When Band of Heathens stops in Tulsa for a show as part of the All Souls Acoustic Coffeehouse spring concert series this weekend, it will prove to be the perfect example of what the series itself is all about. Sure, there is an acoustic backbone to each song, tying the band's catalog together, but beyond that, the band is a constantly shifting entity.
On one hand, there are strong elements of country and bluegrass, but there are also distinctly rock, blues and funk elements in the other, giving the band an eclectic balance. Of course, part of that can be attributed the band's roots, which are deeply grounded in the Austin music scene, which famously incorporates a broad cross section of genres. More than anything else, however, it can be attributed to the band's membership and chemistry, allowing an electrifying interplay and multiple lead vocalists without any struggles for any one person to play de facto leader.
The band's formation was a bit of happenstance in itself as songwriters Colin Brooks, Ed Jurdi and Gordi Quist shared the Wednesday night bill at Momo's in Austin, each performing his own set. Before long, they were all sharing the stage for what was billed as the Good Time Supper Club, trading songs with each other, backed by John Chipman on drums and Seth Whitney on bass. Once the group found its identity, it actually launched with a pair of live albums, Live at Momo's in 2006 and Live at Antone's in 2007 and quickly became an Austin favorite.
By the time the band recorded and released its self-titled first studio album with Ray Wylie Hubbard producing, it was starting to gain national attention and the disc reached No. 1 on the Americana charts. Another live album followed in 2009, followed by a return to the studio for last year's Top Hat and the Clapmaster's Son.
When catching up with Ed Jurdi prior to the band's current run of shows, we briefly discussed the new record and the band's plans for the future. "We're less an album, tour, album, tour cycle band than most," he said. "Basically, we're touring all the time. That's just part of what we do. We're not completely stuck in any cycle: we have a freedom to do what we want."
"Over the past five years, we've put out a new album every year, but our goal is really just to keep the live show fresh and keep introducing new material," he said. "Our main focus is to have a different show each night, to not play the same songs every night and to not play them the same way when we do."
Undoubtedly, the band's talented lineup allows the group to change things up from night to night, both in the set list and the arrangements. A quick spin of the band's latest disc only scratches the surface of introducing you to the group's depth, but touches on bluegrass and folk with "Gris Gris Satchel" while dipping into bayou blues and gospel on "Hurricane" and dancing into R&B and funk on "I Ain't Running."
When Band of Heathens arrives in Tulsa this Saturday night, however, the audience will be in store for a particularly special show as the group comes to town as part of its acoustic tour.
"We've got a little run of acoustic shows that takes us to Houston and Dallas and Tulsa," Jurdi shared. "We do it a few times a year because it's fun and gives us an opportunity to do something different with the songs."
If Band of Heathens is accustomed to anything with its career, it's the freedom to do things differently. As Jurdi pointed out, the group has released all of its albums independently (which makes its arrival at No. 1 on the Americana charts even more impressive as only the second independent record to do so) and never felt held to the conventional touring or recording cycle.
"We're not waiting for the approval of a label or anyone else," he said. "We're just doing things how and when we want to."
"I'm not sure there's really a formula for success anymore, anyway," he continued. "There's such a broad range of how people reach their audience now. In a broad view, we just feel very fortunate that people come to our shows and buy our records. Generally, the people who like us are real music fans and we have a cool interaction with the fans -- they're the kind of people we'd hang out with anyway.
"The way things are now, I think it's kind of back to the beginning of the rock and roll era, when you had to go out and play and weed people out and find your audience that way," he said. That works perfectly for Band of Heathens, as that's exactly what the group has done from its beginnings anyway.
One thing that will pique the interest of fans with the current tour is the departure of Colin Brooks, scaling back the band's size from six to five members as it moves forward into 2012. When asking Jurdi how Brooks' departure affects the group, he shared that "Colin was one of the founders and a huge part of the group, but I think the group is changing more simply by the lack of him being there.
"Everyone has been playing together for a long time and we're not looking to replace him," he continued. "It's a good thing for us in a way; in that it makes us mix things up a little bit more. In our shows, we've got a new freedom in our arrangements, so it doesn't feel like it's changed that much. It's been good for everyone, I think, and internally it gives us a little more space in the music."
With another record on the horizon, Band of Heathens shows no signs of slowing down. The forthcoming release is actually a double CD/DVD package recorded over two nights in Denver last year and is due to come out in March.
"It's kind of a nice end cap to this last chapter of the band," Jurdi said of the project. "It's in mastering as we speak and we're looking forward to getting it out. It's always exciting because our fans get excited when we have something new coming out."
Jurdi has no concerns about releasing yet another live album. After all, the live show is where Band of Heathens thrives and what most fans know the group for anyway. And as the group continues to evolve and roll out new material and arrangements, it's the most natural way to keep fans happy as the group continues on with what it does best: playing live and keeping things fresh.
Tickets are still available for the Saturday night's show at All Souls Acoustic Coffeehouse for $15. Doors open at 7pm with Lincoln Durham opening at 7:30pm. Band of Heathens will cap things off with a full set of songs with an acoustic lineup, making this a great night to see the band shine.
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