Sometimes you can be so excited about doing something that you jump into it too soon. Seattle folk-rock band the Head and the Heart found this out the hard way when they entered the studio to make their sophomore album, 2013's Let's Be Still.
"We were really excited to do something new, but looking back now, I wish we had been a little more prepared, to be honest," pianist Kenny Hensley admits. "We'd toured so much on the first record and were just ready to write and play new songs, and we wanted to get back in the studio. We went in there with some songs half-finished and realized pretty quickly that we should have spent more time working on them before we went in."
Such thoughts may come as a surprise to fans who have heard the album, as it sounds very self-assured, honest, and calculated. Running throughout the album are themes about the importance of slowing down, enjoying life, enjoying time with the people you love, and not letting the chaos swallow up your life before you realize it's gone. However, Let's Be Still does not feel like the result of a band that came in unprepared to make a new record. But while the Head and the Heart didn't enter the studio with fully fleshed-out songs, their near-constant touring for three years definitely had an impact on the band's creative process.
"The album really sculpted itself towards the end of this crazy tour run we were on. A lot of the songs were inspired by those feelings," Hensley says. "The first record is very much about taking a chance, but this record was really about realizing we needed to take a step back. We needed to remind ourselves that we are human beings, there's only so much you can do, and we do need to enjoy each other. Joy and friendship, and being happy about life, is where memorable songs are going to come from."
And by the end of their touring, there wasn't a lot of joy within the group. Not to say that there was discord or in-fighting, but exhaustion was definitely taking its toll on the band and making it harder for them to enjoy what they were doing.
"I don't know how we made it through," says Hensley. "We overworked ourselves for a while, and it just got to the point where we were all so burnt out and the last thing we wanted to do was go tour. But we made it through, put out [Let's Be Still], and now I feel like we're in a really good place. We've battled through this rough patch, we grew from it, and now we're doing well, and I'm more excited about the future of the band than I've ever been."
Let's Be Still does not fall prey to the dreaded sophomore slump because it avoids sounding like a rehash of the Head and the Heart's debut, while simultaneously not sounding so different that it alienates the fanbase. Instead it finds a comfortable medium. "Fire/Fear" employs a warm, '70s-era rock sound, for example, and "Homecoming Heroes" is a peppy piece of driving folk pop. And while "Gone" is pretty sedated and moody for part of the track, it eventually explodes into a howling rocker by the end. But "Another Story" and "My Friends" remind fans of what drew them to the band in the first place, with their inherently charming folk sensibilities and memorable choruses.
Introspection following the success of their debut and all the touring that came with it helps the Head and the Heart move lyrically forward with this release. The title track ponders the need for being still in light of the world, knowing that life spins so fast that time slips away in an instant. "These Days are Numbered" follows a similar, self-explanatory lyrical bent. Add in a heady and heavy number like "10,000 Weight in Gold," which examines the damaging effects of what happens when we devote ourselves to things rather than people, and you have a recipe for an album that is filled with serious, meaningful content. The band's willingness to dive fearlessly into such subject matter was key to these songs being so resonant.
"Everything was fair game. There haven't been any ideas or songs that felt too personal to anybody in the band," Hensley says. "The songs always hit home for all of us. It's about our relationship and our band. It's not like one of them is solely writing about their own emotions and feelings; it's really for all of us."
So the band plays together, loves together, grows together, and stays together, but they also learn together, which will be important when it comes time for them to make their next album.
"When we prepare for the third record — which will be a ways off from now — we're going to take more time in the drawing room before we head into the studio, to make sure we go in confident and prepared," Hensley says. "We didn't do that with this record, but I think you have to have those mistakes too, to help you figure out how to do it right the next time."