A few years ago The Head and the Heart co-founder Josiah Johnson was just another Seattle transplant with a guitar at an open mike night. Three years later, his group is one of the most talked about acts in independent music on the cusp of worldwide mainstream success.
Case in point: a two-night stand at The Fillmore later this year. But with increasing fame, Seattle’s new breakout band only seems to grow more humble. After an extensive year of touring in 2011, the group will head back out on the road this spring on their own headlining tour leading to an appearance at Coachella in April and the dates at The Fillmore in June.
How did the band originally get together?
It was kind of a weird, natural process. I had only moved to Seattle a few months before, and then John had moved to Seattle from Virginia and we were both playing this open mike.
At open mikes there’s a lot of not good stuff (laughs), so when someone comes in and is just great, you just take notice. I went up and talked to him afterward and we became friends. We would play these acoustic shows and friends we made from the open mikes would come up and accompany on banjo, violin, or piano or whatever. It was kind of … [a] collective and we would meet these people who just added a whole other different dimension to the music, you know?
Did you have a vision for what the band would sound like starting out?
Not at all, we weren’t in a hurry to form a band. We were just having fun writing songs. John and I have different songwriting styles, and I feel like a lot of times if I hit a wall writing a song he’ll be able to finish that thought in a different way. And that’s what we were thinking about; we weren’t posting Craigslist ads for a bass player or something like that (laughs).
Which I’m sure you don’t recommend.
(laughs). Yeah, I can’t imagine that working out too well. It was just this really natural process where there was no auditioning, but there were certain people who stood out and over the course of six months and then we pretty much recorded right away. Because it was such a long process, we had written a bunch of songs and originally it was going to be more of a demo to show to venues. We ended up spending a lot more time on it and flushing it out and it just sounded really. It became an album and KEXP picked it up, and the rest is history.
The band re-released the debut through Sub Pop. Do you have plans for the next LP?
We have plans to write for it, but because of the importance of the lyrics and the experiences behind the lyrics, we don’t want to say “this is a recording date” and write a certain number of songs before then. I think the main thing for us right now is just setting aside time to live, be a normal person, stop touring, and find the experiences that are going to inspire a whole other set of songs. So no plans for recording, but definitely plans for living and writing.
Since you guys didn’t know each other that long before creating the first record, how has touring and spending so much time together changed the way you create , if at all?
The weird thing is none of the songs came together the exact same way. There’s always different pockets of people in the band that latched onto a song John or I started and then kind of pushed along to help flush it out and write it. No two songs were ever finished the same way.
In terms of how touring has changed that, I have no idea because we haven’t been able to spend the time to write more songs. It’s definitely weird, though, because we didn’t know each other all that long before we were in the same van for seven months in a row with each other. It’s a crazy thing and such a huge growing and maturing experience to need to learn all of the faults and the strengths of all of the people in the band. We didn’t have a lot of lead up time to that.
It’s been really exciting and really tough in a band relational sense to learn how to support each other and help everyone be their best because a band is like a relationship or family. With six people and six different viewpoints, that didn’t all coalesce too much before we started doing this full time.
In our band, there is no one who is just backing the rest of the people up. Everyone actively helps to create so everything is a compromise, but everyone feels invested in it. You have to make sure everyone feels like they’re getting their say and input. It’s something that I think yields way more incredible results than if it was just one person with everyone backing, but it’s really tricky to navigate.
The Head and the Heart perform June 1 and June 2.