Backstage at Austin City Limits with The Head and the Heart

Austin City Limits, or ACL to most, first began in 2002, developed from a public TV show that kicked off in the 1970s.

Its evolution has been one to behold, expanding rapidly to a two-weekend behemoth that plays host to over half a million people who walk through the gates each year. And, music proud Austin consistently keeps the delivery the hot and tasty—just like their taco trucks.

I headed along to one of the days, enjoyed some Chuy’s on the way in, caught one and a half shows, and had a yarn to John Russell from The Head and The Heart.

While we put our feet up for a chat music photographer Charlie Hardy was putting in the hard yards around the grounds, racing between stages to successfully snap all the money shots across the weekend.

What’s your name, what you do, and why you are here?

My name is John Russell, I play for the band The Head and the Heart, and we’re here to play Austin City Limits, first weekend.

Tell us where you’re at with your most recent release.

We’re wrapping up, this is the last leg of our tour on our third record, Signs of Light, which we put out in September 2016.

*Man walks past in leopard skin shorts, a pencil-thin moustache, bald head, and beret. He compliments John on his awesome alligator skin boots.

He’s digging on my boots.

Oh, I thought he said I like your songs.

Oh no, he doesn’t know who I am, that’s fine.

John Russell, The Head and The Heart

If only he knew… So you’re wrapping up the touring on this leg, are you able tell us a bit about the next steps—are you writing and thinking about the next album on the road already?

I’m kind of always writing or collecting little puzzle pieces throughout tour, but there’s so many interruptions. There might be three or four days where all you can really do is sleep. Usually by the end of an album cycle, I’ll have little puzzle pieces here and there which I’ll try to piece together in my time off. We’ll have November and December off just to relax and be home for the holidays, which we very rarely get to do. At the moment I feel like I have no songs, but if I really looked at it, I probably do. So yeah, I think in January we are going to get back together… all of us, there’s six of us in the band. We like to write all together, but also separate.

Six people contributing equally to the songwriting must be a rich experience on stage and touring, you’re all equally invested in the success. Do you feel that?

Yeah, I think sometimes I take it for granted, because you think it’s just what everyone does. Most of my friends are musicians, and when you hang with them in time off you see the stress when it’s one songwriter with a band that kinda just waits for him/her to tell them what to do… and it’s all the pressures on this one individual. Then you go back with your mates and it’s like, ‘Oh man, you’re really lucky to have shared, equal interest and everyone’s invested’. Everyone brings something completely unique to the table which I like because I enjoy writing songs but in all honesty, I know they become more interesting. They go through these little filters and rooms and mazes that the band puts them through. Which can be kind of heart-wrenching as the songwriter sometimes. Often I am like, “This is the song, don’t fuck with it,” and then they’re like, “No, we’re putting this on the chopping block.”

Danny Brown

What are you listening to at the moment?

A lot of stuff I’m listening to doesn’t necessarily translate to what we’re writing, what we’re making as a band. In one day I might go from Tim McGraw, Mozart, Ray Charles, to Aretha. I listen to everything really.  The least thing I listen to are bands that are closest to our sound, modern contemporary bands that are coming up. Nothing against the music, it’s just that you are always around it. To me it’s like, ‘Oh my god, put on a fucking Frank Sinatra record please and shut the fuck up, and nobody talk, and let’s just listen to this amazing record’.

What’s the plan for next year after your break?

I’m kind of like the least in tune with that, my main focus is to try to finish all these songs, wrap them up. There are definitely other people in the band who’d have the entire year mapped out and they could tell you. I am just like, ‘Hmm, not sure if we discussed that’, meanwhile Tyler is probably like, ‘Oh we’re going to be here, here, here, this is happening, finish this in March, release coming out in May’, and I just don’t know. I haven’t quite thought about it yet … and I haven’t really wanted to.

Photos by Charlie Hardy 

Little did either of us know at the time they’d be playing the inaugural Sydney City Limits, on February 24th, 2018. Info and lineup, here.

Anthony Kiedis
The xx
Ryan Adams
The Lemon Twigs
Royal Blood
Portugal. The Man
The Lemon Twigs
Sacred Hearts Club
Royal Blood
Crystal Castle
Angel Olsen
Tove Lo

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