Concert Festival Heartstrings Interview

INTERVIEW: Band of Heathens at AmericanaFest 2015

On Friday, September 18th, the Band of Heathens rolled into Nashville for their set later that night (midnight to be exact) at City Winery, during the Americana Music Association’s beloved and ever-growing festival, AmericanaFest. After finishing up with Steve Gorman (The Black Crowes, Trigger Hippy) on his radio show and just before heading off to a photo shoot, all five band members walked into CREMA on Hermitage Avenue to greet us.

It was clear that they had a full schedule that day, but, as Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist sat down at our small table towards the back and by the bathrooms, they gave us their undivided attention. We got to know these talented musicians, who are also artists, friends, fathers and music fans. Rather quickly we learned of one of their biggest concerns of the day — missing out on the rest of the music being heard all over Nashville that week. They asked me if they could use the AmericanaFest schedule app on my phone so that they could see who they could fit into their short and busy Friday. We went through the list together, shared oh’s and ah’s at many names, while exchanging recommendations of those we hadn’t heard of. It was a refreshing start to the conversation, to say the least…

How did the Band of Heathens find each other?

Gordy Quist: I was running from a band that had ended. We had been doing different sets, all different singer-songwriters, playing one right after the other on Wednesday nights at Momo’s. We would sit in on each other’s songs and morphed into one big band. We were calling it the Good Time Supper Club and then out of the blue it started showing up in the newspaper as the Heathens. It was either a booking agent or a club owner who dubbed it.

Ed Jurdi: In the South and Texas, there’s a saying “Oh that’s them there Heathens!” It was a pretty rowdy hang and that contributed to it. And it just stuck. They put one poster up with the name and everyone started calling us the Heathens.

When did you decide to make it Band of Heathens?

GQ: We just recorded a couple of those Wednesday nights and our drummer at the time had a recording rig and he brought it in. That ended up becoming our first live album and a small label in Austin helped us put it out. Their attorney said there was already a Heathens, so they told us to try something and we landed on Band of Heathens. The craziest thing though — years ago, we were on tour going through Wyoming. We passed through this town called Wamsutter, Wyoming for gas and there’s nothing there but one intersection and a gas station. So we pulled in behind this biker gang and they had leather masks over their faces, leather and they were from California. On the back of their jackets it said “The Heathens.” Then we go get gas and walk into the place and I say, “So you’re the Heathens…” and the guy was like “Yeah.” I told him we’re in a band called the Heathens so it’s kind of funny to be here. He said, “You’re not the Heathens! They’re the Heathens!” And he points to a group and a guy with a camera. Apparently they’re in a band called the Heathens and are from the West Coast and were making a film about this biker gang. They were following them in a car filming these biker guys called the Heathens…they’re the Heathens…we’re Heathens…and we all pulled in to get gas at the same time (laughs).

EJ: That will never happen again.

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Ed Jurdi & Gordy Quist

What is the songwriting process like for BOH? How does a song take shape?

EJ: All different shapes and sizes. I think it has fluctuated record to record, project to project. There are some songs that Gordy and I have written from inception all the way through, or that I start and he finishes, vice versa, or some that just he writes. Me and him do most of the writing and the band gets involved more by arranging and making the song what it is going to be.

Are there certain spaces that are more conducive to writing for you?

EJ: I get asked that question a lot and I always say I don’t know, but I realized recently that for me, I get a lot of ideas when I take walks. It has just dawned on me that I’ve written more than a few songs from taking a walk. I find that you don’t know when the ideas are going to come, but when your mind is open and clear, there is a better chance that you will recognize that idea. A lot of it is just born out of necessity too, since we are out on the road a lot.

GQ: For me, the road is great for ideas but you just have to be disciplined enough to write them down, right then and there when you get them. But when I’m home, I have a space where I go, and that’s where you begin chewing on it and working on it. It’s harder for me to do that on the road, but last night I mentioned an idea and I said hey, I think this could be a song and yesterday he was like I think I got something going. We are going to be in the studio on Sunday, so last night we roomed together and we stayed up ’til 3 or 4 in the morning and got it done. So, on rare occasion, I think you can make it work on the road but it’s hard to focus.

How did Ray Wylie Hubbard become your producer for the self-titled album?

EJ: He found us.

GQ: (laughs) He’s right. He brought us to a larger audience.

EJ: Ray’s sort of like one of the quintessential Americana artists and in Texas, he’s it. He’s just a brilliant guy. He has a radio show in New Brothels, south of Austin, on Tuesday nights. He’s been doing it a really long time. Every week, he talks and plays, and has a couple of guests to play. I think that’s where we met. We ended up there doing the show and met Ray and started talking. He said, “You guys are really good. Maybe I should produce a record for you,” and that’s how it happened. We met at Dairy Queen weeks later for some soft serve and that was it.

You have three officially released live albums and record all your shows to make them available to your fans the night of the show — How did this idea come about? Why do you do it?

GQ: It’s crazy (laughs). Our first two records as a band were live albums. We thought…let’s record these Wednesday night gigs…and that was the first. Then we were working on our first studio record with Ray and a TV station in town said they were trying to start a series where they support local Austin bands and they said they would do a DVD for us. They shoot us, they release it and we pay them back. So we did that and that ended up coming out before the studio record. Years later, we did another double DVD set, so our live show has always been the thing that people are drawn to about our band. In early 2012, our tour manager was really into taping shows and he was always taping our shows, but it was hard to get it from that format to the audience’s hands quick enough. So now, we take a board feed, we mix into the mics on stage, blend them together and they sound really good. They are for sale at the end of the night. It forces us to keep our live show fresh. We do 95% of our shows.

You’re coming up on 10 years as a band this November — how does that feel? What does it mean to you?

GQ: Old (laughs).

EJ: It’s interesting. You take a moment to reflect, look back and acknowledge the run that we’ve had so far, and use it to step through the next door and the next thing we’re going to do. The band’s in a great place musically and the combination of people we have in the band, and it’s an opportunity to celebrate the past.

GQ: We’re going to do three shows in Texas around Thanksgiving to celebrate. Some of the older guys who used to be in the band are going to come out and jam.

What are some of your most memorable moments over the last 10 years?

EJ: We got to play Austin City Limits, in the studio, which was really cool.

GQ: Playing the Ryman, doing the Americana Awards in 2009. That was cool. A low point memory for me might be throwing up on stage in Denmark. I had a flu or something. That was not fun.

EJ: We had some good times in Europe. We played at the Paradiso, which is this old great church venue in Amsterdam. That’s always a highlight gig.

I heard you are going to be releasing a studio album in 2016 — can you tell me about it?

GQ: Yeah, for our 10th anniversary. The three shows in November are going to kick it off, followed by a tour and the release of the album. It’s being mixed right now and will probably be released in early 2016. We’re working with Jim Vollentine…he did the White Denim records…it’s a pretty cool record. It’s a rock and roll record. We had a ton of material and had to sift through it and called Jim to weigh in on it. He’s producing it.

Do you always record at the same place?

GQ: (laughs) We never record at the same place. Every record has been done at a different studio. We’re all over the place. It’s like the new, shiny object. Oh look at that studio!…Oh look at that studio! This time, we actually recorded at 3 different studios but most of it was done at the Texas Treefort.

Any secret talents?

GQ: I’ve got two daughters, so I’m kind of a baby whisperer. I love hanging out with my kids. I’ve been producing some records for friends this last year. And writing.

EJ: I make pretty good omelettes.

(laughs)

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