The Head and the Heart on Tour
On the eve of Stubb's shows, The Head and the Heart talk Austin City Limits, Sub Pop and surviving the road
Seattle's The Head And The Heart were one of the surprise success stories of 2011. Their sunny, smart, self-titled debut sold 300,000 copies and landed them opening gigs for Vampire Weekend and Iron and Wine, plum spots at major music festivals and even a taping of Austin City Limits.
In October, the group released their second LP, Let's Be Still. A more downbeat piece than its predecessor, the album still boasts radio-friendly tracks like "Shake" but balances them with laments about broken relationships and the sacrifices of growth and change.
The band's lengthy fall tour hits Stubb's this weekend for a pair of shows on Saturday and Sunday. Bassist Chris Zasche spoke to CultureMap about the band's new album, their ACL-TV experiences and more.
CultureMap: You toured with your first album for years. Did you try to record different styles of material for the second album to counterbalance?
I try not to incorporate what I'm listening to into my music. It's better to shut off your brain and let your instincts and subconscious take over. I trust that.
Chris Zasche: I don't think so. The songs we wrote were pretty independent of that influence. We weren't trying to, say, record more slow songs for the show. I do think that first record is pretty upbeat and lively — after doing that for three years, it has an influence on you. You want to write something different.
CM: The new record seems both bigger in scope and darker in tone — is the more somber mood a result of road weariness?
CZ: Maybe a little. After traveling and touring so much, you strive for more solitude and simplicity. So a few of these songs are lyrically the result of touring hard for three years straight. "Let's Be Still" was written on a lucky day off, and the lyrics are literally about slowing down and taking it easy.
CM: Do you have any current artists that inspire you to do your best work? Anything you're listening to and taking inspiration from?
CZ: Personally, I try not to incorporate what I'm listening to into my music. It's better to shut off your brain and let your instincts and subconscious take over. I trust that. I'm sure what you listen to does influence you on some level. If you're listening to a lot of country, or a lot of moody, darker music, that will probably turn up in what you write.
CM: You got the nod to tape an episode of Austin City Limits after only one record. How was that experience for you, especially as a young band?
[Taping Austin City Limits] was incredible. I grew up going to the video store and renting past episodes from Waylon Jennings and those folks. It was a milestone event for us.
CZ: It was incredible. I grew up going to the video store and renting past episodes from Waylon Jennings and those folks. It was a milestone event for us. Getting to do it after one record was incredible. I hope we get to do it again — we enjoyed the experience, and everyone there was so nice to us.
CM: How do you maintain your health and sanity on the road? Have you developed any coping strategies with diet or exercise?
CZ: I think we've all gotten better at it. A big part of it is the realization that touring is our everyday life now. When you first start in a band, there's a weekend warrior syndrome, where you always feel you should party or stay up late. We've learned through experience that when we eat better and are well rested, the shows get better. And you're more clearheaded.
CM: You've opened for a "who's who" of bands touring your last album. Now that you're the headliner, are you hand-picking your opening acts?
CZ: Yes, we do. It's fun. But it's hard — there are six of us, and we all have different tastes in music, and we all know people in different bands. So it's tough to narrow it down.
We try to take out Seattle acts we enjoy and bands we knew before we were successful. But we also meet new people and hear things all the time. We have the luxury of taking good people out with us every time.
CM: Two fun (but surprising) moments on the new record are the atypical tracks "Springtime" and "Summertime." Did your label or your production team give you any pushback about it?
CZ: I agree that it's different — it's a little out there compared to our first record. It was a subject of conversation, but we never considered taking it off the record. That's a great thing about being on Sub Pop — they're not hands off, but they let you make the creative choices. We talked about where it fit within the record — both with each other and with the label. Sometimes it's good to get the label's opinion, because they're smart people that work on this stuff every day. That song was fun to write and is fun to play.
CM: We're in the era of technology driving music, and record sales aren't necessarily a band's main source of income. For fans of The Head and The Heart or anyone else, what do you feel is the best way fans can show support of an act?
CZ: Going to the show. That's the best way to show an artist that you're a fan. And as a band, it's the most direct form of contact. You can look at your record sales and say they're good, but you don't connect with that. When you play a show and have a present and loud audience, that's where we get our reward. So I think it's really about getting to the show and telling your friends about the music that you believe in.
The Head and The Heart play Stubb's Saturday and Sunday, November 16 and 17. Saturday's show is sold out, but as of press time, tickets are still available for Sunday's show at Frontgate Tickets.