A Fiendish Conversation with the Head and the Heart's Josiah Johnson
We catch up with the folksy frontman before the band's homecoming gig at the Paramount.
If I could have bought stock in the Head and the Heart in 2009, I would be living lavishly on my own private island instead of trying to clean peanut butter sandwich crumbs out of my keyboard. Ever since the indie folk band got its (now slightly mythic) start playing Conor Byrne's open-mic night, the H&tH has left orbit and shows no signs of coming down. The group’s self-titled debut became a word-of-mouth hit, which led to opening slots for Dave Matthews Band and Death Cab for Cutie. Tack on two Conan appearances (watch the video of last week’s set below) and a headlining tour this fall, and you have a band that’s officially difficult to pin down for an interview.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we caught up with the Head and the Heart’s frontman Josiah Johnson to talk about the group’s growing sound, recording plans, and whiskey shots.
How are you feeling heading into your concert at the Paramount? It’s a pretty big show for a band that’s only been around since 2009.
I remember we opened for Vampire Weekend a few years ago right around the same time. At that point we jumped from the biggest place we played, holding 500 people, to the Paramount, and it was all I could do not to freak out. I was just kinda pacing around backstage before we went on, doing jumping jacks, anything to get my mind up and all this energy out. It was so nerve-wracking. But now I feel really good about playing in that sized place. We’ll be playing new songs. We’ve been touring a lot, so there have been improvements to the way we play live that people in Seattle haven’t seen because we’ve been gone.
How would you describe the band’s new sonic direction?
Touring with Death Cab for Cutie is a great learning curve of how to lay back and let the tension build musically, rather than just singing all the time constantly. I think the songs feel bigger. Once you start playing in bigger rooms, you start to think in terms of how the song you are writing will sound in those bigger rooms. You want to make music that fills up that space.
When do you plan on going into the studio for the followup?
We actually have some time booked at the beginning of next year. New Year’s happens and then the next week we get right into starting recording. I’m really, really ready.
Can you disclose who you’re recording with or where you’ll be recording?
I kinda want to hold that close for right now, but we didn’t go and find a big producer. We were pondering that. When you have an album that goes as big as ours did from the low expectations that we had when we first put it out, there was a nervousness of like, “How are we gonna follow that up?” But we recently went back in the studio to record one song for a [holiday] compilation, and all of a sudden we were just like, “Oh man, we all have grown as musicians and have different ideas—and bigger ideas—than we did when we recorded the last album.” So we’re excited to see what we can do on our own again.
Are there any up-and-coming Seattle artists we should take note of?
There’s my longstanding, which isn’t new or up-and-coming in the “no one’s ever heard of them” sense, band crushes on Lemolo and Bryan John Appleby. At Doe Bay, I was really surprised to run into this group of kids, Kithkin, and they’re a totally different style of music than us. They’re very loud and brash and young rock and roll.
Do you have any preshow or post-show routines?
Preshow, I always do about 20 minutes of vocal warmups and take a shot of whiskey before I go out on stage. I think post-show, there’s not really so much a routine, but I’m just awake for hours afterwards because it’s a huge adrenaline rush.
The Head and the Heart
Sept 15 at 8, Paramount Theatre, sold out