The Seattle-based band discuss their latest album and inspirations
The Concordian had a chance to speak with The Head and the Heart’s vocalist and guitarist, Josiah Johnson, as the band prepared to embark on their North American tour to showcase their most recent album, Let’s Be Still. Based out of Seattle, the band became a true grassroots success story when they self-funded and self-released their self-titled debut album in 2011 before eventually being signed onto the city’s most famous music label, Sub Pop. Johnson discussed the popularity of folk-rock, how a city shapes a band, and the pressures of creating a successful follow-up album.
The Concordian: In the past few years, the popularity of folk-rock has just skyrocketed: Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, and The Head and the Heart have been leading the way. What would you say has led to the popularity of the folk pop genre?
Johnson: I think that’s a reaction to over-produced music. Folk-rock holds a certain nostalgia to it. It’s inspired by a sense of calm. I also think that it’s a bit of a cure for a modern, fast paced world. It allows for self-reflection and quiet space.
C: The most remarkable thing is the fact that you guys all gained that popularity with your debut album. What type of pressure and/or expectations did you put on yourselves when you entered the studio to record your follow-up album?
J: Well there was a lot pressure to write songs about subjects that we connect with now. The first album was appropriate to where we were when we wrote it and there was little pressure.
C: Your first album was self-funded and self-recorded without a label. This time, you’re part of Sub Pop. How would you contrast the two experiences?
J: During the first album, we were already playing the songs live before we ever recorded it. We went in and just did them quickly. But for the new album, we had a lot more time to really arrange the songs and work on certain subtleties and nuances in the studio. We actually spent 10 weeks recording.
C: Tell me about how the city of Seattle has helped shaped your band.
J: I definitely feel like one thing that’s great about Seattle is the fact that music is such a mainstream celebrated part of the city’s culture. Seattle has plenty of great music festivals and the city council is really concerned with fostering a great musical scene. Seattle just breeds a certain personality to be open to music and really supports their local bands.
C: Do you remember a specific moment when you just thought “Wow, I think we’ve made it”?
J: Before we even had a record out and we had no songs recorded, we were used to playing for around 100-150 people in Seattle, but some of these people had come to see so many shows that they knew the lyrics by heart. They were dedicated enough that they knew our songs already. That was one such moment.
C: I believe the lead singer of The Lumineers (Wesley Schultz) mentioned in an interview that performing their hit song “Ho Hey” has become so automatic now, to the point where there is a sense of detachment when they play it. Do you guys ever feel the same with some of your most popular songs?
J: I think there are times when it feels that way but honestly, those are the bad shows. When you have a really great show, you feel connected to all of your songs. The goal is to get yourself in a certain headspace before every performance, to remind yourself of why you wrote your songs. You want to be blown away at the opportunity to play in front of so many people. Performing on stage, while being in that mindset is a way better feeling than almost anything else. It’s simple: connect with your songs and the audience.
The Head and The Heart will perform at the Corona Theatre on March 29. Admission is $32.