When the Seattle folk-rock band The Head and the Heart released their debut album in 2009, it was very much under the radar. They released it on their own label, and it was mostly sold at their concerts and in local record shops. But success on the local level and relentless touring led to the album being reissued by the influential Sub Pop label in 2011, which in turn led to radio airplay for their songs "Lost In My Mind" and "Rivers and Roads," and much bigger shows. The band is primed to get even bigger with the release of their second album, Let's Be Still, on Oct. 15. The new record has plenty of pretty folky songs in the vein of their debut — not to mention like-minded contemporaries like Fleet Foxes, Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, and Father John Misty — but it's also a lot more eclectic, with cuts that add elements of rock, synth-pop, and dance beats to their sound.
BuzzFeed caught up with singer, songwriter, and guitarist Josiah Johnson to talk about their new song, "Another Story," and how the band pushed themselves to expand their sound rather than stick to a winning formula.
How did "Another Story" come together?
"Another Story" was written around the time of the Newtown shootings. Jon [Russell] is a big NPR listener, and that was just all day, every day. Detail after detail that just sticks in your brain and you can't fathom what or why or how. The song is Jon's way of clearing his head. There's a line in it, like, "Everybody feels a little crazy but they go on living with it," and what makes this one guy pop off? People deal with feeling depressed all the time, there's heavy shit going on in everybody's world. What is different? What is going on there? There's no making sense of it. The song is a way of having a catharsis about the whole thing.
There are multiple songwriters in your band — do you all talk to one another about lyrics while you're writing independently from one another?
We've talked about it before, with some songs. With us, the lyrics are like a sacred thing. You can point out, like, "Oh, that word feels awkward," but there's no discussing themes. You write what you want to write. I think Jon was nervous about showing this song to the band because he was wondering, Is it my place to write about this sort of thing?
Your new album is more eclectic than your debut. Do you try to stay on the same page musically, so you're all making the same album?
Because the music is written collectively, there are pieces of what we do well in all of the songs. The band has a say in how the song is arranged. We haven't decided "this is what we sound like," but what we sound like is what the six of us come up with. But there's not an idea that we have to sound a particular way.
Did you want to surprise people a bit?
I think we were eager to have people know that we didn't just listen to throwback folk albums from the '70s. But other than that I don't think there's an intention to throw people off, or be like, "gotcha!" I think excitement comes from making a record that sounds like more of the things that we're into than the folk and Americana side of us.
How was it different making this album, knowing that you have an established audience now?
Setting up this record has been a lot different from the last time around, where we just put it out and some opportunities came up and it flowed kinda naturally. There was no big push. Now we're all doing interviews this morning for all of this stuff, and it's a very different experience.
In terms of making the record, I feel like there was a really great moment with our radio guy at Sub Pop, of all people, who said, "If you try to write another 'Lost in My Mind,' I will hunt you down and hurt you, because it's just going to be a watered down version of that and I don't want to have to try to sell that to people." He was like, maybe you won't have another song that does that well on the radio, but write what you want to write and it's my job to figure out what to do with it. He repeated that over and over again until I think we took it to heart. That, and we have the mentality that we don't know exactly what our band sounds like yet, we only had one album, and we definitely don't just sound folky. There's some songs on the album that don't stray too far from what we already did, but there's some songs that sound incredibly different.