Quick Step Maneuver is a rarity in the world of punk-alikes. The band is pure and unadulterated punk. Not hardcore or pop-punk. No Mohawks or politics. Quick Step's music is vaguely observational and occasionally humorous, with catchy songs, played loosely yet well. Not bad, considering Andrew Harper (bass), Gabe Deluc (drums), Diego Olano (vox/guitar) and Brian Mennes (guitar) are all 18 years old. Aside from Olano, a freshman at the University of Texas, all also attend high school here in town.
The band hasn't been around that long. It got started in March 1999, rising out of the ashes of a band Harper, Deluc and Olano had previously formed, Redemption Avenue, which itself had a life span just slightly longer than that of bacteria: about four months.
And yet, despite the collective green-ness of its members, Quick Step Maneuver exhibits an eerily intuitive knowledge of how to navigate the industry.
Before actually becoming Quick Step Maneuver, the guys created an attainable short-term goal: They booked two shows for a month down the road. The band then practiced twice a week and assembled seven songs, including a cover of the Charles in Charge theme song and a hate song directed at and titled "Bill Walton."
One Saturday, not too long after these first shows, the band recorded a demo on a four-track, absolutely live. "That was pretty tough recording," recalls Deluc. "I couldn't hear anything because we were all in separate rooms, and [I] had to play my drums completely by memory. But it came out pretty well."
Demo in hand, the guys began to work the phones. The band called club after club after club, finally scoring a July gig in San Antonio with Co-Ed from Los Angeles. The networking started instantly. "[Co-Ed] saw us and were really, really into what we were doing," remembers Harper. The two bands stayed in touch, and as part of Quick Step's precisely detailed and substantially booked summer tour, the groups will play three shows together in Southern California.
The demo tape also ended up in the hands of John Cristoffel, whom Harper first met while both were students at Lamar High School. (Cristoffel was Class of '98, while Harper finishes this spring.) Cristoffel wanted the band to release a seven-inch single on his Act Your Age imprint (Sore Loser, Dig Dug, Jessica 6).
The seven-incher was recorded last August in Austin, and though Quick Step isn't exactly thrilled with the results, the band feels the single has been more than adequate in serving its dual purposes as marketing tool and revenue generator. "It was just really awkward," explains Harper, of the band's foray into the studio environment. "The songs are good, but they could have been a lot tighter. We did everything instrument by instrument, and it was just weird."
It was on the back of that seven-incher that the band recently completed a spring break tour of the Midwest, playing a total of nine dates, as far north as Wisconsin.
The band chose the Midwest as its launching pad because it was relatively close to home and the scheduled clubs were not too far apart. Plus, it was a good place to play indie punk. In the end, all of the shows were at venues that catered perfectly to the fans Quick Step needed to attract: like-minded folk their own age who were eager to buy new music.
"I've grown to believe that the best way to promote your band is to tour," says Harper, conceding that some sort of single or CD must be in place before mounting such an undertaking. Contrary to popular belief in the industry, Harper says, a band of full-time students does have the time to hit the road. As Harper sees it, students can tour one week in the spring, two weeks over the winter holidays and pretty much as long as anyone would want during the summer.
All this, of course, is dependent on a student's patience and stamina.
"It's very, very, very hard," says Harper, with more amazement than weariness. "I thought you could set something like this up two months in advance. But you call some of the well-known clubs in places like Chicago, and they're booked three, four months out." Harper and company have had some help in getting their collective feet in the club door: They have played with more established acts, such as Dig Dug. This summer, in fact, both bands have separate tours planned, but Dig Dug will hit the road first, setting up the bases (e.g., spreading posters and flyers) for Quick Step Maneuver, which will bat cleanup.
The band is currently in a Houston studio; this time around, though, the guys are confident the upcoming CD will be something they can be proud of. For one thing, they will take a step back in time, to their four-track days, and record more live. And for another, everyone will be more accustomed to the ever-looming pressure of the clock.
If success is a mix of hard work and talent, Quick Step Maneuver has enough of both to make a good run. "The whole chemistry between Gabe and Diego is what makes the band.Me and Brian just kind of fill in the gaps," says Harper. One of the instantly appealing aspects of the band is Olano's persona as front man. He exudes a natural stage presence, establishing a rapport with the crowd without coming across as cheesy or awkward. "And the girls like him too," adds Harper.
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But Deluc thinks personal magnetism is only part of it: "[Harper] has got incredible contacts, and the way he just associates with other bands, and sets up the shows, is what makes all of this possible."
"The chemistry of this band is really unique," continues Deluc. "In the two bands I'd been in before this, there was always conflict with everything. But in this band there's really no one trying to be superior. Diego is extremely versatile with his music. But when he writes something, he doesn't impose whatever style it might be on the rest of the band." This creates an environment that allows every member to contribute to the songwriting process -- and get credit for it.
And get complimented for it, too.
Quick Step Maneuver performs Sunday, April 23, at The Oven, 403 Westheimer. For more information, call (713)874-1100.