Chris Shiflett’s Walking the Floor podcast returns today with a new episode spotlighting Quaker City Night Hawks. Recorded several months ago amidst the chaos of the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, the interview captures the Texas-based band during the seventh week of a promotional tour in support of their newest release, QCNH. Filled with Tex-Mex Southern rock, throwback psychedelia, and guitar-driven nods to Seventies icons, QCNH‘s songs initially took shape on the road, where the band’s three principal members have spent the last handful of years opening for Blackberry Smoke and the Cadillac Three. Appropriately, the Night Hawks’ core trio — Sam Anderson, David Matsler, and Aaron Haynes — all appear on the Walking the Floor episode.
Here’s six things we learned from their chat with the Foo Fighters guitarist.
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The Night Hawks’ two songwriters previously toured their home state as an acoustic duo, before the desire to make louder music pushed them to purchase guitar amps and double the band’s size.
“Dave and I were playing acoustic music for a long time together, driving all over Texas,” Anderson remembers. “I’m not sure if there was one breaking point, or a slow, agonizing breaking point. . .but I got tired of people being able to talk over me. I wanted to be so loud that they couldn’t talk about me.” Shortly thereafter, Quaker City Night Hawks were born.
What’s in a name? For the Night Hawks, the answer includes Mark Twain, a group of pilgrims, and the unquenchable desire to get drunk.
“Mark Twain was on this boat,” Matsler explains, when asked about the origin of the band’s name, “and they were going to the Holy Land — Jerusalem — because someone had commissioned him to go along with these pilgrims. He was just going there to write, so he was, like, going gonzo on this thing. The boat was called the Quaker City. He was hanging out with all these religious people, trying to find some people who would drink and smoke and play cards with him under the boat at night.” Twain eventually found the people he was looking for, and he dubbed the clandestine crowd “the Night Hawks.”
Headliners like Chris Stapleton, Blackberry Smoke, and the Cadillac Three have not only handpicked Quaker City Night Hawks as an opening act; they’ve encouraged their audience to come early, too.
“The cool thing we’ve noticed is, a lot of those guys cultivate this really rad scene where their fans know they’re gonna be really judicious and vet who’s gonna open,” says Haynes. “[The fans] trust the headliners to pick a good opener. They made this climate with their fans: ‘show up for the opener’s set.’ They’ll all be in place before our set, instead of trickling in. It’s like, “If you show up early, we’ll bring you cool shit.” And you can definitely feel that vibe with those artists.
They’re proud to carry the torch for guitar-driven rock & roll, although all that gear certainly makes it tough to load into a venue.
“You used to see people lugging around big, clunky cases, and pushing drums on a dolly up 6th Street, and now it’s everyone with a keyboard tucked up under their arm, going to their next gig,” says Haynes. “It’s funny to watch the trends”
“Load-outs look awesome!” adds Haynes. “Whenever you’re carrying your gear, and some guy walks by [with a keyboard], you’re like, ‘Oh man, maybe I should do that.'”
Sam Anderson and Sam Smith have something in common: they’ve both cribbed from Tom Petty.
An excited Sam Anderson once brought a new, riff-driven song to his bandmates, only to be informed by the rest of the Night Hawks that he’d unintentionally plagiarized the Wildflowers track “Honey Bee.” They scrapped the song, and years later, they still laugh about it.
Two of the bandmates are preacher’s sons.
Anderson even grew up in the Church of Christ, where instruments were forbidden. “Church of Christ is traditionally a cappella services, to the backwards-ass point where someone would even think it’s a sin to play an instrument,” he explains. The experience helped him develop a love — and a talent — for singing. “I came at the guitar much, much later in time, when I was 18,” he adds. “But I always had singing, and that’s the first thing that sunk the hooks in.”