Q&A with THE HEAD AND THE HEART
We recently ranted and raved about The Head and the Heart in our “The Blue Indian Recommends” column. Apparently a little coffee shop found around Georgia took notice and made them their iTunes Pick of the Week – giving away a song of the band’s for free.
Not to be outdone, The Blue Indian is now giving away this audio file of our interview with The Head and the Heart band members Josiah Johnson and Kenny Hensley.
The two musicians talk about cool band names, word-of-mouth marketing, fan concert videos on YouTube, touring with Dr. Dog, their next album, and much more.
Click the link below to play the interview or right-click it and choose “Save Target As…” to save it to your computer.
For our literate web site visitors we are also providing a full text transcript below:
TBI: We’re huge fans of you guys down here in Georgia. We’re really excited that you’ve got the tour coming up where you’re going to be heading down the East Coast.
Josiah Johnson: Playing with Dr. Dog is kind of like a dream for a bunch of us. They’re one of our favorite bands to see live and getting to do that for weeks in a row is pretty awesome.
TBI: Could you give me an introduction to who the different members of the band are and what they contribute?
Josiah: So I’m Josiah and I write about half of the songs and sing on those and play guitar. Then we’ve got another guy that does the same thing – that’s Jon Russell. And the third vocalist, she also plays violin, is Charity Thielen. Kenny Hensley plays piano, and Chris Zasche plays bass, and Tyler Williams on drums.
TBI: Who decides who sings on what song?
Josiah: It’s pretty much whoever wrote the part. We try and stay true to the person that wrote it is the one that is going to sing it the best or with the most feeling. Also, different people’s vocal styles and the melodies that they write are going to work. The melodies that I write are to me noticeably different than the melodies that Jon writes. And he can sing his better than I can sing them and vice-versa.
TBI: You’ve put out your self-released album named after the band, The Head and the Heart. I was curious about the last song on the album “Heaven Go Easy on Me” in which you make reference to the name of the band and the album. Could you talk about how you came up with that title and what that means for you guys?
Josiah: I came up with it, and I kind of really like the band names that are “The ___ and the ___”. You know, The [noun] and the [whatever] – that kind of structure of a name. And so I was thinking of how cool that is – you can kind of play things off each other. There’s “The Duchess and the Duke” up here in the Northwest as well, and a couple of other bands that have these kind of contrasts like that. Where it’s like a gender male/female thing.
In my life around that time, I wasn’t working full time anymore and was pursuing music. So the contrast between sort of living life safely and by the book versus more following what you’re passionate about. In my head, the contrast between the head and the heart just kind of fit into that.
TBI: One common theme that I keep hearing in the songs is this idea of being uprooted and finding your place. How have you dealt with that and put that into your songs?
Josiah: Both Jon and I have songs that touch on that and both of us within the last couple years had moved to the Northwest. He moved from Virginia a little over a year and a half ago and I moved from Southern California two years ago. When you move to a new place, on the one hand you don’t have the safety of all the stuff you’ve come to know but it’s almost kind of freeing in a way to try and figure out what your home is and who you’ll become in this new place. So it was just something that both of us were figuring out right around the time we met each other. We met right around the time Jon moved there and started writing songs shortly there after. And as we’re kind of finding our way around Seattle and feeling more comfortable and more at home it was something on our minds a lot.
One of the other things is that we know a lot of people back home that have talked about going out and have these dreams but you watch them sacrifice these for the safety of that home that they’ve always had. It’s like your old home and the safety of it versus making your new home. That came up a lot as we got to know Seattle.
TBI: There’s several songs about repentance or a desire for reconciliation. Could you talk about that theme in the songs?
Josiah: Those teens and twenties for a lot of us are spent getting things wrong and realizing that you don’t have all the answers and there are things where you’re like “God I hope I do better next time.” It’s a big part of growing up – realize where you’ve gone wrong and striving to change that and become a better person and not to fall back into bad habits you’ve had in the past. I think that in moving to a new place and the starting over aspect of that you really just want to start fresh and not make those same mistakes as you start a different phase of your life.
I think of a lot of the lyrics actually don’t match up with the brightness of the music sometimes. It’s been a fun thing to play with catchy melodies with more serious topics.
TBI: You’re starting to blow up and get huge. You’ve opened for Vampire Weekend and you have a tour coming up with Dr. Dog. I know you have a booking agent and a manager, but surely you’ve got labels pounding on your doors. What is your plan as an unsigned artist finding a label?
Josiah: We’re in this odd position where we have been able to do a lot on our own with a booking agent and a manager. A lot of great opportunities have come just from word-of-mouth and without a label – which is wild. We’ve talked to a bunch of labels. It’s one of those things where you’re sacrificing some of your freedom and the way you do things when you partner with a label. And it’s been a big part of it for us to kind of figure out who kind of shares our vision for the way that this has grown so far: very word-of-mouth, not a lot of overhyping it or advertising it. I think the way that most people have found out about us is from their friends listening to it and wanting them to hear it and telling people about it. And that’s one of the biggest things in talking to record labels has just been that they buy into that. Not that it has to be the only way, but that is the focus of how we want people to find our music… from other people that love it. So that’s just been one of our big concerns in talking to these labels – to help us do that in a bigger way.
TBI: Has there been any particular moment where you realized “it’s catching on, we’re becoming big, people are listening to us”?
