When the Band of Heathens decided to launch a livestream series after the coronavirus pandemic began, they had in mind something more like a classic TV variety show rather than a straight music-performance stream. Thus the name they gave it: Good Time Supper Club, which recalls the late Glen Campbell’s circa-1970s "Goodtime Hour" program. But, in fact, the name has an even deeper historical resonance for the group, dating back to its 2005 origins in an Austin nightclub.
"That’s actually the original name of the band," co-leader Gordy Quist explains. "Back in late 2005, when we started at Momo’s as this kind of a loose side-project/collective-jam thing, we just called it the Good Time Supper Club. We did it every Wednesday night."
They became Band of Heathens after someone at the venue jokingly billed them as the Heathens in a newspaper ad one week. "But we thought it did kind of sound like a variety show name, so we decided to bring it back for the Tuesday night streams," Quist said.
Live music is still a big part of the Good Time Supper Club, which streams at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday via the band’s website (bandofheathens.com/live) and social media platforms and is featured as our Austin360 Residency of the Month for October. But it’s not the only element. Drummer Richard Millsap, an avid vinyl collector, gets a spotlight segment each week, in which he talks about a favorite album. Bassist Jesse Wilson gets introduced each week by keyboardist Trevor Nealon playing the theme song from "Cheers," so that Wilson can "be like Sam Malone behind the bar mixing drinks for everyone," co-leader Ed Jurdi says. He adds that Nealon, the band’s resident Deadhead, "has a little segment where he talks about the Grateful Dead."
Figuring out a format that worked well took a little time. "We kind of experimented with a few different things" early on, Jurdi says. "We were doing some Shakespeare readings, and different kinds of crazy stuff. I think ultimately the idea was to have the whole band involved.
"It's almost like we're inviting people into the van so you can follow some of the conversations that we have. If we were hanging out, there would be songs being passed around, people would be telling stories. I also thought it was a really good way for us to be able to interact with the audience, as opposed to just singing and not engaging with people."
The audience gets in on the act partly through submitting questions for special guests. On 20 of the 25 weeks the Heathens have been doing these livestreams since early April, they’ve collaborated with fellow musicians for cover song segments dubbed Remote Transmissions. Essentially DIY music videos, they feature musical tracks recorded remotely and set to performance footage that Wilson edits together.
The guests also appear live onscreen as part of the band’s Zoom chat, with questions coming from viewers taking part in online chats that accompany the stream. In September, the Remote Transmission segments included a version of Waylon Jennings’ "Rainy Day Woman" recorded with Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson and Benson’s son, Sam Seifert; Austin roots-rocker Jonathan Terrell teaming with them on Bruce Springsteen’s "Dancing in the Dark"; and a splendid rendition of George Harrison’s "My Sweet Lord" with Raul Malo of the Mavericks.
Though Band of Heathens formed in Austin, the five members of its current lineup are now spread far and wide across the United States. Quist and Nealon are based here in Austin; other members log on to the Zoom chat from their homes in Nashville (Wilson), Los Angeles (Millsap) and Asheville, N.C. (Jurdi).
That can make full-band live arrangements challenging. "There's a little timing lag," Jurdi notes. "We do this thing where we trade songs and trade verses, and there's a little trick for not getting too out of time with the song, jumping across the country."
They also fine-tuned other technological details as they went along. "There's a bunch of settings within Zoom you have to disable to make it not sound like a conference call and make music sound good," Jurdi said. "We started investing in higher-quality cameras, and using studio-quality mics and preamps and compressors, just trying to get the audio and the video as good as possible. It's been been a challenge, but each week, especially early on, we were learning something a little different."
Last week, the release of the band’s new album, "Strangers," called for a special streaming event. In addition to their usual Tuesday show, they played a set on Friday, during which, for the first time in many months, all five members were together in Austin at the Finishing School, a studio Quist took over from the late George Reiff a couple of years ago and recently renovated. Even with no live audience, it was clear from the big smiles on their faces that the band members especially enjoyed the chance to play together in the same room again.
As for what special guests may turn up in October, Quist and Jurdi say they’re not quite sure yet. "It’s probably less organized than it should be," Quist admits, explaining that often they’ll shoot the Remote Transmission videos well in advance and then slot the Zoom chats for whatever fits the collaborators’ schedules. Guests over the past several months have included Margo Price, Hayes Carll, Jamie Lin Wilson, Joe Pug, Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke and James Petralli of White Denim.
Donations that come in during the Good Time Supper Club have "made a little dent" in the significant lost revenue from touring, Quist says. "It's been able to keep all the guys in the band at least making enough to just keep paying rent and not be homeless," he says.
Quist and Jurdi also typically do private, for-hire livestreams a few nights a week, sometimes separately and sometimes as a duo. "They’ve been surprisingly rewarding," Quist says. "It’s been really great to connect with our people on a much deeper level than you normally would get to do. There was one guy who had terminal cancer, and getting to sing to them while he and his girlfriend danced together was really powerful.
"My hope is that coming out of this pandemic, we’ll have a much deeper bond with our hardcore fans that we never have had. I don’t think the opportunity to have that kind of bond would have come about without this pandemic."
MORE AUSTIN360 RESIDENCY OF THE MONTH LIVESTREAMS
September 2020: Twofer Tuesdays with Jeff Plankenhorn
August 2020: Monks Jazz Club finds new life as a YouTube series
July 2020: Eve Monsees & Mike Buck bring garage-rock back to the garage