Curious Quail – A Game Between Chats


We met in downtown San Francisco. Neon lights and awful traffic make for the best possible setting. Mike Shirley-Donnelly (guitar/vox/composition/mad scientist), Joey Guthrie (percussion/bells), Erin Keely (vox/percussion/keytar/violin/dance), Sean Nolen (guitar/vox/sometimes the girl parts) and soon-to-be-doctor Alan Chen (violin/vox) all introduced themselves (Gregory Keeney on keys, vox, accordion was not able to attend) and we quickly began our first task: find a table large enough to hold six people. Instruments in-tote, the Quails and I sat down for a game of Cards Against Humanity and a little information about who they are.

So, who are they? It was apparent as Joey handed me  some Curious Quail stickers. I now own Star WarsFinal FantasyDoctor Who and Lost themed Quail stickers. In the kindest, most positive way to say this, they’re basically nerds. They would have to be in order to make this band function.

Just take a listen to any song. There are layers upon layers of intricate synth, keyboard, guitar, vocals – you name it.

CC: I was listening to your music a little bit. You guys have a lot going on. What is the writing process like for that?

*laughter all around*

Joey: So, Mike spins around and he throws darts at music charts.

Mike:  Pretty much. The first two albums started with, like, one really simple thing and I was like, “What can I add to this to make it as fun as possible?” And there was no regard ever put into how many people we would have in the band because I assumed this was going to be a solo project. So, I thought I was going to be layering stuff indefinitely and would figure out what would happen. And then we started adding stuff and it was like… that keyboard part- if Sean could play that on guitar. Some songs that we play live- there’s still things that are on the record that would never transpose. I shouldn’t be allowed to just sit at the computer and just do this because-

Joey: No, that’s more fun! I like it. As a drummer, I like it because it’s stuff that I would never think to do. So, on the album, I play zero parts although I wrote one part and the rest of it’s all taking what Mike does and sort of translating it into something live and then adding my own little take on it. Like there’s no double bass pedal anywhere in the album that I can think of that’s distinctly double bass, but there’s definitely some in the live shows. It’s little things we do, and we added little starts and stops that were never in the album at all. For me, anyway, I love it ’cause it takes the pressure off and at the same time lets me sort of explore the space of the room, if you will.

Photos by JRSD Photography and Skeleton Key Photography

It’s made clear that Mike is the core to this band. He started Curious Quail as a solo project because, like he said, there was never any indication of this ever being a full, seven-piece band.

Mike: I was doing a solo project. It was me and an acoustic guitar and a laptop and a loop pedal and a keyboard. So, I would play some keys and loop stuff and sing and play guitar. Late 2008… November was my first ever appearance as Curious Quail.

Shortly after, they began adding other members. Mike was also in a band called Metabear where he met Joey and Sean. Sean asked if they were looking for a violinist because he knew a guy he punched in high school who would be perfect for the position.

Sean: For the record, I did not punch Alan in high school. I went to high school with Alan and I punched him.

Alan: When we were in college.

Mike: So, one thing lead to another, then we got Greg on keyboard. Then, we stole Erin.

CC: Where did you steal Erin from?

Mike: Well, I guess technically we didn’t steal you. Because we borrowed her.

Erin: You snatched me up.

Mike: And then she left that band, and then rejoined that band and then that band broke up.

Erin was borrowed from San Francisco’s Please Do Not Fight, who broke up just last year.

Mike: We were “borrowing” her for recording after she quit that band, and then for live shows around the time she rejoined them. Then, they broke up so we asked her to be full time.

As other members joined the band, Mike stayed the center – the main mad scientist. The rest of the Quails hold on white-knuckled and then add their own take to the songs.

Sean: Really, the thing is there’s a core that Mike comes up with that has parts that kind of fit onto… I could describe it in terms of chemistry, but it’s kind of like you’ve got this core and everything’s just kind of latched onto it like people hanging off of a bus.

Alan: That can’t go slower than 40 miles per hour

Sean. Exactly and the nice thing about that is it give us the versatility to give mike the capability to play the song by himself with an acoustic guitar, and we can have just Mike and Alan. We can have just Mike and me. We can have just Mike and Joey. We can have any combination as long as we have Mike there… and it still works because we’ve got a solid core. All the fluff that we put onto it sounds great and is awesome, but is really not essential when it comes to playing.

The San Jose based band has been breaking San Francisco. Most recently, the Quails played Bottom of the Hill where they encountered a much better turnout than was expected.

Sean: I thought it was really fun. We got to meet a couple of bands that we hadn’t played with before. The Y Axes – I met their guitarist at one of our shows. He said, “Hey, we should play together because you guys are total nerds and we’re all scientists. So, we should play together.’ And they were really good, really nice guys and it was a good experience. Like Mike said, the turnout was actually, I think, surprising for us. We didn’t expect as many people to show up as did.

Though there are more venues showing up in San Jose, the Quails have their sights set on SF. A way to get in – show swapping with other bands.

Mike: Yeah. We’re trying to sort of  step out of that and kind of expand a little bit… move forward.

Joey: We’ve met a lot of really cool bands bands that want to swap shows ’cause there are people who trying to get down to San Jose, too. So we’re like, “Perfect.”

Mike: And there’s a fair amount of really good venues. Recently, there’s been more stuff that’s been popping up in San Jose, so I think a lot of San Francisco bands are starting to care about that.

In regards tothe band name, that was also Mike’s doing. With a lifetime of bird-like qualities, he chose the California state bird to represent what might eventually be a full band.

Mike: I wanted to have a band name in the odd event that I would have a band. I wanted it to have alliteration. I wanted it to be bird themed because throughout my entire childhood I had bird like tendencies, like I would perch on stuff. I used to make bird sounds.

Thus, Curious Quail was born. With one EP and one full length album, the Quails are working on what will probably be another EP. Hopefully, it will be finished by the end of this year. Until then, you can visit the band on their website to find music, tour dates and little more about each individual Quail.

Twitter: @CuriousQuail

All photos borrowed from the Curious Quail Facebook. Thanks for the interview, guys!

And, for the record, Erin won Cards Against Humanity.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply