It's 7:30 on a weeknight at Kilby Court. The sun set hours ago, and winter darkness, threaded with inversion, looms over Salt Lake City like a thick blanket. Down the alley to the venue, crushed Pabst Blue Ribbon cans twinkle in headlights like early morning stars on a scarred asphalt sky. A group of teenagers huddles around a bottle and a cherry ember floats between them, glowing and fading in the dark. The courtyard to the venue is empty.
Inside, the crowd buzzes, huddled together, elbow-to-elbow, chatting through the sound check. On stage, the five members of Quiet Oaks tune their instruments, point to the ceiling with one hand and to their monitors with the other. They've been here before. They've done this, all of this, before.
The crowd packs tighter, inching toward the stage as frontman, Dane Sandberg addresses the fans: "How many of you remember a band called The Spins?" The young crowd is mostly silent.
Some nine years ago, Sandberg and Quiet Oaks drummer Spencer Sayer played their first show at Kilby Court together as The Spins, a trio from suburban Bountiful that also included Sayer's older brother. "I remember the first time I played there," Sandberg says. "It felt like ... I was in an actual band."
It isn't usual for Quiet Oaks to play as the opening act at Kilby anymore. Made up of four of the five members of rock group, The North Valley, with Mike Moon, a transplant from Ghost Logic, Quiet Oaks has deep roots in the Salt Lake City music scene. "I think that we're kind of a mainstay rock band right now," Sandberg says. "I don't feel like there are too many other just rock bands."
Sayer and Sandberg have been together since the beginning, those early days playing with borrowed equipment in front of sparse audiences. In 2012, The Spins released one self-titled EP, recorded in Sayer's mother's basement, and a few custom T-shirts. They played several venues throughout the valley to steadily growing crowds. But, as most high school rock bands do, The Spins dissolved after a few years, leaving Sayer and Sandberg with a taste for music neither could chase.
"When The Spins broke up, me and Dane were trying to figure out what to do next, and it was like our first choice [for bandmates] was Jon [Butler], Spenny [Relyea] and Kramer [McCausland], so we called them up, and they were all down," Sayer says.
The band that would follow was The North Valley, a five-piece with a sound too loud to be Americana. In just three years, The North Valley released an EP and a full-length album, and toured the West Coast. The band became known for its dual frontmen, shouting and harmonizing to raucous crowds. Just as they began planning their second album, internal disputes left the group without one of its front men, Relyea. Again, Sayer, Sandberg and the remaining members of the band were faced with the question of whether or not to continue.
"That's part of the reason we were able to do it: We all just sat down and decided we were going to make music together," Sandberg says. "We just decided we're not going to let this hiccup stop this; this is a driving force. I don't give a shit what the band name is. I don't give a shit what songs we play. This isn't going to stop."
After The North Valley dissolved in December of 2014, the remaining members came together to form a new sound. Determined not to be just a "shittier version of The North Valley," as Sayer puts it, yet understanding that the band could no longer exist as The North Valley without its co-frontman and songwriter Relyea (now of Rumble Gums), Sayer, Sandberg, Butler, Moon and McCausland began work on a new sound—something faster, heavier.
"The driving force is the music and us playing the music together, and that's what I wanted to keep going," Sandberg says. "It wasn't like, '[We] need to make something better than The North Valley or as good as The North Valley.' It was more just, 'We gotta keep doing this shit because, if we don't, we'll get stagnant and die.'"
A few months into developing their new sound, Quiet Oaks was invited by Provo band Desert Noises to open for them during their residency in Nashville, Quiet Oaks accepted, making a Midwest tour out of the opportunity.
With their road chops earned, and their sound honed, Quiet Oaks is now planning a summer tour to precede their album release in September. Until then, you can catch Quiet Oaks at ABG's in Provo on Feb. 19, and at Kilby Court on Feb. 24 with New York-based Dirty Dishes.