Band of Heathens’ Ed Jurdi on new LP, songwriting
360°Sound caught up with Ed Jurdi, co-founder of the long-running rock band the Band of Heathens. Along with Gordy Quist, Jurdi is the principal songwriter and singer in the five-piece group, which formed in Austin, Texas in 2005. Last year, the Band of Heathens released their seventh studio album Stranger.
Jurdi has released two solo albums and, since 2019, has also been guitarist and vocalist in the band Trigger Hippy. In this exclusive interview, Jurdi, who lives in Asheville, North Carolina, talks about the new BOH album, songwriting, the music industry, covering Cyndi Lauper, and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
360°: What would you like to say about your music for those who may not be familiar with the Band of Heathens?
Ed Jurdi: I think fundamentally the band is a rock ‘n roll band. It’s kind of a potpourri of American music – everything from blues and country to folk and singer-songwriter stuff, all mashed together. I think that’s fundamentally what we’re about. Musically speaking, we’re on a quest to explore that and push the boundaries of that as far as we can. We’ve been a band for 16 years now. It’s been an incredible ride, incredibly rewarding and incredibly fulfilling.
If you could pick several songs to play for someone new to BOH, which would you pick?
Like most artists, I think the most recent thing we’ve done is the best thing we’ve done. It probably would be a few songs from the new record Stranger – “Black Cat” and “South By Somewhere.” Probably some older stuff like “L.A. County Blues,” “Jackson Station,” and “Hurricane,” the song we’re best known for.
If you asked 10 different fans of the band, they would probably all have totally different playlists of tunes. That’s really cool that all different fans of the band like different things about the band. I think that’s a reflection of the fact that every record we’ve done we’ve tried to do something a little different. It’s not like we figured out a formula and tried to continue to try to replicate that.
You and Gordy Quist are the primary songwriters. Tell us a little about how the songs come together.
Songs obviously come in a lot of different ways. You can literally be taking a shower or taking a walk or sleeping. For myself, and Gordy too, every day we’re trying to do something musical, whether it’s recording or specifically working on a song or becoming a better guitar player. I think through the process of just doing work a lot of ideas are generated. There are songs that come fully formed. But most songs are pieces of ideas.
I keep a journal and I have notes in my phone and take voice memos all the time. I’ve noticed that if I go back a few years in my notes, over a certain period time there’s these recurring themes or recurring ideas of melodies. It goes from that idea genesis to actually sitting down and doing the work and figuring out how to put those pieces together. I’ve written songs faster than I could write them down, and other ones it’s like I have a great idea, I have a title of a song, and then it just requires sitting down and trying to put that puzzle together. Some songs have taken 10 or 15 years.
You recently teamed up with Nicole Atkins for a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” How did that come about?
I had seen Ritchie Havens, the folk singer, a number of years ago and he did that song in a way I had never heard it and it just completely blew my mind. It was incredible and beautiful. I put it out to the band, what would you think about this? They were like, ‘That’s awesome.’ I messaged Nicole, ‘What do you think about ‘Time After Time’ by Cyndi Lauper?’ She was like, ‘Oh my god, I love Cyndi Lauper. She’s like my favorite. I can’t believe you thought of that.’ She’s a great singer and totally killed it.
How would you say the latest record, Stranger, differs from the band’s past albums?
The band has been a pretty internal machine. We’ve been based out of Austin and we’ve all lived there together at different points. The band is a little more spread out now. For this record, we worked with an outside producer for the first time. We just kind of put the record in someone else’s hands in terms of coming with songs and allowing them to do their thing. We did the record in Portland, Oregon, so we did it in a new place that was kind of foreign to us.
We went up there for a couple of weeks and lived together in a house with Tucker Martine as producer. It was a really great working experience. He put his magic spin on what we do and that made it something completely different from anything we’ve done. In terms of the sonic landscape of the record, I think it sounds different. His aesthetic and what he added to it was really cool.
The band has had their own studio and record label, right?
Yeah, there’s all this talk about punk bands being the most indie and ‘fuck you’ kind of thing, but really the Band of Heathens is one of the most indie ‘fuck you’ things [laughs]. But it’s not been part of the mantra to be sneering. I think for us it was more about we want to make music, and we want to do things our own way and on our own time.
The idea of having to wait for someone else to give us permission to do that or give us money – those things just seemed like they would get in the way tremendously. So, let’s figure out how to do it ourselves. Once we were able to do that once, we were fortunate that enough people liked it and supported it and continued to. It’s sort of self-sustaining at this point. We’re able to move quickly and to take our time if we want to. It’s really total creative freedom, which is sort of the dream in terms of making music.
What can we expect from BOH in the coming months?
We’re doing a livestream every Tuesday night called the Good Time Supper Club that we push out through our Facebook and our site. Hopefully, we’ll return to some touring later this year. We have a couple of projects in the works. Expect some more music to be released from us in the coming months.