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The Band of Heathens

With their ninth studio album, Simple Things, The Band of Heathens came home—geographically, as they returned to their longtime base of Austin for the recording; sonically, in an embrace of the rootsy, guitar-based rock with which they made their name; and thematically, with lyrics that speak to appreciating friends and family and our limited time on this planet. It’s a confident, assured statement of a group finding its place in the world amid uncertain and troubled times.

“It was a return to embracing our influences, our natural instincts, the way we sound when we get on stage,” says guitarist-vocalist Gordy Quist. “Many times in the past, we’d take a song and stretch to make it into something else sonically, because that’s exciting and fun to do in the studio. This time around, we tried to use some restraint and embraced our first instincts, trusting the songs were strong enough. With the subject matter, there’s a sentiment of focusing on what’s important as we go through this journey together—don’t waste time, because this is all we’ve got.”

“Gordy and I each have a natural sound when we sing, but there’s something even more special and unique when our voices blend together” says guitarist-vocalist Ed Jurdi. “So it was just about harnessing and embracing that. Good, mid-tempo rock and roll—that’s our breadbasket, and there’s not a lot of that music being made right now.”

Though the members of The Band of Heathens now live scattered across the country, coming back to Austin (where they first formed in the early 2000s when Quist and Jurdi were among four songwriters playing regular weekly sets at the late, lamented club Momo’s) was crucial to the making of Simple Things. “The city has grown and undergone many changes over the years, but the intangibles that make Austin a unique place are still alive and well,” says Jurdi. “I feel like the band wouldn’t have come together anywhere else. As Austin has evolved, the band has evolved too, and now coming back feels like a very full circle moment.”

They worked in a studio called the Finishing School, which was founded by the band’s close friend and sometime producer George Reiff; Quist took over the studio after Reiff passed away in 2017, and upgraded with gear including three of Freddie Mercury’s actual vocal mics, which have previously been used on recordings by David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, and AC/DC. “It’s our own communal space and we’re very comfortable there,” says Quist.

In some ways, the new album is a logical extension of Remote Transmissions, the livestream series that Band of Heathens started soon after the pandemic shut down the world in 2020 (and which was documented in last year’s Remote Transmissions, Vol. 1 album). Unable to tour, the group convened every week for a year, playing covers of songs new and old, responding to a disorienting time by reconnecting with music they love.

“These were all the songs we grew up on and learned how to play in garage bands,” says Jurdi. “It was good to get back in touch with that, as a survival mechanism and as a creative outlet.”

As opportunities started to open back up, they extended the experiment with the “Good Times Supper Club” on Patreon, offering fans the chance to watch the band work and to participate in the creative process. “Rather than get together once a year for two weeks and make a record, now we’re getting together almost every month, for three or four days or a week, and trying out some new songs,” says Quist. “The frequency of having to do that really dovetailed well into the workflow of making this record—taking little bites and small chunks of stuff, and then taking some time to listen and then go home and write. As we started putting some of this new material together, it started snowballing in terms of, ‘Oh, there’s a good direction here. I got an idea for something that could work with this batch of songs.’”

After almost twenty years on the road, the domestic solitude of lockdown led to new sources of inspiration for the musicians. “Being at home and going out in the backyard to play with my daughter,” says Jurdi, “taking a walk and talking my neighbors, things that normally are incredibly mundane—but they weren’t mundane, because that hadn’t been our mundane life.”

The title track of Simple Things took a while to cohere but started in the early days of the pandemic. “I just remember the world feeling like it was exploding,” says Jurdi, “I was talking to Gordy a lot—What the fuck are we going to do? How are we going to keep the band together?’ On a deeper level, my daughter is going to school on the computer at home and isn’t out in the world, spending time with her friends. So the song is about figuring out what’s important, what we need to be thankful for, and how we address this adversity without it being overwhelming and overcoming us. How can we harness the beauty in that and appreciate the moments and be present in them, without being swallowed whole by what’s going on around us in the world?”

Quist ponders coming home in a different way on “Long Lost Son,” which he co-wrote with his friend Jeff Whitehead. It’s the experience of leaving home, seeing the world, and that feeling you get when you come back,” he says. “It’s that special spot in your heart where the place you’ve been running from retains a new kind of charm and you realize how fortunate you are to have grown up there.”

Jurdi recalls that “Don’t Let the Darkness” began with a couple of simple but profound observations—a friend remaking one night that “If you weren’t here, we wouldn’t all be together,” and then bass player Jesse Wilson talking about being “a lot closer to a little further away.”

“I started thinking that there’s a lot of sadness in the world,” says Jurdi. “That song is like a pep talk for my friends and myself. Like, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of stuff coming at you, but how do we keep these forces the forces of darkness out?’ It’s sort of a mantra, to figure out how to get closer to being in the spot you want to be and keep the bad shit further away.”

From day one, The Band of Heathens have remained proudly, fiercely independent—turning down label offers, maintaining complete ownership of their catalog, building their audience one show at a time. ‘There’s a survivor’s spirit within this band that we’ve had from the first record,” says Quist. “I see a lot of artists out there screaming, ‘Hey, we’re outlaws, we’re independent!’ and they’re signed to a subsidiary of a major label and live completely within that model. Now we don’t necessarily go around waving that outlaw flag in everybody’s face, but I truly feel we’ve been the ultimate indie band for 17 years. We’ve always been living outside the lines, industry-wise, and that spirit helped us during this time when it was all taken away from us.”

