by: Thomas D. Mooney
In many ways, Damn Quails is the product of all the music, genre, and band cross-pollination that’s been happening in American music–specifically in the last forty years. They’re just as much an American folk band that plays rocking country songs as they are an American country rock band that plays folk songs. Long story short, Americana.
You saw and heard them doing plenty of different things on their debut album Down the Hatch, but you get the sense that’s them just scraping the surface of what they’re able to do.
Last week, we spoke with the co-frontman and songwriters of Damn Quails, Bryon White and Gabe Marshall to talk about their songwriting styles and their upcoming sophomore album.
They’ll be playing The Office tonight (Friday, Nov 14) with Lubbock’s Dix Hat Band opening. Watch/Listen to “Fool’s Gold” below.
New Slang: You guys released Down the Hatch a couple of years back now. Where are you at on the second album–where in the album making process are you currently?
Bryon White: Well, we have most of the songs written. We’ve had them for a little while. We started recording almost a year ago now down at Mike McClure’s studio and did some tracking on it. It’s helped to take them (the songs) on the road the past year and doing kind of what we did with the first record, which was play them over and over and trying to get a good feel them before we lay down the final bit. We’re hoping to have the record out in the spring time.
NS: Yeah. Road testing songs is something a lot of folks do. Have you ever wanted to just go into the studio, hit record with songs that haven’t ever been heard, and then release that? What’s your thoughts on doing it that way?
Gabe Marshall: I think it’s way better to write stuff and have it worked out before you go in to lay it down. I think going into a studio and writing and creating songs, it works for some people, but not others.
NS: As far as you guys being a band with two songwriters, a songwriting tandem where you have a couple of singers doing songs, I feel that’s become more of a thing down here as of late. It’s a good thing. What have you guys learned from each other since joining up?
BW: Well, we still write individually. The songs I sing, I write and the songs Gabe sings, he writes. Our styles kind of compliment each other, but we don’t really do it together. It’s kind of an individual thing still.
NS: I’m still assuming you have picked up things that each other does and learned from each other.
GM: I really like how Bryon is able to tell a story without telling the story so blatantly. It’s all details and imagery. I’ve been trying to take that and put it into my writing.
BW: Yeah, I’ve tried to simplify things and give some things a little more of a catchy, pop spin on them here and there. You’re always trying to find new ways to make a song come alive in different ways.
NS: You feel like there’s less pressure on both of you individually since you’re not needed to write a whole album by yourself? You have another person who is bringing more or less, the same amount of songs to the table?
BW: Yeah. You have more to pick and choose from. We do both write a lot and so we can pick the golden nuggets out and use those and maybe use others for the next record or a record down the road. You’re able to let the songs breathe a little bit if they need to.
NS: How long do you usually sit on a song before showing it to each other?
BW: Depends on the song really. Some come real fast and some songs take years to finish. Just depends on the particular tune. I usually don’t bring stuff to the band until it’s a done song–but sometimes that takes a few hours and sometimes it takes a few years.
NS: Was there anything you guys spoke about wanting to do different on this album that you didn’t have a chance to do on the previous?
GM: Not really. I think that we kind of want to explore songwriting styles more on the second album. We feel like we have more space to write a little more of the rock n’roll songs. We like to write all different kinds of music and we think that the second record is going to be maybe a little more eclectic than the first.
NS: You guys thinking of throwing any exotic, strange, or just different instruments on the album?
BW: I think whatever the song calls for, it’ll get thrown in. I don’t know how exotic we’ll get, but there’s nothing really off the table. If it works for a song, we’ll throw it in there. There will definitely be keys. We have a real good friend, Dan Walker, who plays keys and I think we’re going to get some keys laid down. Some pedal steel.
NS: Yeah. Have to love some pedal steel. So when you guys are in a studio with your band, how loose are you with letting them create? Are you generally good with people bringing their own stuff to the table or do you usually have pretty certain ideas on what you want done on a song?
BW: I prefer the hands off approach. We play with people who we trust with their style and their music so I’m not going to tell someone how to play certain things. We like how they play so we know they’re going to play something good.
GM: Yeah, if we don’t like something, we’ll ask them to try something different, but generally, it’s really hands off and letting them find it.
NS: Yeah. What’s the usual studio day like for you guys? What’s like the longest amount of time you’ll work in a day?
GM: When we did the first one, we were at McClure’s and we’d go all day and all night. We’d work a little, play a little, work a little, play a little. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time recording the first record. I think it was a matter of 10 days total getting it finished. McClure likes to work all hours of the night so we’d start out around 4pm or so and go until 7 or 8 the next morning.
NS: Have you guys ever both been inspired to write a song about the same thing–not like the same general subject, but have you guys ever both seen something that sparked an idea for a song and then later realize they kind of had the same origins? That ever happened?
GM: No. We do draw from some of the same ideas and things, but never the same particular subject or particular event.
NS: Yeah. I figured the chances are pretty slim of that happening, but could still see the scenario. You guys do write individually, but do you think you’ll ever end up writing some stuff together?
GM: It’s quite possible. We wrote one tune together with Mike McClure, but we came in with different parts of the song. We didn’t sit down and write it together. We all already had different parts and came together for it, but we didn’t really talk about rhyme schemes or anything. I kind of feel we should stay out of each other’s hair. It’s been successful so far [laughs].