Some bands experience growing pains. Other undergo change in almost organic fashion. Then there are a few that purposely chart new waters in such dramatic fashion the resulting change becomes almost violent.
Place folk-rockers The Head and the Heart near the latter category. On its newest album, “Living Mirage,” the band bid a seemingly permanent farewell to one-time frontman Josiah Johnson, who had been absent from previous tours as he dealt with addiction issues.
That meant promoting guitarist Matt Gervais, an auxiliary member for several years, to full time status. But the new album is about more than a mere changing of the guard within the band’s ranks. The Head and the Heart’s sound has become more lavish and pop-centric than on the comparatively folk-informed songs that made Top 10 hits out of its last two albums, 2013’s “Let’s Be Still” and 2016’s “Signs of Light.”
But the changes, from the sound to the lineup to the very design and construction of the music, didn’t come easy.
“With all the difficulties, I think everybody involved has had to really rally together to make this work,” said Gervais. “The challenges were certainly not insurmountable, but they were pretty big and heavy challenges. There was a lot of emotional turmoil, a lot of second guessing. There was a lot of questioning as far as personal dynamics and all that kind of stuff. But we all came together and developed a healthier way of communicating throughout the process. That was just an absolute necessity in order to get to the heart of what the music was wanting.”
That meant detouring around what a faithful indie fanbase had come to expect from The Head and the Heart. The broader pop accents of “Living Mirage” couldn’t simply be grafted onto the band’s folkier sensibilities. What was needed was a renewed sense of ensemble identity, and for that, the members of The Head and the Heart convened in the desert.
“This record came together in a way, I think, no one was expecting,” Gervais said. “It started off with a completely different mindset. We all got together in January of last year in Joshua Tree, California and started working on songs in an atypical fashion where everyone got into a room and started jamming. That’s not how the band has produced music in the past.
“Chris Zasche, our bass player, was really getting us into revisiting all the early U2 stuff when we were on tour, including ‘The Joshua Tree.’ We were like, ‘Well, the obvious thing is to go to Joshua Tree where it all began.’ The studio (Hi-Dez Recording) is a home that’s dead smack in the middle of the (Mojave) desert. It offered a really unique way to record. It was pretty isolated.”
Writing and recording sessions would take the band from Joshua Tree to Appleton, Wisconsin and eventually to Seattle, Nashville and Los Angeles. But as a new sound developed so did a new band spirit forged by the reshuffled lineup.
“I think everyone was maybe a little trepidatious not knowing exactly how things were going to take shape this time around,” Gervais said. “We were down a founding member with Josiah being gone, so it was a bit of a new configuration in a lot of ways. We were trying to understand how to navigate that. It was almost like the band was starting over again in a sense.”
But for Gervais, the shift in personnel was more personal. He has known most of the band members before The Head and Heart formed and even married one of them (violinist Charity Rose Thielen), so becoming a full-time recruit meant more than a promotion. It entailed working creatively in a band environment with longtime friends that had weathered some turbulent professional changes.
“It’s steadily been sort of the long game for me. It was a bit of a challenge to morph from someone who was, ostensibly, ‘filling in,’ to someone who was being a contributing member creatively. So I definitely had to go through some leaps and hurdles myself in trying to figure out how to switch my mindset from learning an established set of songs to getting into the creative flow with these guys. I’ve known them very well for a really long time but hadn’t worked with them necessarily on a creative level outside of doing a few recording sessions on cover songs that we had done promotionally. So it was definitely a bit of a reorientation for myself, which is ongoing. Ironically, it was true for everyone else in the band, as well. We all had to kind reframe things in order to navigate the new waters.
“The beauty of what we do and, really, what any band does, is we’re always discovering a new artistic place. I think because of all the work we’ve done interpersonally over the last two years, we are probably more ready than ever to be in a good artistic place.”
The Head and the Heart/Carl Broemel
When: 8 p.m. April 21
Where: Manchester Music Hall, 899 Manchester St.
Tickets: $40; (859) 537-7321; manchestermusichall.com