When Seattle folk-pop stars The Head and the Heart announced their sweeping touring plans in support of this spring’s “Living Mirage” LP, their hometown was conspicuously absent. Turns out the Sub Pop alums had something else up their sleeve — or at least they would eventually, announcing this week a free rooftop concert at Pike Place Market.
The freebie 45-minute show starts at 7 p.m. Sunday, after the Market closes, and will be livestreaming through the band’s and Amazon Music’s social-media channels. From 5-9 p.m., First Avenue will be closed between University and Virginia streets, as will Pike Street between First and Third avenues (though Second Avenue will remain open to traffic). Starting at 3 p.m., Pike Place in the Market will close between Pike and Pine streets. The nearby Showbox is hosting a pop-up store with proceeds from sales of commemorative merchandise benefiting Seattle-based music programs and initiatives yet to be named.
With their pivotal fourth album — hatched during a Joshua Tree sojourn — the onetime indie-folkies, half of whom still live in Washington, pushed their rootsy sound in a poppier, synth-gleaming direction. It’s their first record written entirely without co-founder Josiah Johnson (save for one piano melody) and with Matt Gervais stepping in for keyboardist Kenny Hensley, who was then taking a leave from the band. We caught up with singer/guitarist Jonathan Russell to talk about their busking days, moving on without Johnson (who left the group in 2016 while dealing with addiction issues) and their splashy homecoming.
So, after-party at the Space Needle?
[Laughs.] Or pregame. This is our first Seattle show on this record, which is kinda wild that it took us so long to get there. But we were trying to hold off for something left of center, something special to do with Seattle.
I’d say the Market rooftop qualifies.
Yeah, right? We used to go there to busk five times a week. [We’re] going from singing in parking garages to the rooftop. I remember one time we made $28 and split a meal. We were like 24. We put it all in the pot [for] crabcakes — “went for it.” We worked for five hours and were like, “Let’s get some crabcakes!”
Did you have any favorite things you liked to do at the Market?
I used to go there a lot, even if you’re just going down there to get an apple, sit and look at the water. There was this one spot — you know where the bathrooms are when you go downstairs and there’s an in-between corridor area? That was our favorite spot [to busk] because it just had this natural cavernous reverb.
How did this show come about?
I think [singer/multi-instrumentalist] Charity [Rose Thielen] almost jokingly mentioned it one night after a show, kinda late-night. We were all just chuckling like, “Yeah right, that’s never gonna happen.” That was only three or four weeks ago. It was like, well, never hurts to ask.
Wait, so this started just a couple weeks ago?
Maybe a month? Pop-up is an understatement. Everyone’s been on the fly, freaking out, because we didn’t actually think that they would say yes [laughs]. Our team and management has probably been on the phone nonstop since we casually suggested this, but it seems to be panning out [laughs]. It was a pretty off-the-cuff remark from Charity [while] we were brainstorming how to get back to Seattle in a memorable way.
“Living Mirage” is a bit of a shift sonically. What triggered that?
The thing about making a record every three years is you age three years, and you have three years to become influenced by other music. Also, you just get kinda sick of doing the same [expletive], in all honesty [laughs]. It’s funny because some of these songs, I listen to it now and it doesn’t sound nearly as progressive as we thought it was going to. When we were making it we were like, “Oh God, can we get away with this?” We were going through transitions internally as well, so it was the perfect time to slide all the books off the table and not walk in with this preconception of what you’re supposed to do because you’re The Head and the Heart.
At one point Josiah came back and was jamming with you guys, right?
Yeah, we gave it a shot. He had been working on his own songs for two years at that point. What he was writing about and what we were finding out there in the desert were two very different things. … It was a great check-in. But we’re not going toward the same thing at the moment. I’m pumped for him. He lives in Oakland and I live in San Francisco, so I see him all the time now. So I’ll be able to cruise around in his minivan and hear what he’s been working on.
Was it difficult realizing that you’re in different places musically now?
By that time, I had two or three years of coming to terms with what was inevitable. He’s like my best friend. I met him within three weeks of moving to Seattle from Virginia. If you would’ve asked me that question three years ago, I probably would’ve started crying on the phone. It was awful. Sure, it’s hard, but it also feels like this needed to happen. Who knows if it’s like a figure eight and it swerves back and we connect again. Only time will tell.
Some of the outside co-writers you worked with have more of a pop background. Did they come to you with anything where you were like, “Whoa guys, that’s not us”?
To be honest with you, half of the co-writes that are now on the album felt that way to me until we went to Wisconsin for the last writing session, just me and the band. … Once we all got into a room and you’re playing on your real instruments it very quickly felt like us. It felt like us on steroids though, in a good way. … Not everybody’s gonna love every record that everybody does, but for us as a band, I think we needed it.
Anything else you’re looking forward to with the Market gig?
It’s hard to say this without sounding cheesy or contrived, but that’s where we started. We literally started busking in those [expletive] garages. So, to be able to come back and [take over] the Market for a free concert, it just feels good. We’re bringing out some folks from Sub Pop that are going to be hanging out with us. It almost feels like a family reunion block party on a roof. It feels much better than, well, singing in garages [laughs].