The Head And The Heart’s hauntingly heartfelt earworms have been burrowing their way into audiences’ brains for more than a decade. We caught up with (mostly) lead vocalist/guitarist Jonathan Russell on a short break from touring with their new album, Every Shade of Blue.
What’s it like to be back on the road touring again? I feel a lot more stable and grounded. My sense of purpose has returned from a personal perspective, musically and community-wise, and it feels amazing. I guess I wanted to see the silver lining. For musicians and everyone else in the world, we got perspective. Time away and returning after that, you see things differently.
We’ve never had such a long gap. Families have been formed in that time. A lot of us are in our mid-thirties. So there was something about the timing of it all; it’s almost like we came out adults in this time off. It’s quite a perspective shift getting back on the road. … I think, like many people, there’s been a lot of dammed-up emotion, excitement. So we have a lot to say.
You were kids when you started out. How have your dynamics changed as you’ve gotten both older and more successful? I was 24 and I thought I knew everything. I thought I was at my prime, which is just hilarious. There comes a time when the honeymoon of “We’re actually doing this” begins to wear off. You continue to love what you’re doing, but I think we’ve become more intentional. We’ve almost out of necessity started realizing that this [being in a band] is going to be a long-term marriage, essentially. And in order for it to really remain fulfilling for both parties, or in our case, all six parties, you have to work on it. … I guess we started finally treating it like a real relationship within ourselves.
Some songs on the new album are credited with the band and some with other collaborators. How did that happen? In the last five years, I’ve started hanging out with other songwriters. Through that, inevitably, you start writing songs together. That’s one lane, and there’s a lane where I’ll write with Mattie [Gervais] and Charity [Rose Thielen], or I’ll write on my own. And then we all — regardless of where it begins, The Head And The Heart is pretty unusual — I’m sure every band has its own unique style of approaching music — with us, with any song, no matter how finished it is, we kind of disassemble it, and everyone touches all of the parts, and then we rebuild it together.
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What about the album and title track, Every Shade of Blue? I heard this recently, where marriage is like a novel with many chapters in the story. There were a lot of new chapters these past couple of years, and they weren’t necessarily as easy or as bright or light as what was before it. So I was trying to capture that tone. You can look at that one color, and there’s so many different shades.
When you are in your touring and performing chapter, does that mean you’re not in your songwriting chapter? It kind of depends. I’m typically thinking about or at least trying to prepare for what could happen on the road… There’s creativity involved, but it’s less like creation from nonexistence. It’s more like, how do you take something you wrote 12 years ago and make it feel like it should be matched with something that was written three months ago.? … What works live, what works in the studio, what works on radio — those are all very different energies.
I guess my brain goes to that during the tour.… Right now, this record has not been out very long. … I feel like the ocean is out to sea right now and I’m just kind of dry. And I don’t really want to attach myself as being a songwriter because there’s nothing for me to say anymore. And I don’t want that to feel like, “Oh, I lost it.” It’s just a part of the cycle where I don’t have ideas. So, I kind of like to forget that I’m a songwriter in this episode. I like to be a performer now. It’s fun.
The Head And The Heart performs at the Santa Barbara Bowl Thursday, August 18, 6:30 p.m. Joining them is the acclaimed Los Angeles–based band Dawes. See sbbowl.com.