By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
Outside the Bay Area, rock bands with women playing guitars and drums are still somewhat scarce. Sure, you'll get acts with female singers and bassists, but not very many girls are in the so-called "power positions." It's even more unusual to find a mixed-gender group with more women than men, especially one that identifies strongly with the queer-friendly punk community.
"At most of our shows on the East Coast, Jen [Smith, the band's guitarist] and I were the only women on the bill," says Quails drummer/vocalist Julianna Bright. "Our first show back was at the Eagle, where Seth [Lorinczi, the group's bassist] was the only boy out of four bands. It's fine to go out and be who we are, but the idea of not being a novelty is very pleasant."
The interview with the Quails takes place old-school punk style, in the band's station wagon before another gig at the Eagle, a SOMA gay bar. Like the actual birds, this trio of Quails is a gregarious bunch. Just as the members democratically trade off vocals onstage, they eagerly finish each other's thoughts in conversation. And while they're all outspoken about gender issues, discrimination, mental health advocacy, tenant rights, and other topics, they don't hamstring their politics with uptight rhetoric. The Quails may believe the world is a fucked-up place -- but that doesn't mean you can't have fun shouting about it.
With everything from unflattering costumes to "We shall overcome"-style sing-alongs, the Quails do what they can to liven up bland rock clubs. Occasionally the trio will pick a random audience member to play bass on a song, and at most shows, listeners who start out comatose end up dancing like idiots by the end of the set. You might see a Quail hamming it up during a performance and later hanging an anti-war poster on the door of the club. The feeling the band captures is true to the punk ethos: Anyone can do it and everyone should.
It's no surprise that the members of the Quails are a tightknit crew, considering that Lorinczi and Smith grew up together in Washington, D.C., and Lorinczi and Bright are housemates. In fact, the three early-thirtysomethings first converged over food, not music. Back in 1999 Lorinczi was studying to be a chef; he'd cook for the other two at his apartment, where they'd trade ideas and spin old punk and new wave records. "One night we just decided to put musical instruments in front of us instead of plates of food," Bright says.
After quickly writing a batch of songs, the band recorded its debut album, We Are the Quails, in April 2000, and played its first show that November at S.F. State with queer-rockers the Butchies. The early Quails sound married garage-rock guitar to the danceable post-punk rhythms of late-'70s and early-'80s English acts like Gang of Four, the Fall, and the Slits -- the same bands that had had a big influence on D.C.'s Dischord Records in the early '90s. Prior to the Quails, Lorinczi had been bassist for Dischord's Circus Lupus as well as its offshoot Antimony. Meanwhile, Bright played with garage/new wave duo the Electrolettes, a group that toured with Smith's Olympia punk variety show Cha Cha Cabaret in 1997.
"For Cha Cha Cabaret I just made a lot of costumes and asked my friends to do silly things," says Smith. The resulting performances ranged from costumed skits and tap dancing to fake game shows and poetic recitations.
Some of that anarchic spirit has carried over to the Quails' performances. At a recent Bottom of the Hill show, the band members dressed in polyester PE uniforms and did calisthenics between numbers. An androgynous coach appeared midset to blow a whistle and play trumpet. At one point, Smith abandoned her guitar to cavort about, demanding that the best dancers come to the front of the stage. The set-closer was a near-a-cappella protest song that had the crowd clapping along as if at some 1950s hootenanny, rallying around lines like, "The men and their money/ They're building mountains downtown/ She said if I were a mole I'd dig the mountain down." But even when the Quails are protesting, their humor shines through: After the show, a friend of the band passed out homemade calendars titled What Is the Best Way to Participate in Revolution in the Year 2002? that advocated sharing your doughnut with a pigeon.
For another show at a Mission art space, the band called itself the Shapes, appearing in brightly colored outfits and jumpsuits with a huge triangle, circle, or square drawn on each member's head. As at the Bottom of the Hill show, the event included a dance contest, and some in the crowd obliged with goofy freakouts.
Interest in non-rock forms of expression also inspired the Quails to create Bon Soir, a comic book and mini-opera. Credited to the Marzipan Ponce, the CD re-envisions the French student revolt of the '60s as a fight for the freedom to wear one's genitals outside one's pants. The three Quails take turns telling the story in song, while Lorinczi, listed as "Spurs Le Puff," picks out cabaret melodies on the Casio. As the Marzipan Ponce, the group is able to express some of its zanier ideas -- the ones that don't quite fit into its regular set of songs.