For the Quaker City Night Hawks, everything begins and ends with the stage.
During the past four years, David Matsler, Sam Anderson, Matt Mabe and Patrick Adams have coalesced into one of Fort Worth's most formidable live acts.
They are, reliably, one of the city's sharpest and best-received bands, a fact borne out of QCNH's jam-packed schedule and passionate fan base.
Even apart, the four men who make up the band can almost always be found in some music venue, somewhere in North Texas -- Mabe keeps time with what seems like 75 percent of the local music scene, while Anderson, Matsler and Adams all pursue solo endeavors of varying intensity.
Then there's that unmistakable Quaker City Night Hawks sound, honed over endless nights under the spotlights -- a rich, gritty blend of rock, blues and country, deep-fried and streaked with grease, and audibly identifiable as Texan.
With the band's second full-length album, Honcho, which follows its 2011 debut, ¡Torquila Torquila!, the stage and the studio have at last been united to fantastic effect.
Capturing the spirit
A knock against many of the area's popular bands is that when it comes to the recording studio, something becomes lost in translation. The magic that you glimpse while standing at the foot of the stage, clutching a cold Shiner Bock, doesn't make the leap to your speakers.
QCNH defused that criticism well before Honcho, with the release of last year's Live at Magnolia Motor Lounge EP, which captured the quartet in its element: loose, live and loud. Yet Honcho also doesn't disappoint; that lightning-in-a-bottle quality fuels every track.
"We had grown so much since ¡Torquila Torquila! that we wanted to show people that," Mabe says of the live EP. "That recording kind of shocked us when we heard the rough mixes, 'cause it was really good. We didn't know at the time that we were being recorded. They didn't tell us until the morning after. ... Honcho has a lot more of that energy and I think it comes across very well."
Work on Honcho began last spring, when the Quaker City Night Hawks, drafted as Los Angeles singer-songwriter Jenny O's backing band for South by Southwest, began rehearsals to learn her songs. (This year, the band will once more make the trip to Austin, this time with its own SXSW showcase.)
After two months of practice, Anderson says the band emerged ready to lay down the new material on tape.
"We overdubbed some guitars and vocals, but all of the rhythm tracks were done live," Anderson says. "Matt and Pat -- they're kind of freaks in the studio. [Album producer] Matthew Smith said he'd never seen anybody work that quick through the rhythm section."
(Mabe corroborates: "Pat and I laid down almost all of the bass and drum tracks for 18 tracks on the first day in the studio.")
Apart from steady gigs and bolstering confidence with a live EP, the Quaker City Night Hawks also got an unexpected boost from outside the state. Last year, the popular FX series Sons of Anarchy featured their music during a couple episodes, which helped create awareness beyond the bars and clubs where the band regularly performs. Anderson says the band was "pinching themselves."
"It was really great to get some love from people who have never heard us before," Mabe says.
So now, with the terrific Honcho in hand -- cuts like Lavanderia, Fox in the Hen House or Sweet Molly, the go-for-broke finale, are guaranteed to get your hips shaking -- it's hard not to feel like the wind is at the band's back.
The recording sessions at Dallas' January Studios were so productive that the foursome is also offering two songs ( Tell It Like It Is and Prize to Find) on a seven-inch single titled Texas Heavy, to be released in conjunction with Honcho.
In a nice bit of symmetry, the songs are being released separately because QCNH didn't feel like they fit with the flow of Honcho, which is very deliberately structured so as to have a steady ascent and gradual decline, punctuated by a few, honest-to-God rockers -- call it the album being given an equal footing with the live show.
The four are clearly as invested in how their music is received over headphones as they are in its live presentation.
"I hope people like the record for its honesty," Mabe says. "It's real raw and genuine. ... It's my favorite thing that I've ever played on."
Anderson is even more succinct, inadvertently laying bare what propels the Quaker City Night Hawks every time they set foot in a recording studio or step on stage.
"Everyone in this band has all their chips on their table," he says. "But, as long we have fun on stage, we enjoy that more than anything in the world."
Preston Jones is the Star-Telegram pop music critic, 817-390-7713