The Memphis Dawls
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The Memphis Dawls

Memphis, Tennessee, United States | SELF

Memphis, Tennessee, United States | SELF
Band Folk Rock

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Three woman making striking fashion statements that may or may not have been amped for Halloween, took the stage wielding guitar (Holly Cole), cello (Jana Misener) and mandolin/violin (Krista Wroten) and launched into some of the most unique and edgy folk we’ve heard in a long time. Aided by drummer Jesse Williams and trumpet player Nahshon Benford, they pursued an upbeat almost bluegrassy cadence in “Where’d You Go” and a breezier vibe on “Anna.” But the spotlight kept coming back to the three voices working together. The note-perfect and daring harmonies kept growing in intensity and complexity through the set, making for a mesmerizing aura. I put a star in my notes next to “Shoot Em Down,” whose western vibe felt like Marty Robbins crossed with the Andrews Sisters. Or something like that. - Music City Roots


Take the Memphis Dawls for instance. This isn’t Plain Jane folk music. Rather, this womanly trio has a dramatic look and a slightly spooky sound. Washes of mystery strings back enthralling vocals. All three are well-known Memphis artists. Holly Cole sports a guitar, while Jana Misener and Krista Wroten play cello and viola respectively. Jack White fell for their seductive aura when they opened for him in Bluff City, and he took them on the road for some dates. They have a crafty EP that you may well want to pick up before you leave the Barn. - Music City Roots


The Memphis Dawls have been playing together for two or three years, but they still feel like a candidate for best “new” Memphis band of 2012.

The trio — guitarist Holly Cole, violinist Krista Wroten, and cellist Jana Misener — did a local release of an eponymous four-song debut EP last summer, but in the early stages of the group each member was pretty busy with other projects.

Cole, a singer-songwriter who has long been a fixture among the “Makeshift” collective-of-sorts of local indie-rock bands, recorded a full-length solo album with a studio band that turned, for a time, into a regular one, Holly & the Heathens. Wroten, who was one of the Heathens, spent a lot of time on the road as a member of Amy LaVere’s band. And Misener was a principal figure in the local roots-rock band Giant Bear.

But, as the calendar flipped to 2012, Cole, Wroten, and Misener each focused her attention on the Dawls and, in recent months, the band has begun to take off.

While the band is ostensibly pretty new, the Memphis Dawls have known each other since they were teenagers and were each a member of the first graduating class of Cordova High School, in 2001. There, Cole first started writing songs. “My band, Pith, was terrible,” she says, remembering doing a cover of the grunge hit “Hunger Strike.” “It didn’t last very long.” Meanwhile Wroten and Misener were in youth symphony and performed in chamber groups together.

"The crowd was so awesome and supportive. I think they responded to the fact that we were from Memphis."
After graduation, they went separate ways: Cole lived out west before returning home to work. Wroten and Misener went north for school, with Wroten spending time in a band in Chattanooga afterward, but both eventually joined Cole back home.

“It just happened in a really organic way,” Misener says of the trio coming together. “When Krista moved back from Chattanooga, they would play together, and I would play with Holly, and eventually we all three played together. We never practiced for it [initially]. Around the time the Holly & the Heathens album came out, we started practicing and made it a real deal. But this January is when we started going on tour and really promoting the EP.”

The Dawls’ biggest break this year came when the group was tagged to open the local Jack White show at the New Daisy Theatre in mid-March. Just a few days before the show, Cole got a call from James Manning, who had booked the group at Otherlands Coffee Bar and was helping line up an opener for the White concert.

“He called me and said, ‘Don’t get your hopes up, but I’ve sent them a few different bands,’” Cole remembers. “I was getting my tires changed and thinking, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got to get home.’ So I called Jana, and she sent them an email with some videos of us and our press bio.”

“An hour or two later we found out [we got the gig] and had separate screaming matches all over the city,” Misener says.

Cole remembers the show as “electrifying.” - Memphis Magazine


The Memphis Dawls have been playing together two or three years, but they still feel like a candidate for best "new" Memphis band of 2012.

