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In Music

The Head and the Heart (Josiah Johnson is at left) plays Turner Hall on Oct. 6. (PHOTO: Shawn Brackbill, Sub Pop Records)

The Head and The Heart's accomplished debut continues to fuel momentum


It's rare to stumble upon a debut that feels accomplished. But the self-titled debut from Seattle band The Head and The Heart is one of those records.

Self-released last year, a bolstered version of "The Head and The Heart" was issued by Sub Pop Records earlier this year.

From the tick-tock intro of "Cats and Dogs" through the stomping piano-fueled pop of "Honey Come Home" and to the waning seconds of the strings outro of the California roots rocker "Heaven Go Easy On Me," the 10-song record is rife with pitch-perfect harmonies, dynamic arrangements and fine performances.

Think mid-'70s Dylan and The Band instrumentation. Think almost Queen-like harmonies (though, admittedly, a little less elaborate). For more recent examples, file under AA Bondy and Iron & Wine. But, the piano focus might conjure some of Ben Folds' work and "Down In The Valley" even has a moment that might make you think, briefly, of a less flashy Coldplay.

Singer, guitarist and songwriter Josiah Johnson says that the finished record is the result of a long focus on the songs it contains.

"Even before we started recording there were probably six or seven songs that we had spent probably six months on, just songwriting-wise," Johnson tells me by phone from Seattle a few weeks before the band hits the road on a U.S. tour.

"A lot of the songs grew and evolved even before we had a band. We definitely had a lot of time to polish and spend a lot of time arranging before we had the pressure of, 'OK, now we've gotta do something.'"

It's clear that the songs don't just flow for Johnson and his co-songwriters – guitarist and singer Jonathan Russell, violinist Charity Rose Thielen, bassist Chris Zasche, pianist Kenny Hensley and drummer Tyler Williams.

The result is that the songs on the record were the songs the band wrote and recorded with the intention of including. And they worked on those songs until they were ready.

"Someone asked me, 'How many songs did you guys write for your record before you chose what to record?,'" he says. "The idea that you write a song that is thrown away, that no one gives a sh*t about ... I feel like songs are more important than that."

Johnson doubts the band will ever be one of those groups that says it wrote 30 songs for a record and only used 12. But he says that like all songwriters, there are all kinds of ideas floating around. The good ones almost always end up getting used somehow. He points to a fragment that had been sitting, waiting for a good home.

"We ended up putting it into a song that we play live and it totally works," he recalls. "We more write like puzzle pieces and they're all still fair game to put into a song. I don't know if the next record will be the same way but I definitely don't want to churn out a bunch of songs with the hope that one of them is good. Being a songwriting factory does not sound appealing to me. I just don't understand how that happens."

But these songs seem quite acceptable to the growing legion of fans the band has been garnering thanks to seven months of near-non-stop touring this year, mostly as an opener for other bands.

Despite some disappointing and potentially lethal reviews of the record from NME and Pitchfork, The Head and The Heart had the wind at its back all year long.

"That momentum definitely has been carrying on; we've had a really busy year," says Johnson. "I feel very, very lucky that all of the bands we've gotten to play with this year are bands that I've liked for a long time. For the vast majority of it too the bands we opened for were cool people.

Although Williams and Zasche have had some experience on the road, Johnson says this year has really been everyone's first experience with success and touring at the band's current level. And it has been a learning experience for them all.

"It's new to all of us. We really learned a lot. There's something to be said for a band that's been touring for a while because it is a very odd experience to live your life on the road for any length of time. You've got to learn how to do it well. To be a normal person and all that kind of stuff. I think we learned a lot musically and also just about being a touring band." Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)

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sandstorm | Oct. 3, 2011 at 1:51 p.m. (report)

The Beard and The Beard.

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