This article originally ran in The Marquee Magazine
Despite how it’s often glorified in movies and in the minds of teenagers who dream about playing in front of a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden, the life of a touring musician is not an easy one, no matter how bad you want it. Touring musicians are away from home, living out of vans, sleeping in cheap motels and on the floors of friends and fans good enough to put them up, and to top it all off, they are surrounded 24/7 by the same people they play music with each night.
For many bands, this toxic combination of realities can lead to a slow and painful disintegration. Seattle’s critically acclaimed and much buzzed folk-pop sextet The Head and The Heart is a very young band by most standards, having only been together for a little over a year, but they are working hard to avoid the pitfalls of the road and staying focused on the two things that mean the most to them: their friendship and the music they love to play together.
We caught up with one of The Head and The Heart’s founding members, Josiah Johnson, as the band wove their way from Woodstock, N.Y. to Burlington, Vt. in the middle of a tour opening for Dr. Dog. With this being his band’s first major tour, conversation turned frequently to life on the road and how they were dealing with it. “The first couple of tours we went out on were a-week-and-a-half or two weeks and you can kind of just treat that as a vacation from your real life,” Johnson said. “On this tour we left Seattle the third week in January and we’ll be back for a week in April, and then not again until mid-June. So this is really a significant bit of time,” Johnson said.
As his band embarked on this next stage of their career together, Johnson seemed to really value the fact that they have the opportunity to be out with a group as seasoned as Dr. Dog. “Those guys have been a touring band for a long time and we’ve learned a lot from them in terms of how to handle the road. Things like: You don’t drink every night because every night isn’t a party or an event. In fact, it’s more like a job. You have to try and shower and do your laundry on a regular basis,” he said, laughing a little. “It’s about trying to make the things that happen on the road part of your normal life and routine. I think having them to learn from has helped us to speed up that process and figure out what is necessary to do when you are on the road for a long time.”
In addition to the mentor-like role that the guys in Dr. Dog have had in the lives of Johnson and his bandmates, he does emphasize that being able to share the stage with them every night is a privilege that they do not take lightly. “A few months ago we were talking to a potential manager and he was asking us, ‘What would your dream tour be, who would you love to open up for?’ Dr. Dog was the first band that we named,” Johnson admitted. “It is like a dream to be able to tour with them.”
This tour is something that The Head and The Heart have been working toward with sincere dedication since they finalized their lineup and went into the studio to record their debut album. “When everything was finally in place we just went for it and recorded an album of all the songs we had and went from there, I guess that was in early 2010,” Johnson said, before going on to discuss how they managed to record the album without the backing of a record label. “We were really broke for a long time. The album was recorded over three months and as soon the paychecks came in, we’d be able to pay for more studio time. It was funny, because we initially estimated that it would cost about a third of what we ended up spending. I guess we imagined originally that we would just hammer something out quickly, and then as the recording process went on it was apparent that we were going to be much more perfectionist than that. So it got nit-picked over and over and ended up sounding really good.”
The time they spent nit-picking and the extra money that they spent turned out to be more than worth it, as very shortly after releasing the record they started getting phone calls from record labels who were interested in signing them and re-releasing the album. While it all started happening very quickly, the band took their time before they finally ended up making the decision to sign with Seattle’s storied Sub Pop. “There were a lot of other labels outside Seattle interested for a few months before we heard anything from Sub Pop. We all know their catalog really well and a lot of our favorite bands have been on Sub Pop. So entering late to the game or not, they immediately got our attention,” Johnson said. “We like the way they release records —it doesn’t feel like they are over-hyping anything. They approach it from the standpoint of, ‘Hey, we release great bands and support them well.’ So when they came to the table it made our decision a lot easier.”
In January, Sub Pop officially re-released The Head and The Heart’s self titled debut and it has been quickly gaining traction with critics and fans alike. The tight harmonies, accessible hooks and decidedly Americana sensibilities that saturate the album make for great Sunday morning listening or the perfect soundtrack for a drive through the countryside … whether you’re in an SUV with your family or a van with your bandmates.
The Head & The Heart @ Moe’s BBQ – March 10th
By Tim Dwenger