Curious Quail: local band from San Jose


Maya Jayaram

With the increasing amount of popular music played on the radio, it’s easy to neglect the incredible music right in front of us. The music of Curious Quail, an award-winning local band from San Jose, has a unique blend of musical elements unlike any other.

The band describes its music as “alternative rock with chiptune and orchestral elements, or essentially three very different genres mashed together to create an exhilarating sound.”

Mike Shirley-Donnelly, the guitarist and vocalist for Curious Quail, began his music as a solo project. Due to a lack of people to play all of the instruments, Shirley-Donnelly took stories from a book series he was writing, created songs out of them, and used a loop pedal to play the guitar and keyboard together.

Soon after, Shirley-Donnelly was able to put together a substantial band after his friend Joey Guthrie started to play the drums with him. Eventually, Alan Chen joined as the violinist, Erin Keely as the bassist, and Joyce Kuo as the lead guitarist of the group. Recently, Keely moved to Washington and left the group, and was therefore replaced by Josh Hotlosz.

“By 2010, we’d gotten a rotating cast of live members, but it wasn’t until after we played our first BFD in 2013 that we solidified our permanent lineup, and it shifted from ‘Mike’s solo project’ into ‘this is Curious Quail, the 5-piece band,’” Shirley-Donnelly said.

Curious Quail’s music contains several elements that resulted in it being considered “alternative rock with chiptune and orchestral elements.” For example, their sound includes violin, fuzzy guitars, and a chip tune feel created with the use of a Nintendo Gameboy. Their music has also been referred to as indie rock, chamber pop, and synth pop.

The inspirations for many of Curious Quail’s songs are the limits that they strive to push. Because they use a Nintendo Gameboy to create their “chiptune” sound, they work towards getting the most out of every sound they create.

Each one of Curious Quail’s songs is part of an ongoing plot/ narrative that they have written. Every song, however, is unique with its own creative twist.

The Turnaround is my all time favorite, because it starts as something lo fi [low fidelity] the percussion is all made up of recorded camera clicks and shutters but ends as this epic beast,” Chen said.

Reconstruction – it’s sort of the ‘end of the musical’ moment where all the melodies and themes reprise and everyone has a big sendoff. It was my favorite to debut to the band; ­I remember recording an acoustic version in a hallway and saying ‘this is how we’re going to close the album out’. It’s definitely my favorite song to play live; the crowd goes nuts,” Shirley-Donnelly said.

Curious Quail has played alongside more well-known bands such as Of Monsters and Men, Silversun Pickups, 30 Seconds to Mars, and Finish Ticket. The band also recently performed at Live 105’s BFD in Mountain View in the summer of 2014 and again in 2015.

On April 23, the band will be doing a hometown show at Art Boutiki in San Jose, and then performing at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco in May. For Mike Shirley-Donnelly, his favorite memory with the band so far has been performing at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.

“We headlined San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, a place I’d been to countless times in my youth to see big­ name bands that I loved,” Shirley-Donnelly said. “To think I went from playing coffee shops by myself to being on a legendary stage like that in less than five years is just insane, and I will never forget how amazing that felt.”

Shirley-Donnelly explained that the band is very active with its social media, and interacting with their fans is a huge priority for them.

“We’re also huge video game and Doctor Who nerds, so if that’s your thing then we’ll be best friends.” Shirley-Donnelly said.