The trio — guitarist Holly Cole, violinist Krista Wroten, and cellist Jana Misener — did a local release of an eponymous four-song debut EP last summer, but in the early stages of the group, each member was pretty busy with other projects.

Cole, a singer-songwriter who has long been a fixture among the "Makeshift" collective-of-sorts of local indie-rock bands, recorded a full-length solo album with a studio band that turned, for a time, into a regular one, Holly & the Heathens. Wroten, who was a Heathen, spent a lot of time on the road as a member of Amy LaVere's band. And Misener was a principal figure in the local roots-rock band Giant Bear. But, as the calendar flipped to 2012, Cole, Wroten, and Misener each focused their attention on the Dawls and, in recent months, the band has begun to take off.

Cole, Wroten, and Misener have known each other since they were teenagers and were each a member of the first graduating class at Cordova High School, in 2001. There, Cole first started writing songs. "My band, Pith, was terrible," she says. "It didn't last very long." Meanwhile, Wroten and Misener were in youth symphony and performed in chamber groups together.

After graduation, they their went separate ways: Cole lived out west before returning home to work her way into the local music scene. Wroten and Misener went north for school, with Wroten spending time in a band in Chattanooga afterward, but both eventually joined Cole back home.

"It just happened in a really organic way," Misener says of the trio coming together. "When Krista moved back from Chattanooga, they would play together, and I would play with Holly, and eventually we all three played together. We never practiced for it [initially]. Around the time the Holly & the Heathens album came out, we started practicing and made it a real deal. But this January is when we started going on tour and really promoting the EP."

The Dawls' biggest break came when the group was tagged to open the local Jack White show at the New Daisy Theatre in mid-March. Just a few days before the show, Cole got a call from James Manning, who had booked the group at Otherlands Coffee Bar and was helping line up an opener for the White concert.

"He called me and said, 'Don't get your hopes up, but I've sent them a few different bands,'" Cole remembers. "I was getting my tires changed and thinking, Oh my God, I've got to get home. So I called Jana, and she sent them an email with some videos of us and our press bio."

"An hour or two later we found out [we got the gig] and had separate screaming matches all over the city," Misener says. Cole remembers the show as "electrifying."

"The crowd was so awesome and supportive," Wroten says. "I think they responded to the fact that were from Memphis."

If the show went well, the aftershow went better, when the band took White's manager and other members of his crew to Earnestine & Hazel's and the manager asked them to open the next show in Tulsa.

The White shows have been the highlight of a regional touring schedule that's put the Dawls in different kinds of venues and in front of different crowds, demonstrating a diversity of appeal that makes the group similar to what Wroten has seen playing with LaVere.

"All different kinds of shows," Cole says of the band's touring so far. "Listening rooms, coffee shops, bars, outdoor shows, everything. It can be tough with a three-piece playing in a bar."

Locally and in-studio, the Dawls prefer to play with a drummer (initial drummer Jonathan McLaren has moved to New Orleans) and a trumpet player (Snowglobe's Nahshon Benford), but on the road they're usually just a trio, all that can fit in their car given the instruments they play.

"We have a system," Misener says of making room for her cello when they hit the road. "One of the back seats goes down and one stays up."

"The person in the back is the napper," Wroten continues. "So they take pillows and make a little nest and cuddle with the cello."

This week, the Memphis Dawls will play another high-profile opening slot, with country/folk icon Emmylou Harris at the Levitt Shell, which will put them in front of a large audience likely to respond well to what the group does, which is find a fruitful middle ground between folk-country and chamber pop.

Given the instruments they play, the classical influence that Wroten and Misener bring to the band shades easily into folk/country territory.

"It's somewhat natural to go from a classical kind of background into more of a shuffle/fiddle sound," Misener says. "My family was very bluegrass concentrated. That's what they listened to all the time when I was growing up."

The rootsy material also helps showcase the groups' vocals.

"We started singing together and it was so powerful. That was a huge part of it becoming more country," Cole says. "The three-part harmony lends itself to that."

