With anthemic guitar arrangements and earnest harmonizing, the Head and the Heart established itself among a wave of folk-inspired rock acts including Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers. The band formed around a songwriting collaboration between Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell and went from busking on the streets and selling self-burned CDs to playing club gigs.
"We hadn't even recorded any songs and there was nothing for people to listen to online, but people were coming to all of the shows ... and knew most of the words to the songs that we were playing," Johnson says. After developing a following in the Pacific Northwest, the band was signed by Sub Pop Records in 2010 and its self-recorded debut was re-released in 2011.
Johnson says the album's appeal stems from what the band learned performing on the streets and at open mics in Seattle. "We learned how to have our music stand out," he says. "All of these people are just walking by and not really paying attention to you, or just casting a glance, and if you don't reel them in with something in the music, then they just walk by and you don't make any money. On our first record, a lot of the songs had this immediacy, the stomping and clapping vibe that we'd use to grab people's attention."
The band's self-titled album included the song "Rivers and Roads," which was used on the TV shows Chuck and How I Met Your Mother.
With support from the label, the band took a less immediate approach to the songwriting on October 2013 release Let's Be Still. It features some somber material such as "Another Story," which Russell penned in response to the 2012 Sandy Hook school shootings. "Can we go on like it once was?" he sings in a lonesome falsetto.
"On the first record, because we were just starting to play together, there's less of a cohesive vision. ... [O]n the second record, we really wanted it to have a certain feeling and sound," Johnson says.
The Head and the Heart now headlines festivals and larger venues, but Johnson is still amazed by the band's growth. "To be writing a song and then hear it played live in these beautiful halls is such a crazy place to be," he says. "I feel like it was just a beautiful, happy accident."