Urban legends and unbelievable, far-fetched ideas usually make for a great story, but sometimes truth can be even more intriguing.
When The Band of Heathens heard a very tall tale about a man who immigrated to New York in the early 1900s, they were so mesmerized by the imaginative story that they wrote a song about it near moments later and recorded it the very next day. And it would develop to be an even greater contender, fairing as an essential track on their upcoming album Stranger, due for release on September 25.
The band initially heard the story second-hand from connections at Song Confessional, who were handed it from a concert patron in 2019 during the Newport Folk Festival. The Band of Heathens would go on to further polish the song inspired by the story titled “Black Cat” with producer Tucker Martine, who has worked with pop and rock groups Modest Mouse and The Decemberists.
“’Black Cat’ is the true-ish legend of Augustinial Fonseca,” bandmember Gordy Quist told American Songwriter. “He was the great grandfather of an anonymous Newport Folk Festival goer, who told the story of Augustinial’s coming to Ellis Island as a stowaway and finding his way to an underground fighting ring in New York City around the turn of the last century. Legend has it that he killed a panther with his bare hands and lived to be 99 years old. In this case, truth really is stranger than fiction.”
The Band of Heathens does an excellent job of mirroring the grandiose narrative with triumphant, full music. Organ sounds evoke an old-world essence that aligns with the stories timeline and setting, while rock riffs modernize the sound, bringing the 100-year old story into 2020. The music video is an exquisite piece of art visually and leads with vivid graphics and animations that are equally stirring as beautifully illustrated.
The compelling track is just one of many to come from the Stranger album, which got its tag partially from the science fiction novel Stanger in a Strange Land by American author Robert Heinlein. The other half of the inspiration poured from the perspective of the group’s fanbase as strangers themselves, who continue to go on supporting The Band of Heathens through a time when they can not tour. The band also correlated their role within the music industry currently as a kind of stranger, explaining they are like a “microcosm” next to their fans, and community who are all amid the pandemic.
After traveling to Portland, Oregon to record the new album with Martine, the group has been making a habit of livestreaming. And at first the concept of performing through a screen, like many other artists have took to seemed odd but they quickly realized how incredibly connected everyone is and how bonding music can be, even distantly. Four nights a week The Band of Heathens has been performing intimately for their fans online, while one night a week they come together virtually from their homes in California, Texas, Tennessee and North Carolina for a full-band performance on Zoom.
Listen to the epic story of New York’s “Black Cat” premiering today on American Songwriter and watch for The Band of Heathen’s sixth studio release, Stranger this fall.