In a Class of Their Own
The Memphis Dawls are poised for the big time.
The Memphis Dawls performing at the 2012 Cooper-Young Festival main stage.
photograph by Jusint Fox Burks
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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.
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.”