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Band Of Heathens Photo 1Out of the swamp, the creature raised its greasy, filthy head—Stop, Cut—this is not a B grade horror flick, but it does provide an accurate description for the music of one of our country’s hottest Americana bands, The Band Of Heathens. Guitarist, dobro player and singer/songwriter Colin Brooks sat down with Riveting Riffs Magazine and talked about the band’s origins, their music and in particular The Band Of Heathens’ current, self titled CD.

The Band Of Heathens often, and justifiably so, garners comparisons to the iconic rock group, The Band, who were popular during the period from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. Brooks comments about those comparisons, “We love those allusions to The Band. That is high praise in our books. We hope that we are not just regurgitating and that the music come out in a new kind of way. Our music is definitely rootsie, older sounding music. I think that we sound more like a band from the seventies, than we sound like a band from now. Hopefully we are putting a new spin on it, and adding a spark to it.” 

Brooks describes The Band Of Heathens’ music as, “It sounds swampy. Our music has lots of swampy, filthy grooves. It is kind of like white people trying to play black music. The stiffness of those grooves renders a certain charm to them. Most of the time, lyrically, we have a commitment to some kind of story.”

The rock Americana element to The Band Of Heathen’s music is evidenced in their popular tune “Jackson Station,” a song which also features mandolin player Stephen Bruton. As for the grease, you don’t need to look any further than the ninth track, “Cornbread,” a song written by Brooks and featuring their producer, Ray Wylie Hubbard on slide guitar, and “Second Line,” co-written by Gordy Quist, Ed Jurdi and Colin Brooks.  

“I didn’t want to push myself on any of The Band Of Heathens’ songs, because I was producing the record. Colin came up to me and said, ‘We have this song that is just greasy and has a lot of grit to it. We would like you to play on it.’ That is my forte right now (the slide guitar). I have fallen into this bucket of grease. I just fell into “Cornbread,” because it is such a lazy, groovy, blues song. It was a lot of doing that song.”

 “You just don’t know where songs will come from. “Cornbread,” has such and old feel to it. It alludes to a loose kind of vibe. It was just one of those songs that wanted to be written. It didn’t take a lot of laboring over it. It was easy and it just sort of landed on the page,” says Brooks, about a song that was inspired by a conversation that he had with the owner of an Austin, Texas Bed and Breakfast.

At the other end of the spectrum is the mellow ballad, “Maple Tears,” co-written by Brooks’ bandmates Gordy Quist and Adam Carroll. Caroll wrote the song a few yeas ago, when he was being detained by Canadian border officials, while trying to get his paperwork in order for a number of solo performances.

Take a group of great musicians and songwriters, put them together with a knowledgeable producer and fabulous musician such as Hubbard, and then add the coupe de grace with the highly respected singer Patty Griffin, and it results in magic. The Band of Heathens reached out to Griffin, through Hubbard, a friendship that goes back several years, when Griffin sang on one of Hubbard’s own records. Griffin lends her vocals to three songs, “Maple Tears,” “Second Line,” and “40 Days.”

When Griffin was in the studio recording the three songs for the Band Of Heathens’ album, it was a bit of a surreal experience for Brooks, “We were all there in the studio and it was powerful. It really was. It is easy (with some people), to become enamored, and I tend not to be that way, although in the right situation (he chuckles as his voice trails off). Patty is the right situation for me. I am really in awe of her talent. I met her when Flaming Red (Griffin’s CD-1998) came out.  I was playing a festival in Taos New Mexico. She was playing solo and she just blew me away. I went out and bough all of her records. I probably listened to her records every night for a year. For her to be on our record, it was very emotional and everyone was very excited about it. I got into the studio and I was behind the control board, looking through the glass, when she opened her mouth to sing the first note. I kind of lost it (you hear the emotion in his voice). It brought tears to my eyes. It felt so intimate and I am very appreciative of that. It was a beautiful moment.”

Revisiting a question that I had asked him earlier in our conversation, concerning the band’s feeling validation, Brooks says, “We talked about the validation of the band. It felt like that. I have Patty Griffin singing on my record. Pinch me. That’s pretty cool.”

As the Band Of Heathens start to receive the recognition they deserve, one gets the impression it will not be long before some emerging artist(s) says, ‘I can’t believe that I am opening for The Band Of Heathens. Pinch me.’  At the beginning of June the band was interviewed by Jessie Scott, from XM Satellite Radio’s X Country (Channel 12). The band also performed live. The segment will be aired later in the summer. Watch Riveting Riffs Magazines news page for the time and dates. 

During the same week that the band taped their X Country segment, they performed a rooftop show at Relix Magazine in New York City, and the following week they performed for the nationally syndicated Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour, a radio show and webcast.

The formation of The Band Of Heathens is the stuff that gives birth to legends. The music venue Momo’s in Austin Texas, regularly featured four bands on Wednesday nights, three of those bands were fronted by current members of The Band Of Heathens, Gordy Quist (vocals, acoustic/electric guitars/percussion), Ed Jurdi, who plays guitars, Hammond B-3 and Wurlitzer Piano and Colin Brooks.  The other members of the current band are drummer/vocalist/percussionist, John Chipman and bassist/vocalist Seth Whitney.

With that much talent in the band, and three strong songwriters, it prompts the question how do they give everybody a chance to shine and keep the egos in line.  “I think there is a strong awareness of how good we are together, that is beyond what we can do by ourselves. I remember once saying to somebody, that I wanted to be in a band where everybody is writing and singing. I had forgotten that I had said that, until the idea first came up for the Heathens, but that is eventually what I got. There are times when I might think that I want to do something here or there, but if the band elects to do it differently, then you have to swallow your pride. Sometimes that’s not easy, but the underlying feeling is, this thing is great. It is really special. We have a special energy together, and that is something to safeguard, and not allow individual egos, or specifically my ego, to damage that in any way.”

The chemistry between producer and musicians is evident on the band’s album and the mutual respect that the band members have for their producer Ray Wylie Hubbard, and that he has for them, is evident when you talk to each.

“I was first introduced to these guys (The Band Of Heathens) by Mattson Rainer, who is with a little radio station KMBT, in New Braunfels (Texas). I had heard of the band, but he introduced me to them, and he championed them. I don’t even know if Live At Momo’s was out yet, but Mattson felt we needed to get them on the radio,” Hubbard recalls.

“The thing that really impressed me was their songwriting. They have three different writers, and I thought that each of them had a lot of depth and weight. Each of them has different styles, but I was really impressed with their songwriting. They had taken the time to learn the craft of it, as well as taking whatever inspiration they were getting and joined the two together. (The Band Of Heathens) guitar playing, singing and harmonies are extra,” says Hubbard. .

As for how the band members view Hubbard, Brooks says, “Ray is an interesting individual, and he is the quintessential personality in Texas. He fulfills the Willie Nelson role, between the hat heads and the hippies. Ray has the ability to bridge the gap. He is much admired, by all the Texas country guys, and he is really admired by the writers that you find in the AAA format or the Nashville format.”

“Ray brought great people into to work on the record with us. We couldn’t be happier. It is a great partnership,” says Brooks.