It was hot at City Weekly's Utah Beer Festival in 2014. One of the shadiest spots in Washington Square that day happened to be the modest bleachers on the north end of the City and County Building, where one local band was loading out while another—The North Valley, it turned out—loaded in. I wasn't on the job then, and had been telling myself I was on a break from music. Honestly, I was curious what I'd missed in the local scene over the past several years.
Based solely on this one group of largely hirsute dudes, and the first verse of their first songs, that turned out to be a lot.
So even in the shade of the square's tall trees, as The North Valley, with charisma and exuberance, played a steady stream of great songs that updated the Lauren Canyon sound for the millennial crowd, I was hot with anger. I'd deprived myself of some truly great music. Afterward, the band passed out copies of their album Patterns in Retrospect (thenorthvalley.bandcamp.com). The longer I spoke with them, the more CDs drummer Spencer Sayer and singer/bassist Dane Sandberg, now sharing a cold pitcher with me in the dark, red-cast Bongo bar, put in my hands. Like bands do, they just wanted someone to hear them.
Well, I heard. And the day sticks with me: Faces of the people who heard the music and came to fill the stands. The way rays of sunlight poked through treetops like little spotlights. The sound of Spenny Relyea's and Jon Butler's guitar solos. Hot anger giving way to chills. The tang of my first sour beer. Leaving with three discs—one to play, one to give away and one to keep unopened for the day when it would fetch pretty pennies on Discogs or eBay.
By the time they handed me City Weekly's music reins 10 months later, The North Valley had gone away. That was particularly infuriating—until I heard that four of the five members had immediately formed a new band, Quiet Oaks. I hit their Bandcamp page like a home invasion, hoping they'd be as good as The North Valley. Sayer laughs and says, "So were we!"
"We don't really like talking about The North Valley," Sandberg says, "because people bring it up all the time." They're tired of telling the story of how Spenny Relyea, the band's other primary songwriter, left for reasons they prefer to keep private; they still love the guy. Also tiresome is feeling that, in spite of starting Quiet Oaks so quickly and with immediate success, they'd always be regarded as used-to-bes.
"It's different when people are really enthusiastic about the music," he says. It's when people appear to wish for The North Valley, asking, 'What happened?' or saying, 'You guys were so good!'" without hearing Quiet Oaks.
Sandberg and Relyea split the songwriting duties in the old band, and fans didn't prefer one's work over the other's, rightly attributing the tunes to the band. And Quiet Oaks' music is essentially the same, Sandberg says; "It's just heavier." To be sure, the band emphasizes the rock. "Go to Your Grave," the opening track of their Put Your Dreams Where They Belong EP, has an insistent beat and subtly frenzied guitar solo. But the incisive, singer-songwriterly lyrics remain. It's very much still Canyon-esque. Quiet Oaks just jacks up the passion and the volume.
The EP, Sayer says, was written in haste, since "there's no point in going on tour if you don't have something to promote." Not surprisingly, throughout that 45-stop jaunt, Quiet Oaks earned a reputation for connecting with their audiences and leaving them fulfilled. Shows in Chicago and Nashville sold-out on word-of-mouth. The buzz will only get louder once their local and national fans get a taste of Pretty Alright, Quiet Oaks' first full-length album.
Sandberg and Sayer say the album—which the band wrote while living in the same house just down the road from the Bongo—represented an opportunity to really demonstrate Quiet Oaks' breadth. Its 10 tracks include re-recordings of three songs from Dreams ("Guns," "Father Knows" and "Keep It Together") and seven new ones that find their heavier, louder songs still rife with emotional significance. Mature but youthful, confident and heavy on two levels, Pretty Alright finds the band achieving their intended end: shedding but not rejecting their old identity, and existing comfortably in their new one.
Of course, this is just in time for the band to leave Utah in late summer or early fall. "There's still a low ceiling here," Sayer says, while also noting the support they've received from local fans. "We can sell-out shows in Chicago and Nashville," Sandberg adds, "but we still haven't sold out The Urban Lounge." This is profoundly upsetting—but it would be wrong to hoard Quiet Oaks for ourselves.