Interview with Josiah Johnson from The Head & The Heart: The Intersection Of Logic And Passion

Throughout our lives we experience a multitude of journeys and experiences. With each venture we embark on and every road we travel down, there is one constant internal conflict between the logic within our heads, and the passion within our hearts.

This struggle is consistently brought to the surface and dissected by The Head & The Heart, one of the latest critically acclaimed additions to the new generation of indie folk.

Based out of Seattle, Washington, Josiah Johnson (vocals, guitar, percussion), Jonathan Russell (vocals, guitar, percussion), Charity Rose Thielen (violin, vocals), Chris Zasche (bass), Kenny Hensley (piano) and Tyler Williams (drums) began their journey as a band in 2009, playing coffee shops, independently releasing their self-titled debut, and selling burned copies of the opus in denim sleeves at live shows. Since then, the six-piece have found a home at Sub Pop Records, re-released their album, and been recognized as front-runners in the next generation of folk.

Seattle’s newest success stories strive to unveil the truths, hardships and beauty of reaching self-gratification and growth in their narrative lyrics. From lush harmonies and twinkling folk melodies, to bold instrumentation featuring a cello, violin and even a glockenspiel, the band reaffirms that it is the journey—not the destination—that is key.

Within three years, The Head & The Heart have managed to alleviate the battle between their musical hopes and dreams, and the bleak truth that making it in the music business is harder than ever. Opening for acts such as Death Cab For Cutie, Iron & Wine, My Morning Jacket and Vampire Weekend, the band has managed to acquire a hefty collection of loyal fans and followers nationwide, as well as critical acclaim and respect from musical peers.

To date, The Head & The Heart have sold more than 175,000 albums with more than 250,000 individual tracks sold. The album has reached number one on four of Billboard’s regional Heatseekers album charts, won the top spot on the overall Heatseekers Albums, and reached number four on Folk Albums.

And the band doesn’t have any thoughts of slowing down. Following a grueling schedule performing the summer festival circuit, including Coachella, Lollapalooza, Sasquatch and the Newport Folk Festival, The Head & The Heart are embarking on a headlining U.S. tour this fall. Johnson took time out of his schedule to discuss the band’s hometown pride and how they have grown personally and musically since their debut release.

This summer, The Head & The Heart are on a touring frenzy: From Newport Folk Festival, to Coachella, Lollapalooza and Sasquatch—you’re also embarking on your own nationwide tour. How would you describe this whirlwind?

The whole touring process is definitely intense. But ultimately, it’s extremely rewarding to see people in person who have spent so much time listening to our music. It’s like we actually get the chance to have a connection with them after the show, and really have a conversation with them. The ability to get to really meet people and connect with them is a really powerful experience. I really love that part especially.

I think when we start doing our headlining shows that we’re playing, it’s a lot more rewarding, because people are coming to see us, rather than us just opening for another act. It’s mind blowing to think about where we’re at based on the last couple of years.

The band performed at the Forecastle Festival on July 13 in Louisville, KY. The guys of My Morning Jacket helped curate the selection of artists being chosen to perform and have said how much they respect your band and your stamina on stage. How does it feel to know that such acts respect you and enjoy your music?

We initially met when we opened for My Morning Jacket during their European tour; that was definitely an experience. As a band, we grew at a faster pace than a lot of other acts. We were playing with such reputable bands, like My Morning Jacket, that grew so much within their careers and have been around for a decade. The fact that they have that view of us is incredible, because we respect them so much as a band and as people. But the cooler part was getting to know them and understanding what’s important and what you need to focus on while living on the road. We even got the chance to record a few songs with them and see them in the studio, how they interact, and how in synch they are with each other.

How would you describe The Head & The Heart’s overall performance style and dynamic while on stage?

We wrote the songs from our debut album several years ago. But when we were developing those songs, there was an immediate passion that came with them. You just focus on that feeling and what you were thinking right then. I remember reading an Arcade Fire interview, I believe, and Win Butler was talking about how his goal was to make people feel the same way he felt when he wrote the song. That really struck a chord with me.

My main goal with a show is to show what I was thinking and feeling when I first wrote the song. I think that’s always key when we play.

I remember reading an interview with you where you discussed the conflict between the head and the heart, which is something everyone can relate to. What role does the coexistence and battle between your head and heart play in your lyrics?

There are different parts to the songwriting process for me. And they happen to reflect the parts of what happens in your heart and what is playing in your head. I just can’t sit down and pop out a song. It’s not a writing or emotional exercise for me; it just happens. Songwriting goes between that word vomit and the more intellectual avenue, which focuses on how to analyze the meaning of the words and the progression of the song.

It’s been about three years since the initial release of the band’s self-titled album. As The Head & The Heart continue to evolve, how has your creativity and overall approach to writing and orchestrating changed?

Well, because we’ve been so busy with touring, it’s been difficult to buckle down and really focus on that. All we’re really worrying about is scheduling and how to get through the day. We have that one-hour period when we’re playing together, but there’s not a lot of time for reflection.

But lyrically, we’ve definitely grown. I’ve taken some time on my own to write some things and develop some lyrics. This time around, we’re steering away from the mentality of “if you’re not passionate about what you do, quit it and do something else,” or “if you’re not happy where you are, drop everything and go somewhere else.” That’s a very simplistic way of thinking about life.

Now we’re focusing on how sometimes that mentality doesn’t change everything and doesn’t make all your troubles go away. There are a lot of fine, delicate problems that exist in trying to change your life; so I think the lyrics are going to be true in that regard. We’re growing up.

Well that’s something that everyone can relate to. Sure, it’s great to achieve your dreams or reach a once unreachable goal, but how do you sustain that day to day?

Yeah, and it’s not that we’re trying to answer those questions, but they’re in our brain right now. I think, for us personally, we’re trying to determine where to grow from there.

This fall, The Head & The Heart will embark on a U.S. tour, starting with a date in your hometown, Seattle. What do you enjoy most about playing back at home?

There are a couple of things. To be straightforward, there’s a challenge we face in Seattle that we don’t in a lot of other cities: There are people going to that show who saw us at the coffee shops and at our first performances a few years back. They helped the band grow. The one thing that freaks me out about playing those shows—and I never get nervous playing shows—is that I always want those people to be proud and want them to feel like investing their time and money in the band was worthwhile.

I know they love us and these people become your friends—not just people who like your music—but it’s just something I always feel. But then again, it’s always crazy to think about how two years earlier, when we were playing in Seattle, it was before we were signed and everything was so different than it is now. It’s a hybrid of sentimentality and just awe of how things have developed in such a short amount of time.

After the tour, what’s the next step for The Head & The Heart?

As soon as our fall tour ends, we’re going to focus on band rehearsal and songwriting. Ultimately, our dream would be to record early next year. But I firmly believe that if the songs aren’t there yet, then they’re not ready yet. However long it takes for us to be happy with the material, we’ll work towards getting the album done.


The Head & The Heart will play a free show during Celebrate Brooklyn! on July 27 at the Bandshell in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. For more information, go to