A decade is a long time to devote to any one thing, let alone a creative undertaking.
But Austin quintet The Band of Heathens, who just released their fifth studio album and celebrated a decade as a band, are showing no signs of slowing down.
“We all feel really fortunate to have made it this far and this long together, and looking back at our various successes and failures, it’s all been fantastic, and I feel like we’re just getting started,” lead vocalist and lead guitarist Ed Jurdi told me in an interview.
The band, which got its start playing various sets at the now-defunct Momo’s, took some time off from the studio in the past few years to back up other artists, like Kid Rock and Hayes Carll. Their latest album, “Duende,” came out January 13 and boasts some of the most eclectic sounds you’ll hear from an Americana or Southern rock ‘n’ roll release this year.
The album’s name is Spanish, a noun meaning “a quality of passion and inspiration.”
“[That’s] what we’re chasing. True authenticity. True connection. Being true to who we are as a band,” the statement on the band’s website reads.
And while the sounds of “Duende” are indeed eclectic, they also fit with the ethos of the band.
There’s echoes of Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” in the raunched-earth jam “Sugar Queen,” while “Last Minute Man” switches over to some easygoing acoustic guitar with some quick, rat-tat-a-tat drum fills, and “Trouble Came Early” is a straight rocker. They’ve been billed as “Grateful Dead Americana,” and the bill is fitting.
“Oh , you should hear the 10 or so songs we left off,” guitarist and songwriter Gordy Quist joked. “We like the mellow stuff but we also really like the rock ‘n’ roll stuff, and I feel like this is some good, tight, rock ‘n’ roll.
“In the studio, it was all about throwing a song around and seeing where it went, letting it take its course.”
“Conventional wisdom would say to pick one thing and get really good at it, but I think at the core of it, we just wanted to get back to this rock ‘n’ roll ethos,” Jurdi added. “This idea of rock ‘n’ roll has become a parody of itself, you know, with like Ed Hardy shirts and motorcycles and having to act hard all the time. And there’s not a lot of bands that can actually groove and swing and have a visceral edge to them, but hopefully that’s exactly what we accomplished with this album.”
All great rock ‘n’ roll albums need a great rock ‘n’ roll tour, and that’s what the Heathens are setting their sights on now. They’re in Massachusetts at the moment, but will be back in Texas on Feb. 17 and will play the Mohawk on the 23rd. Later in the year they’ll head to Europe, and Jurdi teased a few dates with “another artist from Austin that I can’t mention yet.”
So, 2017 will be a big year for the band.
“We’re doing less touring than we used to; it used to be like 250 days out of the year. These days it’s more like 100-120 out of the year,” Quist told me.
“But, you know, it’s like a cumulative effect,” Jurdi added. “It’s been 10 years, we’ve gotten married, had kids, some of us have had relationships end, family members have died, people have broken up with significant others, it’s just 10 years of life happening all around you. So a lot of the writing, especially on this album, is influenced by that.”
A big part of that life on the road is keeping in touch with family, which in this day and age means Skype, FaceTime and the myriad other ways we’re all connected through our screens.
“While modern technology has certainly allowed us to stay in touch over vast distances – something a band that lives on the road certainly appreciates – it doesn’t really provide the authentic connection we crave,” Quist wrote in a press release.
The group touches on that divide in a verse from “Deep Is Love” that focuses on dropped phone calls from hotel rooms.
“All the touring, social media plays a part in that, trying to keep in touch with our families while we’re on the road,” Jurdi said. “It’s something that we want to participate in, but there’s a fine line between participating in it and then letting it embrace you and then you’re living in some cyber domain.”
Expect the band to bring their won brand of authenticity back to Austin when they return to play the Mohawk.