Emmylou Harris was a key influence.

"When we really started getting serious we were all pretty much obsessed, and I'm sure that we had all previously been obsessed, with the Trio album," Misener says, referencing the classic 1987 album collaboration that brought Harris together with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. "We would attempt to cover a song or two from that, though I don't think we ever played one live."

Much of the band's initial repertoire consisted of reworked versions of Cole songs from her solo records, but The Memphis Dawls EP showcases a more unified sound, and future releases will likely expand the cello-violin-guitar template, with Misener working on her upright-bass skills and Wroten employing mandolin and accordion.

After giving the EP a national digital release this summer via iTunes and other platforms, the band is looking to cut a seven-inch single and expand their touring in preparation for a debut full-length album.

"We've got about 95 percent of the material ready for a full-length," Wroten says. "We just have some decisions to make."

The Memphis Dawls, opening for Emmylou Harris
The Levitt Shell, Saturday, September 22nd
8:30 p.m., $25
- The Memphis Flyer


Memphis Dawls
Hometown: Memphis
Band Members: Holly Cole, Krista Wroten, Jana Misener, Nahshon Benford, Jonathan Mclaren
Current Release:The Memphis Dawls EP
The Memphis Dawls are a local folk “supergroup” of sorts. The trio of Holly Cole, Krista Wroten and Jana Misener have extensive experience with other projects, like Amy LaVere, in the Memphis area, but they started making music together in high school. The Dawls opened for Jack White when he stopped by Memphis this March, and he liked them so much he invited them to tour with him on a few other dates afterward. Can’t blame him for being entranced, though; the Dawls’ romantic harmonies and gothic storytelling tend to get under your skin. - Paste Magazine


Long a solo performer, local singer-songwriter Holly Cole now fronts two bands. With Holly & the Heathens, which debuted on record last year, she gets a kicky foundation equal parts country and indie rock. With the Memphis Dawls, Cole teams with cellist Jana Misener (Giant Bear) and violinist Krista Wroten (currently playing in Amy LaVere’s band, but also a member of the Heathens) for a prettier, softer folk sound built on lilting strings and harmony vocals. It’s an old-fashioned but timeless sound echoed by song titles such as “Driftwood,” “Hickory,” and “When Sorrow Leaves You.” - The Memphis Flyer


"A tantalizing tease of a collection and utterly unlike anything else happening on the scene today." - The Commercial Appeal


“The guy that helps me with booking said Holly Cole was the one group in the Laurelwood Concert Series that people walked up to, didn’t leave and stayed for the entire concert,” Jenkins said." - The Daily News


"They’re fabulous musicians and so good looking!" - The Vinyl District


Opening for White was local folkie Holly Cole and her band the Memphis Dawls, newly expanded with the addition of a drummer and trumpet player. The audience seemed genuinely thrilled with Cole and bandmates Jana Misener and Krista Wroten Combest's three-part harmonies, and White was apparently impressed, too. The group was asked to open for again Thursday in Tulsa, Okla. - The Commercial Appeal


Review: The Memphis Dawls

Thursday, 30 June 2011 Categories // Memphis Music Posted By // Chris McCoy
Review: The Memphis Dawls

Like I said in my review of Holly Cole’s last project, Holly and the Heathens, context is everything. With the Memphis Dawls, Cole has found, and mastered, yet another context for her words and music.

But this one couldn’t be more different from the Heathen’s muscular power pop. Call it cello rock or chamber pop or whatever you want, the debut EP by Cole, fellow Heathen Krista Wroten, and Jana Misener is unabashedly beautiful.

The four songs presented here manage to be surprisingly varied while still establishing a unified sound, thanks to the subtle, expert production by Matt Brown. Harmony, richness, and timbre are at the forefront; the beats are established by arpeggiated guitars, tambourine, and occassional, minimal percussion. The songwriting is similarly refined. “Hickory”, which sounds like an ominous October night and features some of the best lyrics Cole has ever written. Cole’s most potent weapon is her powerful voice, which she used to great effect when cutting through the Heathen’s fuzz and thunder. She sounds equally at home—and having just as much fun—blending with Wroten and Misener. Brown’s production and Wroten’s arrangements treat the vocals the same as the cello, violin, and horns. They’re interested in combining all of the elements to make big, soft pillows of sound.

