Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist decided long ago as budding musicians in Austin, Texas, that when they assembled a band, it would be an ensemble with a true band spirit. The unit would be largely dedicated to their compositions but with a rock ’n’ roll sound reflecting a cohesive group voice. The Band of Heathens was born.
“Ed and I have always tried to foster an actual band, rather than the two of us writing the songs and then hiring whoever is available to come in and play,” Quist said. The Band of Heathens plays Friday night at The Burl.
“What the band achieves is kind of hard to explain. It may be a little bit of ESP and a little bit of the magic of everybody being comfortable enough to take chances and just kind of go for it. I think everybody does that much more effectively when you have a unit that’s really comfortable, where you trust everybody’s instincts and you also have an inkling of where they’re going to go before they go there because you know each other’s musical personalities. That’s just something The Band of Heathens has always done.”
Jurdi and Quist, along with fellow guitar player and songwriter Colin Brooks, who left the group in 2011, brought the Heathens together in 2005. After a pair of concert recordings as introductions, a self-titled debut studio album surfaced in 2008 that drew heavily on Austin’s rich artistic community: Patty Griffin, Ray Wylie Hubbard (who also produced the record) and the late Stephen Bruton. The music was decidedly American, save for the occasional Rolling Stones accent, and undeniably Texan.
Never miss a local story.
“I don’t know if the band could have blossomed in another city,” Quist said. “We were really a microcosm of the Austin scene when the band formed. One of the faults of the Austin music scene is that there is not much industry here. Half the guys in and around town don’t even have their publishing figured out. There is a lack of professional drive oftentimes. Some people complain about that, but I feel like it is one of the beautiful things about the city. It’s truly a creative place. It’s not a music business city or a big industry city. It’s a city of artists and it’s very collaborative.
“It’s not a cutthroat, competitive scene. Everybody helps everybody out. You show up at their shows and sit in with different people. When we started playing back in 2005, that’s all the band was. It was the product of four different bands. It was like, ‘We’re all sitting in with each other trying out different sets. Why don’t we combine this into one big jam?’ And that was how the band was born. It wasn’t planned. We never thought we would take it on the road. We just thought it was going to be what we did on Wednesday nights when we were home and not on the road doing our solo stuff.”
The personnel has shifted somewhat since then, but the music of The Band of Heathens has remained steadfast in its rockish intent. On its newest album, “Duende,” the inspirations are perhaps more far-reaching, from the snapshot of the American Dream as seen by migrant workers in “Road Dust Wheels” to the comparatively jovial “Trouble Came Early,” that Quist fashioned after reading Tom Standage’s “A History of the World in Six Glasses.” There is even a trace of pop in Jurdi’s album-opening song, “All I’m Asking.”
But don’t think that the group dwells on what genres the songs explore or what labels will be tagged to their completed songs.
“We don’t spend very much time at all talking about things like genres,” Quist said “That stuff is useful, I guess, from a marketing standpoint, as in once you make a record, you have to figure out what to call it. But from the creative side, everybody in the band is into different kinds of music. Everyone is pulling from those different styles and throwing it in the pot to see what comes out the other side.
“We just say we’re a rock ’n’ roll band, but we don’t really talk about it or worry about it too much. We’re fortunate in that we have fans that trust us. They don’t seem to be too worried about it, either.”