The Band of Heathens roar back to life on ‘Sunday Morning Record’
By Steve Wildsmith | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In that brief span of 3.5 seconds, Jurdi told The Daily Times recently, the two old friends had no doubts about whether the group — which performs Friday night at The Bowery in Knoxville’s Old City — should go on.
“We both said, ‘Are you still into this? Do you still want to do it? Good. Done. Cool. Let’s put a band back together,’” Jurdi said. “It had come to a point where we were having conversations with the other guys, and it was obvious they didn’t want to do it anymore, that it wasn’t working out, and we don’t want to force anybody to play in a band where they feel it’s run its course. But me and Gordy, we wanted to really have a band together and go out on the road and play shows.”
Over the past two years, Jurdi and Quist have slimmed down, tightened up and put out what may be the crowning achievement of the band’s career — the album “Sunday Morning Record,” released earlier this year. It’s the audio equivalent of a pair of granddaddy’s boots pulled on by the man who remembers them as a boy: timeless, well-worn, familiar and comfortable. The two men made keyboardist Trevor Nealon, a longtime friend of Quist’s who first started playing with The Band of Heathens in 2009, a permanent member, and rounded out the lineup with Richard Millsap. Before committing “Sunday Morning Record” to tape, Jurdi said, they hit the road.
“The aesthetic of the band is that we’ve always had our sea legs under us and performed as an ensemble, and we record like that, too — tracking live, being in the same room with each other and collaborating,” he said. “To do that, you’ve gotta be familiar with people a little bit. Trevor’s been with us for five years, and after we brought in Richard, it was a great shot in the arm. He came in and was really enthusiastic about it.
“I guess in terms of how the record sounds and it being a recalibration or reconfiguration, in retrospect that seems more apparent, but at the time, these were the batch of songs we had, so these are the songs we ended up recording.”
Band of Heathens came together when Jurdi, Quist and fellow singer-songwriter Colin Brooks often found themselves sharing a bill and the stage at the Austin club Momo’s. Eventually, they began collaborating, putting aside their solo careers in favor of a new band that would grow to include bassist Seth Whitney and drummer John Chipman. Two live albums followed and in 2008, Band of Heathens released a self-titled studio debut that made waves on the Americana charts.
The record hit No. 1 on the Americana Music Association Radio chart, spent two months at No. 1 on the Euro-Americana Radio chart and came in at No. 8 on the AMA’s Top 100 albums of 2008 list. The group was nominated as one of the Emerging Artists of the Year for the following year’s Americana Music Association Honors and Awards, and the band’s live show — a combination of Southern soul, gentle folk and barn-burning, foot-stomping country rockers that would do Little Feat proud — earned the guys a rabid fanbase.
Brooks, Whitney and Chipman, however, decided to leave the group following the release of 2011’s “Top Hat Crown & The Clapmaster’s Son,” and listening to that record now, Jurdi said, he can hear that version Band of Heathens slowly unravelling.
“I love that record, but listening to that record in retrospect, it’s the sound of the band coming apart to me, even though we weren’t aware of it at the time,” he said. “But that’s life. It’s up to you to try and make it happen, and while you’re doing that, all the other stuff happens, the stuff you don’t plan for.”
The solid foundation of his friendship with Quist, however, kept their shared dream alive. From the beginning, he said, the two men gravitated toward one another, and on “Sunday Morning Record,” their reliance on one another musically is stronger than ever, calling to mind comparisons to the Gary Louris/Mark Olson harmonies and playing on the mid-1990s Jayhawks classics “Hollywood Town Hall” and “Tomorrow the Green Grass.”
And the songs on the new record, he added, translate well from the more mellow vibe of the studio to the incendiary possibilities on a live stage.
“Right now, we’re just having a good time playing these songs live,” Jurdi said. “People say it’s different, that the songs are mellow, but when you plug in and get them up in front of an audience, they sound totally different. That’s always been the thing for this band: We make records that sound cool and pleasing to us, and when you play songs over time, they really start to open up and become a vehicle for something else. It’s just a lot of fun.”