The Quaker City Night Hawks play filthy blues rock that sounds perfect for a seedy Texas bar out in the middle of nowhere. But the band is getting attention from the industry peers — and you may even see them on the Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.
In 2009, Sam Anderson and David Matsler, both guitarists and songwriters, played acoustic blues shows in Fort Worth. Tired of the chatter from diners at restaurant gigs, they started a rock band. This frustrated desire to be heard resonates in the music and Quaker City Night Hawks are nothing if not loud.
The Fort Worth quartet's latest album, El Astronauta, starts by directly addressing the listener with the lyrics, “Good evening from Fort Worth, Texas.” The band is full of experienced musicians. Bass player Pat Adams was once in Whiskey Folk Ramblers. Aaron Haynes was in Dovetail and has played with the Texas Gentlemen. Their former keyboard player, Andrew Skates, is now touring with Leon Bridges.
“It’s easy to get stuck in the whole nostalgia rock category,” Anderson says, about the band’s sound. “You end up just sounding like Creedence or the Rolling Stones. Of course those influences are going to come out. But we did not want to base everything on sounding like an old school band. We wanted to make sure it still sounded like something that was made today.”
They have played shows with Bridges and also Chris Stapleton, who was enough of a fan to ask them back for some upcoming Texas shows. “I don’t know how he heard of us,” Anderson says, about Stapleton. “But he has to approve everything and he gave us a call and said he really enjoyed it.” Anderson also says that, as of May, the Quaker City Night Hawks and Stapleton are booked by the same agency: William Morris.
Anderson says things have been different ever since the band signed with Lightning Rod Records out of Nashville, putting them on the same label as Joe Pug, Jason Isbell and Ryan Culwell. “We have a good team in place,” Anderson admits. “If we mess it up now, it’s probably our fault.”
But there have been some other surprising endorsements. Jimmy Fallon posted El Astronauta with some kind words on his Tumblr account a month ago. Anderson woke up one day to check the band’s e-mail and social media sites and noticed a spike in traffic.
“Obviously Twitter went crazy,” Anderson says. “But it was across all sites. We’ve noticed clicks on all our links on our Facebook page and website. The album went kind of haywire. We had to turn our phone notifications off. We’re hoping that is a predecessor to playing The Tonight Show,” Anderson says. “I know our management has talked to them and they’ve shown interest.”
While eating at a Thai food place in Nashville, another Twitter notification popped up on Anderson’s phone. He's a Marc Maron fan and follows the comedian and podcaster’s account. It was a great surprise to see Maron tweeting his admiration for the new album. It didn’t seem like real life at first. “I couldn’t believe it was our band’s name,” Anderson says. “I was like, 'Oh my God! That’s our album!' I’m not sure how he got a hold of it, but glad he did. We saw a lot more people listening to our record.”
Hey, @QCNH! Digging the record fellas. Sounds like the rock I grew up with in NM!— marc maron (@marcmaron) May 28, 2016
Back in 2012, three songs from Quaker City Night Hawks’ first album were featured on season five of the television show, Sons of Anarchy. “I think that CD sat on the music supervisor’s desk for a year or two before he even picked it up,” Anderson says. “He must have been desperate for something and started playing it.” The band received a call about interest in one song and before they could make sense of the paperwork they were asked for two more.
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“It was definitely a surprise for us,” Anderson says. They were fans of the show and the music it featured. “That was huge for us. Not just monetarily, but the online attention.” Several months later, it also earned the band a great deal of attention from listeners overseas. With new seasons making their way into many countries a year after they air, the Quaker City Night Hawks initially struggled to make sense of why so many people from other countries were suddenly checking them out.
“We were trying to figure out what the hell was going on,” Anderson says. “But we did a little bit of nerd searching on Google.”
The Quaker City Night Hawks will perform at Pemberton Music Festival, a massive event in British Columbia in July, and they are scheduled to tour the Pacific Northwest for some dates with a Canadian blues-rock band, the Sheepdogs. Quaker City Night Hawks are also working on upcoming animated music videos with Charlie Terrell, the video artist who has worked with Rihanna and Megadeth.
There are many indications of a promising future for the Quaker City Night Hawks. But Anderson says they are still running the gamut on gigs, at least until they hear from Jimmy Fallon: “We’ll play country venues, rock venues, small indie clubs, a stadium with Chris Stapleton — it’s definitely pretty scattered right now,” he says. But people are definitely listening.