With Simple Things, they extend this achievement—creatively, personally, and practically—in the face of a challenging and turbulent landscape in music and beyond. “We’ve been able to grow with each record,” says Jurdi, “all the while doing exactly what we wanted to do—which, believe me, has not always been the best thing for our career or commercial success. There’s never been anyone there to tell us, ‘Guys, don’t do this, you’re fucking up completely.’ That was the whole thing to us, the idea of being in a rock and roll band is freedom, right? We grew up with icons and heroes that not only represented music, but a lifestyle, an attitude, and a way of doing things.  Those ideas molded us in our youth and we’ve carried them with us ever since.”

“We’ve realized,” says Quist, “it’s us, it’s our families, and it’s our fans, and that’s really all that matters.”

With their eighth studio album, Simple Things, The Band of Heathens came home—geographically, as they returned to their longtime base of Austin for the recording; sonically, in an embrace of the rootsy, guitar-based rock with which they made their name; and thematically, with lyrics that speak to appreciating friends and family and our limited time on this planet. It’s a confident, assured statement of a group finding its place in the world amid uncertain and troubled times.

“It was a return to embracing our influences, our natural instincts, the way we sound when we get on stage,” says guitarist-vocalist Gordy Quist. “Many times in the past, we’d take a song and stretch to make it into something else sonically, because that’s exciting and fun to do in the studio. This time around, we tried to use some restraint and embraced our first instincts, trusting the songs were strong enough. With the subject matter, there’s a sentiment of focusing on what’s important as we go through this journey together—don’t waste time, because this is all we’ve got.”

“Gordy and I each have a natural sound when we sing, but there’s something even more special and unique when our voices blend together” says guitarist-vocalist Ed Jurdi. “So it was just about harnessing and embracing that. Good, mid-tempo rock and roll—that’s our breadbasket, and there’s not a lot of that music being made right now.”

Though the members of The Band of Heathens now live scattered across the country, coming back to Austin (where they first formed in the early 2000s when Quist and Jurdi were among four songwriters playing regular weekly sets at the late, lamented club Momo’s) was crucial to the making of Simple Things. “The city has grown and undergone many changes over the years, but the intangibles that make Austin a unique place are still alive and well,” says Jurdi. “I feel like the band wouldn’t have come together anywhere else. As Austin has evolved, the band has evolved too, and now coming back feels like a very full circle moment.”

They worked in a studio called the Finishing School, which was founded by the band’s close friend and sometime producer George Reiff; Quist took over the studio after Reiff passed away in 2017, and upgraded with gear including three of Freddie Mercury’s actual vocal mics, which have previously been used on recordings by David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, and AC/DC. “It’s our own communal space and we’re very comfortable there,” says Quist.

In some ways, the new album is a logical extension of Remote Transmissions, the livestream series that Band of Heathens started soon after the pandemic shut down the world in 2020 (and which was documented in last year’s Remote Transmissions, Vol. 1 album). Unable to tour, the group convened every week for a year, playing covers of songs new and old, responding to a disorienting time by reconnecting with music they love.

“These were all the songs we grew up on and learned how to play in garage bands,” says Jurdi. “It was good to get back in touch with that, as a survival mechanism and as a creative outlet.”

As opportunities started to open back up, they extended the experiment with the “Good Times Supper Club” on Patreon, offering fans the chance to watch the band work and to participate in the creative process. “Rather than get together once a year for two weeks and make a record, now we’re getting together almost every month, for three or four days or a week, and trying out some new songs,” says Quist. “The frequency of having to do that really dovetailed well into the workflow of making this record—taking little bites and small chunks of stuff, and then taking some time to listen and then go home and write. As we started putting some of this new material together, it started snowballing in terms of, ‘Oh, there’s a good direction here. I got an idea for something that could work with this batch of songs.’”

After almost twenty years on the road, the domestic solitude of lockdown led to new sources of inspiration for the musicians. “Being at home and going out in the backyard to play with my daughter,” says Jurdi, “taking a walk and talking my neighbors, things that normally are incredibly mundane—but they weren’t mundane, because that hadn’t been our mundane life.”

The title track of Simple Things took a while to cohere but started in the early days of the pandemic. “I just remember the world feeling like it was exploding,” says Jurdi, “I was talking to Gordy a lot—What the fuck are we going to do? How are we going to keep the band together?’ On a deeper level, my daughter is going to school on the computer at home and isn’t out in the world, spending time with her friends. So the song is about figuring out what’s important, what we need to be thankful for, and how we address this adversity without it being overwhelming and overcoming us. How can we harness the beauty in that and appreciate the moments and be present in them, without being swallowed whole by what’s going on around us in the world?”

Quist ponders coming home in a different way on “Long Lost Son,” which he co-wrote with his friend Jeff Whitehead. It’s the experience of leaving home, seeing the world, and that feeling you get when you come back,” he says. “It’s that special spot in your heart where the place you’ve been running from retains a new kind of charm and you realize how fortunate you are to have grown up there.”

Jurdi recalls that “Don’t Let the Darkness” began with a couple of simple but profound observations—a friend remaking one night that “If you weren’t here, we wouldn’t all be together,” and then bass player Jesse Wilson talking about being “a lot closer to a little further away.”

“I started thinking that there’s a lot of sadness in the world,” says Jurdi. “That song is like a pep talk for my friends and myself. Like, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of stuff coming at you, but how do we keep these forces the forces of darkness out?’ It’s sort of a mantra, to figure out how to get closer to being in the spot you want to be and keep the bad shit further away.”

