From the wet, rainy land out west, home of Kurt Cobain’s grunge and the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie,” come the rising stars of the Americana genre. The Head and the Heart call Seattle their home, and have had tremendous success there, much like Nirvana and other Seattle bands before it.
The band was started by duo Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell, who originally met at several open mic nights in Seattle’s Ballard district during the summer of 2009. They make up the core of the songwriting for The Head and the Heart. Soon after, they added keyboardist Kenny Hensley, violinist-vocalist Charity Rose Thielen, bassist Chris Zasche and drummer Tyler Williams. Williams was living in Virginia — Russell’s home state — but was sent a demo version of the soon-to-be hit song “Down in the Valley” and was persuaded to relocate to the soggy West Coast. In 2011, The Head and the Heart signed with the label Sub Pop Records, and came out with their self-titled album. They have also followed the trend of recording on vinyl.
Their album shows many different faces of the band, while also staying steadfastly within their genre, which resembles the folky Mumford & Sons with close harmonies. Yet their sound also has a sparseness that reminds the listener of the haunting duo, now in a band called The Swell Season, from the movie Once. The violin and acoustic guitar play an important role in the Americana style of music, but at points, especially in “Honey Come Home,” The Head and the Heart achieve a pumped up bluegrass sound that suits their grassroots lyrics perfectly. They do not incorporate a banjo or dobro like Mumford & Sons do in trying to create the country-but-not-really sound to their songs, which actually sets them farther from the British band that currently has hipsters pretending that they “knew them before they were big.” One of the things The Head and the Heart does well is that they do not let the drums overpower the violin or piano or the beautiful three-part harmony. Instead, they create a head-bopping, finger-tapping beat that will have you making a drum kit out of your steering wheel.
Johnson and Russel, in addition to songwriting, provide the lead vocals for the band. Thielen contributes vocally, mostly in harmony with her throaty alto and adds an immense amount of depth to the songs, which rely heavily on lots of fat harmonies. The lyrics are evocative, which only adds to the musicality of the songs. The songs do not have as many repetitive lyrics, as say, “We Found Love” by Rihanna, but are so catchy that by the second chorus you will be desperately trying to sing along, if only to be included in the sound of this band.
No matter what walk of life you are from, or what genre of music you are into, give them a chance. The Head and the Heart will find a permanent place in both your head and your heart.