A version of this column appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
The Damn Quails don’t let difficulties ground them
Since releasing its acclaimed 2011 debut album, Norman-based band The Damn Quails has played on through legal troubles, lineup changes and big life events.
The Damn Quails were soaring on the 2011 release of their debut album, with national acclaim, regional award nominations and success on the Americana Music Chart all following the Norman-based band’s “Down the Hatch.”
Then, the feathers started flying.
“We’ve had a bunch of drama. It’s been a drama-packed year and a half. It’s a long, crazy story,” said Bryon White, who with fellow singer-songwriter Gabriel Marshall makes up the core of the band, by phone Monday.
“There was a big doomsday vibe going on for a while … but as a band, we’ve done nothing but play. We’ve been playing show three or four times a week every week just still trying to make it.”
The group has played on through legal troubles, lineup changes and big life events, but will perform its last show for a few weeks Saturday night at the Wormy Dog Saloon. Thankfully, the upcoming break stems from a happy occasion: the birth this week of Marshall’s son, Holt.
“He’s looking forward to it,” White said the day before the baby Quail hatched. “We just actually get to take a little time off (the road), at least around the beginning of the deal … and then we’re going right back out on it.”
Marshall isn’t the only one who has experienced some big life events since the band broke out in 2011. White has since relocated from Norman to San Antonio, Texas, after a girl he knew from high school came to a Quails show, reconnected with him, and they fell in love.
“I drive a lot,” White said with a laugh. “A lot of the times, I end up not having to drive as far as the guys do because being here, I can get to Houston in three hours, Austin in an hour and a half. So the south Texas shows make it a little easier on me.”
Although the Quails have established a loyal flock in Oklahoma and strong following and radio presence in Texas, the band has been exploring farther north into Colorado, Minnesota and Idaho. Plus, they are planning a summer East Coast tour to New York City, Washington, D.C., Charlotte, N.C., and more.
Of course, White said he and his cohorts would like to have more songs on the radio, but legal complications have hindered liftoff of the Quails’ sophomore effort. According to Pottawatomie County court records, the band is locked in a lawsuit with Chance Sparkman, formerly of 598 Recordings, the now-imploded label that released “Down the Hatch.”
“We’re still trying to work through it. That’s why it’s been so long in getting our second record out. … It was just a really, really bad situation, and it just kind of happened real fast in the beginning, and then now it’s been drug out. I think we’ve been in the suit officially over a year,” White said, opting not to go into detail because “It’s something that’s gotta happen behind the scenes, and if ever we can release any details about it, I’m sure we will. But until then we have to keep our mouths shut.”
The Quails launched a new website — the old one bears a header that reads, in part, “Sparkman Records is excited to announce the upcoming release of a new album of songs by The Damn Quails. You can also catch their debut in federal court within the next couple of months.” — but decided to hold off on releasing a live album recording at Third Coast Music in Port Aransas, Texas.
Similarly, the legal entanglements have delayed the band’s work on its second studio album, although White, Marshall, stalwart drummer Tom Young and their new bandmates have tried to use the extra time to their advantage. After all, groups who fly high with their debut album often are expected to turn out their sophomore records rather quickly.
“Even if we get the record done tomorrow I couldn’t put it out because of all the legalities and stuff that are going on and the suit. We just can’t take the risk of putting it out until that’s settled and done with,” White said.
Still, the Quails headed back into to producer Mike McClure’s Ada studio known as The Boohatch in January. While McClure started 598 Recordings with Sparkman, White said the band’s bond with the producer has remained strong.
“We’re still not a practicing band, but getting to go down there and actually kind of line stuff out and then take that out on the road and let that kind of grow into a more live-type feel. And then we get to go back down and finish it off. So we get to let the songs breathe a little bit,” White said.
“That’s how the first record worked. The first recorded got fleshed out in those weekly Deli shows (in Norman) and the weekly Libby’s (Café in Goldsby) gigs, and every one of those contributed to what we ended up putting down and working out. I think that’s why the first record did so good, because they were real songs done in a real way. And that’s how we wanted to do it a second time.”
Since they’re looking on the bright side, White and his covey of compatriots have found a well-feathered nest of songwriting material in their trials and tribulations.
“There’s definitely some anger issues that I get to work out, which I like, and that’s a healthy, productive way for me to do it. We’ve got a couple of rock ‘n’ roll songs and some faster stuff. I’m looking forward to it, man, I’ve been wanting to flesh this out for a long time. And it’s finally starting to take shape,” White said.
The Quails expect to flock back to The Boohatch in the coming months, but in the meantime, they’re road-testing songs like “Tightrope Walker” and “Tough Luck Crying Shame” at their shows, including Saturday’s Oklahoma City show, which will feature one of their favorite fellow Oklahoma bands, Mama Sweet.
“We thought it would be a fun thing to finally have both bands on the same ticket,” White said.
““We’re trying to keep things going in a positive direction … and we’ve always been ready to keep it going. I mean, it’s the one thing we’re all good at and we all really wanted to do. You can either give up or keep going, and we choose the latter.”
The Damn Quails
With: Mama Sweet.
When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Where: Wormy Dog Saloon, 311 E Sheridan.