From day one, The Band of Heathens have remained proudly, fiercely independent—turning down label offers, maintaining complete ownership of their catalog, building their audience one show at a time. ‘There’s a survivor’s spirit within this band that we’ve had from the first record,” says Quist. “I see a lot of artists out there screaming, ‘Hey, we’re outlaws, we’re independent!’ and they’re signed to a subsidiary of a major label and live completely within that model. Now we don’t necessarily go around waving that outlaw flag in everybody’s face, but I truly feel we’ve been the ultimate indie band for 17 years. We’ve always been living outside the lines, industry-wise, and that spirit helped us during this time when it was all taken away from us.”

With Simple Things, they extend this achievement—creatively, personally, and practically—in the face of a challenging and turbulent landscape in music and beyond. “We’ve been able to grow with each record,” says Jurdi, “all the while doing exactly what we wanted to do—which, believe me, has not always been the best thing for our career or commercial success. There’s never been anyone there to tell us, ‘Guys, don’t do this, you’re fucking up completely.’ That was the whole thing to us, the idea of being in a rock and roll band is freedom, right? We grew up with icons and heroes that not only represented music, but a lifestyle, an attitude, and a way of doing things.  Those ideas molded us in our youth and we’ve carried them with us ever since.”

“We’ve realized,” says Quist, “it’s us, it’s our families, and it’s our fans, and that’s really all that matters.”

With their professional lives on hold during the pandemic, The Band of Heathens found a year-long creative workaround. Every Tuesday night, the five-piece group came together via Zoom from their respective homes – from L.A. to Asheville – to host the Good Time Supper Club, a ninety-minute variety program.

“It was nice to be able to use music as a connective thread and something that’s healing,” says guitarist-vocalist Ed Jurdi. “We were doing it for ourselves, but the greatest benefit was how it created this community for us to hang out with our fans.”

Guitarist-vocalist and fellow founding member Gordy Quist agrees. “The show was like a release, where we all connected and forgot about the stuff going on around us. At some point, we decided to bring in guests for an interview, and that turned into ‘Hey, let’s pre-record a music video of a cover song with each of them.’”

That segment of the show, called Remote Transmissions, became a much-anticipated fan favorite each week. And it is now the title of their latest album, featuring covers of ten classic songs with guest vocals by the likes of Margo Price, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Charlie Starr.

It’s just the latest innovative move for The Band Of Heathens, who over the last fifteen years have released nine acclaimed albums of roots rock originals, played festivals like Bonnaroo and South by Southwest, and toured the world many times over (Rolling Stone calls them “a smoking live band”), all while remaining that rarest of birds – a truly independent group.

“We’re here right now/Feels good to have each other/When it’s time to go/We’ll give the feeling to another” “Before the Day is Done”

When The Band of Heathens decided to dub their sixth studio album of original material Stranger (its first since 2017’s Duende), the veteran band, formed in Austin, TX nearly 15 years ago, had no idea how prophetic that title would turn out to be.

Although the name references the famed existential Albert Camus novel and Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi classic Stranger in a Strange Land, it also touches on the “strangers” who make up the band’s loyal fan base, who supported the band during this period with all touring canceled.

As co-founder Ed Jurdi acknowledges, it is certainly an unusual time to release a new album. “The strangest,” he says. “Maybe no time stranger. Since we started, there have been sweeping, revolutionary changes in the music business, but, in this global pandemic, we’re just a microcosm.”

“We’re really fortunate that we have been able to turn directly to our fan base during the pandemic,” adds fellow co-founder Gordy Quist. “The last few months we’ve spent four nights a week live-streaming personal private concerts to fans, and one night a week publicly live-streaming with the whole band Zooming in from their respective homes in California, Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee. At first it seemed very strange until these walls started coming down and we realized how connected we are by the fabric of music.”

Extending the metaphor of Stranger even further. The Band of Heathens traveled to another city, Portland, OR, with a brand-new producer, Tucker Martine [The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, Modest Mouse, Camera Obscura], and the result is something different – a more airy, intimate atmosphere, with added emphasis on songcraft and intricate arrangements set in a spacious sonic landscape that reinvents the band’s sound. These are songs stripped of pretense, but teeming with the emotion borne of personal experience, as has been The Band of Heathens’ method from the very start. Stranger moves off into a new place, but still echoes the group’s artful songwriting and multi-layered narrative observations.

Songs like “Vietnorm,” inspired by bassist Jesse Wilson’s stoned viewing of Cheers, noting the arrival of George Wendt’s character Norm, and the rhythmic “Truth Left,” which takes on the politicization of information, enforce the social criticism the band has begun to increasingly tackle in its music, while still striving for inclusivity. The British Invasionby-way-of the Everly Brothers sound of “Dare” examines the notion of “fake news” vs. “good” and “bad” news, while “Call Me Gilded” focuses on how language itself functions to define reality, concluding actions speak louder than words, in love and life.

“With how politically charged the atmosphere has been as of late,” says Gordy, “I’m interested in seeing what happens when you pull a politically-diverse bunch of people out of the social-media echo chamber, and make em sit down and have a beer together over a rock n roll show. Where words fall short, music can be a common point.”

“South by Somewhere” and “Asheville Nashville Austin” each deal in different ways with a favorite topic of The Band of Heathens – life on the road and the pull of home. The former is about reinventing yourself without selling out or chasing trends, while Jurdi describes the latter as dealing with “travel and mobility, but also individual identity.”

The thumping percussion and eerie organ in “Black Cat” takes a real-life podcast tale about the son of a seven-foot Portuguese immigrant to New York City at the turn of the century who helped build the Brooklyn Bridge and later killed a panther with his own hands in an underground cage match and sets it to an expansive, psychedelic tune that creates its own apocryphal universe.

