by Matt Kelchner
“On the first record we had no concept of the places that we would eventually be playing these songs,” singer/guitarist Josiah Johnson from The Head and The Heart tells me as we talk about how far his band has come in between their last two albums. Their latest, Let’s Be Still, has elevated The Head and The Heart to new levels as one of the biggest names in the folk rock scene. I chatted with Johnson about their lives on the road, the new (although not so new anymore) album and his favorite songs to play live.
Released last October, Let’s Be Still, is a “step forward from the first record, in terms of musicianship, recording and the sounds we got,” according to Johnson. In his eyes, it showed their growth and strength in their songwriting. He adds on, “for us we plan on being around for a long time and not making the same record twice.”
“I love playing ‘Summertime’ because it’s such a shift from what we normally sound like,” Johnson tells me as we discuss his favorite songs off of Let’s Be Still to play live. “With ‘Cruel’, in the third verse it shifts into this duet with Jon and Charity that I’m always privileged to be an onlooker on stage”.
As they have skyrocketed in popularity, Johnson and company spent many weeks and months out on the road. They have also become mainstays on the festival circuit and have played all sizes and kinds of events. “Not really the huge ones. Not that they aren’t wonderful opportunities to play for people who are really excited,” Johnson explains to me, “but the ones that are a little bit smaller and a little more curated like Jazz Fest or all the Canadian folk festivals or block parties/local festivals- those end up being more rewarding.”
Things are different for The Head and The Heart now when they go out on tour. Gone are the days of spending months at a time away from home, traveling to new cities day after day. “When we first started it was pretty brutal,” Johnson says. Now they are at a point where they have the luxury of touring around their personal schedules. They go out on the road for a couple weeks and then come home and repeat. Johnson explains to me that it helps them recharge and gives them the ability to go back out feeling fresh. “We’ve gotten to the point where it’s livable touring,” he says.
Over the years, Johnson has not only accepted this, but has come to embrace it. As The Head and The Heart circled the country countless times now, they developed this network of friends in the many different cities they stop in. Whether it be members of other bands or the people working at the different venues, it’s a small community that’s spread out wide. “There’s this beautiful community of people in music or playing music that as a touring musician you develop, over time,” he explains to me. When they get into a different town each day, it’s another opportunity for Johnson to possibly see an old friend once again.
On top of meeting up with buddies and old acquaintances, there’s also the small quirks unique places within each city that Johnson looks forward to seeing. Whether it’s beautiful parks or simply just a really good cup of coffee from some local shop, these things are just another layer to Johnson’s love of touring. “Every situation that you’re in and every city that you’re in, what you do during the day is different.”
This summer Johnson and the rest of The Head and The Heart will embark again on a trip across the country. Taking them from city to city, the tour is a combination of headlining shows at some of the biggest venues in each city to prime spots at festivals. They will be on and off throughout the entire summer and more as their schedule right now stretches into October.
The Head and The Heart make a visit to Philadelphia quite early in their journey. They headline the June edition of Radio 104.5’s summer block party this weekend, June 7th. They play the recently renovated Festival Pier along with Bear Hands, KONGOS and Alright Junior. The best part of the show? IT’S FREE. With the move to Festival Pier, though, you now need a ticket. Just head over to Radio 104.5’s site to download yours (for free!). We’ll see you there!