Jonathan Russell, Lead Singer & Main Songwriter For The Head And The Heart, Talks About The Band’s Excellent New Album, Every Shade Of Blue
Over the past decade, The Head and the Heart has emerged as a major band in the folk/rock genre. Since releasing their debut album in 2011 (on SubPop Records), they’ve done increasingly well in building their audience, receiving critical acclaim, and accumulating a large number of hit singles on the rock and AAA (Adult Alternative) charts. Now in 2022, the group is ready to reach a new level of success with the release of their fifth album, Every Shade of Blue (on Reprise/Warner Records).
Every Shade of Blue is a strong follow-up to their 2019 album Living Mirage, and probably their best album to date. Living Mirage had two hits (“Missed Connection” and “Honeybee”) and was an important step in their development as a major band. The new album Every Shade of Blue should take the group to an even higher level. The album is an expansive, ambitious work that contains 16 songs that are passionate and mostly uplifting. The album already has a #1 AAA hit with their single, “Virginia (Wind In The Night).” This song is an impressive introduction to the album, and it emotionally captures lead singer & songwriter Jonathan’s Russell’s feelings of returning to his home state of Virginia.
Other highlights on the new album are the title cut “Every Shade of Blue,” “Tiebreaker” (which features lead vocals by Russell & Charity Rose Thielen), ‘Hurts (But It Goes Away),” “Don’t Show Your Weakness” and “Shut Up.”
The Head and the Heart is known for their unique band lineup and distinctive sound. Not only does the group feature the soulful lead vocals of Russell, but Charity Rose Thielen is also spotlighed. She contributes lead vocals on some songs (such as “Shadows”), and she provides an appealing counterpart to Russell with her lead and harmony vocal parts. Thielen also plays guitar, violin and contributes to the songwriting. The other members of The Head And The Heart are Chris Zasche (bass), Kenny Hensley (piano), Tyler Williams (drums) and Matt Gervais (guitar).
Here’s the video of The Head and the Heart’s hit, “Virginia
(Wind In The Night).”
Notably, Every Shade of Blue was mostly produced by Jesse Shatkin, a top producer & writer who is based in Los Angeles. Shatkin is known for co-writing & producing Sia’s hit “Chandelier,” and for his work with Kelly Clarkson, Fall Out Boy and Fitz and the Tantrums.
Currently, The Head and the Heart is about to launch a major North American tour. They’ll be headlining shows through the summer, starting on May 20 in Florida. The tour will include shows in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Denver, Chicago, Houston, Nashville and other cities.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Jonathan Russell of The Head and the Heart. He discusses the making of their new album Every Shade of Blue, and the band’s songwriting.
DK: During the past two years, a lot has happened with the pandemic. What’s it been like for you and the band?
Jonathan Russell: I’ve been doing what most people have done during the pandemic, which is move inside (laughs). Once the pandemic started, I didn’t do much writing. But fortunately, I had done a lot of writing up to that point and I stockpiled more than a record’s worth of songs. What we ended up doing as a band, was we agreed to invest in little home studios, so that we could work together, even if it had to be remote. And that was its own learning curve. We tried to do the best we could with the scenario we were presented with, and it kept the ball in motion for a while. And we worked off these songs I started.
Fortunately around May 2021, everyone was fully vaccinated and we were able to fly. So we all flew to Seattle (where some members live) and worked out of this studio that we had worked out of for our first two records. We used the same engineer who we met 10 years prior. And this time, we brought up a producer from L.A., Jesse Shatkin, that I had done a lot of work with.
So in mid-2021, we finally could be together again and get into a room and play music, and that’s essentially how we finished up the album. So this record was the most hybrid way of working we’ve ever done. I think it made for an interesting sound. Some of it was out of necessity the way we had to work, and then towards the end we made it a more organic approach. So it’s a hybrid between the two ways of recording on this album.
Here’s the video of The Head and the Heart’s song, “Every
Shade of Blue.”
DK: What’s the songwriting process for your band? I know that you write with the band, and you sometimes co-write with outside songwriters.
Russell: It’s constantly evolving. The whole collaborating with outside songwriters…it began almost as a necessity. About midway through writing our Living Mirage album, we were in the throes of feeling disjointed as a band. We had let issues fester for too long. But over the last few years we decided to focus on our relationships. We were finally able to speak openly and directly, and we started rebuilding trust between one another. And that opened up our writing in a way that we hadn’t been able to do since we first met. So in the last couple years, we’ve grown as individuals and grown together as a family. And that created a safe place for us to write together again.
With outside writers, because of this reason or that, it led me to also experimenting with that. As you can imagine, it changes the way that you write…you’re sort of acquiring new skills. I learned a lot from these people who write every single day, and they write with different people all the time, So I think it was a great asset to learn from those writers, but also to compare that up against the way you write with your band. And what I learned is that there’s really nothing like a band. Most of these (outside) writers—and I respect them fully—what I’ve noticed is really interesting. It’s a completely different process than working with your own band members. When you’re writing (with outside writers) the scope of writing a song is like, “Okay, we have six hours and let’s write a song that we think is good.” But when you’re an artist in a band, you’re thinking about your catalog, your career. You’re thinking how you’ll perform that song. You’re thinking about the interviews (laughs) you’re going to be doing like we are right now. There’s more of a quilt that you’re always attaching new squares to. So I don’t think either one of them is necessarily better or worse, but it was a really interesting discovery to see how different it can feel and the different outcome of a song, when you’re writing with someone inside your band, and someone outside your band.
