By Christian Wallace
It’s been said that good things take time. Sam Anderson and David Matsler met back in 2003 out on the lonely Llano Estacado in West Texas. Anderson was an art major studying at Tech, while Matsler was majoring in mandolin at South Plains College, “the Juilliard of bluegrass.” The two met through the local music scene, swapped songs at open-mikes, and struck out on a sleep-in-the-car-tour gigging at dives across the state. At the time, Matsler was peddling a repertoire of self-penned folk tunes, while Anderson was experimenting with alt-country. Eventually Anderson left Lubbock for his hometown, Fort Worth, and Matsler lived for a stint in Austin.
Seven years later the two songwriters reunited in Fort Worth. This time something clicked.
“We were tired of people talking over us,” Anderson says. “We wanted a rock ’n’ roll band.” They ditched the coffeehouse acoustics, added a bass player and drummer, plopped heavy riffs over a distinctive bluesy groove, and cranked up the volume. The result was the Quaker City Night Hawks.
While still in its infancy, the band earned a weekly slot at Spencer’s, a now-defunct Fort Worth venue. Then only months after forming, the Night Hawks headed to the studio and hammered out their first album, ¡Torquila Torquila!, in just five days. About a year later, Anderson woke up one morning with an email waiting in his inbox from Los Angeles. FX wanted to use a Quaker City song for the fifth season of Sons of Anarchy. The next day they called asking for two more tracks.
“It was just kind of bam-bam,” Anderson recalls. “For me that’s pretty typical of the music business. It’s all a hurry-up-and-wait game. There are long stretches of time where you feel like you’re not doing anything. You feel like you’re treading water. Then all of a sudden it’s escalating so quickly, it’s like getting a drink from a fire hydrant.”
Quaker City continues chipping away at success. They released a second studio album, Honcho, in 2013, and their résumé now boasts dates touring alongside Lucero, J Roddy Walston, and Whiskey Myers. Just last month, the band returned to Lubbock where they shared a bill with Chris Stapleton.
Battered in crunchy distortion and deep-fried in the blues, the Quaker City sound draws consistent comparisons to ZZ Top and ’70s-era Southern rock, but those analogies only go so far. “We’re rock ’n’ roll for the New South,” Anderson says. “We’re obviously rooted in Southern and classic rock, but [Matsler] and I made a very conscious effort to paint a different picture of the South. There’s been a lot of bad blood for decades, but I feel we’re crawling out of that right now. We want to accurately depict that. We want to move forward.”
El Astronauta, the band’s certain-to-be breakthrough album due May 20 on Lightning Rod Records, fully delivers on that notion. From the trippy, sci-fi album art to psych-tinged tracks inspired by NASA missions and JFK, Quaker City is ready to prove that the New South is not only down-home but far-out. They’ll be bringing this message to an ever-wider audience on a national tour this summer, but before they hit the road you can catch them at several Lone Star locales, including a 3 p.m. slot at Friday’s Lone Star Music and KOKE-FM Dillo Mixer at Threadgill’s World Headquarters.