Texans twang differently than their Tennessee counterparts, and rightly so. Blame it on outlaws like Waylon and Willie, Lubbock lunatics like Terry Allen and Joe Ely, or any number of insurgent country artists who get started on Austin's 6th Street and radiate outward from there. So when you listen to Band of Heathens, one of the most promising acts to emerge from Austin in recent years, you're likely to hear a lot more Lowell George and Levon Helm than, say, Eddie Rabbitt.
"Austin's music scene seems to be geared more towards live music," figures Band of Heathens' Gordy Quist, who sees Nashville as more of a place for making hit records. "There are great albums recorded in Austin, just as there are great live bands in Nashville. But I think the overall vibe of Austin seems to be geared more towards bands playing live, and fans going out to see and hear live music regularly."
And even though neither Lowell nor Levon hails from Austin, Quist believes they convey much of the same spirit: "They recorded some of the best studio albums ever, but I think the spirit of their playing lies in capturing a great live performance, whether it's on stage or in a recording studio."
Band of Heathens — who are unusually adept at stirring up country, soul, gospel and rock traditions — started out in 2006, back when Quist and fellow Austin singer-songwriters Colin Brooks and Ed Jurdi were all playing solo gigs at a 6th Street nightclub called Momo's. A live album, mysteriously titled Live From Momo's, was released soon after, followed by four more albums (two of them also live). Factor in a coveted appearance on public television's "Austin City Limits" — they shared an episode with Elvis Costello — plus the fact that all three musicians have already put out two solo albums each, and the word "workaholic" does come to mind.
And how about those 270 shows a year?
"I'm not sure how else to make a living in music," explains Quist. "So far in our career, touring has been our best promotional tool, the best way for us to connect with our fans. It's essential to how we make our living."
In addition to being a relentless touring machine, the group knows how to ingratiate itself with an audience. Sufjan Stevens' idea of recording one album for each state of the union may have gotten derailed long before he got to ours, but at least we have a Band of Heathens song called "King of Colorado."
Of course, the lyric does go, "I don't want to be the King of Colorado," which begs the question: Why the hell not?
Quist blames geography: "We would hate to be a king that didn't live in his own kingdom. And since we can't be king, we've decided to just tour through Colorado as often as we can — it's one of our favorite places in the country."
Having squeaked by on that one, all that's left to ponder is why, at a time when artists like Robert Earl Keen and the Randy Rogers Band are also rolling through town, folks should choose Band of Heathens.
"Because our ticket prices are lower," deadpans Quist. "Just kidding. We're fans and friends of theirs, and I hope everyone goes to see all three."