Stranger turns out to be an apt metaphor on both a meta – it’s an apt description of the current world – and personal metaphor in our increased estrangement from one another in silos defined by economy, politics, race or religion.

The album closes with a yin-yang, one-two punch for the current zeitgeist. The Dylanesque “Today Is Our Last Tomorrow” is reminiscent of a woozy “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35,” a rousing rockabilly tune that is BOH’s version of R.E.M.’s “It’s The End of the World As We Know It,” feeling fine in the face of apocalypse now.

“I just remember watching a bunch of news stories, like the California wildfires and border immigration skirmishes,” says Ed. “It seemed like DEFCON 1, and I figured, if we’re going to go out, we might as well party at the same time.”

“Before the Day Is Done” ends Stranger on an elegiac hopeful note. “I was thinking of being present, trying to stay positive,” insists Gordy, who came up with the idea. “And while those two songs are sonically on opposite ends of the spectrum, I like experiencing them back to back there at the end.”

So, while Stranger hits the streets, The Band of Heathens are hoping they’re not far behind.

A 45 date nationwide tour in promotion of Stranger is booked for the fall, but uncertainty in the music industry and re-opening nationwide is a real concern.

“Gordy and I have been doing a lot of personal concerts via Zoom,” says Ed. “We’ve both got a really good audio and video set-up and we’re trying to present as much of a real concert experience as possible.

We’re also researching Drive-in Movie touring. Our nature is to be proactive, but there is a realization that a lot of this is out of our control.”

With their new album, The Band of Heathens have done their part. Now, it’s up to the rest of us. Stranger things have happened.

The Band of Heathens – Stranger

Ed Jurdi: Vocals and Guitars
Gordy Quist: Vocals and Guitars
Trevor Nealon: Keys and Vocals
Richard Milsap: Drums and Vocals
Jesse Wilson: Bass and Vocals

“We’re here right now/Feels good to have each other/When it’s time to go/We’ll give the feeling to another” “Before the Day is Done”

When The Band of Heathens decided to dub their sixth studio album of original material Stranger (its first since 2017’s Duende), the veteran band, formed in Austin, TX nearly 15 years ago, had no idea how prophetic that title would turn out to be.

Although the name references the famed existential Albert Camus novel and Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi classic Stranger in a Strange Land, it also touches on the “strangers” who make up the band’s loyal fan base, who supported the band during this period with all touring canceled.

As co-founder Ed Jurdi acknowledges, it is certainly an unusual time to release a new album. “The strangest,” he says. “Maybe no time stranger. Since we started, there have been sweeping, revolutionary changes in the music business, but, in this global pandemic, we’re just a microcosm.”

“We’re really fortunate that we have been able to turn directly to our fan base during the pandemic,” adds fellow co-founder Gordy Quist. “The last few months we’ve spent four nights a week live-streaming personal private concerts to fans, and one night a week publicly live-streaming with the whole band Zooming in from their respective homes in California, Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee. At first it seemed very strange until these walls started coming down and we realized how connected we are by the fabric of music.”

Extending the metaphor of Stranger even further. The Band of Heathens traveled to another city, Portland, OR, with a brand-new producer, Tucker Martine [The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, Modest Mouse, Camera Obscura], and the result is something different – a more airy, intimate atmosphere, with added emphasis on songcraft and intricate arrangements set in a spacious sonic landscape that reinvents the band’s sound. These are songs stripped of pretense, but teeming with the emotion borne of personal experience, as has been The Band of Heathens’ method from the very start. Stranger moves off into a new place, but still echoes the group’s artful songwriting and multi-layered narrative observations.

Songs like “Vietnorm,” inspired by bassist Jesse Wilson’s stoned viewing of Cheers, noting the arrival of George Wendt’s character Norm, and the rhythmic “Truth Left,” which takes on the politicization of information, enforce the social criticism the band has begun to increasingly tackle in its music, while still striving for inclusivity. The British Invasionby-way-of the Everly Brothers sound of “Dare” examines the notion of “fake news” vs. “good” and “bad” news, while “Call Me Gilded” focuses on how language itself functions to define reality, concluding actions speak louder than words, in love and life.

“With how politically charged the atmosphere has been as of late,” says Gordy, “I’m interested in seeing what happens when you pull a politically-diverse bunch of people out of the social-media echo chamber, and make em sit down and have a beer together over a rock n roll show. Where words fall short, music can be a common point.”

“South by Somewhere” and “Asheville Nashville Austin” each deal in different ways with a favorite topic of The Band of Heathens – life on the road and the pull of home. The former is about reinventing yourself without selling out or chasing trends, while Jurdi describes the latter as dealing with “travel and mobility, but also individual identity.”

The thumping percussion and eerie organ in “Black Cat” takes a real-life podcast tale about the son of a seven-foot Portuguese immigrant to New York City at the turn of the century who helped build the Brooklyn Bridge and later killed a panther with his own hands in an underground cage match and sets it to an expansive, psychedelic tune that creates its own apocryphal universe.

Stranger turns out to be an apt metaphor on both a meta – it’s an apt description of the current world – and personal metaphor in our increased estrangement from one another in silos defined by economy, politics, race or religion.

The album closes with a yin-yang, one-two punch for the current zeitgeist. The Dylanesque “Today Is Our Last Tomorrow” is reminiscent of a woozy “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35,” a rousing rockabilly tune that is BOH’s version of R.E.M.’s “It’s The End of the World As We Know It,” feeling fine in the face of apocalypse now.

