Instant Gratification, the first full-length release for San Jose’s so-hot-right-now Curious Quail, is something that’s been living in frontman Mike Shirley-Donnelly’s head for a long time. “(I’ve) found notebooks from as far back as 2002 from when I was supposed to be paying attention in my West Valley College classes that have some of the scribblings on what this eventually became,” he says. Though the album was many years in the making, it’s recently taken on a life that the band never really imagined for it . . . not that they’re complaining.
On June 26th, in conjunction with Black Box Theatre, the band will mount a staged version of Instant Gratification, as well as 2009’s The Glow EP, at City Lights Theater Company in San Jose. Though a lot of listeners might not realize it from the get-go, Instant Gratification (and The Glow, to an extent) is a concept album, which is a label the band is totally fine with. “We’ve been heavy-handed in calling it a concept album to anyone who will listen to us,” clarifies Shirley-Donnelly.
Instant Gratification‘s story, loosely, is of two strangers caught in a limbo-like world, trying to figure out how they know each other based only on a batch of mysterious Polaroids. Released in 2012, physical copies of Instant Gratification were distributed with a booklet of the Polaroids, shot by Shirley-Donnelly’s wife, a professional photographer. “The were all shot on…original Polaroid film. Once we had the list of exactly what we needed to photograph it was a fun experience running all over the city like some sort of deranged scavenger hunt.” Songs on The Glow derive from the same set of notebooks that Shirley-Donnelly speaks of, and explore similar themes.
However, just because Instant Gratification is a concept album doesn’t mean the collaboration with City Lights is going to be a straight-up musical. “First and foremost, there is no acting; there is no narration,” clarifies Shirley-Donnelly. “The story is told entirely through the music, lyrics and visuals, yet the goal is not for it to just be a concert where we rock out on stage. I’s meant to be a night of storytelling through song.”
Tickets for this one-night-only affair start at $12 – a steal for an evening of theatre. There will be a Q&A with the band afterward, and to hear Shirley-Donnelly tell it, there will probably be a lot of Qs to A. “A lot of people assume the songs are autobiographical,” he says, “and there are definitely elements in there, or they find their own meaning which is something I love. It’s interesting having people come to us with ‘I think this song is about X.’
I don’t want this performance to tell people their interpretations are wrong; on the flipside, I want to tell our story and still have people make up their own minds about what they get out of it.”