Unlike many outfits who take years to reap their just rewards, Band of Heathens worked their way into the spotlight fairly quickly. It wasn't that they had any grand designs early on, or even had any thoughts about becoming a band in the first place. What began initially as a series of Wednesday night jam sessions at a club in their native Austin -- an event they dubbed "The Good Time Supper Club" -- eventually coalesced into an outfit that gained almost immediate attention and climbed to the top of the Americana charts. They certainly possessed all the goods they needed from the very beginning, thanks to a pair of seasoned singer/songwriters in Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist, each of whom had pursed solo careers prior to to participating in those impromptu gatherings.
True to form, the group's initial albums were recorded live prior to releasing their eponymous studio debut in 2008. And while concert recordings continue to find a place in their catalog, Band of Heathens have shown a decided studio savvy as well. With the core outfit currently consisting of Jurdi and Quist on vocals and guitars and later recruits Trevor Nealon on keyboards and Richard Millsap playing drums, they released their finest effort to date last year, the aptly titled Sunday Morning Record.
Accessible to a fault, and exceedingly mellow to boot, it flows with a natural ease usually accomplished by those with far more track time under their belts. From its graceful opener "Shotgun," through to the final wistful refrains of "Texas," it proves its mettle as both a set of songs that are radio-ready and sweet salvation on a particularly demanding morning-after. Seven years on, they've mustered a ton of well-earned admiration.
We recently caught up with Ed Jurdi on the phone from Asheville and offered him the opportunity to delineate the band's unlikely trajectory.
New Times: Your band came together in an unusual way, recording solo albums before the band even started.
Ed Jurdi: I think everything about our band, in terms of the way things are usually done, has been ass backwards. We all were doing solo stuff and then this thing came together and took on a life of its own. You have moments in your life where things just sort of happen. And it just sort of took off.
It was a pretty unique sound, and we all agreed it might be something worth exploring. It wasn't like a discussion ever happened early on, but as we got into it we were kind of getting back what we put into it. We were feeling good about where it was taking us, so following that muse led us to where we are now.
Were there ever any second thoughts about putting your solo careers on the back burner?
The evolution was so slow and natural that that thought never entered into it. We were doing our weekly gig for like a year. That's all we did was play once a week in Austin while doing our solo stuff at the same time. So it was like, what if we do a week of shows in Dallas or Houston? So we started doing that and it was going great. We were doing the other stuff all along, and it was kind of like, this is going so well, and we're really having fun. And where the solo stuff was once a priority, let's make this a priority for a little while and see how it goes. We all felt there was room to do what ever we wanted to do on an individual creative level.
Whenever you're playing in an ensemble, that's kind of what it is. It's kind of a balance of knowing what the group is doing while also being creatively fulfilled individually. The answer was yes to both of those things. So it was really a no brainer. Let's give this a shot for a little while and see what happens.
It seems like the band started almost accidentally.
When it started, there was no plan to put a band together or make a record. It was really a jam. It was a fun thing to do on a Wednesday night. So at some point, when it starts giving back creatively to you and you're getting a nice return, so you start to feel like, well, maybe we can start investing something into it. That's really it. Just jamming and having fun and finding people who were really into it and having a great time.
But at first we weren't really putting any creative capitol into it. We're talking like a year or 18 months into it at this point, and then we started thinking, what if we make a record and write some songs and see what it sounds like when we really start concentrating on it. We did that and everyone thought, "wow, this is great, this is cool." And that's really it. That's been the MO all along. See how it feels and take it from there.
So from the way you describe it, it sounds like a very gradual transition.
Yeah, and on another level, all of us, as individual songwriters, we still got to present our own material and we had a great band that everyone could play off of and with, and in effect do only a third of the work. For me, being in a band has always been the goal. Even when you're doing your own thing, you want to have a group of people around you that can play off of and with.
As a music fan, that's the thing that always resonated with me. Watching a group of people onstage playing music together and interacting and having things happen in the moment. And so being a part of that interaction, that's the thing about making music that's special for me at least.
Your music was received really well at the outset. You garnered a lot of acclaim from the first note you released and instantly hit the highest peaks of the Americana charts. But did that in turn put a lot of pressure on you, knowing that you already had a high bar to maintain?
On a business level, it does, but creatively that's always been a very secondary thing to us. I never equated our albums going to number one with the quality of the work. Maybe it was an affirmation of the quality of the work, but the only judges of that are the guys in the band. Do we like it and do we feel good about putting it out? If it's the best work we're doing in the time that we're doing it, then that's it.
When we finished the new record and played it out, it felt like the best thing we had ever done. That's just my opinion though. Everyone receives it differently, from critics to fans and everyone in between, and that's their right to have that opinion. But at the end of the day, all we can do is base it on the work that we're doing. Because otherwise, it's kind of unachievable. I have no idea how to make music that I think someone else thinks is great or going to be number one. It's such a nebulous field of reference.
Your name was actually the result of mistaken identity, was it not?
That's totally true. We were doing this Wednesday night thing and had been doing it for a few months and we were calling it "The Good Time Supper Club," because it was kind of like an evening of different entertainers. We started it off and then some of our friends came down, and it became a big deal. Everybody started coming down just to see what was going to happen. Someone made some posters for the show and they started calling us 'those heathens" or something like that.
How did they come up with that?
I have no idea. But it got to be known around town that on Wednesday night, you could see Those Heathens. So everyone just started called us Those Heathens. It was just kind of like, well, ok, that's cool. At the time it was funny because there was a little bit of controversy about religion and how it's got its place in our society and how the conservatives were banging the drum about family values. If nothing else, it levelled the discussion in a tongue in cheek kind of way. So it just sort of stuck, it was kind of serendipitous like everything about this band.
What can we expect from a Band of Heathens concert?
That's a great question. I think in general the best way I can describe it is that we're a rock 'n' roll band, so fundamentally you're going to get a rock 'n' roll show. That being said, we're definitely into song craft. That's where everything starts and ends with the band, so we present these songs that we record and sometimes we do them the same way we do them on the record but most times not.
We've changed a lot. I think the people that come see our band are just into the experience of being a part of the music, kind of going on a trip night to night, whatever that may be. Just watching us create on stage and just feeding off of that. Being a part of the moment.
Band of Heathens, 8 p.m. on Sunday, January 26, at the Funky Biscuit, 303 S.E. Mizner Blvd., Royal Palm Place, Boca Raton. Tickets cost $20 to $35. Call 561-395-2929, or visit funkybiscuit.com.
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