Just a few years ago, songwriters Colin Brooks, Ed Jurdi, and Gordy Quist were sharing a weekly Wednesday night gig at the Austin club Momo’s. None of them were in a band together.
“We were all doing what a lot of people in Austin do, playing as much and as often as possible, with as many different people as possible,” says Quist, on the phone with City Paper on a rare weekend off for the band.
Quist says the Austin scene is much like the Charleston’s — everybody plays with everybody else. “There’s a lot of overlapping, sharing drummers and different band members,” Quist says. “We were all billed one right after the other at this same club, so we got to know each other and started inviting each other up on stage.”
Jamming together soon led the trio to try to play a whole show together. Soon enough, they had a name — the Band of Heathens — and they were booking gigs. They’d recruited a drummer (John Chipman) and bass player (Seth Whitney) and recorded a live album.
Today, the Heathens are like an unplugged version of the Drive-By Truckers, touring the country and leaving impressed audiences behind to spread the word about their next visit. They saw their self-titled debut album hit No. 1 on the Americana charts, and The Wall Street Journal gave them their “best set of SXSW” nod last year.
The Heathens are currently touring in support of their sophomore studio effort, One Foot in the Ether. Quist says they’ve kept so busy that finding time to flesh out new songs can be tough; in fact, the band often relies on their soundchecks to practice tunes. Fortunately, with two other songwriters in the band, an idea or melody often grows quickly into a full song.
“Everyone’s input is welcome. We all try to stay pretty open-minded as far as treating it like a band,” says Quist. “Some guys just want to be in a band. Then I know other guys who just want to be the front guy and want everybody to do what they view as their creative vision. Then there are a lot of people who fall in between. For us, that’s worked out.”