Interview: The Band of Heathens Find Their Essence With ‘Duende’
If you ask singer and guitarist Ed Jurdi, the Band of Heathens are the best they've ever been. And while it's relatively common to hear an artist profess that sentiment, when Jurdi says it, he's especially convincing.
That's partially due to the way Jurdi talks about the Band of Heathens' current lineup -- himself, guitarist Gordy Quist, keyboard player Trevor Nealon, drummer Richard Milsap and bassist Scott Davis, together for three-plus years -- and how they've "[found] a way to collaborate and make sure everyone has moments to make their statement." But it's also because the band felt confident enough in their new album -- their fifth studio record -- to call the project Duende.
"Duende" is a Spanish word that doesn't really have an English equivalent. As defined by Merriam-Webster, it's "the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm;" as Jurdi describes it, it's about finding the purpose, the essence, the truth -- which is, really, some lofty stuff. But the Heathens found themselves coming back to that theme as they worked on Duende's tracks, hoping to, through their new music, both fully discover and convey the group's purpose, their essence, their truth.
"It's a fun word to say," Jurdi tells The Boot, "and the meaning of it's very cool ... It was just kind of apropos in terms of where we are on our journey, as musicians, as songwriters, as performers."
The Band of Heathens' journey began a decade ago, at a club in Austin, Texas: Jurdi, Quist and former members Colin Brooks and Seth Whitney teamed up to perform in what Jurdi describes as "like a loose jam session."
"This was really just some friends hanging out, that happened to play music on the same night at the same club in the same city," he adds.
Since the beginning, the Band of Heathens' ethos has been "to follow whatever was interesting to us at any point in time." Band members changed (the departures were always amicable, Jurdi stresses), and the band's sound flowed from "a little more country" to "more of a rock edge" to "a bit heavier, more eclectic," but that purpose, that essence, that truth stayed steady.
"That's been the thing that's been constant ... There hasn't been a master plan," Jurdi reflects.
For Duende, the Band of Heathens brought roughly 40 songs to the table. They recorded about 20 of them, mixed about 15 of them and selected 10 to fill the project's track list (the vinyl version contains four additional tracks, which were on the band's 2016 Green Grass EP). As fans listen, Jurdi says, "you'll hear that this is a band; this is a very collaborative effort."
"Part of what I think makes the band great is, if someone has a really good idea, and it's solid, and someone else challenges it and they make a valid point, it's sort of like, 'Okay, well, you know, how are we going to get to where we need to get to with this?'" he explains of the Heathens' process in the studio. As long as a band member can defend their theory, and it seems sound, "there's a lot of trust in terms of letting people follow their ideas."
Keeping things loose and energetic both in the studio and onstage is important to the Band of Heathens: In concert, they change up their setlists for each show, try to play their standards a little bit differently when they can and toss in covers here and there; in the studio, they rely on the natural energy that comes from the recording process.
"The thing that's exciting about being in the studio is, this is, a lot of times, the first, second or third time you've ever played a song, so there's sort of some electric energy with this thing," Jurdi notes. "You're building something from the ground up ... That sort of excitement in the studio, I think, when it comes together in the right way, it's sort of magic."
The Band of Heathens started as a live band, and live recordings have always been a part of what they do. Officially, they've released three live albums, but recordings of their shows are available for purchase on their official website. Early on, the group noticed that fans would tape their shows, and fans often told the band that they loved hearing them live; so, knowing that not everyone would seek out bootlegs that weren't readily accessible, the Heathens made them readily accessible.
"However we can get more music to more people, whatever the delivery device, that's kind of the goal," Jurdi says.
Duende, released on Friday (Jan. 13), is available via the Band of Heathens' official website and via iTunes.
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