Photo by Jessica Shirley-Donnelly.
The post-apocalypse is hot, at least to judge from comics, movies and TV shows—music, not so much. Even so, Mike Shirley-Donnelly, singer for local indie-rock band Curious Quail, wasn’t sure at first that he wanted to record the band’s new concept album, the end-of-the-world-themed After The Lights Failed, because of the topic’s trendiness.
Then again, he had been developing these characters and stories for more than a decade, before the genre was so popular.
“If I wasn’t a musician, I would most likely go into writing, and most likely fiction, books, TV, film and so on. I have notebooks full of these stories. Most of it is connected,” Shirley-Donnelly says.
The end-of-modern-civilization-as-we-know-it concept isn’t even at the forefront of the album. To some listeners, it will sound like a collection of synthy, folky indie-rock tunes, but to those that really dig in, they will catch the narrative that Shirley-Donnelly has laid out: several interconnected stories that all take place after a single catastrophic global event, each song told from a different perspective.
“You can listen to it without knowing the story and enjoy it. But also I’ve taken a lot of time to make sure that everything sort of lines up. People that have heard the album say this sounds like a movie soundtrack. That’s definitely what we were going for,” Shirley Donnelly says.
Musically, After The Lights Failed encompasses more of the stylistic elements that Curious Quail have always played with. Their debut EP, The Glow—which was essentially a Shirley-Donnelly solo album—mixes a quirky blend of folk and computer sounds. The full-length Instant Gratification was a full band recording and had much more of a heavy alt-rock sound. After The Lights Failed mixes all of these elements together, with a much more theatrical vibe.
“It showcases more what we’re about. You got the chiptune elements. You got the fuzzy guitars. You got the down-tempo folky thing. I’m proud of the track list, the way it flows, the ups and downs,” Shirley-Donnelly says.
As diverse as After the Lights Failed is, it’s the band’s most cohesive record yet, though not their first concept album. After The Lights Failed marks the first recording Curious Quail has recorded as a band. Even with Instant Gratification, Shirley-Donnelly recorded a lot of it on his own, and would bring in band members to randomly track a guitar part here, or drums there. Before recording After the Lights Failed, the band changed up some members and solidified the lineup, which in addition to Shirley-Donnelly includes: Joey Guthrie on drums, Alan Chen on violin, Erin Keely on bass and Abe Myers on guitar. Together they successfully raised $10,000 on Kickstarter, and recorded the album in a studio as a unit.
“It’s no longer just me and my computer,” Shirley-Donnelly says. “We were really anxious to get something out there that was like, ‘hey world, this is the five of us.’”
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