Anthony Quails is a homegrown artist who got a start in music early by singing and playing guitar to the tunes of Dave Matthews, and then followed the lead of songwriter inspirations like David Wilcox to create meaningful storytelling experiences with his music. Like a few of the artists we have highlighted recently, he works the typical 40 hour work week and plays music on the side with as much fervor and passion as if it were his full time gig. Though he loves performing, his passion is for songwriting because he gets satisfaction in knowing how much time and heart he invests into each song. When asked more about his process, he said, “I’m very methodical about my words and their placement so it can take weeks to complete a song. It’s exhausting.”
His experience in being a songwriter and his friendly demeanor made him the perfect candidate for Executive Director of the Chattanooga Songwriters Association, where he organizes and hosts songwriter rounds on a monthly basis and helps to foster a safe environment for artists to grow and improve their work.
What projects are you involved in outside of your status as a singer/songwriter?
Anthony: Right now I work a 40 hour work week job to pay the bills but I do write for a publishing company out of Nashville called Vibraslap. I’m the only staff writer they currently have. The owner used to be a publisher with Universal Music Group and then split to start his own independent company. We mainly deal with Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) artistsbut he allows me the freedom to work with whomever I want. It’s probably the most ideal situation you could be in, because he signed me on to a 50/50 co-publishing deal, where you own 50% of your publishing, 50% of your licensing, and 100% of your writer's share. That’s the way we’ve done it for years. It’s worked out and within the first year of my signing on I had a cut with a major record deal. It’s a good business deal because both of us have families to focus on and this isn’t our main source of income. We’re not putting a ton of pressure on the other person to make money and carry the brunt of the work. We work together and there’s no pressure.
Then I started working with the Nehemiah Cultural Foundation out of Atlanta. Michael Minkhoff, the executive director of the program, contacted me a few years back and I turned them down because what they had to offer sounded too good to be true, and I don’t think I was ready for it at the time. They offered to cover the costs for recording my album and allow me the freedom to do whatever I wanted. I kept wondering what the catch was and then I met Justus, the Vice President of Operations and as we interacted for the first time I found out that he was part of a band that had recorded with the foundation and now he worked there. I asked if it was legit and he said it was, so I approached them at the end of 2013 with a project idea and they agreed to work with me.
You mentioned a few of your music inspirations earlier, but why do they mean so much to you and how have they shaped your style of music?
Anthony: I think it’s because they write such real material. Hearing their songs is like hearing a very interesting conversation. Those were the guys that were the best storytellers. They didn’t just focus on the hook of a song. David Wilcox made a statement once; “Sometimes it’s hard to find a story and present a theological story within a three minute span.” But he will take something normal and relatable and spin it so you look at it from a new perspective. It made me realize that I appreciate great storytelling and songs that really paint pictures with words. There’s a songwriter from Nashville, Andy Gullahorn who is one of my favorites. He writes songs I wish I could write because they’re so honest. There’s a humor and depth to his honesty. You can tell that these guys put a lot of work into their craft. It’s more a respect for what they do. I don’t love every song what they write, but I’m interested in what they have to say. Their records are intentional investments to listen to what they have to say. You’re not gonna find it on the radio. You’re probably gonna hear about their music from fans who love their music and want to pass it on by word of mouth. That’s why I do music the way that I do. I wanted my fans to be intentional with listening to it because they want to, not because it will be good background noise.
Why did you end up pursuing music?
Anthony: I always loved music, but I was dating a girl from my church when I was 18 years old and she broke up with me. She absolutely loved Dave Matthews, so I decided to try to get her back by learning how to play some of their songs. I picked up a really awful, cheap guitar and sat in my bedroom trying to learn those songs with my brother in the next room telling me I was awful and needed to quit. The thing was, I began to enjoy playing. I would put down the guitar and then immediately pick it back up and found a love for it through the growing pains. It was one of those things that became all consuming. Back in the early 2000’s I would go sit out on the Walnut Street walking bridge and just play. It was a way to connect with people because it was a good conversation starter. That’s actually how my wife and I met.
Not only are you a singer/songwriter, but you’re also the executive director of the Chattanooga Songwriters Association. Could you explain what it is and how you got involved?
Anthony: Let me start with how I got involved. It’s funny because originally I couldn’t find anywhere to play and I was at a crossroads because I wanted to write marketable music, but couldn’t do it because I felt years behind what was popular at the time. I began to focus on writing story-centric songs and wanted to perform them, but I couldn’t find places to play. I played at the Camp House when they opened up an open mic night and completely bombed so I never went back. Then, I was looking at some articles on the Times Free Press website and Thom Cavin, who started the Chattanooga Songwriter’s Association (CSA) with Joe Logan, was featured in an article because he had just moved back from Nashville after working with BBC’s video and audio production. He grew up in Chattanooga and wanted to start a songwriter support group of sorts. In the article, he mentioned that the CSA was taking applications so I applied for one of their writer’s rounds through their website. I became more involved and played writer’s nights about once or twice a month. Eventually Thom and I became good friends, so I became very involved. I hosted a few writers nights, and about May of 2013 he told me that he wanted to retire and asked me if I would consider taking over the CSA. I was both honored and worried because it was an exciting opportunity, but I had never done something like that before. It was one of the best impulsive things for me to do because it pushed me to be more organized and follow up on things instead of being lackadaisical.
My goals and the CSA’s goals were very similar from the beginning. We wanted to encourage songwriters in their craft and help them write the best songs that they were capable of creating. I know what it’s like to be in their shoes. If I’m writing songs that I’m proud of, then I’ll play those songs for other people. If I’m writing songs I’m not really enthused about, then I won’t want to play those songs. It’s exciting when you’re constantly writing songs in community with other musicians who build you up and give you critiques. It’s the only way you’ll get better, especially if you’re trying. For about three years, I was the only person really involved in the CSA. I organized and hosted the songwriter rounds each month. In the middle of last year, I began to activate people to assist with organizing and participating in CSA events so I didn’t burn out. I tried to juggle being everywhere at once and my home life. It wasn’t really working. I created an ambassador program where I approached people who had volunteered and were people I already worked with and trusted and I asked them if they could take turns hosting a writer’s night. That freed me up to spend time with my family and helped me build trust those I put in charge.
Starting this past June we’ve started appointing those volunteers to board member positions and looked into ways of helping out not only our artists, but the community at large. I think that out of that local investment, there comes inspiration. If you’re involved in community, there are stories of the people you encounter that may inspire you to write songs.
What are CSA’s goals for the upcoming year?
Anthony: We plan to reinstate those songwriter rounds by working with people like Shane Morrow of Jazzanooga. It’ll be similar to an open mic/songwriter shootout. We’re still trying to solidify a consistent date each month. We’d also like to partner with the Big Brother/Big Sister programs, but we still have to iron out the details on that. We even talked about adopting a green space over in the Northshore. Nothing is set in stone yet because we’re going through a process of rebranding and strategic planning.