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Best of What's Next: The Head and the Heart

March 22, 2011  |  8:00am
Best of What's Next: The Head and the Heart

Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Album: The Head and the Heart
Members: Jonathan Russell (guitar, vocals), Josiah Johnson (guitar, vocals), Charity Rose Thielen (violin, vocals), Tyler Williams (drums), Chris Zasche (bass), Kenny Hensley (piano)
For Fans Of: Fleet Foxes, Midlake, Mumford & Sons

The Head and the Heart had already sold 10,000 copies of their independent debut when Sub Pop signed the group last November. They’d also opened for Vampire Weekend, played two sold-out shows with Dave Matthews, earned props from NPR and become the toast of Seattle’s indie folk scene. Not bad for a group whose full lineup didn’t come together until January 2010.

Scruffily handsome folkies are a dime a dozen in Seattle. What differentiates The Head and the Heart from the rest of the flannel-wearing pack, beyond the band’s unnaturally speedy climb from dive bars to an upcoming mainstage spot at Sasquatch, is its penchant for mixing rootsy Americana with orchestral, chest-swelling chamber-pop. Violin and piano help elevate the songs beyond their earthy origins, and three-part harmonies—anchored by co-frontmen Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell, and boosted by the Cat-Power-gone-Appalachian crooning of violinist Charity Rose Thielen—sweeten the deal.

Since signing with Sub Pop, the 20-something bandmates have taken up a permanent residence on the road, sharing shows with simpatico groups like the Low Anthem along the way.

“Last year, the longest tour we did was three weeks,” Johnson explains during a pit stop in Denver. “We’d go out for 20 days or so, and then we’d be home for a month. It felt like we were just taking a long trip, a break from real life, before coming back home to resume our normal lives. With this longer tour, it isn’t just a break anymore. This is our life.”

Though the band’s debut album has been available on iTunes since last summer, Sub Pop will release the “official” CD version, featuring the unreleased concert staple “Rives and Roads” and a re-recorded version of the campfire singalong “Sounds like Hallelujah,” on April 16. Recorded on a shoestring budget in early 2010, its 10 songs find the group ruminating on the idea of home: how we leave it, miss it and attempt to replace it during adulthood.

Ironically, The Head and the Heart’s shared house in northwestern Seattle may be under different ownership when the musicians return home.

“It didn’t make sense to keep paying rent,” says Johnson, who’s been on the road since January. “Our drummer is renting out his room to one of our friends. Chris and Kenny moved out. Once we have a longer break, we’re gonna have to figure out what we’re doing and where we’re gonna live. That time of all being together in the same house is over. But when you’ve written an album about leaving home and finding a new home… it’d be weird if your next album was about that as well. It’s time for other things to be on our minds.”

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