All bands — well, all the good ones, anyway — are constantly evolving. That evolution stems not from the need to follow trends or the constant reach to stay relevant, but from the fact that bands are living, breathing things, and living things grow.
Like rings on a tree, bands can trace their evolution through albums. Most band discographies, when put on a chart, won’t plot a straight upward line; just like none of us has lived lives consisting entirely of correct choices. But when taken as a whole, it’s those peaks and valleys that make us who we are now, just as the ones ahead will make us who we’ll be.
For The Head and The Heart, the Seattle-based indie folk/pop sextet comprised of guitarists Jonathan Russell and Josiah Johnson, violinist Charity Rose Thielen, pianist Kenny Hensley, drummer Tyler Williams and bassist Chris Zasche, the changes from album one to album two are subtle but important, with the sound of each album viscerally effected by the circumstances under which they were created.
“The way that I think about albums, I personally think of them as a snapshot of where the band was when you record it,” Johnson explained in a phone interview. “The first album has a ramshackle rawness to it. (For) the first album, we didn’t have any time, so we just went in for the few days that we could afford and played exactly like we’d play the songs live.”
“The recording wasn’t very adventurous,” he continued. “For the second album, we wanted to mess around with more layering and more atmospheric things. So we camped out in the studio. It was definitely more involved.”
“Maybe the sounds (on the first album) aren’t as big,” he added, talking about the feeling of immediacy on the band’s self-titled debut. “But we busked for money to get lunch because we spent it all on the album.”
That first album — initially burned onto CDs by hand and packaged in hand-made denim sleeves to be sold in local music stores — acted as a touchstone for the band. Thousands of copies were moved on nothing more than good word of mouth and quality music. The strength of the album’s success drew the attention of several labels, and The Head and The Heart eventually stayed close to home, settling on legendary Seattle indie label, Sub Pop.
Sub Pop remastered the band’s debut, but Johnson and his bandmates were adamant on one matter.
“When we talked to labels, and we talked to several, there was one thing we told them all,” Johnson said. “(We said that) we’re not going to go back in and re-record any of (the tracks). We sold 10,000 copies on our own, so this is what it is. If you want us, you want us because of how that album sounds.”
Sub Pop, never known for being overly meddlesome in the affairs of their affiliated acts, re-released the album as-is, and gave the band the wherewithal to open up the sound on their follow-up.
The band’s second effort, 2013’s “Let’s Be Still,” is a snapshot of a band that’s in a different place; the rawness of its predecessor replaced the tranquility that often walks hand in hand with confidence. Looking back, it’s easy for Johnson to plot the course of his evolution. It hasn’t happened in grand leaps and bounds, but it’s taken him to all the right places.
“I had been in a couple of bands when I was in college and fought over dumb things,” he said. “When I moved to Seattle, I just wanted to have fun playing music and get better at writing songs.” CV