On a January morning in Austin, it's chilly enough to snow. Hometown heroes the Band of Heathens are leaving their winter gear at home, though, and prepping for tropical weather instead. In a few hours, they'll set sail on Delbert McClinton's Sandy Beaches Cruise, a yearly trek that rounds up three dozen acts – from Red Dirt royalty to Americana up-and-comers – for a week's worth of performances and parties. It's the Heathens' fifth time onboard. When the ship returns on January 13th, the guys will hit the mainland on the same day their eighth album, Duende, hits stores.
"It's a bit of a paid vacation," co-founder Ed Jurdi admits on a call from the Tampa airport. "Usually, bands are like ships passing in the night. It's cool when everyone's in the same place for a few days. You can catch up. Maybe you do some writing together. Maybe you just hang out."
A similar thread runs throughout the 10 songs on Duende. An album built around connection and collaboration, it spotlights a pack of players whose influences – Southern boogie-woogie, stoned soul, heartland country-rock and all points between – are as wide-ranging as their tour dates. Appropriately, the Band of Heathens tracked Duende on the run, booking studio time in Austin, Nashville and Asheville. Jim Vollentine co-produced, adding the Heathens to a resume already filled with Texas exports like Spoon and the Old 97's.
"The more you listen to it, you start to notice the little layers of sound,'" adds Jurdi, who splits songwriting duties and guitar riffs with Gordy Quist. "You notice the song first, then you notice the other things. Everyone, musically, was intent of creating those little moments."
Those little moments steal the show. With bandmates Trevor Nealon, Richard Milsap and Scott Davis doing plenty of steering, Duende shines brightest whenever the whole crew pitches in, from the sexed-up strut of "Sugar Queen" – equal parts Rolling Stones and the Band, with a groove that relies as much on syncopated guitars, keys and bass as the actual drums themselves – to the disjointed funk of "Daddy Longlegs," which starts haltingly and ends with 60 seconds of looped, greasy groove. Meanwhile, "Deep is Love" recalls Summerteeth-era Wilco, while "Green Grass of California" promotes marijuana legalization with help from some stacked vocal harmonies and pedal steel twang. [Listen to the album's full premiere below, days before its independent release.]
"We were recording 'Green Grass of California' in Nashville," Jurdi remembers, "and our friend Tim Easton was supposed to sing some harmonies. We had this idea of doing a seven-inch together, with us backing him up on one song, and him joining us on another."
Things took a turn once someone broke out a stash of pot edibles the Heathens had picked up in California. Cookies were eaten. Laughs were had. Then, realizing he'd had too much, Easton promptly bailed, wishing to ride out the remainder of his high somewhere more private.
"He enjoyed too much of that green grass," Jurdi says with a laugh. "He did his research too well."