|Guitar parts at 12th Street sound|
The first time I ever recorded any of my own music was waaaaay back in a time when rock and roll was in the midst of its tumble down from the glory days of the Seattle grunge rock scene in the mid 90's, a time known as the late 90's. Bands like Puddle of Mudd, Limp Bizkit, and Korn dominated the t-shirt space in high school hallways across America and music on the radio was already in the middle of a cycle somewhere between bad and worse. In 1999, I was a spry young thing with spikey bleach blonde hair and a fire engine red Dodge ram that got me from point A to point B with a few amplifiers in the bed and a pretty rippin' stereo system that was constantly blaring out everything from Nirvana to the The Band with equal audio fervor. Three of my best friends and I formed a garage band we called Image, a name that was neither catchy nor descriptive, but we had some of our own songs and could rock the hell out of them if called upon to do so. I worked part time as a bus boy at a Mexican restaurant in my hometown of Shawnee, Oklahoma, and one of the waiters that I worked with was a fellow named Steve Petree. Steve, his brother, and cousin had a few different successful bands over the years, the most popular of which was the Shiny Toy Guns. Our little group paid Steve a hundred dollars to record two songs in the Petree basement and we ended up selling them on CD-R's with our named scrawled across the front in sharpie AND on actual tapes which I spent hours dubbing by hand on my old silver jambox with the dual tape deck. Digital recording was still in its toddler-hood and hadn't reached the "everyone has a portable studio stuck inside their smart phone" level of accessibility yet, so having a song of your own that someone else could put in their CD player and jam out to was still pretty fucking sweet. It wasn't long after recording the Image songs that I began toying around with my Dell laptop and a program called Cakewalk that I eventually used to record a five song solo acoustic EP of my original folk tunes. This is the same medium I eventually used to record my punk band "The Mr. Shannons" and a few various solo efforts between then and now. Nowadays, recording your own material with a reasonably professional level of quality is as easy as placing a damn phone call, which has flooded the internet with demo songs of people trying their best to "make it". This overly saturated environment makes it tough to get noticed among the masses, prompting many bands to use their image or some other kind of tricksy marketing ploy to get noticed. The only sure fire way to make your record rise among the flotsam and jetsam is to write good songs and flesh out a body of work that people simply cannot ignore.
|The Mr. Shannons c.2000 in Chris Van Dyne's bedroom where we practiced the rock|
Down The Hatch was that record for us. In a time of increasingly sped up release schedules, for a band to wait three and a half years between albums is akin to career suicide. If you're familiar with the reasons why it took us so long to make our second record, congratulations. You've been paying attention. If you're not, I am legally forbidden from giving you the details around the situation, but I can say it involved some legalities over Down the Hatch and was a supreme pain in our collective quail asses. It's over now. Thank jeebus. However, since the songs and the record as a whole were so good, Down The Hatch continues to sell well online and at shows and the longevity of that record speaks volumes about its content. I still get a smile on my face when I read a twitter post about someone driving somewhere with Down the Hatch as their soundtrack, and we've been truly blessed that people are still discovering and connecting with that album.
In February we announced our Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the recording and production of our second release, a process that took a lot more hard work than I ever imagined it would. We spent the entire thirty days from kickoff to deadline calling, emailing, text messaging, and sending carrier pigeons to every single person or entity we've ever come in contact with to spread the word and raise a record breaking $50,000 in a single month so we could make the record we wanted to make with absolutely no one telling us how the fuck to make it. I know every band likes to think they have the greatest fans in the world, but Quail fans rallied behind us when we needed them and they put their faith (and their wallets) in the hands of a few dudes from Norman that play pretty good music. So our fans are the best as far as we're concerned. Wanna fight about it?? Me either. By the time all was said and done, we raised more than $54,000 with which to record, produce, package, and promote our new record, which is BATSHIT crazy and amazing at the same time. The morning that I woke up and realized we were most definitely going to reach our goal was possibly the most relief I've ever felt in a single moment and I can't thank you all enough for your undying support for what we're trying to do.
|Dave says it's a numero uno.|
Speaking of vibe...
I've always wanted the opportunity to track a record live. When you have a band like ours that lives and dies by our performances, everyone playing together is the natural order of things. Tracking parts individually and building them piece by piece can work well too, but we've been playing so many shows together over the past few years that it feels far more natural for everyone to play together and maintain that live sensibility over the course of the recording. Everyone gets their own headphone mix, you dial it in just the way you like it, and you play the damn songs. Easy enough, really. There may be a few fixes that need to be made and there are always a few overdubs to spice things up, but five guys playing songs together is essentially what you're going to hear when this record finally hits your car stereo or (oh my god) your turntable. It's been one of my lifelong dreams to have an album on vinyl, and for those of you that bought in on the kickstarter, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can't wait to put on a Quails record for the first time and watch it spin around the table like I've watched all of my favorite records spin around and around so many times.
