Have you ever been certain someone was destined for greatness?
I saw The Killers in July of 2004 just a couple of weeks after their debut album Hot Fuss was released in the US at the Lo-Fi Cafe in front of fewer than 100 people, and I just knew.
While Brandon Flowers didn’t quite have the stage presence he does today, the songs were undeniable.“Mr. Brightside,” “Somebody Told Me,” “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” and “All These Things I’ve Done” right out of the gate. Are you kidding me?
When I saw Phoebe Bridgers sing Funeral at Kilby Court in the spring of 2018, I knew she was a star. Her performance was mesmerizing and captivating.
But sometimes a band’s star doesn’t rise as quickly as you think it should. That brings me to Quiet Oaks.
The Art of the Opener
I first saw them in May of 2017. They were the local support act for Matt Vasquez, the lead singer of Delta Spirit who was in the middle of a solo tour. As a short person, I always arrive to shows early so I can be front and center, especially at a venue like Urban Lounge, where the stage is only a foot or two off the ground
When the band took the stage, I wasn’t expecting much. But boy was I wrong.
Quiet Oaks did what every opener is supposed to do — whip the crowd into a frenzy and they did that and more. One song in and I was hooked. They sounded like Aha Shake Heartbreak-era Kings of Leon, but only if the Followill brothers were raised on a steady diet of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.
Lead singer Dane Sandberg transitioned between singing and screaming effortlessly, all while bounding around the stage with a raucous, chaotic energy that his bandmates, Spencer Sayer (drums), Mike Moon (bass), Jon Butler (lead guitar) matched step for step.
For Sandberg and Sayer, opening for Matt Vasquez was a dream come true.
“I was waiting my whole life for that show,” said Sayer. “Matt is a huge inspiration for Dane and I, so we really wanted to make sure we put our stamp on it.”
The Building of the Band
This show was the culmination of a lot of hard work and the ups and downs of a group that began playing together 15 years ago.
They initially found success as The North Valley but that ended after a falling out with one of the other members, which led Sandberg, Sayer, Butler, along with Kramer McCausland to regroup as Quiet Oaks, adding Moon on bass.
The group built its reputation on the back of its live shows.
“Playing live is just f****n’ fun, man,” said Sandberg. “We all grew up listening to classic rock, metal, and punk and there’s one thing that’s in common with all of that music. They have a lot of energy. When you watch someone with a lot of energy it gives the crowd energy and makes you want to get up and dance more.”
Sayer added, “People don’t realize we still jump at practice. That’s just how we are when we play. It’s not rehearsed. It just comes natural to us.”
That brings us back to that show with Matt Vasquez. After all of the struggles they endured having to rebuild the band and their audience, this show was a victory lap of sorts.
“With our old band, The North Valley, it felt like we were finally getting some recognition,” related Sandberg. “We were playing with bigger bands finally. We played with St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Jamestown Revival. It was like we were finally getting there and then that shit crashed and burned and we had to start all over again, so when we got to play with Matt Vasquez, it was like, f*** man, we did it again. We brought it back and now it’s better than ever.”
And Sandberg wasn’t going to let this opportunity go to waste, “Personally, I was trying to upstage Matt. It can’t really be done, but I was trying the hardest that I could.”
At that point, the band had reached a crossroads. Were they going to be hometown heroes and play a monthly gig at Urban to an adoring crowd of local fans, or were they going to try and take their career to the next level?
Off to Nashville
With the drive that Sandberg and Sayer have, it was no surprise that at the end of the summer in 2017, the band packed up and headed for Nashville.
That’s not because they didn’t love Salt Lake and the scene here. The biggest reason for leaving was logistics. Having Salt Lake as a home base doesn’t make sense for a touring band. The closest major city in any direction is at least 8 hours away. From Nashville, in that same 8-hour radius, they could hit approximately 20 cities.
The other reason to leave is a little more obvious. They don’t call Nashville “Music City” for nothing. The connections they could make with potential managers and booking agents is much greater than they could ever make in Utah.
When they left, I was certain that the next time I saw them they would have signed a record deal and would be touring in support of a new album, but so far that level of success has eluded them.
But just because they haven’t been signed doesn’t mean they aren’t moving in the right direction.
