For all the hugs and harmonies, tambourine shakes and "ba da ba ba's," you'd think The Head and the Heart grew up crafting infectious folk pop on the same suburban street. But "Seattle's next big band," as NPR recently dubbed THATH, is comprised mostly of Northwest newbies.
A little more than a year ago, co-lead singers Josiah Johnson and Jon Russell met at an open mic night. Johnson had just moved to Seattle from Southern California and Russell had moved from Richmond, Va. Their musical chemistry was electric. Soon, the duo recruited Kenny Hensley on piano, Chris Zasche on bass, Tyler Williams on drums and Charity Thielen on violin and back-up vocals.
"I was literally like, 'I'm going to go to Seattle, start a band and knock on Sub Pop's door,'" said Russell. "And it's just nuts that a week and half ago, we literally had dinner with Sub Pop. That's just ridiculous."
But ridiculous doesn't begin to describe the band's ascent. In the short month since THATH last played Boise, they've recruited manager Jordan Kurland (Death Cab For Cutie), signed on with big-shot booking agent Ali Hedrick--responsible for the band's opening slot at two recent Vampire Weekend shows--had a killer profile published in the Seattle Times and booked a slew of tour dates with Dr. Dog. Not too shabby for their first year.
"It's nice to know that that still exists, that a band that we know can actually sign on with a really good booking agency that already got them a tour with Dr. Dog," said Boise musician Matt Hopper. "That's huge."
Hopper brought The Head and the Heart to play the Bouquet on two previous occasions, and the group will return on Wednesday, Nov. 3, to perform with Nampa's Mickey the Jump. Hopper fondly recalls the time his band crashed with THATH in the iconic locked-up venue after a show.
"It got pretty wild actually," remembered Hopper, laughing. "A lot of near-nudity happened and, for the record, I took down The Head and the Heart's drummer in a wrestling match with our shirts off."
But crazy times aside, THATH seem to have equal enthusiasm for the business end of the industry. Band members regularly respond to fan comments on their Facebook page, send personal thank you e-mails to journalists and--perhaps most importantly--stick around to support the local bands they play with.
"We're definitely trying to be conscious of getting [our appreciation] across so that people understand that we are aware of how fortunate we are to be in this situation, especially so quickly, and to be embraced by as many people as we have been," said Russell.
But the main reason THATH have been embraced by so many people--among them, Dave Matthews, who said he's "kind of obsessed" with the band--is their incredibly catchy, Americana-laced pop. Their first self-titled release bursts with buttery harmonies and pounding, Beatles-influenced piano. A good number of the songs, like "Coeur D'Alene," "Ghosts" and "Honey Come Home," explore notions of home--missing it, seeking it, finding it. For a band full of 20-something transplants, that theme makes sense.
"We became fast friends, but everything else--your family members, your old friends, your comfort zone--is somewhere completely else," explained Russell. "There's this weird hibernating period in Seattle and with that, it's just that much easier to be homesick because all you want to do is curl up in a blanket and eat tomato soup. Of course you think of home when you do that."
Other songs, like the delicate, rambling-man ballad "Down in the Valley," chronicle the confrontation between restlessness and longing for stability: "I wish I was a slave to an age old trade / like riding around on rail cars and working long days / Lord, have mercy on my rough and rowdy ways."
"'Down in the Valley' was actually the first song we did as a band," said Russell. "I actually got way too drunk and was walking home from a bar ... it took me literally six hours to walk home. I got home and the sun was coming up. I wrote the majority of the verses in my head on the walk home ... It was a feeling of like, 'You've done this before; don't start doing this again.'"
But while these weighty themes are apparent on the album, they're muffled by a boot-stomping, hand-clapping fervor at the band's high-energy live show. Mickey the Jump's Chad Bryan remembers the first time he saw THATH after opening for them at Neurolux.
"It was like music that warmed my soul. I feel like I was having this connection with God," said Bryan. "Their music was just so nostalgic without ever hearing it before. It was a really weird experience."
After the THATH's show last month at the Bouquet, a line of sweaty, dance-flushed fans lined up to buy CDs from band members. The group is already on the third run of their self-released album. To borrow words from the album's closing track, it looks like The Head and the Heart are well on their way.
"We're able to get these huge advances in progress because we don't have a back-up plan," said Russell. "If you have a backup plan, then you're basically accepting the fact that you will fail, that's how I look at it."