But the Dawls also know that the biggest climax means nothing if the song starts out at the same level. Album opener “Driftwood” is a simple guitar, keys, and cello affair, while “When Sorrow Leaves You” sounds like a Loretta Lynn country waltz produced by Radiohead’s Nigel Godrich. The record’s best song, “Artificial Bliss” washes in and out like the ocean at dusk, its monster chorus’ power comes not from volume or speed, but from sheer sonic richness.

The Memphis Dawls extends Holly Cole’s hot streak. I find myself eager to hear what she does next.

The Memphis Dawls will play a record release party at Otherlands on Saturday, July 2 with special guest Ruthie Shafer. - Live From Memphis


Discography

The Memphis Dawls EP
Electric Blue Eyes - single
Starting Gate - 7" vinyl

Photos

Bio

The Memphis Dawls are known as the crowning jewel of the Memphis folk scene. The core group is made up of three veteran musicians who have played with several successful local bands. Brought together by their similar tastes in melody and style, and maybe a slight nod from fate, Holly Cole (guitars, vocals) Jana Misener (cello, vocals), and Krista Wroten (violin, mandolin, accordion, vocals) deliver hauntingly romantic and lyrical folk music with a modern flare.

The themes of the band’s music tend to lean toward the power of love and heartache, just like their musical mentors: Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. Their harmonies and music push folk, country and rock through the filter of southern hymns. Religious only in the context of their dedication to their respective crafts, they deliver a unique and hypnotizing sound that jumps from genre to genre. The Dawls are not afraid to be inventive, exploring soundscapes ranging from complex vocal harmonies similar to bands like Fleet Foxes to the more complex string arrangements of The Decemberists.

The threesome originally began playing together in high school, but The Dawls didn’t make their debut professionally until 2010. After high school, Wroten, Cole, and Misener all sought musical careers — but they went in three different directions. Cole travelled west to Los Angeles, Wroten went to Boston, and Misener left for Chicago. As time would pass, each would work their way back to Memphis.

Upon returning to Memphis, Cole began playing the solo circuit, and was asked to join local collective Makeshift Music. The established alternative label, known for releasing music from popular Memphis bands like Lucero, Snowglobe, The Coach and Four and Two Way Radio, released her first solo effort Fearless and Free back in 2006. Cole put together a full band before releasing her next effort, called Holly and the Heathens. The group featured some of Memphis’ finest talent, including Greg Faison (Jump Jack Jake, Tiger High), Brandon Robertson (Snowglobe) and Jake Vest (Third Man, Tiger High, Bullet Proof Vests).

The act would also bring her in back to working with Wroten, who would play countrified violin with the Heathens project. The result would be a less folksy, more boozy, honky tonk sounding album that was well received by critics.

During this time, Misener was playing cello for road warriors Giant Bear as well as playing with The Sultana. When Cole began toying with more romantic arrangements of some of her songs, she called upon Wroten and Misener to add strings to her music and the Memphis Dawls were born. The addition of Nahshon Benford (Snowglobe, Lucero) on trumpet and Jesse "Dakota" Williams on drums brought together a sound that the group fell in love with.

Although all three ladies have busied themselves with various artistic endeavors, Wroten touring with Amy Lavere, Misener continuing to play with The Sultana, and Cole finishing up a BA in Sculpture at The University of Memphis, The Dawls would be the main focus for the trio much of 2011. In that year, a fated call from engineer Matt Brown would get them in the studio to record their first release. Their debut was a 4 song EP with spacious arrangements and passionate lyricism. Noted for its scope in atmosphere, emotion, and sense of texture, the Dawls’ initial release is an involving experience worth diving into. Over the past year, the Dawls have focused and sharpened their sound, poised for national exposure.