POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 26, 2012:
Best of Both Worlds
Label mates offer both sides of the indie rock coin
When The Head and The Heart and Blitzen Trapper land at Cain's Ballroom in concert his Sunday night, it's a show that indie rock fans of every stripe should love. Representing a generational shift in indie rock, the two bands complement each other and touch on similar influences without sounding the same.
The younger of the two acts, The Head & The Heart explores the more acoustic, folk-inflected side of indie rock that is currently popular, while Blitzen Trapper plays the role of older brother in this pairing, having evolved over the past decade from a more folk-tinged band to the fuzzed out electric tones of the band's latest disc, American Goldwing.
THE HEAD & THE HEART
To its credit, Blitzen Trapper's latest still keeps touch with its alt country roots with hints of Neil Young and The Band thrown in the mix while also touching hinting at classic Zeppelin in a mix that continues to retain the band's signature and indie credibility.
When asked how the paring came about, Blitzen Trapper's Eric Earley said simply "They contacted our booking agent and the timing worked out, so we agreed to do it."
When discussing it with Tyler Williams of The Head & The Heart, however, he shared that "We had met before and hung out with them at a festival in Canada a couple months ago. We were looking for someone to support us on this tour and we really like their band and we get along with them personally. It was really more based on who we thought would be a good fit -- and the fact that we're both on Sub Pop (the two bands are label mates) was just an added bonus."
I spoke with Williams just before the tour started and mentioned how well the two bands seemed to complement each other, with both sharing similar influences but not sounding alike. "I think it's two sides of the same coin, kind of ..." he responded in agreement.
Of course, the two are in different positions in their careers, with The Head & The Heart having formed in 2009 and still in the beginning stages of its career. Blitzen Trapper, on the other hand, formed in 2000 and has established itself over the past decade as one of the premier groups in its genre, having been ranked amidst the year's best albums by Rolling Stone in 2008 for their Sub Pop debut, Furr.
When discussing The Head and the Heart's relationship with Earley, he shared that American Goldwing had fulfilled the band's contract, which currently left it without a label and debating its next move. Although resigning with Sub Pop is certainly an option, and Earley said he had thought about the situation some, he also shared that currently "Touring is where the money is at. It's difficult as a musician to make a living now, because basically you're just a glorified trucker nowadays."
"Management is more important at the labels now," he reflected, "because they keep you busy and management gets a cut of touring. The labels don't care as much about touring because they don't make any money off of it. That's why labels and management are merging today."
"It's a weird dynamic, right now," he said. "I think it will continue to change until it all falls out."
For a younger band like The Head & The Heart, Sub Pop has proven to be a perfect fit. "I feel like we've got the best of both worlds," Williams shared, reflecting on the fact that Sub Pop has widespread distribution, yet still operates like an indie label and leaves much control in the artists' hands.
"It's really a testament to them that they sign bands that can handle making decisions and handling their own destiny. It's a nice place to be because they know what they're doing."
At the same time, however, The Head & The Heart is still in control of its career, having input on everything from picking who it tours with to designing its own tour merchandise, including T-shirts and posters. "To me, it just feels more fulfilling," Williams shared.
"It's just how we do things," he continued. "We've always done everything ourselves -- we pay attention to every detail. On the business side, we've already been handling it all, so it's nice to have a little help now, since we were already doing stuff on our own."
A great example of that is the band's debut album. After forming in 2009 and self-releasing its self-titled debut album in June of 2010, The Head and the Heart drew national attention and offers from major labels before striking a deal with Sub Pop. The label sent them back to the studio to record "Rivers and Roads," which often closes out the live shows, and remastered the disc for its April 2011 release.
When discussing the band's growth in popularity and what role college radio played in that, Williams shared that "We were getting played on college radio in the beginning, but then we got picked up on AAA where 'Lost in My Mind' was number one for three weeks. That was based on what Sub Pop did, though. We didn't actively seek it out, but we're not afraid of going after airplay. We're not snobs in that regard."
The other aspect that has helped The Head & The Heart is its band's online presence. While Williams and Josiah Johnson handle the band's Twitter account, Chris Zasche helps with the Facebook page and the band updates its website as well. "We post a lot of pictures and just show the life we lead," Williams explained. "I think it's important because people want to see that you're a real human being and we want people to feel connected."
Even though the band's album has been out for over a year, The Head & The Heart continues to work the road, especially enjoying visiting new locations like this weekend's stop in Tulsa. Blitzen Trapper, on the other hand is wrapping up its touring cycle for American Goldwing with two and a half weeks as direct support for The Head & The Heart, then finishing out the month of October with Brandi Carlisle. After that, Earley shared that "We'll be off for a while until we do another record."
When asked about the writing process, he revealed that "I never write on the road" but once he settles in and begins the process "I will write an entire record in about two months."
With a premium currently placed on touring, Blitzen Trapper's set has continued to evolve as the band has continued to tour. "Nowadays, you're always trying to make the live show as good as possible," he shared. "It's really about pleasing the fans in a live setting -- if you do that, they'll continue to return and it all kind of takes care of itself."
Although Blitzen Trapper is technically the supporting act on the current tour, Sunday night's show at Cain's Ballroom can be looked at as a co-headliner with a pair of indie rock's most popular bands.
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