Austin, Texas — the home base for The Band of Heathens — is a long way from Asheville, North Carolina, where group co-founder, singer and guitarist Ed Jurdi resides with his family.
But even though the cities are more than 1,000 miles apart, there really hasn’t been a disruption in Heathens-related productivity since Jurdi moved to Asheville a few years ago.
“In lieu of being face to face,” he says, “we’re able to collaborate via email, Skype and can share songs and demos via Dropbox. [The distance] has given us the ability to recharge our batteries when we’re not actively touring or working, so when we all get together as a band in one place, there is a bit of a renewed purpose and excitement.”
Then again, Jurdi adds, “We’re really always working, whether it be on songwriting, playing on sessions or running our record label, BOH Records.”
The next release on their label will be Duende, the fifth Band of Heathens studio album and first since 2013’s Sunday Morning Record. Liking what they heard on fellow Austin rock band White Denim’s Corsicana Lemonade, Heathens singer-guitarist Gordy Quist says he and his bandmates contacted the album’s primary producer, Jim Vollentine, about recording with them.
“We loved how he makes everything sound fat and warm and fuzzy,” Quist explains. “Jim was one of four engineers who tracked sessions for the album, which we were essentially producing ourselves at first. We enjoyed Jim’s sonic aesthetic while we were tracking with him, so we asked if he’d come onboard as producer to help narrow down the songs, finish overdubs and then to mix the album.”
Quist estimates that The Band of Heathens spent more time making Duende than they did on all of the group’s previous albums combined. In the process, he says the musicians experimented “with different feels and tempos for each song until we found the direction we wanted to go.” Starting with about 40 tunes (some going back to the Record sessions), they “narrowed the field,” as Jurdi puts it, demoing around 19 of them and settling on 10 for the new album, which is due Jan. 13. (An extra four songs will be included on a double-album vinyl version.)
Vollentine played a big part in steering certain songs.
“The sound he got for Ed’s vocal on ‘Daddy Longlegs’ was an experiment when Ed’s voice was congested and shot from allergies,” Quist says. “We discussed moving on to a different song with someone else singing, waiting until Ed’s voice was in better shape, but before we did, Jim cranked the mic preamp really hot, making Ed’s vocal thick and fuzzy from another planet. All of the sudden, we were on to something, and we plowed forward with the song.”
“Trouble Came Early” was recorded “four or five different ways,” according to Quist, “but we didn’t feel like we had landed on where it needed to be. Jim suggested speeding it up significantly from where it started, which took the song from grooving easy to having a real sense of urgency and intensity. And the rest of the performance fed off that energy.”
In mid-March, Austin will once again be energized by South by Southwest — and once again, The Band of Heathens will be among the participating acts.
“It’s grown tremendously since we’ve been participating in it,” Jurdi says, “but we’ve been able to navigate some of the chaos and find good events to be involved with. It’s one of the few times during the year when most of the industry and musicians are in the same place together, which provides a good opportunity to catch up with some old friends and hopefully meet some new ones.”
— By Chris M. Junior
The Band of Heathens on tour (schedule subject to change):
• Jan. 6: Sandy Beaches Cruise — Tampa, Florida
• Jan. 13: Old Fish House Marina — Cape Coral, Florida
• Jan. 14: The Palladium Theater — Saint Petersburg, Florida
• Jan. 17: The Throne Theater — Wilmington, North Carolina
• Jan. 18: The Grey Eagle — Asheville, North Carolina
• Jan. 19: Visulite Theatre — Charlotte, North Carolina
• Jan. 20: Lincoln Theatre — Raleigh, North Carolina
• Jan. 21: Gypsy Sally’s — Washington, D.C.
• Jan. 22: World Cafe Live — Philadelphia
• Jan. 23: City Winery — New York
• Jan. 25: Daryl’s House — Pawling, New York
• Jan. 26: Narrows Center for the Arts — Fall River, Massachusetts
• Jan. 27: StageOne — Fairfield, Connecticut
• Jan. 28: Thunder Road — Somerville, Massachusetts•
• Jan. 29: Roy’s Hall, Blairstown, New Jersey