To understand the overwhelming optimism of Seattle folk-rock band the Head and the Heart, just look at how they conquered Boise, Idaho. After their gorgeous, harmony-fueled ballads failed to win over a nightclub crowd, the six-piece set up at a nearby pizza place and played acoustically into the wee hours. The following morning, they played for free again at a farmers market.
Their next Boise show a few weeks later was packed. “Some people were from the club, some from the pizza place, others from the market,” says singer-guitarist Josiah Johnson, who writes most of the songs with co-founder Jon Russell. And though they’re big enough for a prime slot at this summer’s Bonnaroo, this month they’ll be back at the pizza place after another Boise gig. “They give us free pizza!” says violinist-singer Charity Thielen.
This article appears in the May 26, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available now on newsstands and will appear in the online archive May 13.
In the past year, the band has played 200 shows and sold 30,000 copies of its debut LP, which Sub Pop rereleased this spring. But Thielen still lives with her parents, who constantly post on the group’s Facebook page. “We are a very uncool band,” Russell says.
He and Johnson moved to Seattle and met at an open-mic night in 2009. All the band members are in their early- to mid-twenties, and four of them lived together while they were making the record. “The neighbors hated us,” says Johnson.
So they began to rehearse at the piano room of the Seattle Public Library. “‘Down in the Valley’ was written and composed in that library,” says Russell of their breakout tune. “Then the librarians told us, ‘We enjoy the harmony, but you’re really loud.’ They finally kicked us out.”
And while the dreamy folk pop on their debut has moments of melancholy, they are way more into positivity. “If there is such a thing as a neo-folk movement happening now,” Johnson says, “it’s simply a reflection of the fact that music had become so negative, bands decided to go in a different direction. We are shamelessly happy.”