Walking into San Francisco Coffee in Virginia-Highlands, it didn’t take long to spot the two members of Atlanta-based indie rock band The Head. Fraternal twins Mike and Jack Shaw were instantly identifiable sitting at a table in the middle of the room. They exuded that cool, relaxed vibe that must come from years of being on stage. Sure, they haven’t reached their mid-20’s yet, but they’ve been performing since age 14 when they met guitarist Jacob Morrell while high school freshmen. Their maturity, level-headedness, and laser focus on what they want must be at least part of why Blurt magazine called them “Atlanta’s youngest rock ‘n’ roll veterans.” After a lengthy and engaging conversation, it was clear they’ll get to wherever they want to go… and they’ll do it by working their asses off and putting in the time. That, and the fact that they have the sound, the presence, the musical creativity, and the team behind them to make it happen.
For six months in 2015, they toured primarily the East coast, returning to the Drunken Unicorn in November for the release party of their 5-song EP, MILLIPEDES. That same month, they released “It Ain’t Easy,” the first of two videos directed by Rebecca Arrowsmith, followed by “Raincoats.”
Then it was back into the studio to record their LP which is set for a Fall 2016 release.
This is what Mike and Jack had to say about their upcoming album, the Atlanta music scene, and what loyal bar patrons get when they die…
Where did your musical roots start?
Mike Shaw: Our parents shared their love of music with us. We started playing guitars around the age of 9. When we lived in San Diego as kids, our mom and grandfather taught us a few things on the piano. Jacob is the only one who reads music, but Jack and I hear it, feel it out, and see where it goes.
Who are your influences?
Mike Shaw: We love Scott Walker vocally. Joy Division. The Stone Roses. The soundtrack for The Sound of Music… we listened to it on the road. The Kinks. Frank Sinatra. Miles Davis. Late 70’s bands. Talking Heads. We each have different musical tastes that we share with each other, and that complements our sound.
What does the songwriting process look like for you guys?
Jack Shaw: Our song writing is collaborative, and we split the credit equally among the three of us. Each song starts differently. Sometimes, we’ll jam on a riff in rehearsals until something comes of it, or one us will bring in a snippet of an idea. Usually, we try to find the melody of the song first before the lyrics. Once we have the song fleshed out, we’ll just sing ridiculous lyrics as placeholders to keep the momentum going. But it varies. At the end of day, all of us mold it together and give input. The cool part is how the idea will sound on a demo, but once everyone’s flavor and texture is involved, it doesn’t even resemble the original song.
What is the demographic of your fan base?
Jack Shaw: I’d say from the end of the teenage years to the late 20s, but it changes from city to city. The most authentic crowds have been in the small college towns like Murray, Kentucky, where they packed the venue.
You’ve been labeled indie rock, power pop, and 90’s inspired music to name a few. What do you see as your genre?
Mike Shaw: When we are making music, we’re not thinking about a niche. We’re just doing our thing.
I can understand when we were 18 why we were called power pop, because the bouncy, bubblegum layered harmony is what we were doing at the time. But now, that’s changed. Come on, when you think power pop, you think 12-string guitars, paisley shirts, & gray sideburns!
Indie rock fans can be tough. How do you balance wanting to be heard versus ‘making it’ and being called a sellout. Does this come into your consciousness as you push toward success?
Jack Shaw: It does, but the main thing is remaining true to ourselves. There is no issue having success if you haven’t compromised your artistic integrity. You don’t grow by standing still, so just because you evolve, doesn’t mean you are a sellout. If you happen to reach a broader audience doing what you are good at, there’s nothing wrong with that. At the same time, you don’t change your style to fit in. That’s not what it’s about.
So you recently returned to Atlanta from six months on the road. How was that?
Mike Shaw: Awesome, but it’s hard work. It’s a grassroots effort, and you have to earn your stripes. We lived in the van, on hardwood floors, in abandoned buildings… you go on four to five hours of sleep a night. And speaking of our van, the inside is absolutely appalling. We have a photo of one of our best friends taped inside. It used to be on the wall in our parent’s basement where we practiced. He’s always been with us. People see it and think it’s a memorial to our dead friend. It’s not. It’s a living shrine.