During their first year in Nashville they spent a lot of time cultivating a community of like-minded musicians like they had back in Utah, including fellow Utah expats, Desert Noises. But most importantly, they started to hone their craft.
“When you move 1,500 miles from home it makes you realize that you better be good then,” said Sandberg. “Everyone here is very talented. I might not love all of their music necessarily, but some of the bands here are incredible and every single goddamn player here is so much better than any other place I’ve been.”
They also found time to record an EP with Grammy-nominated producer Andrija Tokic, who’s worked with Alabama Shakes and Margo Price, and they mounted a successful tour in support of that EP that features a couple of certified bangers, including” Laugh it Up” and “Never Really Minded.”
And then COVID Happened
2020 was shaping up to be a big year for the band. After spending much of 2019 playing locally, writing new material, and prepping to record a follow-up to their debut album, they had lined up a solo tour and a number of festival dates, including, according to the band, a slot during SXSW. Then COVID put the brakes on all of that.
“We had such a cool year planned and then it all came to a screeching halt, so then you have to readjust how you’re approaching things,” said Sayer.
One of the biggest things they’ve had to adjust to was the departure of their bandmates Mike and Jon, who decided they didn’t have it in them to mount another comeback, but the remaining pair understood the move.
“At that point when Mike and Jon told us they were done, it wasn’t really a surprise,” recounted Sandberg. “We’ve been doing this for a long time. It burns you out.”
Sayer agreed. “It’s a lot to ask of somebody to go after this thing that might never happen because you love it so much and set aside the rest of your life. It makes sense. I don’t want to do it sometimes. It’s hard, and I totally understand it.”
The hardest part for Dane and Spencer was not being able to send their bandmates off with one last tour or even one last show, so they did what they’ve done thousands of times—got together and jammed. Only this time they recorded it.
“That was kind of heavy,” said Sandberg. “It was weird to play that and to know that’s the last time and not be able to do a show like that. It was unfair we didn’t get to go out with a banger. That’s why we recorded the live album. I’m really proud of it. It sounds like us.”
Dane’s not kidding. All Frills and No Bullshit, released in the fall of 2020, really does capture what a Quiet Oaks show sounds like and was a fitting end to that chapter for the group considering the circumstances.
The Next Chapter
As Sandberg and Sayer plot where the band goes next, they’re not wasting this forced downtime. They’ve written about 30 songs and are recording demos that can be used to shop the record around once they get them polished.
“The main thing that Spencer and I wanted on this new record is we wanted it to sound like Quiet Oaks,” said Sandberg. “One of the things we had going for us is we felt like we made a sound that was our own. You could hear our influences, but it was still unique to us.”
That process has been a little more difficult for the band this time around because they don’t have the luxury of just rehearsing the shit out of the songs and recording them live without multi-tracking.
But after some trial and error, they’ve gotten to a place that’s working for them.
“We still basically record live with the two of us, and then layer on top of that,” explained Sayer.
When Mike and Jon left, the remaining members of the band had to have a gut check, but it didn’t take them very long to realize they couldn’t see themselves doing anything else.
“We still have that foot on the gas, man.” Sandberg concluded. “We’re still pissed off. We’re even more pissed off now. The shows are going to be even more visceral now because we’ve got a full goddamn year’s worth of energy to get out.”
And when the band does return to Salt Lake, I’ll be right there in the front row waiting.
A Beginner’s Guide to Quiet Oaks
I Don’t Bleed for You - Honestly, the best way to get into Quiet Oaks is to see them live, but since that’s not possible, here’s the next best thing. The band recorded a short set for the Jam in the Van series. All of the videos are good, but “I Don’t Bleed for You” best captures their live performance.
Keep it Together - This is the perfect song to help you get through the pandemic. It opens with Dane singing, “Try to keep it all together, keep my head from stormy weather,” and isn’t that what we’re all trying to do right now?
Never Really Minded - Have I mentioned how adept Dane is at screaming? Well, this track shows you exactly what I’m talking about.
Laugh it Up - At their core, Quiet Oaks is just a band that wants to shred and have a good time, and this video is a perfect distillation of that.
Guns - Almost every Quiet Oaks show I’ve been to has ended with this song, so it seems fitting to have it be my last suggestion. What I want you to do is close your eyes, listen to the music, and imagine the pit is circling up behind you and you’re ready to throw some ’bows.