Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Head and The Heart: Sub Pop, their rise and those other names

Charity Rose Thielen, Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russell, Tyler Williams, Kenny Hensley (missing Chris Zasche)
Photo Credit: Aldona B Photography
Some people have all of the luck. I used to think Justin Bieber stole it all in the music category, but I think there is a new, more legitimate band that has the same fairy godmother - The Head and The Heart. I met up with one of the band's leads, Josiah Johnson, on a golf cart at the Calgary Folk Festival to chat about their quick rise to success.

5 years ago you would never have heard of The Head and The Heart, in fact, the members of that very band had not even met yet. It wasn’t until 2009 that Johnson and the other lead singer of the band Jonathan Russell met at an open mic night in Seattle and started to write music together.

According to Johnson, neither of them really wanted to be in a band as their previous experiences had been so so and they just wanted to write music. They played casually with other people and finally met Kenny Hensley 3 months later and were taken with his keyboarding and invited him to be a permanent fixture. The other 3 members of the band followed after that within the next year.

In that year they came up with the band name, but not before rolling over some that were not deemed worthy, “We came up with all these really terrible names. The Night Owls, Jon really liked that - I didn’t. Sun Runners Car Club - it was this weird decal on the back of this bus that we rented to go on our first little mini tour – it got axed.” They ended up with The Head and the Heart. I would have been down with the Sun Runners Car Club, but there may be some copyright there that they were smart to keep away from.

Photo Credit: Aldona B Photography
Johnson described the way they went from being a bunch of randoms to being signed with one of the most musically respected labels “a stroke of luck…in the right place at the right time.” I’ll say. In two years they have done what most bands starve themselves doing for a decade or more. They were so lucky that they even had multiple labels pursuing them, major and small. Because they had had so much success without a label they were able to go with the label that fit the most with what they wanted. They went with Sub Pop.

Brief tutorial of Sub Pop. It is the label that signed a couple small names that you may have heard of: Nirvana, Soundgarden, The Shins, Wolf Parade, and Foals. I could have just said Nirvana and you would know that I wasn’t messing around. Tutorial over.

With major labels out to get them Johnson explained why they ended up going with a less mainstream label.

“It can go one of two ways [with a major label]: you are either hugely successful in record label terms and there will be tons of marketing and hyping in a ridiculous way or you flop and they drop you after one record. We had already sold 10,000 records on our own, which is unheard of for a band to do, so we had a little bit of leverage. We were like, “We don’t want to do it your way, we don’t like your way,” and [the major labels] said “We can totally work with you” but you know, their track record wasn’t good. And if you contrast that with Sub Pop where I feel like I respect the credibility of all their bands…I feel like the way that a band is perceived has a lot to do with how their record label handles that, and Sub Pop does a better job than most.”

I don’t think that they would have had the one album drop problem, but I get the over exposure. And trust me, you don’t want a rad band like that being over exposed. I am not sure that I could ever get sick of Down in the Valley, but I wouldn't want to test out the 5 song radio rotation.

Oh, and that's me.
Photo Credit: Aldona B Photography
Side note: The reason why Chris Zasche is not in any of the photos is because as soon as Josiah said 'photo' he took off like a dart. Either he has a super small bladder or he hates photos. If all I could get was 5 of 6, I was gonna take it.

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