Americana band The Band of Heathens formed in 2005 after performing as individuals at the now defunct Austin club Momo’s. They’ve recently released their latest album, Duende (which means a quality of inspiration or passion), in January. We spoke to guitarists Gordy Quist and Ed Jurdi after their set at the Hyatt Regency during SXSW. Both musicians divulged details about their current SXSW experience, living other places besides Austin, their new record, and what’s coming up next.
Shortly before the interview, one sitting nearby could see how much fans love The Band of Heathens and how their music has connected with them. Fans not only bought one album, but sometimes several, and took the opportunity to tell Quist and Jurdi just how much their music means to them.
Quist, who at one point in the interview said that Austin’s growth is making the city feel more like a software town than a place for creatives, says that the band is no longer based in Austin, except for Quist, though they very much still associate their band with the Austin music scene.
Quist began the conversation by saying, “We’ve always been playing music. When we moved to Austin, we tried meeting up with local musicians, form a band, and try to get a residency, which was the name of the game back then. We met in late 2005, and The Heathens started later that year.”
Over the course of their career, The Band of Heathens has seen much change in the local music scene — everything from rising rents, to venues closing, and how musicians make their living.
Quist gave his perspective on how the music scene has evolved by saying “I think the main thing is that the city is getting more expensive and more difficult to be here as an artist, making the kind of money that an artist makes, and it’s that same cost of living that has made it hard for venues to stay in business. Instead of being a music town, it’s now becoming more of a software town and more of a big city. I’m hopeful, I still love living here, and I think that LA and New York are still music cities, and I think that there are things there that make it work, but I think it’s just an evolving thing. There are still a lot of great artists living here and a lot of great things going on.”
While the members of the group have split up into different cities, Jurdi insists that the group still identifies strongly with Austin, saying, “that has to do a lot with how the band came together, the sound of the band. I think even though it may seem like it’s happening less, I think the way that musicians perceive Austin is that it was the answer to Nashville.”
“They didn’t want to have to deal with the sort of constraints that would be put on them by the music business in Nashville, and they came here and decided to do whatever they wanted to do.” Quist jumped in by saying that “I think that spirit of Austin remains.”
While bands in Austin have the chance to build a unique fan and artist relationship due to a strong sense of community, The Band of Heathens takes things a bit further by giving fans the gift of a live performance by taping every show and selling them at each gig, something that groups such as The Grateful Dead were known for doing, or in more recent years, Maryland rock band OAR (Of A Revolution.) Giving fans an experience is key, with Jurdi saying “the more music we can share with people, whether it be a record or a live show, it creates a story. And if you talk to different bands, people always have different entry points into the band, some fans are into a band from the first album and they’re excited about the fact that they got to see the band when there was no one there, and then other people would say that they came in when a band got popular.”
“The more music we make available, the more points of entry we create for people, just for people to hear it. It’s something for people to talk about and share and to create a communal experience,” Jurdi said.
After discussing why they tape every performance, Jurdi spoke about the diversity of each set list saying, “we have a batch of about ten songs, we play a lot of songs from the new record and some old favorites that we play most nights, and then there’s about 50 to 60 songs that get rotated in, so part of the set is different each night. But the cool thing about recording it every night is that it challenges us to make it different, and even if we play the same songs every night, we try to improvise and make each night different.”
Speaking about their most recent effort, Duende, Jurdi commented that “it took a little while to come together and we decided that we wanted to take our time with it. There were probably about 40 songs, we had a Dropbox folder going, and if anyone had an idea or a song we would put it into the Dropbox folder, and we did this over the course of a year. We did some stuff in a few different studios in Austin, we did some recording in Nashville, we did some recording in Ashville, North Carolina. We finished about 18 songs for the record. We had a lot more time to explore things a little bit more sonically, since it was pretty expansive. We released a three-sided vinyl and an EP last year.”
Wrapping up the interview, Jurdi and Quist gave their thoughts on the changes that SXSW has gone through in the past seven to eight years. “Wristbands get you into a lot of cool shows now,” Jurdi explains.
“Seven or eight years ago, you needed Platinum badges to get into everything or a cool show, because it would have been in a really small club. Like The Avett Brothers played at the Moody Theatre last night and a wristband could get you into that, where if this were eight years ago, they would have played at The Parish and there would have been a line around the block,” Jurdi said. “This started out as a thing for bands and industry people, and it’s become a thing for the music fan as well as bands and industry people. You always had people who were in the know who lived here, but now you have people coming from all over to see the shows. These people don’t have any skin in the game as far as the industry, but people come away saying ‘wow, is it always like this in Austin? There’s like seven billion shows here.’”
For those who missed the band at SXSW, they will be heading out on a West Coast tour in April with Hayes Carll. “We will be opening the show for him and then acting as his backing band, we’re doing about ten markets,” Jurdi said. While the band will be heading to Europe in May, the optimism for a great music scene in Austin is still very much alive for The Band of Heathens, and while they may perform and live elsewhere, the band and their songs are still deeply rooted in Austin.
Check out the music video for “Green Grass of California” from Duende below.
If you would like to read more of Lauren Gribble’s interviews, you can check out her website Listen Here Reviews.