The Head and The Heart's accomplished debut continues to fuel momentum
But the tour that will bring the band back to Milwaukee and Turner Hall on Oct. 6 with Thao and the Get Down Stay Down finds The Head and The Heart at the top of the bill. Opening shows helped the band learn about the road, but also about the difference between between the main attraction and what many in the audience consider an optional experience.
"I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves as an opening band, because we don't just want to be the opening band that people don't really care about or don't remember," says Johnson, who clearly has given this stuff some thought. "We always put a lot of pressure on ourselves however many people we're playing for.
"Now we get to feel like a love back from the audience, which you don't get as much as an opening band. There's something about the headlining shows, the relationship between us and the audience feels really amazing. I can't wait to be able to go out and do that. The headlining tour is going to be this whole different moment."
Unsurprisingly, Johnson says, he and the band will feel a different kind of pressure in its role as headliner.
"There's a lot of pressure if people have seen you before which by now many people have by now, to give something more," he says. "But I think, ultimately, it's more rewarding. It feels less like straightforward entertainment and it feels more like just being able to connect with an audience that has a connection to your songs and that's less pressure. Now we're all on the same page. What we're giving off of the stage is being given right back to us."
With more stage time and a more receptive, more familiar, audience, The Head and The Heart promises a different show at Turner this time than when it performed here with Iron and Wine this summer.
There will be some new songs, says Johnson, and the chance to play some "deep cuts" from the album.
"In opening sets you kind of come out with a bang and we play the songs that are very immediately grabbing. There's other songs that have kind of more of a depth to them, that are rewarding for someone who has listened to the album. I always love the song 'The Winter Song' on our album that we don't play when we have a half-hour set. (When we do play it at longer shows) that always seems like this moment where the entire set quiets down and there's a hush and kind of reverent and it's a good thing. We never really got to play the whole album even on the opening tours."
It wasn't that long ago that the band played in Milwaukee, doing the evening set at Turner and a lunchtime gig in The Pabst lobby for 88Nine. But that time he didn't get to see much of the city, he says.
"It was really hot. That was pretty gnarly. I tried to walk a couple blocks and I was sweating immediately. We played at Turner Hall. That building was insane. It was really cool. The whole uneven wood floors and all of that. And the crowd was really cool. Afterwards there were a ton of people that came up and were very appreciative. It was good because we'd never been there and to play at a place like that. It felt like a lot of people discovered us for the first time.
"Iron and Wine was a really good tour for us. It was a really good match, I think. Most every place that we went it felt like people that enjoyed his music really liked our stuff too. There were a few people that knew of us but I think it was like more of a surprise to people. That was definitely a time when we were feeling momentum as a band."
So, what's next for The Head and The Heart? When I speak to Johnson, he and the band are enjoying a much-needed month off at home. There's a little songwriting going on but not much else.
"Because we had seven months of straight touring, we're kind of all taking a break," says Johnson. "Kenny has been in L.A. the entire month, just seeing his family, who he has only seen when playing there between January and now and he's really close to them. He told me he's playing piano every day, 2-3 hours. I'm messing around with writing new songs and John is doing the same thing. So we're not rehearsing together. We're more kind of trying out ideas for things we might use in the future."
Johnson says the break is more than just a chance to catch up on laundry and spend time with loved ones. It's also a time to refuel for the tour, which kicked off Sept. 17 in Austin and ends in Europe just before Thanksgiving.
"From a songwriter's perspective, when you have those same songs ingrained in your head for so long, there's something to be said for just clearing your mind of all those things and just living before you can go back and write something that doesn't just sound like all of those. It's been a good clear-your-head, readjust yourself to living like a person (month off).
"That's way you write songs about life is by living."
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