Over the past handful of years, global circumstances have often seemed especially dire. Whether you’re observing the hellish California wildfires, the sordid social justice protests or the rapidly damaging COVID-19 virus, there is plenty to worry over. And if you were to turn on the television news on any given evening, you might think the world was going to end that same night. Well, Austin, Texas-borne rock ‘n’ roll group, The Band of Heathens, have noticed those same vents and messages and have come to the conclusion that, despite all the potential reasons to fret, there are still reasons to rejoice. So, that’s exactly what they did on their forthcoming record, Stranger, which the band will release on September 25th.
“I think that’s the purpose of music – at least one of its purposes,” says Gordy Quist. “To make us all feel better when things are not going so good and to realize that we’re not alone. With our new record, I feel like we tried to make it sound almost like a, ‘Well, it’s the end of the world. But we’re going to have a party anyway!’”
From the band’s early days, having fun has always been a part of its DNA. The founding members, who all met one another in 2005 in the musical capitol of Texas, began to play a regular Wednesday night bill at the Austin club, Momo’s. The weekly, which they called, “The Good Time Supper Club,” would include full bands, acoustic breaks, loose jams, harmonizing and just a raucous good time. From these humble, joyous beginnings, The Band of Heathens would grow.
“We took chances,” Quist says. “And we realized that’s often what people want to see, musically. The audience doesn’t really want a perfect performance. What they want to see is people baring their souls and being bold and failing sometimes, but knowing that’s okay.”
In the beginning, the band didn’t have a concrete plan of how to progress. They relied on their comradery, connection to fans and a little bit of good luck. In 2006, they released their debut album, Live from Momo’s, which helped the band gain some important local and national attention. The “barroom” record, in which listeners can hear the clinking of glasses, kept a momentum going that still continues today after nearly a dozen records, including the 10-track, Stranger.
The album’s title speaks to many of the band’s dynamics, especially how the group relates to their fans. The word “stranger” points to the way the world is moving – how, with seemingly each passing day, things become more and more odd or unrecognizable outside our windows. The title also refers wryly to the band members’ relationship to each other. While the group blossomed out of Austin, members no longer live in the same city together. While Quist lives in Austin, band co-founder, Ed Jurdi, lives in Asheville, North Carolina. Finally, the title also refers to the group’s fans, who are overtly supportive even if they aren’t personally close to any of the members in a traditional sense.
“In many ways, we’re strangers in the music industry,” says Jurdi. “We’ve been able to develop outside without a lot of industry metaling. To record this new album, we traveled to Portland to work with Tucker Martine, who we’d never worked with before. It was a leap of faith putting our record in the hands of a stranger and hoping it would be something we’d end up loving and being happy with, which is what exactly ended up happening.”
Standout tracks on Stranger include the jocular, chanting song, “Today Is Our Last Tomorrow” and the driving, bluesy, “Vietnorm.” But the album’s top song maybe the reflective, thoughtful, “Asheville Nashville Austin.” The song, which began from a conversation on a boat in the middle of the Caribbean years ago, is narrative country tune about the seemingly continuous journey Jurdi regularly makes between those three creative and very Southern towns.
“So much of our lives as musicians is on the road,” Jurdi says. “I was telling my friend Chuck that my life has been going from Asheville to Nashville to Austin and he said, ‘That’s a song!’”
But while the new record is on it’s way and the band continues its unique career through a pandemic and residing in multiple cities throughout the United States, one thing maintains true for The Band of Heathens. And that’s the continuous relationship it keeps with its faithful fan base. Still today, the band does weekly live stream shows with special guests and both Jurdi and Quist often do private shows for fans who they never might have met otherwise. It’s a way of staying busy and fostering new relationships in an assuredly strange time.
“We’ve gotten to know these people in ways that normal touring never would have allowed,” Quist says. “We’ve had deep conversations like we’re sitting in their living rooms. It’s weird but it’s been really cool.”
Dig Band of Heathens? Check out their online store for merch and pre-order new music.