With our new album, Every Shade of Blue, I think we tried to honor both of those styles of writing. There are 16 songs on this record…t’s not a short record (laughs). I think it’s pretty all over the place, but it feels like the most bold and most honest record we’ve done in a long time. So I think the way that we were able to get back to our personal relationships with one another, it just opened everyone up to anything and everything. There are some songs that’s just me as a writer, there are songs that are me and Charity, me, Charity and Matty (Gervais), just Matty, just Charity, and then sometimes it’s me with outside collaborators. And we just put them all under the same roof, and have this big, raucous, loud family in one house. We decided that the most honest thing we can do is put all of these songs on one record and let that be the album.
Here’s the audio of The Head and the Heart’s new song,
DK: I like your new single, “Virginia (Wind In The Night).” What inspired you to write this song?
Russell: I’m primarily from Virginia, and I’m actually here now…in Richmond, Virginia. Even when I moved to Seattle, Richmond was always a place that I would come home to and visit my mom. Then when I moved to San Francisco, which is where I met my wife, I would still come back to Virginia. I kept an apartment here and I would come home and I always felt so tied to this place. It’s like a no frills, very grounding and very honest mirror.
You know, sometimes it’s easy to just move forward and be in the present. The way your life starts evolving once your career is growing—you’re traveling all over the world and you’re meeting new faces. It starts to feel like there’s an old version of yourself and a new version of yourself. And whenever I’m back in Virginia, I’m very aware of where it all began, and I think it’s a really healthy feeling.
During the time I was writing “Virginia (Wind In The Night),” I was feeling pretty forgotten or insignificant, which is just the reality—a place moves on without you if you’re not always there. However, you’re still just as tied to that area, so it’s a really conflicting feeling. And I think why I wanted to keep the title “Virginia (Wind In The Night),” is that not everyone’s gonna be from Virginia, but I really do think the majority of us who have gotten to that stage in their life, whether you’re taken away because of your job or your partner or whatever the reason being, there’s just no place like home. And when you come back, there’s this complex relationship that you have with this physical place. And that in a nutshell is what I’m trying to convey in this song.
DK: Your album is called Every Shade of Blue, which is also the opening song. Can you talk about that song and naming your album after it?
Russell: Our producer, Jesse Shatkin, played this string progression and I immediately reacted to it. And that’s the song I was working with some collaborators on. I loved it…it’s one of my favorite things that I’ve written in a long time. And interestingly enough, I was talking to my mom, and I played her the song and she said, “Every shade of blue—you should name the album Every Shade of Blue,” and I hadn’t thought about that. Then as we kept writing more music, it started feeling like…maybe this is the underriding current. There were a lot of artists coming out with music, and the last thing I wanted to do was be super on the nose, which is hard not to do sometimes. There is a pandemic going on right now, and so I wanted to craft something that emotionally resembles where you’re at right now, but not so obviously in detail. That was the goal there. And the more I started listening to the songs we were working on, they all had an undercurrent to them. It felt like this big book of chapters and it all felt somewhat blue. But also the color blue to me can feel deep and scary like a super deep ocean. Or it can feel bright and open like the sky. Or cold or warmth. So it felt like a succinct way to make you feel like many different shades of blue. So that’s how I landed in on that.
Here’s the audio of The Head and the Heart’s new song,
“Hurts (But It Goes Away).”
DK: Another song that I like on your album is called “Hurt (But It Goes Away).” Can you talk about writing that song?
Russell: That was a song where I was working with Nate Cyphert in L.A. He’s a phenomenal writer and he’s become a good friend of mine. He already had that chorus when we were hanging out that day. And it was around the time, with what was going on in his world, the current politics were making that scenario nearly impossible. Writing that chorus was his way, almost like a mantra to himself…to say that, “It hurts but it’s gonna go away. That this is happening now but it will pass. We will get through this.” And so I linked up with him on that, and tried to come from his perspective but also add mine in a way that was true to both of us. And then I think anytime you do that, once you finish and you zoom out, you realize that there are so many universal feelings and emotions and statements, that it winds up being close and personal for a lot of people.
DK: With your new album coming out, what do you want fans and people to know about your new album?
Russell: I think the album feels very honest, and very bold. It explores a lot of different sounds, colors, genres. I think it gives a side of this band as individuals, and collectively that we never allowed ourselves to do. I think there may have been a silver lining about creating it in a vacuum (in the pandemic). It allowed us to be more bold, because you were less aware of what someone might think. So to me, I think it’s the best record we’ve made…it genuinely feels special. It feels like we’re seeing the most of everyone in this band.
DK: In May, you’ll be launching a major tour. What’s it like to be going on the road again with your band?
Russell: I think more than ever in our history, this year’s tour will feel very special, very powerful. We’ve had a lot of time to step away from what it is we do, and to think of what it means to perform in front of people and the connection that can exist in a concert. I’m really looking forward to connecting with humans again (laughs). As simple as that sounds, it was something I may have taken for granted. I’m really excited to connect with people. I think there’s something different in the air now with us, and I look forward to sharing it with people.