See them now, as they should be big everywhere else by this time next year. Cover is $5 at the door and John Moreland opens the show.
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