March 18, 2024

Jonathan Russell, lead singer of one of folk-rock’s biggest bands The Head and the Heart, comes to Spruce Peak Arts this Saturday for an acoustic set, featuring all the band’s biggest hits. Before Russell takes on the Stowe stage, get to know the Richmond/Seattle singer-songwriter, responsible for the songs you love like “Rivers and Roads”, “Down in the Valley”, and more.

Originally born in Florida, Jonathan Russell grew up in small-town Virginia. Russell considers himself a late bloomer when it comes to music; he only started playing hand-drums in his senior year of high-school. When his high-school friends left for college, at nineteen years old, Russell moved to Richmond, Virginia to pursue music, sleeping in apartment hallways and couch surfing while working a fast-food job. His first band sounded nothing like the folk-rock sound The Head and the Heart are known for today; rather, Russell was drawn to synth-pop music, particularly the Killers and the YaYas. Seeking a change and a larger music community, Russell moved cross country to Seattle, Washington. He notes being surprised that, instead of the synth, electric rock sound that he associated with the west coast, most Seattle-based performers leaned into an acoustic feel, which Russell says reshaped his musical identity.


Now in his early 20s, Russell started attending open-mic nights at Seattle’s Conor Byrne Pub, where he met grad-school student Josiah Johnson. The two songwriters crossed paths with keyboardist Kenny Hensley, also new to Seattle and pursuing musical score-writing. Charity Rose Thielen, who had just returned from studying abroad in Paris at Sciences Po, joined the group. Searching for a more experienced drummer, Russell called up his friend Tyler Williams from Richmond, who was playing in another band at the time. Impressed by a demo of the song “Down In The Valley” that Russell had sent him, Williams moved to Seattle to join the band. Bassist Chris Zasche was the final addition to the original lineup; he happened to be the bartender at Conor Byrne Pub and was playing in other Seattle bands when approached by Russell and Johnson.

The Head and the Heart quickly grew a passionate fanbase in the Seattle area, burning and selling 10,000 homemade CDs. Within less than a year of the band’s formation, they were receiving countless record and management offers, eventually signing with Seattle-based Sub-Pop Records, known for bands like Nirvana, Beach House, Flight of the Conchords, and the Shins. The band went on a national tour shortly afterwards, opening for established artists like Vampire Weekend, Iron & Wine, Dr. Dog, and Dave Matthews.

When asked, Russell always says that he feels fortunate that The Head and the Heart has enjoyed such a gradual rise into the mainstream. He credits this long-term growth for helping curate the band’s sound now, which in more open to the synths that piqued Russell’s interest as a teenager.

Russell is married and lives in the Richmond, Virginia with his wife when he is not touring. The Head and the Heart’s newest album, Every Shade of Blue, came out in 2022 to rave review from critics, who praised the band’s new direction.

Want to know more about the Head and the Heart? You can visit their website,, for upcoming concerts and more!

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