The Band of Heathens have been through a lot in two years. Nearly half the band defected. Ed Jurdi left Austin for the hills of North Carolina. Gordy Quist became a father.
Especially happening all at once, it’s enough to break up any group. While the Heathens did consider disbanding, ultimately they regrouped with Jurdi and Quist joining new drummer Richard Millsap, keyboard player Trevor Nealon and a rotation of bass players.
Their first album together, Sunday Morning Record, showcases a looser, more laid-back sound and proves a thoughtful meditation on the big changes that define every life.
Jurdi and Quist spoke to CMT Edge via Skype from their homes in Asheville, N.C., and Austin, respectively. Immediately the complications of their new arrangement became clear. Because of a fussy baby, Quist was a few minutes late to the call.
What precipitated the move to North Carolina?
Jurdi: Family mainly. My wife has some family in the area. We have a daughter and wanted to have more of a home base. Asheville is a great town — big enough so there’s stuff to do but not fast-paced. It’s a good change of pace for me when I come off the road. I love Austin and will always have a fond spot in my heart for it, and I can’t really foresee a time when I don’t spend time there. But we didn’t have any ties there, although I do still have friends there.
Has it been difficult for the band having its main songwriters separated geographically?
Jurdi: If we’re going to do rehearsals or something like that, I can just fly into Austin. Most of our work is on the road, so it’s not a big deal in terms of hitching up the wagon and meeting the guys wherever they are. Honestly, even when we were playing locally around Texas, home was just a bed. You go home to sleep for a short amount of time. Then you wake up and leave again. A lot of the stuff that we would have done in person is now phone stuff or computer stuff. There’s not a huge amount of stuff yet, but we’ve only been here about eight or nine months. We’re still adjusting, but I think it’s working out pretty good so far.
Quist: Hey, guys, sorry I’m late. I’ve been having a little bit of a meltdown with my daughter. I just put her to bed, and I hope she falls asleep soon. Good times.
No problem. We were just talking about Ed moving to Asheville. Do you have any thoughts on that topic?
Quist: It’s been forcing us into this direction that we were already headed, anyway, where we were working in chunks of time. We would work for three or four weeks, then take time off, and it seemed a little too easy to go on tour around the county, come home to Austin and play shows around Texas. At a certain point, it becomes nonstop and never-ending. We were already moving toward a point where we were taking some chunks of time and blocking everything else out.
That move is just one of many major changes affecting the band. Did you ever consider disbanding the Heathens?
Quist: At this point, we’re on the other side of it. I feel a little removed from all that turmoil because we’ve found a groove. But over the course of making the record, there were certainly a bunch of points where we had to ask ourselves what we thought about the future and if we wanted to keep going. Did we want to replace people, or did we want to try to forge a new path that sounded completely different?
There was a tension while we were recording, and I think we all felt some uncertainty about what was ahead. But I think we all felt like the core of the band was intact, and we were all pretty excited about moving forward with new guys and getting some new life in the band.
Listening to Sunday Morning Record, you’d never guess the sessions were tense.
Jurdi: The actual recording process itself was pretty relaxed and laid-back because we did the tracking at [co-producer] George Reiff’s house, and we didn’t have to watch the clock. I would say the tension was probably more for me and Gordy pushing ourselves a little harder and putting more pressure on ourselves. We worked a little harder than we have in the past in terms of crafting these songs and making sure stuff was where we wanted it to be. We spent a little more time with these songs before we took them to the band and started playing them. So I wouldn’t say “tense” in a negative way. You just want to raise the bar every time out.
Can you elaborate on the title of the album? That phrase nicely sums up the feel of this record without being too literal.
Jurdi: It is descriptive of the sound, but it’s more a feeling or a kind of an impression rather than a direct missive. In terms of “Sunday,” that means a lot of different things to different people — everything from the spiritual to the relaxing to the pastoral. The sound of the record is a little bit more idyllic, maybe a little turned down compared to some of the stuff we’ve done in the past. It’s a phrase that means a lot more than the three words in it.
Keeping with the theme of Sunday morning, it sounds like a benediction that closes out a certain period of your career.
Jurdi: This is why it’s cool that people listen to stuff and come up with their own interpretations. I listen to records and draw all these conclusions and come up with these stories that may or may not have been intended by the writer. That’s the beauty of it and the whole point of documenting it on record. To me, that’s where music becomes magical.
Quist: Songs are living entities that evolve with time. The best ones are the ones that travel with you through life and mean different things at different times.