The Band of Heathens are used to live shows—it’s what their fans love. But when COVID hit in March, the Austin-based group realized that the year-long tour they had planned surrounding the release of their upcoming album was most likely not going to happen. As the country quickly went into lockdown, however, the band found themselves in a familiar situation: To get a fresh sound, they had decided to isolate themselves somewhere new to record their latest album. Piling together in a house in Portland, they created Stranger. And while they had no way of knowing that within just a few months they would find themselves isolating once again in the midst of a global pandemic, their decision to do so seems somewhat prophetic.
Stranger is set to release on Sept. 25—just five days before our next Front Porch Session. We’re lucky to have the band headlining our show, which will be live-streamed from Still Austin Whiskey Co.’s South Austin distillery. (Get all the details of the free performance here.) Before they take the stage, however, we chatted with band members Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist.
How did you guys meet?
Gordy Quist: we got started in Austin. Everyone that was in the band originally moved to Austin to play music and to meet other musicians. So the band has a very Austin story in so far as historically—and even today—the trademark of the Austin music scene has been musicians coming from all over, meeting each other with the common language of music, and making music together. That’s how the band got started, playing at a club called Momo’s on W. Sixth Street that’s no longer there.
Ed Jurdi: The thing that’s really unique about the band’s start is that no one really took it seriously at first. It was a side project. We were all doing other things that we thought were going to be bigger and more important. That’s the other quintessentially Austin thing about it: we were all just collaborating and having a good time, and it just started to pick up steam.
Who picked the name?
Jurdi: We don’t really know. We were originally called the Good Time Supper that met on Wednesdays at Momo’s. Then one day it appeared as “The Heathens” in the newspaper listings. We thought, ‘Oh, maybe it’s been double booked, maybe there’s some other band called The Heathens that are here,’ but I think somebody just thought it was a funny joke to call us that. Back then those shows were tequila-fueled, fun, and rowdy. That name just ended up sticking.
How far in did you realize that it was turning it to something more than a side project?
Quist: For me, I recognized that there was something kind of special about the people who remained, those of us that were still playing music together. That’s where it went from just being a fun side project to it being more serious, in as far as wanting to write songs for the project, and wanting to make records for the project, and wanting to tour for it. It was both recognizing that, and recognizing the reactions of the people coming to the shows.
How Has COVID effected you guys?
Jurdi: We had an entire year of touring behind a new record that comes out on Friday. All of that went off the table. So we just kind of dove into what we could do remotely. We had to use streaming platforms where we could all get in a meeting and do weekly shows—which we call “The Good Time Supper Club,” harkening back to the band’s original name. We do a weekly stream every Tuesday night. I’ve been doing a ton of personal concert via Zoom, where someone can buy a 40-minute show and invite their friends. We’ve been doing a ton of live streaming.
What’s different about your new album?
Quist: We really liked the idea of the stranger times that we’re living in—that was one layer of it. And then the idea that we all kind of feel like strangers, walking around with our masks on, isolated. When we made this record, we recorded it before COVID hit, and we wanted to do something different. We were going to isolate ourselves as a band. We’ve done a lot of recording in Austin and Nashville. But we’d never gone to a place where we had no personal connections, isolated ourselves as a band, and made a record. Had we known that we would be all isolated for an entire year, we may not have made that same choice. But it was cool. I think we got some sounds that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise and I think a lot of the songs have strangely become more true since we’ve recorded them, in a weird, strangely prophetic way.
Jurdi: Any time you change the inputs, you get different outputs. We were in a different location, we were all living together in a house—there is kind of an alchemy to it and there is a bit of mystery within that.
What’s kept the band together all these years?
Jurdi: We’ve stayed committed to pushing forward, creating new sounds, making sure each record sounds different from the record before. We’ve been really fortunate to have a fan base that loves to see the band live, and that’s kind of sustained us. We just try to be kind to each other, and not complete assholes.