When the Head and the Heart recorded its debut album, the Seattle group was still taking shape. What started as a partnership of songwriters Josiah Johnson and Jon Russell grew organically, the band’s four other members each coming on board at the seemingly ideal time and adding parts to songs that were mostly already underway, like a round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” with more stomping and clapping. As we all know, the results fared well, earning the band a devout Pacific Northwest following and the attention from Sub Pop, which reissued the self-release and gave it a big national push. That push officially ended with a tour last fall that had the band playing to thousands in theaters across the nation.
The Head and the Heart plays Late Night with Jimmy Fallon tonight (Mon., Aug. 6)
Since then the band has been working on its follow-up, the now-titled Let’s Be Still, due out October 15, again on Sub Pop. Things are different for the band, of course. For one, the Head and the Heart is creating songs for theaters instead of taverns. But the bigger change is the fact that the band had to build these new songs, from start to finish, together. That might seem like a minor change, but it’s one that could result in disaster, requiring a delicate balance where the bandmembers keep their egos in check, while also being able to discard bad ideas that might mistakenly make their way on to the album in the name of democracy.
We’ll have to wait till October to see if the band pulled it off. But first single “Shake,” released today, signals that the group is seeing some benefit from writing and recording together, out of the gate. It’s clear that Russell and Johnson are still the leaders (that’s them on the cover), but this song might have been selected just to show how well the group is playing together. The talents of the late-comers are front and center, with drummer Tyler Williams starting the piece off with a steady heartbeat and Kenny Hensley’s nimble piano part bursting forth early on. The greatest individual contribution though, comes from bass player Chris Zasche, who was the last member to join the group and is barely heard on the debut. Here he lends a brilliant bass part that gives the song, a Russell-led jog, its personality. Its an infectious little hilly run, punctuated with Russell’s yips. With a more conventional bass part the song would come off flat, probably requiring some stomping or high-octane harmonies to hold it up. Fortunately neither of those appear here. The harmonies from Johnson and Charity Rose Theilen (who also sings sweetly through the bridge and lends some string-work) are tasteful. The stomping beat is there, but Williams is given license to stray from it. And anyway, there’s so much more going on you can almost forget about it.