Kenny Hensley: It’s kind of funny because I really don’t think about it too much – it’s so gradual. But just now, you just saying that and hearing the words out of your mouth just gave me the chills. Growing up, all through high school and the past few years it’s been like a dream and such a hard place to reach. I feel like it’s been a gradual thing – even though it’s been quick for us compared to other bands. It’s only been about a year and a half since we started. It still has been gradual enough that each thing comes in steps. I don’t really think about it much – I just feel grateful and excited. It’s not like I would have imagined in high school that somebody would have told me that “in four years you’ll be in this band that’s doing really, really well and you’ll be talking to labels and going on tour with Dr. Dog.” I would have freaked out. You have to let it happen and deal with it as best you can and keep working. You know, that’s one thing — not let it get to your head at all. Keep working and realize you’re still nothing compared to where you want to be.
It is funny that I don’t think about it too much but you saying that gave me the chills. We both just started smiling. Oh yeah, we are doing really well. It’s nice.
Josiah: I think every once in a while you’ll have those moments – like when we opened for Vampire Weekend. It’s thousands more people than we have ever played for and you just have this little realization. You’re like “Holy crap, that’s cool!” There’s just been a bunch of moments like that.
I remember when we were starting out going like “if I could just play this venue, I’d be really satisfied” and then you play that venue and then your dreams get a little bit bigger. All of a sudden you realize, I couldn’t have imagined it getting this big. I think Kenny’s right, you don’t think about it a ton, but if you do it’s really mind blowing.
Kenny: I remember going to shows in high school at big venues. I grew up in Los Angeles so I’d go to the Wiltern in LA. Even opening bands I had never heard of I remember sitting there in awe and thinking “Oh my God, what would it be like to be on that stage? How amazing would it be to be those people!” And even with Vampire Weekend, I almost felt like we weren’t supposed to be there. It didn’t really feel any different. I don’t know, it was strange it wasn’t what I expected the feeling to be. You kind of go out and do what you do any night at any venue. The dream is definitely far off from the reality. Not necessarily in a bad way, just different from what I would have expect.
TBI: Like many of your fans I’ve worn your album into the ground and I go online on Youtube, blogs, and in forums and comments on blogs people are always looking for new songs you guys are playing. What’s your plan down the road for a follow-up album?
Josiah: One of the things that we’re starting to realize with this album that we already have is that the Dr. Dog tour is really just the beginning of promoting this all the way through. Especially if you sign to a record label, there’s a whole album cycle and a year+ of touring, that sort of thing. While the next album is probably kind of far off at this point. Knowing that you’re gonna be on tour for a long time, we’ve spent a lot of time right now in this kind of free, craziness stage – there’s probably videos of five or six new songs we’ve played at a house show or at different venues as encores or something like that. We’ve got maybe 10 or more new songs that you have to kind of right now plan ahead and start writing because once it gets to be where you’re on the road all of the time you need to have, to be writing songs as often as you can because you might not always have the luxury that we have right now of having time off. I can’t imagine the next album coming all that soon but we’re definitely already writing songs for it.
TBI: You’re on this journey at the beginning of your musical career. What kind of advice or even “lessons learned” would you share with other unsigned, independent artists?
Josiah: Definitely one thing – we’ve been kind of fortunate to have a lot of wiser people that have been around a lot more than we have that like to give us advice. One of my favorite pieces of advice has been that when you start talking to labels there’s a potential to feel really important, or big. Which ultimately in the grand scheme of things you’re not yet – if you as a band don’t keep your focus on your guys as a unit and your song writing and all of that. If you keep playing and writing good songs and sticking together and growing together as a band there’s no one opportunity or situation or person that’s going to make or break your career. If you’re writing good songs and sticking together, opportunities will come and opportunities will go but don’t break yourselves over the possibility of something. Stay focused on writing good music.
There’s definitely the possibility of getting distracted and thinking about the business stuff all the time or worrying about that. The music is what got you there and the music will keep you going.
TBI: You guys do a show in somebody’s house and that night there’s a video on YouTube with that. How do you guys feel about that and how do you plan on using the internet to promote yourselves?
Josiah: Do you remember how there was the whole Napster file sharing and then Metallica sued them and got it shut down and all that sort of stuff? The next generation of bands that has kind of grown up with that, I think, is starting to realize that the Internet is going to be used to share your music whether you like it or not. And it’s not something you should be afraid of.
Heather from Fuel Friends blog show posted mp3s of all of the songs from that house show*. And I think that’s great – the possibility is that every performance that you do is going to be able to be listened to over and over again. You have to make sure that every single time you play, you’re at the top of your game.
Another cool thing about that is that because the possibility that all of the performances are being shared and every performance doesn’t have to be the same. You can get these slightly different feelings in different settings; like a parking garage, or a house, or a venue, or all of that. I think it’s cool for people to experience the music in all these different facets. I think it’s great.
It’s got to be an odd thing compared to the way that music used to be shared. You can have all of these different moments – obviously being there is better than watching it on video – but it’s so wild that that moment from that perspective can be captured and shared.
There’s a band from up in Seattle, The Moondoggies, they’re really good and signed to Hardly Art which is like a subsidiary of Sub Pop. They just recently posted that thing inviting people to tape their concerts and feel free to share them. Basically that means plugging into the soundboard and getting the sound directly out of that so it’s really high quality live sound. And a lot of bands are really scared of that because you don’t perform perfectly every night. You don’t want to really hear those mistakes – you’d rather they just be heard once in concert. But I think it’s really brave of them and would be cool.
I remember I went to a Sufjan Stevens concert years ago and I found online that someone had taped the entire concert from that show. And so I went back grabbed that Sufjan Stevens concert from the day that I went. I think that’s such a cool thing to be able to do.
It kind of makes you go “I’ve got to be on my game” because if I screw up a harmony it now lives on in perpetuity.
TBI: We’re really grateful that you let us talk to you and we’re looking forward to your show in Atlanta.
Josiah: I cannot wait – that’s gonna be pretty awesome!
- interview conducted by William Haun on November 18, 2010