“I just remember watching a bunch of news stories, like the California wildfires and border immigration skirmishes,” says Ed. “It seemed like DEFCON 1, and I figured, if we’re going to go out, we might as well party at the same time.”

“Before the Day Is Done” ends Stranger on an elegiac hopeful note. “I was thinking of being present, trying to stay positive,” insists Gordy, who came up with the idea. “And while those two songs are sonically on opposite ends of the spectrum, I like experiencing them back to back there at the end.”

So, while Stranger hits the streets, The Band of Heathens are hoping they’re not far behind.

A 45 date nationwide tour in promotion of Stranger is booked for the fall, but uncertainty in the music industry and re-opening nationwide is a real concern.

“Gordy and I have been doing a lot of personal concerts via Zoom,” says Ed. “We’ve both got a really good audio and video set-up and we’re trying to present as much of a real concert experience as possible.

We’re also researching Drive-in Movie touring. Our nature is to be proactive, but there is a realization that a lot of this is out of our control.”

With their new album, The Band of Heathens have done their part. Now, it’s up to the rest of us. Stranger things have happened.

The Band of Heathens – Stranger

Ed Jurdi: Vocals and Guitars
Gordy Quist: Vocals and Guitars
Trevor Nealon: Keys and Vocals
Richard Milsap: Drums and Vocals
Jesse Wilson: Bass and Vocals

“We’re here right now/Feels good to have each other/When it’s time to go/We’ll give the feeling to another” “Before the Day is Done”

When The Band of Heathens decided to dub their sixth studio album of original material Stranger (its first since 2017’s Duende), the veteran band, formed in Austin, TX nearly 15 years ago, had no idea how prophetic that title would turn out to be.

Although the name references the famed existential Albert Camus novel and Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi classic Stranger in a Strange Land, it also touches on the “strangers” who make up the band’s loyal fan base, who supported the band during this period with all touring canceled.

As co-founder Ed Jurdi acknowledges, it is certainly an unusual time to release a new album. “The strangest,” he says. “Maybe no time stranger. Since we started, there have been sweeping, revolutionary changes in the music business, but, in this global pandemic, we’re just a microcosm.”

“We’re really fortunate that we have been able to turn directly to our fan base during the pandemic,” adds fellow co-founder Gordy Quist. “The last few months we’ve spent four nights a week live-streaming personal private concerts to fans, and one night a week publicly live-streaming with the whole band Zooming in from their respective homes in California, Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee. At first it seemed very strange until these walls started coming down and we realized how connected we are by the fabric of music.”

Extending the metaphor of Stranger even further. The Band of Heathens traveled to another city, Portland, OR, with a brand-new producer, Tucker Martine [The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, Modest Mouse, Camera Obscura], and the result is something different – a more airy, intimate atmosphere, with added emphasis on songcraft and intricate arrangements set in a spacious sonic landscape that reinvents the band’s sound. These are songs stripped of pretense, but teeming with the emotion borne of personal experience, as has been The Band of Heathens’ method from the very start. Stranger moves off into a new place, but still echoes the group’s artful songwriting and multi-layered narrative observations.

Songs like “Vietnorm,” inspired by bassist Jesse Wilson’s stoned viewing of Cheers, noting the arrival of George Wendt’s character Norm, and the rhythmic “Truth Left,” which takes on the politicization of information, enforce the social criticism the band has begun to increasingly tackle in its music, while still striving for inclusivity. The British Invasionby-way-of the Everly Brothers sound of “Dare” examines the notion of “fake news” vs. “good” and “bad” news, while “Call Me Gilded” focuses on how language itself functions to define reality, concluding actions speak louder than words, in love and life.

“With how politically charged the atmosphere has been as of late,” says Gordy, “I’m interested in seeing what happens when you pull a politically-diverse bunch of people out of the social-media echo chamber, and make em sit down and have a beer together over a rock n roll show. Where words fall short, music can be a common point.”

“South by Somewhere” and “Asheville Nashville Austin” each deal in different ways with a favorite topic of The Band of Heathens – life on the road and the pull of home. The former is about reinventing yourself without selling out or chasing trends, while Jurdi describes the latter as dealing with “travel and mobility, but also individual identity.”

The thumping percussion and eerie organ in “Black Cat” takes a real-life podcast tale about the son of a seven-foot Portuguese immigrant to New York City at the turn of the century who helped build the Brooklyn Bridge and later killed a panther with his own hands in an underground cage match and sets it to an expansive, psychedelic tune that creates its own apocryphal universe.

Stranger turns out to be an apt metaphor on both a meta – it’s an apt description of the current world – and personal metaphor in our increased estrangement from one another in silos defined by economy, politics, race or religion.

The album closes with a yin-yang, one-two punch for the current zeitgeist. The Dylanesque “Today Is Our Last Tomorrow” is reminiscent of a woozy “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35,” a rousing rockabilly tune that is BOH’s version of R.E.M.’s “It’s The End of the World As We Know It,” feeling fine in the face of apocalypse now.

“I just remember watching a bunch of news stories, like the California wildfires and border immigration skirmishes,” says Ed. “It seemed like DEFCON 1, and I figured, if we’re going to go out, we might as well party at the same time.”

“Before the Day Is Done” ends Stranger on an elegiac hopeful note. “I was thinking of being present, trying to stay positive,” insists Gordy, who came up with the idea. “And while those two songs are sonically on opposite ends of the spectrum, I like experiencing them back to back there at the end.”

So, while Stranger hits the streets, The Band of Heathens are hoping they’re not far behind.

