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Interview: Jonathan Russell from The Head and The Heart

The Head And The Heart

Seattle 6-piece The Head And The Heart have just released their latest album ‘Signs Of Light’, a exciting new development on their acoustic indie-folk sound. The new album steps it up a notch, and we had a chat with Jonathan, the band’s guitarist and vocalist, about the new music, Aussie tour plans, and working with a producer for the first time!

The album’s finally out! How are you guys feeling about it getting out there?

Excited! It’s funny because we’ve been finished with this record since January-February this year, and then we just sat on it for a while and you forget about it. Now it’s interesting to see other people hearing it for the first time, and starting to get excited about it, and you’re like “oh yeah I kind of forgot about that”, but it’s starting to exist in the real world now, so I’m excited.

Lots of artists retreat to all different locations to write albums, and I heard The Head And The Heart spent some time at Stinson Beach (California), what made you guys do that?  

The previous two records have been recorded in Seattle, which lives up to the name of being a completely rainy, dreary city. I think this time around we were all refreshed and rejuvenated from having some significant time off, so we really just wanted to write and record in these sunny bright spots. We heard about this place, that was meant to be a house but also a studio, and it’s right up on this ridge and overlooking this beautiful bay, I think maybe an hour, if that, north of San Francisco. The songs were feeling brighter, and a little lighter and little happier and we wanted to match that with our environment.

Listening to the single All We Ever Knew it sounds like you guys really worked on building the production elements, and boosting it up a little more than your previous stripped-back acoustic tracks. Was that a conscious decision?

After a while, when you’re a band and you’re doing something you want to see what else you can do. We’d sort of reached the limit, the saturation point of that sort of stripped-back routine folk thing and it no longer really felt exciting to do stuff like that. We wanted to see what happened if we pushed it a little further and tried out working with a producer for the first time. It’s the first time we worked with an actual producer, named Jay Joyce.

I guess it was a combination of us feeling like we wanted to push the songs further and also us now being under Warner Bros, and having a budget where we can actually afford to do something like that. The first record we did by ourselves, Tyler (drummer) had two jobs, we all just worked and we paid for it ourselves. The second record was the first record we actually had a music label while doing a record, but we had no time in between the first two tours to do it, so there were limitations there.

This was the first time that we not only had a legitimate budget but we took the year off before we did it, so everyone was like rejuvenated and had their own freedom and personal time, so we came back and all of these things aligned in a really nice way.

What’s the story behind All We Ever Knew?

I actually started that song when were in the studio for ‘Let’s Be Still’, the second record, towards the end. There was really no chance of us adding any new songs to the table and I didn’t have the whole song worked out, I just had that chorus “all we ever do is all we ever knew”. It was more of a release, like a therapeutic thing, for me to do for 12 minutes straight, over and over again. I didn’t know it would turn into anything, but I would just slowly work on it on my own and it never really quite felt like a finished song. As a band we had never worked on it and it was just collecting dust!

We then got wind from our manager that Cameron Crowe was going to be doing this show called Roadies, in January of 2015. We get the phone call at the end of February-beginning of March that Cameron Crowe wanted us to be in the pilot.

Thematically, that song made sense to me to try and use it for that, because the song is written from the perspective of someone who loves what they do, but they understand that, even within this beautiful thing, sometimes you can feel confined. You gave up all the things you had to give up to be there, but it starts to tear away at your life, so unless you change something it’s going to remain that way. So it was sort of me feeling in that way, but also watching my relationship with my significant other, now ex-significant other, deteriorate. Then we got the call from Cameron and it just kicked me in the ass and made me want to finish it, because I was like, okay this is f*cking Cameron Crowe like get your sh*t together and finish the song.

How does it reflect the rest of the tracks on the album?

Honestly, I feel like there’s a whole range of stuff on the record. It’s hard when you’re in the band and when you’re the songwriter, you’re in the eye of the storm and you can’t really tell how other people are perceiving it. But to me, it just feels like a really dynamic record. In comparison to the second record, it’s way more upbeat and it’s way more feel good. I feel like ‘Let’s Be Still’ is very sentimental, almost like a rich chocolate where you like it but you can’t have it all the time.

With this one, you don’t really get bogged down with so much of the weight in it, of what’s going on in the world. I think the thematic topics of a lot of the songs are still dipping into heavy sh*t that’s happening in the world, but the way that we’ve recorded it, in the instrumentation and the production, it almost reflects the opposite. It feels like “sure, these things are happening, but it’s okay to feel good”. I think that song reflects the rest of the album in the way that it’s much more uplifting, [but the album] is not as straight forward pop-y as that song lends itself to.

It’s rare to see a band with so many members. How do you guys manage having all six of you?

You know, sometimes I wish we were a two-piece and sometimes I’m really glad that we’re not a two-piece because everyone has a say in the band. We split everything six ways and everyone’s decision is heard. It’s probably more annoying for people we work with because everything takes longer. I think in the end, there’s this really nice check and balance because there’s six of us.

Is it frustrating at times? Hell yeah, it’s frustrating at times. Whether it’d be easier when you’re riding a bus or in a green room or on a stage if it was just a two- or three-piece? Of course it would be. It’s like anything else in life, the more challenging it is, the more rewarding it is.

I’ve got to ask for Australian fans, are there any plans to bring the new album down under?

Hell yeah, of course there is. Are you kidding me? Every time we go to Australia, I’m like “I’m not getting on that plane, I’m not leaving, I’m not leaving Melbourne”. Melbourne is kind of my jam! Everywhere we’ve gone there is beautiful, but the last time we were in Melbourne. It was fall there, so it was still pretty warm and it was beautiful. I don’t know specific dates, but I know the plan is definitely to go down to Australia, pretty sure by the end of the year. If not, there’s at least one or two trips next year!