Though they’ve only been around since the mid-2000s, the story of how the Band of Heathens got together is vintage rock ‘n’ roll. Three Wednesday-night regulars, each with his own slot at a famous Austin venue; an old-time hootenanny; an instant-classic collaboration. The informal gathering of three singer/songwriters and a solid rhythm section became the Band of Heathens, which burst onto the scene as Austin Music Awards’ Best New Band in 2007. Over the past four years, the band has released as many albums and toured relentlessly as new ambassadors for Texas roots rock. While in Chicago, nearing the end of the Midwestern leg of the band’s current tour, Gordy Quist (vocals, guitar) talked with the Current about personal armament, gospel, and the worst kind of hangovers.
With three principal songwriters, how do you decide what direction to take the band?
It’s a democracy. We’ve been fortunate in that there haven’t been many major disagreements in the band; we’ve all been sort of on the same page. Everybody pulls slightly in different directions, but it seems like the group as a whole is moving fairly unified.
Is it just me, or does the last record lean a lot more toward a gospel sound?
On this last record, we definitely had a few gospelly tunes. Gospel is part of the spectrum of American music, and something that has influenced country and rock ‘n’ roll for a long time, and it’s definitely something that we all grew up with as part of our musical vocabulary.
Have you guys ever entertained working on some material that deviated significantly from that sort of blues/Americana/roots rock model?
Actually, we’re almost done with another record right now in the studio that’s pretty different. I don’t want to say too much about it, and let you hear it for yourself, but to me it’s a departure from what we’ve been doing. I feel that each record is apart from the one before, and I think that the sonic leap we’re making on this one is probably bigger than any we’ve done before.
Do you think Band of Heathens could have come from anywhere other than Austin?
It’s interesting, because none of us are from Austin, originally. We all moved there from all over the country, from both coasts. So on one end, you might think, “Oh, it could have happened anywhere,” but I really think the band is kind of a microcosm of the Austin scene. The way artists collaborate and share — it’s not really this sort of cutthroat scene where everyone wants to beat out the other guy. It’s definitely collaborative, and I think that’s the heart and soul of where this band came from, so really I think it could’ve only happened in Austin.
Does improvisation still feature pretty heavily in your live show?
Oh yeah. We don’t use a set list. We try to keep it pretty loose and have a good time with it and make it different each night.
Aside from taking those occasional breaks from touring, is there anything in particular you guys do to keep from killing each other?
We try not to have any firearms on our person at any time; only one band member carries a knife. When we get to a city and have a few hours off, we kind of split up and do our own things. We spend a ton of time together, but we’re fortunate in that we actually enjoy each other’s company and are pretty good friends.
What’s been the worst experience you guys have had as a band?
Well, yesterday we came down and discovered that someone had broken into our van and stolen our stereo and DVD player and GPS thing. There’s been some pretty nasty hangovers. That might be the worst.
So does something like that leave a bad taste in your mouth for that city?
That was in St. Louis. It reminded me of one of the `National Lampoon` Vacation movies, where they got the wheels jacked off their car in East St. Louis. Maybe a little bit, but we had a great show the night before and had a great time there, so we’ll try not to hold it against the city.
What do you look forward to? Getting back to Texas?
Seeing my wife, number one, then good Austin Mexican food. •
Band of Heathens
9pm Fri, Nov 12
Sam’s Burger Joint
330 E Grayson St