A 45 date nationwide tour in promotion of Stranger is booked for the fall, but uncertainty in the music industry and re-opening nationwide is a real concern.

“Gordy and I have been doing a lot of personal concerts via Zoom,” says Ed. “We’ve both got a really good audio and video set-up and we’re trying to present as much of a real concert experience as possible.

We’re also researching Drive-in Movie touring. Our nature is to be proactive, but there is a realization that a lot of this is out of our control.”

With their new album, The Band of Heathens have done their part. Now, it’s up to the rest of us. Stranger things have happened.

Sometimes it’s the “happy accidents,” rather than elaborately laid plans, that lead to something lasting, and that’s precisely the case with award-winning Austin rock and roll stalwarts, The Band of Heathens.

 

“It’s really funny how the loose, tequila-fueled weekly side-project that started almost 14 years ago has evolved into what the band is today,” singer and songwriter Gordy Quist says with a laugh as he recalls the band’s road to success.

 

But planned or not, the band has enjoyed sustained success for more than a decade, racking up 10 albums and more than twelve hundred performances in thirteen countries. Quist and Ed Jurdi, the band’s other principal singer and songwriter, are the only founding members still in the group that first came together in 2005. The core lineup of Jurdi and Quist on guitars and lead vocals, were joined by Trevor Nealon on keys in 2009 and Richard Millsap on drums in 2012. Bassist Jesse Wilson came on board in 2017.

 

Despite a few changes in personnel along the way, one thing has remained constant for the band. “The thing we always set out to do was to make timeless music, timeless records,” Jurdi says. “Not what’s fashionable or what’s trendy, but what inspires us.”

 

“As the band was getting together and going, Gordy and I seemed to have similar focus in terms of what our ambitions were for making music and taking it beyond the confines of what we were doing, presenting it on a bigger level,” Jurdi continues.  It’s not just writing and performing the songs, there are endless choices that go into establishing the right aesthetic and tone for the presentation of the entire band, both on stage and in our recordings.”

 

The Band of Heathens’ first two releases were live recordings and the funky, soulful, rootsy sounds on those live records would come to be the band’s hallmark. “People say, ‘What kind of music do you play,’ and we say, ‘Rock and roll,’” Quist says. “And it’s always like, ‘Oh, rock?’ ‘No, not rock, rock and roll, with the roll in it.’ Because the roll implies a groove and a funkiness that modern rock just does not have. … We’re a rock and roll band.”

 

Between 2008 and 2016, The Band of Heathens released five studio albums, four of which went to either number one or number two on the Americana Radio Albums Chart, and earned a pair of Americana Music Awards nominations. Then in 2018, they released the acclaimed A Message from the People Revisited, a recreation of the legendary 1972 Ray Charles album, A Message from the People.

 

Also in 2018, Quist and a friend purchased The Finishing School, a studio in Austin where the band had frequently worked, after the passing of the studio’s owner, their longtime friend and producer, George Reiff.

 

“We’re really fortunate to be in a position to have access to a creative workspace like The Finishing School. It’s allowing us to take the final step in realizing some greater creative vision.   We’ve laid down about 15 new songs over the past several months, with plans for some of this material to be included on a full length album in 2020, says Jurdi.

 

We were on the road somewhere in New England in early 2017, when the topic of conversation drifted toward the troubled social climate in the country. We all shared a sadness that bordered on despair at the relentless stream of unsettling news of corruption, social injustice, and an overall lack of moral decency.  We related similar experiences with how divisiveness was affecting those around us, how families were being torn apart over political and social issues. Eventually the weight of it all left us feeling quite solemn and the conversation trailed off — we returned to our thoughts and personal reflection as we rolled up the interstate. After a long period of silence, we felt like we needed to lighten the mood, and nothing heals the soul quite like music…

 

Trevor went to an obscure and out-of-print Ray Charles album that he had ripped from vinyl to mp3 to listen to on the road, A Message From The People…how appropriate.  Some of us were vaguely familiar with the context of this record — that it was released in the early 70’s (April ’72) during a time of great social upheaval in America. Nixon, Vietnam, race riots, protests in almost every major city…the country had fallen on some hard times.  Just by glancing at the LP’s artwork it’s easy to deduce that Ray had a message in mind when he made this record. The cover is a painting of Ray in a reflective pose next to a group of children with different ethnicities. They all sit beneath a Mt. Rushmore-like image with the faces of Bobby Kennedy, Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and JFK.  With the first notes of the opening track “Lift Every Voice And Sing”, Ray had our undivided attention. Often referred to as the Black National Anthem, Ray’s genius is in full flight from the get-go, singing with incredible jubilation and hope, hitting us like a ton of bricks. It seemed like Ray had picked up where our conversation had trailed off just moments before…we were really LISTENING. The second track, “Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong”, he sings with such a powerful sentiment of loneliness and helplessness — the plight of many in society who are forgotten or ignored. We remained silent, intently listening and reflecting on the meaning of every word he sang. Halfway through the record a couple of us were in tears. The messages in each song that Ray had carefully selected back in 1972 rang as true today as they did during the turbulent times they were initially released. In these moments, Ray’s voice became the voice of an elder — a true master was speaking to us from the past.  There is sorrow, protest, and anger but also resolve, hope, and deliverance.  On the final track of the record, Ray saved for us his most powerful message and the perfect coda; the definitive version of “America The Beautiful” is absolutely glorious.  It is quite simply the apotheosis of soul.  “America! God done shed his grace on thee! He crowned thy good, he told me he would, with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!”

