Three years ago, no one would have guessed that The Head and the Heart would be taking the main stage at this year’s Rifflandia Music Festival, much less larger festivals such as Coachella or Lollapalooza. The “band” wasn’t really even a band back then, so much as a cast of open mic drop-ins backing up Jon Russell and Josiah Johnson, who were enjoying the birth of their artistic chemistry. Ironically, The Head and the Heart, that was destined to enjoy a meteoric rise to success, came together very slowly.
“We had a lot of different people playing with us back then, but we always knew that they were fill-ins,” says singer/guitarist Jon Russell. “Once we buckled down and started taking things more seriously, we gave people ultimatums like: ‘Ok, we’re practicing four or five times a week and you’re only showing up once … are you really worth our time?’ By that process, we weeded people out. The band, in its present form, didn’t come together until the summer of 2010, when our first album came out.”
The Head and the Heart’s self-released eponymous album, which cost a mere $200 to record, was barely pressed in time for The Head and the Heart’s first tour, forcing the band members to sew make-shift sleeves out of old denim. But as the band toured relentlessly at the peril of the members’ day jobs, something odd happened — it started selling CDs, lots of them.
“We would play shows and we were selling dozens and dozens of copies of our album a night and we started to feel like this was different … this wasn’t a normal reaction,” says Russell.
The band’s grass roots, do-it-yourself approach to marketing didn’t go unnoticed by record companies. A number of major labels courted the band and were undoubtedly shocked when the members, whose poverty had forced them into a diet comprised exclusively of ramen noodles, turned them down.
“We were not at all interested in major labels,” says Russell. “We were holding out for Sub Pop. We really wanted Sub Pop, but it was getting to the point where we didn’t hear anything from them and we were like, ‘Well, maybe we should do this on our own.’ . . . We were prepared to keep on going without a label and then, lo and behold, Sub Pop shows up and took us for dinner one night and it actually worked out.”
Signing with Sub Pop only increased The Head and the Heart’s momentum. Sub Pop’s reputation secured European dates for the band both as headliners and as a support to luminaries such as The Walkmen and Iron and Wine. The label’s release of the debut album has since gone on to sell 200,000 copies.
With The Head and The Heart’s main stage show at Rifflandia this Sunday afternoon, Victorians will finally get a chance to see what all the hype is about. After all, it is the band’s infamously captivating live set that led to its cult following in the first place. M
The Head and the Heart – RAP main stage – 4:15pm – Sun., Sept. 16