Q&A: The Head and The Heart's Jon Russell Talks About What Makes Seattle So Special and Why His Band Doesn't Sound Like Fleet Foxes
Just back from the band's first tour of Europe, Seattle's The Head and the Heart are currently making their way across the U.S. opening up for The Walkmen. Interestingly, the two acts couldn't be more dissimilar. But that dichotomy should mostly result in a beautiful blending of styles.
Playing soft-spoken Americana that features aching harmonies and songs that even Ryan Adams might admire, The Head and the Heart are an opening act certainly worth getting to the venue early to catch.
Their tour with The Walkmen hits our own Granada Theater on Saturday night, and lead vocalist Jon Russell was nice enough to share his thoughts with DC9 concerning the Seattle scene and a number of other topics. Catch the complete Q&A after the jump.
You were born and raised in Virginia. What prompted the move to Seattle?
I had a friend who was moving to Seattle just for a change of pace. She had a place to stay for free for a couple of months, and I didn't want her to have to drive by herself. I told her that if she let me stay with her, I would split the gas and we would go from there. I had just recorded an EP of stuff I was doing by myself in Virginia, and I was looking to get out of Richmond. I wanted to go to where there was a little stronger music scene. It was perfect timing.
What is it about Seattle that makes it such a vibrant music locale?
I can't figure it out. I don't know if it's something in the air. Maybe it's the constant overcast and people just play music more. You can just feel it when you go to the shows, even when you go to an open mic. There's just more concentration on music. That allows people to have more focus and confidence. And the people here support local music.
Your music doesn't appear as depressing as a lot of music associated with Seattle. What is it about your songwriting that helps it break free of the city's tradition of gloom?
I think it's because most of the people in the band are transplants. Tyler [Williams] on drums and myself are from Virginia. Josiah [Johnson], the other singer and songwriter, is from Southern California. Only two of the members are actually from Seattle. We had other things to write about. I think coming from a different part of the country and having other influences had a great deal to do with it. I also think that's why the band caught on rather quickly in Seattle. It was fresh. It wasn't from Seattle, but it still was in a way.
You guys are often compared to Fleet Foxes and Grand Archives. Are you tired of being lumped in with those bands?
No, because I think it's not a valid comparison. If that's what someone hears, so be it. We get all sorts of comparisons. Most of the time, it's like I don't hear that at all.
But don't all three bands use similar harmonies?
Yes. I guess that's why we get compared to those bands. I have no idea how or why all of these bands started back with the harmonies. I never sang harmony in any of my music until I moved here. I never had another person to sing with. The first person I met was Josiah and he has a great voice and he is a great songwriter. We slowly started working out some harmonies. There is now this definite trend for Seattle bands to use harmony. It's this grassroots revival. I was shocked when I moved here and heard so many bands playing this roots-y style of music. I was expecting stuff like The Shins. We have a huge folk scene and a huge country scene. I was expecting more indie and more heavy stuff. It kind of caught me off guard.
A lot of your songs have a Ryan Adams vibe to them. With Adams' petulant reputation, is being influenced by him a good or a bad thing?
I am a huge Ryan Adams fan. I understand what you're saying because he's cheeky. He puts out so much music and some people say it's garbage, but I love Ryan Adams. I can't say I love everything he does, but I don't think it's a bad thing to be compared to him. I still like the guy.
How did you come up with The Head and the Heart as the name of the band?
Every member was coming up with a bunch of names and they were all really bad. I think everyone was sick and tired of trying to come up with a name. In a song that Josiah wrote, there's a line that says don't follow your head, follow your heart. We booked a couple shows under the name just to see how it went. Nobody seemed to hate it and it seemed to be working so we just went with it.
Why did you re-record your debut effort, Sounds Like Hallelujah, when you signed with Sub Pop?
Well, we only re-recorded one song -- the title song. We just wanted to up the quality of that one song. We didn't want to make too many changes. So it was kind of a pain in the ass. When you do something the first time, it feels natural. And then you try not to over-think it. But after months and months of playing shows, certain things change. You figure out certain things live and you start doing things just slightly different. When we went in to re-record the song, it was nerve-wracking. We were trying to make it sound close to the original song, just with better sound. It was the most stressful recording session that I have ever been a part of.
The album is already available digitally, but physical copies are set to come out on April 16, which is Record Store Day. Who came up with that marketing plan?
That was through Sub Pop. We are still trying to get things set up, get the art work laid out. We knew we could not get the CD out until late March at the earliest, and someone heard that Record Store Day is one of the busiest sales days of the season. It was a way to tie things together.