Sixteen Years Later, Austin-Based Band of Heathens Keeps Its ‘Cool’ By Continuing To Make Music

Band of Heathens promotional picture

Band Of Heathens, provided with permission

In the fall of 2005, four musicians—Ed Jurdi, Gordy Quist, Brian Keen and Colin Brooks—all had residencies at Momo’s, the since-shuttered music club on West 6th Street in Austin, Texas. Ultimately, the four songwriters found themselves jamming each week, sharing a bill in what was lightly called “The Good Time Supper Club” on the Momo’s stage.

It became a local staple of the thriving Austin music scene and the stage became “an extended hang,” as Quist noted, somewhat joking that the performances “specialized in tequila and trainwrecks.” He said it was “a good time for cutting our teeth on danger and taking chances on music and experiencing the magic that comes from that.”

After a misprint in a local newspaper billed the act as “The Heathens,” the collective became known as “The Band of Heathens”—our latest guests on The Load Out Music Podcast.

Over a 16-month-period, the group began to galvanize into what would become what remains a force today in Americana-driven rock-and-roll. Now led by Jurdi and Quist, The Band of Heathens has built one of the most dedicated followings for an independent act worldwide.

“It was exciting,” said Jurdi of those formative years. “Everything was very new at that point. So, we were sort of sharing in all these experiences together.”

There was an unquestioned magic that they all could sense, even in the beginning. The band’s first recording, Live from Momo’s, brought the band national attention and they were voted “Best New Band” at the 2007 Austin Music Awards.

“The fact that we received ‘Best New Band’ was a nice reflection of Austin and the scene and the collaboration of the scene,” Jurdi said.

Ultimately, the great Ray Wylie Hubbard—a past guest on The Load Out—signed on to produce The Band of Heathens’ self-titled first record.

“Ray is a legend and is a great guy,” Quist said.” He took us under his wing and said, like, ‘let me show you how to make a good record.’ He specializes in vibe and cool.”

The record had more than just vibe and cool. It went to number one on the Americana Music Association’s radio charts, and in November 2008, the album was ranked eighth on the Top 100 Albums of the Americana Charts for 2008. And ever since, that vibe and cool has stuck with The Band of Heathens as it has continued to excel, prosper and reach fans worldwide.

Certainly, there’s been bumps and changes along the road. It’s simply part of the deal in music.

Brooks, who was part of that early collective, would leave after the band released its third studio album, Top Hat Crown & the Clapmaster’s Son, which became one of the top 10 most played Americana Albums of 2011. But the band would keep on plugging away, often playing some 250 nights out of the year on the road and producing a diverse string of hits like “Jackson Station,” “LA County Blues,” “Hurricane,” “Trouble Came Early,” the Ray Charles cover “Heaven Help Us All” and more.

In 2023, with COVID in the rear view and full of gems like “Don’t Let the Darkness,” “Heartless Year,” the honky-tonk stomper “I Got The Time,” and the piano-driven ballad “Simple Things”—The Band of Heathens’ newest record, Simple Things, dropped. The album has been hailed as a rousing success. American Songwriter called it “a tough, confident album—ten tracks full of attitude and defiance that harken back to their humble beginnings and revisit their rugged barroom rock sound,” while Jurdi has described the record as “a culmination of all of our experiences that we’ve had coupled with a rebirth and a renewal in what we’re doing.”

Whatever Quist, Jurdi and their Band of Heathens is doing—it seems to be working. We sit down for a terrific conversation on this episode of The Load Out Music Podcast. Enjoy!

Aaron Perlut is a writer, host of the Load Out Music Podcast, the front man for country-rock band Atomic Junkshot, and the founder of creative agency Elasticity.