The members of Atlanta-based indie-rock trio The Head — guitarist Jacob Morell, drummer Jack Shaw, and bassist/vocalist Mike Shaw —may all be 23 years old, but they've been making music together since they were 14. "It was our freshman year of high school, and we've been at it ever since," Jack says.
As for Mike and Jack, not only are they brothers, they're twins. "I don't know what it's like to not work with him," Jack says. Growing up, the twins spent a lot of time listening to music — from The Beatles to The Stone Roses, Mazzy Star, and Elliot Smith. "We've always done stuff together — whether that's playing with Legos when we're five or playing music together from the age of nine."
When Jack and Mike decided to add their best friend and unofficial brother Morell to the mix, they formed The Head, a band that initially only recorded covers. But once the guys began composing songs together (they share songwriting credit equally these days), they found their own voice. Before long, The Head had the attention of national music rags like Spin, who called the band "charming and shiny" in a 2011 article.
Over the years, The Head has dropped five releases, including their last record, 2013's Girls of the Yukon. The EP is a cheerful collection of songs featuring lovely harmonies, jangly guitars, and neatly arranged melodies. But the band's upcoming record is altogether different.
"The new stuff we've been working on is a lot darker, has more grit, and is definitely much looser, too, in terms of the way we're playing," Jack explains. "It's not like super-sunshine-happy this time."
While you won't hear as many saccharine harmonies on the yet-to-be-titled disc as on previous discs, that doesn't mean the band has gone all doom and gloom. "None of us were going through any depressive state. We're all the happiest bunch you'll ever meet," Jack says. "It's just that we always experiment, plus Mike sings in a much deeper register than he has before, which adds to the darker quality of the songs."
The band compares Mike's updated vocal stylings to Scott Walker, the singer of the 1960s act The Walker Brothers. Walker transitioned from a sugary pop sound to a more avant-garde one, a move that better displayed his baritone abilities.
The band's new direction also reflects other music they've absorbed lately, acts like Galaxy 500 and The Velvet Underground to newer stuff, including The Orwells and Mac Demarco.
Only a few seconds into "Raincoats" off the new record, and we have to agree with the Walker comparisons, but the song is also awash with the enduring style of Echo and the Bunnymen. Not surprisingly, the guys in The Head acknowledge Echo frontman Ian McCulloch's long-time influence on the band.
The new-wave homage continues with "Pebbles on the Ground," a song with grotesque imagery and a Southern goth vibe, while "Jesus" shows off Mike's operatic vocals in an arena-rocking, Queen kind of way. The line "I can be Jesus, but I'm choosing not to be/ I can make wind blow, but I'd rather watch TV" leaves fans both intrigued as well as unsettled, Jack says.
"It Ain't Easy," on the other hand, delves into current events. "The inspiration was from this New Yorker article that came out last year about the father of the Connecticut school shooter," Jack says. "They interviewed him, and it was a really sad and heartbreaking article. So the three of us were all inspired to write about it in a song, and it kind of touches on those topics of just being scared of your own son, not knowing what he's capable of."
As for The Head's upcoming release, the band will have to finalize more tracks before the date is set. So far, they're five-songs deep and taking their time. "We haven't been putting a cap on anything," Jack says. "After a while, we'll decide what sticks to the wall the most, but right now we're in that writing-and-recording phase where the sky is the limit."