How would you describe the Atlanta music scene?
Mike Shaw: It’s a very big scene with little pockets scattered throughout. Sometimes bands can have stakes, and it can be like a 1940’s street gang mentality over turf and venues. But, overall, Atlanta has a very welcoming music community, and they have been good to us over the years. And, there are a lot great under the radar bands in the city right now. Two of our favorites are Slang and Man Up, Yancey, and they just so happen to be opening for us on February 12th at the Drunken Unicorn.
How do you handle the negative stuff?
Jack Shaw: Criticism motivates us more. We don’t shun it; we welcome it. People have things to say, so we need to keep an open mind. Negative feedback just pushes us to work harder.
What’s the best feedback you’ve gotten?
Mike Shaw: We released two DIY videos, and the response to them was like, wow, people are seeing what we are doing musically, visually, and what we want as a whole aesthetic… abstract, but linear at the same.
In an article about your ‘Raincoats’ video, it said that you guys are authentic because there is no ego. It’s like you aren’t even aware of yourselves. What do you think of that?
Mike Shaw: We’re happy to hear it. We’re not in this for any ulterior motives. We’re just doing what we love. I think a big part of why that’s coming across is because the three of us are best friends. I’ve never been married, but I guess it’s like that. We’re in sync. We call each other out. We get in arguments, and make up after. It’s a healthy relationship. Right before we all went off to college, the three of us sat in a car and listened to the second side of Abbey Road and then went our separate ways… until we came back, of course.
Any new videos on the horizon?
Jack Shaw: We’ve got ideas. We’re putting together our team to get the gears turning for what we want. We’d like to get one or two videos out before we hit the road again.
Tell me about the new album.
Jack Shaw: We’ve been recording our new full length album at Madison Studios. We’re working with producers Tanner Hendon and Wyatt Oates of MadRex Productions. They’re great guys… fun, fresh and young. The new album will have at least 11 tracks. Those are done, but the faucet is always on. We’re expecting it to be released in fall 2016.
Are you going a different direction with the lyrical themes?
Mike Shaw: This time around, we’re letting our guard down and going with what’s coming naturally. When we wrote about our hearts on our sleeves and love, we were young & naive; we had no business writing that. We weren’t even in relationships! It was just the three of us hanging out. Now that we are little older, the themes are coming more naturally. It’s where we are now, so it just comes out darker and differently from what we were writing about a few years ago. We’ll try anything once… like self-producing MILLIPEDES. We needed that. That’s what jump-started our new perspective.
What is the sound of this album like?
Jack Shaw: MILLIPEDES had a cavernous sound from recording in a basement. This next album is less ethereal and has more of a get up and dance kind of vibe. Dancy & wild… that’s what it’s all about. The main goal is to capture our energy just like at a live show. That’s the beauty of starting the album immediately after coming off a tour. We’re in that mode.
So what’s up next on the agenda?
Jack Shaw: Once we wrap up most of the studio recording, we’ll start a non-stop tour in March. We’re inching westward with shows in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. We plan to do around 120 dates in 2016.
Speaking of venues, where’s the coolest place you’ve played?
Mike Shaw: That would be PK’s in Carbondale, Illinois. It is hardcore! The regulars have their own personalized, engraved wooden steins, and there are plaques on the walls with the names of patrons who have died… and the average age was like 45 to 50!
As we wrapped up for them to get back to the studio, I asked the age old question of ‘what would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?’
Jack didn’t miss a beat… “I would cease to exist.”
Keep your eyes on these guys. They’re in it for the long haul, and they aren’t going away any time soon.
Follow them on Instagram @theheadmusic
Follow them on FB @The Head (Musician/Band)
Catch them at the Drunken Unicorn on Friday, February 12th. Doors open at 9pm.
Photo by Valheria Rocha. The Head [L-R]: Jack Shaw, Mike Shaw, Jacob Morrell