 

Just like that, the masterpiece that is A Message From The People came to an end. Breaking the ensuing silence, Gordy turned around and said, “What if we covered this album? People really need to hear these songs again.”  The idea was hatched right then and there.

 

Fast forward almost a year later. In December 2017 we were working as a backing band on a variety of projects for other artists being produced by Gordy.  The sessions took place at the Finishing School, a studio built by close friend, producer, and musical collaborator, George Reiff, who tragically succumbed cancer in May ’17 after a 10-month fight. The studio had been dark since George’s passing.  With the blessing of the Reiff family, the lights were turned back on and we went to work for a few weeks. The final four days of session time were blocked off for us to work on something of our own. A few weeks prior to the sessions it was collectively decided that we would use that time to take a shot at recording some of A Message From The People. Working alongside our close friend (and George’s right-hand-man in the studio) Steve Christensen, there was a palpable vibration in the air. It was somber but also very peaceful. Our expectations were tempered, as we knew that doing any Ray Charles record justice was going to be a real challenge — let alone one with such lush arrangements. On top of that, we were working in a new bass player, Jesse Wilson. These sessions would be the first time we had worked with him in a studio environment (which can be a crucible for some). In spite of all that, the collective mentality, while unspoken, seemed to be “let’s give this a shot, this could be cool, there’s no pressure here.” To our amazement, after four days, we had finished the record. In between takes we frequently reminisced about George and were even visited at the studio by some of George’s close friends and family. Feeling confident that what we had accomplished was going to be worthy of a release, we unanimously agreed that it would be dedicated to the memory of George and that proceeds would go to a charitable organization that focused on social justice.

 

Going forward, our hope is that our performance of these songs has sufficient merit to carry the listener to the musical feeling that we strived to infuse in these recordings — a spirit of brotherhood, hope and understanding, liberty, and justice for all.

duende – [duen-de] (noun) 1. a quality of inspiration and passion 2. A heightened sense of emotion, expression and authenticity 3. a spirit

Duende, the title of The Band of Heathens’ fifth studio album (and eighth overall), marks their tenth anniversary as a group, and it certainly applies to its overall theme about the collective search for connection and communion in a technology-fueled world increasingly splintered, distracted and lonely.  As band co-founder Ed Jurdi, who first learned of the term, explains, “It’s the essence of the artist,” or as partner Gordy Quist says, “It’s a word we don’t have an equivalent for in English, Artistically, that’s where we tried to set the bar, to do what this band does best.”

Indeed, Duende lives up to those high ideals, a stylistically diverse effort that takes a leap beyond their last, more acoustic, introspective effort, 2013’s Sunday Morning Record, with an eclectic batch of material that shows where The Band of Heathens has been, but more importantly, where they are going.

There are high-energy rockers like the Keith Richards-Chuck Berry guitars and barrelhouse piano in “Trouble Came Early” as well as the Grateful Dead-by-way-of J.J. Cale Oklahoma boogie in “Keys to the Kingdom,” and the New Riders pedal steel country twang of “Green Grass of California,” an ode to the more potent strains of sensimilla on the dispensary shelf and a fervent plea to “legalize it.”

Duende also touches on some of The Band of Heathens’ favorite topics, from the sacrifices of a life lived on the road (“All I’m Asking”) to the limits of materialism (“Keys to the Kingdom”), social media absorption (“Cracking the Code”), and a moving depiction of Mexican immigration in an age of increased discrimination (“Road Dust Wheels”).

Thematically, Quist’s “Cracking the Code” comes closest to reiterating the album’s desire to reconsider the value of relationships and priorities in a world of virtual reality and social media. “While modern technology has certainly allowed us to stay in touch over vast distances – something a band that lives on the road certainly appreciates – it doesn’t really provide the authentic connection we crave,” says Gordy. “We’ve created a portal through which we lose ourselves and miss what’s really going on right in front of us, hiding the fact our supposed connected culture can be a really lonely place.”

“I feel the album brings together all our influences, everything we’ve done over the years as a band,” explains Jurdi. “We’ve touched on every part of our career… our roots, some singer/songwriter contemplative stuff, some high-energy rock ‘n’ roll. It’s all us, the record we were supposed to make.  Ten years later, that’s what keeps us coming back.”

Engineer/co-producer Jim Vollentine (Spoon, White Rabbits, …And You’ll Know Us by the Trail of Dead) helped the album’s diversity sound coherent, adding unique touches such as mellotron and drum machines to the loping rockabilly of tracks like “All I’m Asking.”

The term “Americana” was practically invented to describe The Band of Heathens’ approach, which has mutated almost as much as the genre to which they’re identified.  And while the Rolling Stones and The Beatles remain touchstones on songs like “Sugar Queen” and “Deep Is Love,” respectively, influences as diverse as Sly and the Family Stone (in the psychedelic fuzz-tones of “Daddy Long Legs”) and Latin music (“Road Dust Wheels”) also rear their heads.  Literary inspirations also come into play, ranging from a character in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar depicted in as a strutting cougar in “Sugar Queen” (“She even talks dirty/When she’s on her knees to pray”) to Tom Standage’s A History of the World in Six Glasses, which recounts how beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola have shaped culture and civilization to modern times (“Trouble Came Early”).

Duende is The Band of Heathens playing to their strengths, unapologetically constructed as an old-school 10-track, two-sided vinyl album (which it will be released as, with a second disc encompassing four songs from their Green Grass EP released earlier this year).

With Duende, the proof is in the results. Let them change your mind.

