Interview: The Band of Heathens embrace change
On their recent album, Sunday Morning Record, Austin group the Band of Heathens couldn't help but focus the music and songwriting on a period of change within the band and their personal lives while still managing to stay true to their distinctive sound...
Succumbing to the pressures of personal relationships, creative differences, financial hardship, and the strain of life on the road with the same group of people day in and day out, bands come and go. The best bands are the ones who brave the changes and uncertainties that come with life as an artist and continue pushing forward. Austin country rockers the Band of Heathens are no strangers to the type of unexpected changes that can compromise the longevity of a band. Since Ed Jurdi, Gordy Quist, and Colin Brooks formed the group in 2005, the Heathens have built a loyal following in Austin and the rest of the country through relentless touring and a reputation as an impressive live act. Despite finding success over the years, it was only a matter of time before the Heathens encountered a series of changes that threatened the future of the band. The group’s recent Sunday Morning Record, their fourth studio album, almost didn’t happen after the departure of founding member Colin Brooks and drummer John Chipman.
“Basically we were at this point where we were like, do we want to keep doing this, should we keep doing this as a band,” says guitarist and singer Gordy Quist.
These questions loomed as they prepared to enter the studio to make Sunday Morning Record, uncertain if it was possible for the Band of Heathens to exist in any way, shape, or form without the full lineup. Time passed and recording was delayed, but instead of calling it quits, Jurdi, Quist, and longtime keyboard player Trevor Nealon decided it just wasn’t time for a world without the Heathens. Instead of calling off the record or hiring studio musicians, Quist and Jurdi connected with drummer Richard Millsap and decided that the best way to get comfortable with the new members was to do what they do best: hit the road.
“There was a period of having to find a new drummer and bass player, and we found a couple guys and wanted to go out on the road before going into the studio so we could get our legs under us as a band and play live a bunch. We were probably ready to go into the studio about a year earlier, but with all of the change happening we decided to put it on hold and make sure the band [was] healthy and feeling good playing together before we went into the studio,” says Quist.
Taking the time to get comfortable as a band paid off when the band finally returned to the studio. Sunday Morning Record is more mellow than the band’s previous work, with Quist and Jurdi using the songs to reflect on the changes in the group and in their own lives as well. During the recording Quist and his wife gave birth to a daughter while Jurdi announced that he would soon be moving with his family to North Carolina, both of which only added to everything else that had happened and can be heard in the reflective, somber, but ultimately uplifting tone of the album.
“We've always tried to embrace change and let each album sound different than what we've done before. We knew we wanted to go into this record trying to capture more wooden acoustic sounds, and I think that was both because we were listening to a lot of records that sounded like that and we were also looking to those records for inspiration,” says Quist, who cites artists like Michael Kiwanuka, Jackson Browne, Vetiver, and Bahamas as influences on Sunday Morning Record.
The songwriting talents of Quist and Jurdi shine through with lyrics that are simultaneously an ode to the past and an optimistic outlook on the future. Instead of stressing over the fate of the band, there is a sense that Sunday Morning Record was exactly the kind of album the Heathens needed to make to cope with the unexpected changes brought on by the previous two years.
“In this case I think we're really proud of the record. It's a different record than anything we've done and it also reflects some of the sentiments that were floating through our heads around that year,” says Quist.
One could spend a lifetime reminiscing about the way things used to be, but for the Band of Heathens it is the changes that come with growth that have only pushed them to keep moving forward. While other bands may look back on the good old days and call it quits when times get tough, the Heathens made the best of the situation, and through it all they came out stronger than ever.
Gordy Quist sums up the bands optimistic attitude towards their future best when he says, “All of those things were kind of feeding some uncertainty and change in general, which personally can be tough and cause a little anxiety, but creatively sometimes it can bear really good fruit.”
Photo: Courtney Chavanell
This interview was originally published on The Horn, an online publication based out of Austin, Texas.