Quinsonics – If Kerosene doesn’t work
When D. Braxton Harris sat down to write “Ocean Floor”, he knew he wasn’t trying to come up with the season’s new tear-in-my-beer barroom ballad. “I was reading Kierkegaard back then,” says the bespectacled guitarist and singer for the Quinsonics, “and I was thinking about the nature of time, about how even though you think it’s dragging, you look up one day and see things are slipping away. You can laugh about it when you’re with your friends and everything, but when you’re alone, you know, its pretty serious stuff.”
It only takes one listen to the Quinsonics debut, Cowboy Angel, to understand this band is pretty serious, indeed. Maybe it has something to do with their mostly acoustic vibe, or maybe it’s Harris’ earnest tenor; whatever, the Quinsonics’ music ain’t about drinkin’ and hollerin’ and having a party. More than anything, their songs seem shaped by the elegant darkness that flows from the landscape around them.
“I spend a lot of time on the road,” Harris says. “I’ve been to a lot of weird places in the South, backwoods places. Places I guess where people don’t normally go.” The majority of Harris’ time behind the wheel is spent on one of Alabama’s most infamous roads: 78 West, the line to Tupelo and Memphis, an anti-interstate running past juke joints, trailer parks and desolate pine woods. It also passes two Sonic Drive-In restaurants — which may or may not, he acknowledges with a grin, have something to do with the band’s name.
All this time behind the wheel fuels Harris’ imagination. Witness “65”, written after coming upon a gruesome late-night accident that haunted him for days. “We got flagged down about three o’clock in the morning, coming back from a gig,” Harris recalls. “Some guy had been thrown from his car and was still alive. Until he got run over by another car, that is.” True to form, the songwriter was more interested in the uncertain fate of the lone survivor than any journalistic account. “I kept watching the girl, huddling there on the side of the road in the darkness, and I wondered where she was gonna go, how she was gonna handle all this.”
While Harris’ battered acoustic supports the lyrical heft with ease, lately the band has followed their more rowdy impulses and started plugging in. “It’s mainly a live thing; we really try to restrain ourselves, but it’s getting harder and harder to do,” Harris says. “We love the acoustic stuff, but we wanna get noisy, too.” Which is easy to understand, given the band’s affection for such acts as the Pixies, Fugazi, and the mid-’80s roots-punk skeleton crew. It was a fateful conversation with Peter Case, in fact, that motivated Harris to start taking his love of loud country music seriously. “We sat down in this little club and talked for a long time. He basically gave me the ups and downs of the whole business, and when it was over, I knew what I wanted to do.”
It took a few years of solo gigs around Birmingham and Auburn, his alma mater, before Harris realized it was time to get a band together. “I really don’t like to play lead guitar much,” he says. “I’ve got some bluegrass licks, but mainly I wanted to get a collaborative thing going. I wanted to focus on the songwriting.” A friend hooked him up with John Hansen, whose self-taught, flamenco-tinged guitar playing added an interesting dimension to the sound. After adding a rhythm section and pedal steel, it was only six months until Cowboy Angel was ready to roll.
But there was one little problem. “We started out playing — for a while, too — as Kerosene,” Harris said. “But we started having trouble with the copyright on the name, so we switched to Kerosene 7. Then nobody in the band really liked that one, so we said screw it, we’re gonna lose our name recognition, but let’s go with something completely different. So that’s how we got to be the Quinsonics,” he laughs. “Now we’re in the process of getting our fans to know who we are again.”
They also hope to start touring and expanding their fan base beyond the immediate region. “We’ve played the clubs and even the festivals here in the Southeast, but we’re pretty much strangers in other parts,” Harris says. “But we’re gonna try to change that.”