A haven for Heathens
The Band of Heathens
Serendipity is a funny thing. Sometimes, as I am writing my column, I am at the mercy of people returning phone calls or e-mails.
Sometimes I am left scrambling.
Every time I begin scrambling, though, the musical gods drop their ambrosia of knowledge upon my giant head.
Case in point: an e-mail telling me about a band playing at All Soul Acoustic Coffeehouse Feb. 4: The Band of Heathens.
I liked the name and went to the band’s website to stream its latest release, “Top Hat Crown & The Clapmaster’s Son.”
These guys are incredible. Everyone from The Wall Street Journal to the Chicago Sun-Times seems to get how good they are:
“TBOH played the best set I came across (at SXSW 2009).” — WSJ
“What makes the Heathens so refreshingly different is the overall musicianship and seamless blending of alt-rockers, folk tales, gutbucket blues and heartland anthems.” — CST
I almost wish I had not heard them so I could have heard them for the first time live. They are that good.
Two of the tracks that really stood out, “The Other Broadway” and “I Ain’t Running,” reminded me of Little Feat — Lowell George-era Little Feat. And besides calling someone “Abbey Road”-era Beatles, I can’t give a band a higher compliment.
I called Gordy Quist, one of the four founding members of the Heathens. I had some questions. For starters, where is this sound coming from?
“I think everybody in the band brings their own influences to the table,” Quist says. “Anything from Dylan and The Band to the Grateful Dead, Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt, a bunch of soul music from Otis Redding to Wilson Pickett.
“Different guys in the band bring something different. It’s fun playing in a band … with a bunch of guys who don’t all have the same taste and same background as far as what they’re listening to.”
But their musical influences are not solely responsible for their sound; it’s the fact that the band started in four different directions.
“When we started off, there were four different songwriters in the band,” Quist says. “There were basically four different bands. It was this kind of a gig where one guy would play for an hour, there’d be a half-hour changeover and the next guy would play for an hour.
“We started sharing the stage and saying, ‘Hey, can you stick around and play keys during my set,’ with each of the front men migrating into each of the different bands. At some point someone had the idea, ‘Why don’t we combine this into one show instead of doing a bunch of different sets?’ It has definitely morphed from what was four distinct bands; now it is just a band.”
I asked him about my hearing Little Feat in the Heathens’ sound.
“I think that Little Feat is a big influence on the band,” he says. “Not for me — I didn’t grow up listening to a ton of Little Feat — but I’m definitely a fan. I think Lowell George is amazing. Ed Jurdi (singer on ‘The Other Broadway’ and ‘I Ain’t Running’) is definitely a huge Little Feat fan. Little Feat — their grooves are incredible. They had a really cool way (of) syncopating everything. They had a swampy lilt to it. It was really cool. I think that lilt is present in our music.”
What differentiates the Heathens’ acoustic sets from their electric album?
“When we started off, our shows were more acoustic, more on the singer/songwriter side,” Quist says. “To me, good songs translate either way. The goal is to write a song that can stand up with an acoustic guitar and one voice, but then it’s also great to give it a rock-and-roll arrangement.
“In the acoustic show, our harmonies are showcased a little more. The show translates well acoustically. It’s pretty different. Our fans like the acoustic show. It’s still powerful.”
Normally, I would urge you to go check out the band’s music before attending the show.
But this time I suggest you don’t listen before seeing the Heathens live.
Because the surprise of hearing great music, the best part, is hearing a band get it right.
Just bring cash because you will want to buy what the Heathens are selling afterward: CDs, T-shirts, swampland in Florida, anything. If they’re selling it, I’m buying it.
February’s best bets for live music
2/1 They Might Be Giants, Cain’s Ballroom The quirky, indie, cerebral goodness that is They Might Be Giants kicks off your February. Some of my favorite songs of all time (“Birdhouse in Your Soul,” “Istanbul,” etc.) came from this duo. The music is timeless; it sounds as good now as it did way back in 1982, when the group started. I wish more bands would try to push the envelope like this band does. They Might Be Giants’ songwriting is obscure and esoteric to the point that you need to do research after a seemingly cute little song about a bird that watches over you, to wit: “Longines Symphonette.” Seriously. Look it up.
2/18 Broncho, Fassler Hall One of National Public Radio’s 5 Favorite Garage Rock Bands in 2011 takes its act up the Turner Turnpike from Norman to our best version of a German beer hall. It is happy music, but it is also punk. It is a Ramones-esque pounding night of music to which you will want to bring your best happy sneer — a giggling, mosh-pit extravaganza, if you will. And if I were you, I certainly would.