The Head and the Heart: As a band, we've come to this crazy place

The Head and the Heart: As a band, we've come to this crazy place
Photo by Curtis Wave Millard

Seattle band The Head and the Heart have the cure for anyone that is looking to find endearing new music. The folk-rock sextet's sophomore release, Let's Be Still, plays out like a series of charming vignettes or pockets of half memories, both lyrically and musically.

On break from practice in Nashville, Gimme Noise spoke with guitarist/vocalist Josiah Johnson before the band's two shows at First Avenue about the new album and his perceptions on the current music industry.

Gimme Noise: Let's Be Still just came out last week. It's tough to tour right after an album comes out, because the audience may not know the new stuff yet. How have people been responding to the new stuff when you guys have been playing it at the small festivals?

Josiah Johnson: Really good. For the most part, you get a generic, "Oh, I love the new songs!" It's a very nice thing to say, but who knows how they will hold up. We've had a few people who have listened to the new album a bunch give me some really cool feedback -- saying that they keep having a new favorite song every week or something like that. I think all of the songs on the first album all had a very similar tenor or feel to them. If you liked one song, it's reasonable you were going to like another song.

Gimme Noise: Did you set to make songs that were different from each other this time, or was it something that happened as it naturally progressed?

Josiah Johnson: I think it happened because we went out on tour with pretty great bands like Death Cab for Cutie, My Morning Jacket, and Iron & Wine. All of these bands have so many facets to them, and I don't think we ever stretched that out with the first album. These bands were our influences and who we've learned from in the last few years. They have all extended their careers beyond their first singles, past their initial sound, so I think it naturally progressed in the same way for us.

Gimme Noise: Did it feel uncomfortable to push yourself in new directions when you were writing?

Josiah Johnson: I think the style of the first album we stumbled into since it was just a few of us who got together and said, "We're gonna play these songs live," and then we recorded the album. It was mainly just us recording the parts we played live. It was a very simple process in that way, and with a stripped-down style like that, there's not a whole lot you can do wrong in the recording process. I think this time the songs are a little bigger -- they have a broader scope to them, so it was definitely a learning process to try and figure out how to have this bigger vision of a song and how to fill that space. I think we messed around with our instruments and within tones to get across what we were trying to do. It was definitely a learning experience, but I think what was really fun was the opportunity to go in the studio and have a little more time this time and learning how to do things on the fly. It was pretty great.

Gimme Noise: On the first listen, I noticed it was a lot more polished versus the last album. The last album was a lot more gritty.

Josiah Johnson: Yeah, the first one sounded like a bunch of kids in a room.

Gimme Noise: Not in a bad way.

Josiah Johnson: Yeah, it wasn't a bad thing at all. Everything was a learning process around that first album. Before we started touring, we had played maybe 10-15 shows together as a band. The rooms on that first tour were very small, and this time around -- we've been touring for three years -- we've gotten a lot tighter as a band, and we've grown as musicians. I feel like records are a chronicle of where you are at a moment. Right now as a band, I could tell we've come to this crazy place. We now play to a thousand people in these huge halls the echo and reverberate. I'm really glad this album sounds different, and that the sound is an accurate portrayal of what we sound like when we play now. It's a cool thing that marks the passing of time.

Gimme Noise: I'd like to ask about one of your songs: "Josh McBride." Do you know someone named Josh McBride?

Josiah Johnson: The lyrics to the song were actually written by a friend of mine, Jessica. I met her when she moved to Seattle. Her roommate was the first person I really played music with when I first moved to Seattle five years ago. He got me started writing songs in those veins that ended up being the acoustic kind of folksy stuff on the first album.

Jessica left to go on a trip to see this guy. It had always been the wrong time, but she knew there was always something there. So she went to visit him and came back from that trip and wrote this poem for him.

That song was our gift to our friend. We turned it into a song, and then a couple of years later someone in the band heard it and said, "We should play that song; I love that song." It was suddenly very interesting and different from any of the other songs on the album -- in origin and story.

Gimme Noise: What I love about it is that it's so subtle. It's not a flat-out love song. It's great.

Josiah Johnson: Yeah, I'm kind of jealous. She wrote this love song that all it is is just the moments that add up to an "I love you" without ever needing to actually say it. It's beautiful. She's not a songwriter, but she is a writer, and I agree that it's great.

Gimme Noise: Let me ask you your opinion on a subject that you guys have experienced first-hand. The first time I heard of the band was from the soundtrack for Silver Linings Playbook. When you reach the next level of your career like that, does it scare you to hear people say that you're selling out?

Josiah Johnson: Honestly, there was a time 10-15 years ago where that may have been a bigger concern for bands. I remember being a teenager and thinking if a band I liked made a more polished record that they were selling out. People are no longer buying records, so musicians have to make their money elsewhere, and that has become public knowledge. When people see their favorite artists reaching new levels of success -- by and large -- the response we get is that they're excited to hear our new song at Starbucks or they really want to see a new movie because our song is in a trailer. As a band, we are open to things we think are cool. I haven't seen the movie, but I loved the concept of what it was doing. There's times we have turned down things as a band, because we didn't believe in a project. For the most part, people are okay with a certain amount of letting the music be out there. They're happy you're being successful. That's how it's been for us, and I feel comfortable with that.

If a band is careless where they let their music go, there would be danger in that. There are times that you can sign a publishing deal, and you don't get a say in where your music goes. One of our managers was telling us, "Oh, they'll give you a big advance, and in exchange they'll try and put your song in all of these things." We were like, "But they can potentially guilt us into putting our music into this terrible TV show." We've always held our cards close as a band.

Gimme Noise: Does it frighten you to know that as you get bigger as a band, you may lose control of some that?

Josiah Johnson: I think there's always a tradeoff. The more things that are going on for a band, you have to understand that you don't have the brain to pay attention to everything. I think the goal for us is to have a steady enough growth as opposed to getting too big too fast.

I think sometimes bands get thrown into the deep end. They get signed to a major label, and everything is happening at once and you don't even realize that you're making certain choices -- that's a waste of your power as a band until you realize that it's already happened. I've seen that. You can definitely tell when a band is manufactured, because they look like what a major label markets wants them to be as opposed to an individual. We know what our limits are -- what our aesthetic is, so that if we get to the next level and we have all of these people coming in, there's already a groundwork laid.

The Head and the Heart will perform at First Avenue with Thao & the Get Down Stay Down and Quiet.

Saturday, October 26, 2013
18+, $25, 8 pm
Sold out

Sunday, October 27, 2013
18+, $25, 7 pm
Purchase tickets here.

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