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5-1-Tunes: Duncan Fellows

The aroma of beer and barbecue that permeated the dimly lit room at Lamberts on March 29 perfectly represented Duncan Fellows’ southern essence. Girls in Sunday dresses tightly clutched their Shiners, accompanied by all-American boys in Hawaiian shirts, cutoff shorts and squeaky-clean new loafers. A seemingly odd crowd for the self-proclaimed “folk-Americana” group, but as soon as they began their set and the drunken audience started howling along with the music, it became clear they were in the right place.

Story by Maria Nuñez

For these six college students, Duncan Fellows is just one of many priorities. Between writing essays and cramming for exams, the band manages to squeeze in some practice time at lead singer Colin Harman’s house, which he shares with eight other friends. Over the last year and a half, the group has played enough gigs to get a small taste of life as aspiring musicians.

Through a network of mutual friends, the band came together to play backup for a show guitarist Cullen Trevino had with his roommate. After a few more informal gigs, they decided to get serious in the fall of 2012, although they still weren’t sure what they were onto. “From the time we started writing and playing, we didn’t even know we were a band,” Colin says. “We still don’t know if we’re a band,” Cullen laughs.

Reflecting on their first gig at the Red Eyed Fly, the group can’t help but laugh in embarrassment, recalling how awful the performance was. “People kept coming up to us saying how good it was,” Harman says. “But they were just our friends, so I think they felt bad.”

The dynamic in Duncan Fellows resembles a close-knit group of friends — more than just band mates. The gang gets along effortlessly, behaving almost like siblings (even down to the teasing of the only girl in the group, Margot Stevenson). This easygoing relationship translates into an effortlessly relaxed stage show, blurring the line between performing and just hanging out.

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Austin folk band Duncan Fellows is composed of (from left to right) Tim Hagen, Margot Stevenson, Colin Harman, Cullen Trevino, Jacob McClendon, and (not pictured) David Stimson. The group has been together for a year and a half and all members, who are students at UT and Texas State, balance school with the life of rising musicians. Photo courtesy of Duncan Fellows

Speaking of performance, Duncan Fellows has no problem dominating the stage, treating Lamberts like their home and the audience their personal houseguests. The group makes its rounds in the cramped room before the set, thanking their fans and snapping a few pictures with the moms in attendance. In return, the audience interacts warmly with the group throughout the 10-song set, joining them for the choruses of “Stolen Black Cars” and “Rich Man.” “The way our crowd sings those songs, that’s huge. It does a lot for us,” bassist David Stimson says.

The band has struck a winning formula with its simple, yet catchy, tunes, which Harman says express life experiences in a non-cliché manner. Harman and Stevenson’s vocal interplay rests atop the rhythmic backbone of Stimson and drummer Tim Hagen, leaving plenty of room for cellist Jacob McClendon’s smooth textures and Trevino and Harman’s rich, harmonious guitars, best heard on songs like “Twelve Months Older.”

The chemistry between Harman and Trevino is not only present in their performances, but in the songwriting process, as well. As the main songwriters of the group, they have “written through every season of their life,” Stevenson says. “They write about the good times and the bad times, the easy times and the carefree times. The songs we have as a band are very versatile. They don’t just have one theme, they come from all areas of life,” she adds.

This versatility attracts an eclectic fan base comprised of friends, family and the occasional neighbor who overhears practice and is converted. With all of Duncan Fellows’ musical potential and a full-length album on the horizon, it is likely that this fan base will only continue to grow.

Duncan Fellows’ self-titled EP is available on iTunes, and they have a series of small shows coming up this spring.

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