The Band of Heathens

duende – [duen-de] (noun) 1. a quality of inspiration and passion 2. A heightened sense of emotion, expression and authenticity 3. a spirit

Duende, the title of The Band of Heathens’ fifth studio album (and eighth overall), marks their tenth anniversary as a group, and it certainly applies to its overall theme about the collective search for connection and communion in a technology-fueled world increasingly splintered, distracted and lonely.  As band co-founder Ed Jurdi, who first learned of the term, explains, “It’s the essence of the artist,” or as partner Gordy Quist says, “It’s a word we don’t have an equivalent for in English, Artistically, that’s where we tried to set the bar, to do what this band does best.”

Indeed, Duende lives up to those high ideals, a stylistically diverse effort that takes a leap beyond their last, more acoustic, introspective effort, 2013’s Sunday Morning Record, with an eclectic batch of material that shows where The Band of Heathens has been, but more importantly, where they are going.

There are high-energy rockers like the Keith Richards-Chuck Berry guitars and barrelhouse piano in “Trouble Came Early” as well as the Grateful Dead-by-way-of J.J. Cale Oklahoma boogie in “Keys to the Kingdom,” and the New Riders pedal steel country twang of “Green Grass of California,” an ode to the more potent strains of sensimilla on the dispensary shelf and a fervent plea to “legalize it.”

Duende also touches on some of The Band of Heathens’ favorite topics, from the sacrifices of a life lived on the road (“All I’m Asking”) to the limits of materialism (“Keys to the Kingdom”), social media absorption (“Cracking the Code”), and a moving depiction of Mexican immigration in an age of increased discrimination (“Road Dust Wheels”).

Thematically, Quist’s “Cracking the Code” comes closest to reiterating the album’s desire to reconsider the value of relationships and priorities in a world of virtual reality and social media. “While modern technology has certainly allowed us to stay in touch over vast distances – something a band that lives on the road certainly appreciates – it doesn’t really provide the authentic connection we crave,” says Gordy. “We’ve created a portal through which we lose ourselves and miss what’s really going on right in front of us, hiding the fact our supposed connected culture can be a really lonely place.”

“I feel the album brings together all our influences, everything we’ve done over the years as a band,” explains Jurdi. “We’ve touched on every part of our career… our roots, some singer/songwriter contemplative stuff, some high-energy rock ‘n’ roll. It’s all us, the record we were supposed to make.  Ten years later, that’s what keeps us coming back.”

Engineer/co-producer Jim Vollentine (Spoon, White Rabbits, …And You’ll Know Us by the Trail of Dead) helped the album’s diversity sound coherent, adding unique touches such as mellotron and drum machines to the loping rockabilly of tracks like “All I’m Asking.”

The term “Americana” was practically invented to describe The Band of Heathens’ approach, which has mutated almost as much as the genre to which they’re identified.  And while the Rolling Stones and The Beatles remain touchstones on songs like “Sugar Queen” and “Deep Is Love,” respectively, influences as diverse as Sly and the Family Stone (in the psychedelic fuzz-tones of “Daddy Long Legs”) and Latin music (“Road Dust Wheels”) also rear their heads.  Literary inspirations also come into play, ranging from a character in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar depicted in as a strutting cougar in “Sugar Queen” (“She even talks dirty/When she’s on her knees to pray”) to Tom Standage’s A History of the World in Six Glasses, which recounts how beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola have shaped culture and civilization to modern times (“Trouble Came Early”).

Duende is The Band of Heathens playing to their strengths, unapologetically constructed as an old-school 10-track, two-sided vinyl album (which it will be released as, with a second disc encompassing four songs from their Green Grass EP released earlier this year).

With Duende, the proof is in the results. Let them change your mind.

 

The Quebe Sisters 

When the Quebe Sisters from Texas take a stage, and the triple-threat fiddle champions start playing and singing in multi-part close harmony, audiences are usually transfixed, then blown away. It’s partly because the trio’s vocal and instrumental performances are authentic all-Americana, all the time, respectful of the artists that inspired them the most. And whether the Quebes (rhymes with “maybe”) are decked out in denims and boots or fashionably dressed to the nines in makeup, skirts and heels, the fresh-faced, clean-cut sisters, all in their 20s, look as good as they sound.

Not surprisingly, the Quebe Sisters win standing ovations at just about every show. It’s been that way since 2000, when they started fiddling together as pre-teens. The sisters’ past is as colorful and eventful as their future is bright. Growing up in Burleson, a southern suburb of Fort Worth, Hulda, Sophia and Grace were ages 7, 10 and 12 in 1998 when they attended their first local fiddle competition in nearby Denton, and decided fiddling was what they wanted to do.

The girls earned solo and group accolades early on, winning state and national championships in their respective age groups in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. The Quebes’ evolution from the whiz-kid Western swing fiddlers they were back then to the smokin’-hot young adult Americana band they are today is a remarkable story, by any measure. Along with headlining their own shows to ever-growing audiences, they’ve shared stages with American music legends like Willie Nelson, George Strait, Merle Haggard, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Ray Price, Connie Smith, Marty Stuart, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Ray Benson, Asleep at the Wheel, Riders in the Sky and many others.

Today, after more than a decade of travelling the U.S. and the world, and recording three acclaimed albums, Grace, Sophia and Hulda Quebe are pros in a variety of genres, and count many famous musicians among their biggest boosters. The Quebes’ unbridled passion for American music, along with their talent, skills and a lot of hard work, has taken them far beyond their wildest early aspirations. “One thing is for sure, you don’t see a group like the Quebe Sisters come along every day,” famed Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs told listeners on his own show on Nashville’s WSM. “Give them your undivided attention, and if you’re not already, you too, will become a fan.”