I feel like vibe is the ultimate hallmark of any great record. If you can listen to an album and get that sense of being in the room with the people playing whatever music you're listening to, then great vibe hath been achieved, currying much favor with the gods of Inspirado. Those intangible connections are what make the difference between a good album and a fucking awesome one. Our little buddy John Calvin Abney (affectionately known in the twitterverse as Funkid) is a masterful creator and weaver of vibe on his own records. His newest release Better Luck is incredibly vibey and a fantastic record which you should own. If you get a chance, though, dig back through his catalog on Bandcamp and check out the Empty Candles album. It's a hauntingly good collection of seven songs recorded on a tape deck at his old house in Tulsa with a couple of good mics and a whole lot of internal struggle and strife. It's not a happy record, nor is it poppy or uplifting, but the method of recording and the performances he went with absolutely serve and augment the material itself. Nothing is at odds with anything else and the emotion is so palpable you practically have to wipe the tear drops out of your stereo system. Empty Candles pays a little bit of homage to one of mine and John's favorite artists, the maestro of melancholy himself Mr. Elliott Smith. Another great example of a record that's vibey as fuck and amazing to boot is by another John from Tulsa and one of my favorite songwriters making music today. John Moreland albums bleed vibe like a stabbed harmonica player outside of a midnight motel, and I think his last release In the Throes should be a staple of any good record collection. It's a perfect example of the tone and attitude of a recording reflecting the heart and soul of the songs being recorded. If you haven't heard either of these guys, follow the magic links and buy some of their material. It's fucking good. You won't regret it. If you do, I'll personally come to your house and vandalize the piss out of it. Maybe that'll teach you to have regrets, hmm?
|John Calvin Abney a.k.a. Funkid on pedal steel at Mule Barn in Justin TX|
I won't really vandalize your house. Don't go telling people "He said he was going to destroy my property if I didn't agree with him!" and make me look like some kind of hoodlum or rapscallion. Not cool, dude. Anyway, back to OUR record...
Due to the fact that we're still a touring band and still struggling to survive, we didn't have the luxury of taking two weeks off to hole ourselves up in the studio. People gots ta eat, and it costs money to eat, and there aint no money if you don't get out and play shows. We broke the recording process up over two weeks, tracked Monday through Thursday, and hit the road on the weekends to keep the lights on back home. Week one was mainly reserved for full band tracking, and we spent those first four days just playing the songs together and trying out different instrumentation for each tune. We'd take a few shots at a song, then put Haystack on a different instrument, maybe switch up electrics for acoustics or vice versa, and take it again just to see if the song wasn't better served played with a different setup. Huge props to our little multi-instrumentalist wunderkind Kevin "Haystack" Foster for being such a good sport during the whole process. We really put him through the ringer and he played the shit out of whatever he was asked whenever he was asked to play it. He also nailed his high harmony parts and proved himself to be an indispensable part of this band. Warren Field has effectively grabbed our groove by the proverbial ball sack and, between him and Thomas Young, our rhythm section parts are solid as an old oak tree with pockets as deep as the Marianas Trench.
Those first four days proved that our hard work in the live setting over the last few years has paid off in spades.
|Control Room at 12th Street Sound|
We finished off the full band tracking by day four and headed out for a gig-packed weekend including a rompin show with Midnight River Choir at the Redneck Country Club (an amazing venue outside of Houston) followed by a double header Saturday in College Station and Tomball. Our buddy Joe Biggs from Infowars.com accompanied us on our weekend travels and made sure we were properly stocked with stickers and supplements from the Infowars swag cache. He even got up during Me and the Whiskey and nailed a rock and roll scream that was metal as fuck. Joe is a helluva guy and an even better drinking partner, so keep an eye out for the buff dude in the Molon Labe hat and say hi. He's a patriot and a half and a truly fearless journalist with stories out the wazoo. Saturday, we headed to College Station and played a private fraternity party at 2pm for the Fiji's that they so kindly purchased during our Kickstarter campaign. Those kids were a hoot and super big fans of our music, and even though I was almost maimed and disfigured by a fluorescent black light bulb that fell from the ceiling and shattered when it hit my microphone, we had a great time partying with and performing for them. After the set, we loaded out with a quickness and headed towards Tomball where we had a makeup show scheduled at Mainstreet Crossing due to the Ice-pocalypse in Fort Worth the weekend prior. The show was effectively rocked and we made our way back towards Austin to start week two.
|Damn Midnight River Quail Choir at Redneck Country Club|
By the time I got back to Austin on Sunday night, the weeks worth of recording and the weekend worth of shows were starting to catch up to me both physically and mentally. The weather in south Texas this year has been sporadic at best, and the constant change in pressure and temperature wreaked nine different kinds of havoc on my body. My sinuses have always been notoriously sensitive to changes in the weather, and by Sunday I was congested and my throat felt like someone had poured a hot gravel road down the back of my tongue. I made my way back to New Braunfels and spent a very happy Sunday in the company of a beautiful and interesting woman, drinking one of my favorite Bloody Mary's from the Pheonix Saloon, playing darts and drinking ice cold beer at Scores, and taking turns listening to and telling each other stories. All day long. It was the height of relaxation and successfully recharged my batteries enough to ensure I was properly prepared to tackle week two at 12th Street Sound.
I think that about wraps up this particular entry, I'll get to week two in a couple of days. Thanks so much to all of you that read this blog and keep up with our adventures. Check out www.thedamnquailsband.com, see where we're going to be playing, and come catch a show. We've incorporated most all of the songs from the new record into the live set, so you can get your own sneak preview if you can make it out. Good times guaranteed. Catch you on down the road,