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The Memphis Dawls "Shoot 'em Down" in the WUWM Studio


Our studio doors have opened to many roots inspired acts, but few have had the orchestral leanings of The Memphis Dawls. The trio’s sister-like camaraderie is apparent in both conversation and song. Their first full-length release, “Rooted in the Bone,” was released yesterday on Madjack Records. They spoke with Rachel Owens about their Memphis roots, recording, and playing with Jack White. They started by performing “Please Don’t Leave Me Now.” 

The folk trio comprised of Holly Cole (guitars, vocals) Jana Misener (cello, vocals), and Krista Wroten (viola, mandolin, accordion, vocals), all got their start playing music in high school. They each played together in different musical combinations over the years, but it wasn’t until the three moved back home from college that The Memphis Dawls took birth. Each woman in the group chose to pursue music from a different path. Cole moved to Los Angeles, Wroton moved to Boston, and Misener traveled up to Chicago. The three eventually joined up later to play a benefit for their theatre teacher’s family; he had passed earlier that year.

“This was very first time we had ever played, we actually didn’t rehearse before we showed up,” says Cole. “My instrument got stuck in my trunk, my car was malfunctioning… and we just ran over a few songs beforehand.”  

Cole describes there first time playing as “explosive.” She moved back to Memphis from LA after a few months, the California music scene was not what she had imagined.

“I had a hard time finding people that I really connected with,” says Cole. “Memphis has a soul; there is something bewitching about it. People do music in Memphis because they love to do music not just to make money.”

In Memphis, the band struggled to find a band name to fit their look and sound. Eventually they settled on The Memphis Dawls after their friend J. D. Westmoreland imagined it in one of his dreams.

Krista Wroten (l), Jana Misener (c), and Holly Cole (r) strike a pose at the WUWM studios.

The trio have been working in their new album, “Rooted in the Bone,” for over a year. Early last year they traveled to Pickwick Lake, Tennessee for a creative retreat. The trip proved heavier on recreation than recording however, but the group did create some preproduction elements of the album. The first time hearing themselves in a recording studio, became a major turning point for the Dawls.

“We never really had an opportunity to heard recordings that we had at that point,” says Misener. “It was nice to hear it back from a different perspective.”

Simplicity, nostalgia, and nomadism appear to be common threads in The Memphis Dawls’ music. For Misener, hitting the road with the band reminded her of family car trips.

“When you’re a kid and you are riding in the back of the car, lying down and all you can see is the power lines moving up and down, there was that feeling of nostalgia,” says Misener. Before long, the Dawls started attracting the attention of artists’ Emmylou Harris and Jack White. White requested the trio open for him at the New Daisy Theatre in Memphis.

“The show in Memphis went so well,” says Misener. “(White’s) fans are all music lovers, so it’s really encouraging when they get into something you love to do.”

Indeed, The Memphis Dawls’ full-length debut album released in early November, “Rooted in the Bone,” is already being heralded as hauntingly beautiful with its complex combinations of string, brass, and vocal harmonies. They have even been involved in the Sofar Sounds music experience seen below.

Thanks to Jon Strelecki for engineering this studio session and to Trapper Schoepp for his production assistance, and for editing this interview. 

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