The Head and the Heart Headlined the Paramount
We’ve written about hundreds of tiny bands we felt were great and musicians who we thought deserved a wider audience, but none have felt quite like the ride the Head and the Heart’s taken us on. A sold out Saturday show headlining the Paramount Theater showed the band’s snowballing momentum hasn’t let up, more than two years following the self-release of their debut record among the humble surroundings of Conor Byrne. In that time they’ve played for the President, warmed up for some of the big boys, sold out countless venues with themselves as headliners, graced the Sasquatch mainstage twice, been given the nod by Dave Matthews, and traveled the world. Writing that last sentence out, this course of events sounds made up like some outlandish fantasy more fit for a movie script.
Recently Seattle Weekly Music Editor Chris Kornelis made the case that this success story is an example of how record labels can still “work.” It’s absolutely true that the band wouldn’t have sold 200,000 plus copies or traveled so widely without the expansive distribution and industry connections that Sub Pop can provide. And I do think Sub Pop has been a good place for the band. I don’t agree however that the Head and the Heart joining with Sub Pop “makes the case for the modern record label” as the subtitle puts it. By glossing over the 8000 copies the band sold prior to Sub Pop’s interest, Kornelis misses a key point about why this relationship works: The Head and the Heart are the special case that every label is in search of. Let me explain.
Being an unsigned local band generally means boxes and boxes of unsold CD’s taking up closet space. The Head and the Heart had the opposite problem. In the late months of 2010 they couldn’t keep Sonic Boom and Easy Street stocked with enough CD’s. It remained a top seller for months prior to an agreement with Sub Pop, and as often as not the sad #1 post-it note was uncovered waiting for the next shipment. Following that Conor Byrne show, and then Doe Bay Fest, seemingly any show the band was billed for sold out instantly. This is all to say prior to a label stepping in, this band had real momentum. In this case Sub Pop didn’t need to conjure this band out of thin air or fictionalize a forest horror story to entice people; the record was already recorded, the band already known. In buying this record and the next record they were simply making a smart business decision on selling an already proven product with an independently growing base of grassroots support but no major national presence yet in terms of CD’s on shelves. As far as I’m concerned, with that opportunity for sales as a carrot, any label rep worth their salt should’ve been going to the mat with efforts to court this band.
While Sub Pop certainly deserves much credit for enabling the Head and the Heart’s continued rise and success, this Paramount show reminded me that it’s the band’s own connection with their fans that keeps the momentum going and now selling out rooms of thousands. Though the cachet of Sub Pop’s brand might be able to get the band some cred if they were otherwise unknown, it’s the band’s own commitment to reaching their fans that fills the seats and makes this band worthy of the title “The Headliners.”
I’ve often wondered that the intimacy inherent in the Head and the Heart’s music and mood might be lost in a cavernous room or a wide open festival field. This night proved to me, as did Sasquatch before it, that this worry is unfounded. Anthemic choruses (and a few verses even) make it work. In an unpublished blog entry about the band’s second Sasquatch appearance from last May, I put it like this: “Their upgrade to the mainstage slot ahead of Bon Iver at Sasquatch says much, and the legion of screaming teens who gleefully sang along every word in the lower amphitheater bowl says the rest. Graduating from an open-mic concern into sought after openers for bands like My Morning Jacket, the Shins, Dave Matthews Band and Death Cab For Cutie, this group is now at home on the largest of stages.” Word.