New Slanged: Bryon White of The Damn Quails
by: Thomas D. Mooney
You don’t see it as often as you probably should in Americana folk; two singer-songwriters joining forces to form a band. All too often, people view success as fronting your own band and singing strictly your own songs–not that there’s anything wrong with that. But, it does make sense to find a songwriting partner to help carry that load.
Gabriel Marshall and Bryon White of The Damn Quails could certainly front their own successful bands, but probably not to that degree of success that they’re achieving (and will continue to) as The Damn Quails. And that’s not a knock on either. Matter of fact, I think it’s a genuinely positive attribute for both.
Marshall and White have so far been able to evoke the best in each other as they go back and forth with songs penned by each.
Their debut, “Down the Hatch,” is testament to those notions. Most everyone who has heard the album, whether it’s been “Fool’s Gold” on the radio, having the album slide across their desk for review, or being privileged enough to have ran across a live performance, has come away thinking something along the same lines: it’s honest, sincere songwriting and it’s familiar, yet fresh.
While I don’t want to just give all the credit for this just simply because they are a duo. I think that’s a disservice to each as individuals, but I can’t overlook the fact that it helps.
For starters, when you’re buying an album, there aren’t any “filler” tracks. You’re getting higher quality (I really had a hard time not putting ‘higher quaility’ here) songs throughout. In a way, you’re getting twice as much. And more is certainly (almost) always better.
I’m convinced that people legitimately have been longing for a dignified duo to grab on to and love. The Damn Quails are just that. It’s a good thing. Like I previously stated, they’re stronger and better for it.
We recently caught up with one half of the duo, Bryon White, to discuss all damn things Damn Quails.
The Damn Quails perform tonight at The Blue Light Live.
New Slang: “Down the Hatch” is your first album. Mike McClure and Joe Hardy co-produced the album. How was it working with those guys right out of the gate?
Bryon White: It was pretty incredible, man. We kind of had most of our material really worked out. Playing on it for about a year-and-a-half in live shows and stuff. Mike was real good at letting us do what we wanted. Kind of gave us the freedom and helping us out when we needed help. It was a real easy process. It didn’t take us long. Both those guys are extremely talented; they’re great at what they do. We came away with a record that really fits the live sound a little more so than some of the other bands that are out there.
NS: You guys are also on 598 Recordings, McClure’s new record label. You were the first band signed and first to have an album out off the label. How does it feel being that first artist on the label?
BW: It’s pretty incredible. It’s an undeniably good feeling…Everybody’s kind of growing together and there’s always a learning curve. But so far, it’s been a really, really great thing. Things are going really well for the label and for the band. We couldn’t be happier with the way things worked out. But yes, definitely an incredible feeling being the first band signed.
NS: Seems like McClure’s really taken you guys under his wing, no pun intended with the bird reference.
BW: [Laughs] Yeah, a little bit. That’s one of the cool things, you know, having him as part of the label. Not only do we have his experience–both good and bad–over the past 15-20 years from The Great Divide, record labels, and things like that. He also views it from the artist’s perspective, so it’s definitely an artist-driven thing. That was one of our big hitch-ups with major labels was the fact that we weren’t going to have full control over our music and albums. The way we thought about it this way was, Mike has a real understanding of all those concerns. And, we’ve been going out with him and the Mike McClure Band, and it’s kind of going back to the traditional Oklahoma vibe of concerts where when you have friends in the crowd, they get up and play with you. And there’s no reason not to. We’ve been out with McClure a couple of times and ended up being on stage with him most of the show [laughs]. Kind of screwing around, and playing parts we know, and singing backups, adding what we can. It’s a real good time…It’s a lot more friendly way to make music, I think.
NS: “Down the Hatch” came out late last year and it’s really been receiving a lot of praise from both music critics and fans. How’s life been these past few months?
BW: [Laughs] Really, it’s been about the same, but more hotel rooms. We’ve been hitting the road as hard as we can, doing run-outs. We’re out almost every weekend until June now. At least till March, April. We’ve got some big shows coming up. It’s been a hell of a ride. Undeniable.
NS: Both of you came from singer-songwriter backgrounds where you wrote individually. Once you started The Damn Quails did you guys start writing together or still writing individually. How’s that all worked out?
BW: We’re kind of sticking with the individual thing. We collaborated on two with McClure that came our really good. But we’re still kind of keeping the formula.
NS: What’s been something you’ve learned from Gabriel, from a songwriting perspective?
BW: Probably a pop influence, a little bit. I’ve always been more towards the rootsy thing. And he goes a little more blues and poppy, and it blends really well.
NS: You were talking about it earlier. You’re both from Oklahoma and it’s obviously had an impact on your careers. What’s something that people don’t know about Oklahoma that they probably should when it comes to songwriting and music?
BW: We have a real interesting group of songwriters from Oklahoma that kind of hang out together. We all kind of met at the Woody Guthrie Fest. It was one of the first places where I met Gabe. A lot of those guys, Bob Childers, before he passed away, was around, Tom Skinner–I love Tom Skinner. He’s working on a record right now and it’s going to be incredible. Bands like the Red Dirt Rangers. There’s a bunch of really good Okie songwriters who are just kind of–they get out there, but they’re not necessarily as in front of everybody as Texas artists are. Texas has a really good thing going with all the support of the charts–Texas Regional Reading Report, Texas Music Charts–all that stuff. Oklahoma, it’s a little pocket up here. Like if you get around, there’s lot of stuff, but sometimes, you got to really look for it. But yeah, some really great, influential writers come from the state and still live here.