The Head’s new EP Millipedes comes out today, bringing fans a rollicking, five-song crash course in fusing pop with gritty, fuzzed-out rock ‘n’ roll.
The three-chord Troggs-style simplicity of opener “Jesus,” the Midwestern indie-rock of “Raincoats,” the phased-out New Wave daydreamer ”Pebbles on the Ground” and the would-be ’90s alternative anthem “It Ain’t Easy,” shows Millipedes as a band that knows its history, but isn’t afraid to reinvent it.
The band’s deep well of pop-music knowledge always comes through—and this from a trio of guys still in their early 20s. It wasn’t long ago that the members of The Head—guitarist Jacob Morrell, singer/bassist Mike Shaw and his drummer brother Jack—came together as teenagers in their hometown of Atlanta.
“We formed in high school during our freshman year,” Mike Shaw says. “Jack and I were looking for someone to play some songs with—we met Jacob and he ended up becoming one of our best friends.”
The story of The Head is the dream of so many aspiring kids jamming out in their garages across the nation, and with Millipedes, the band takes a big step forward.
The new EP marks a noticeable shift toward more distorted, ‘80s and ‘90s-channeling post-punk-tinged rock ‘n’ roll, all anchored by frontman Shaw’s self-assured croon. These days, artists as eclectic as Echo and the Bunnymen, Scott Walker, Frank Sinatra, Alvvays, Viet Cong, The Ronettes and Joy Division soundtrack The Head’s late night hauls in the van, as they whirl from town to town on tour after tour.
The band’s new music is compelling evidence that they’re not just enthusiastic players but adept students of their craft.
Blurt magazine once declared The Head “Atlanta’s youngest rock ‘n’ roll veterans,” but Mike Shaw says, “I feel like we’re still learning, now more than ever. And we’re enjoying every bit of what we’re learning.”
With years of experience as a teenage rock ‘n’ roll band under their belt, The Head is more eager than ever to branch out and experiment with new sounds.
“We look forward to consistently re-imagining ourselves,” Jack Shaw says. “We don’t have a one-dimensional idea of who we are.”
The band’s recent progression in songwriting is also matched by the more mature lyrical content of Millipedes. Of particular note is “It Ain’t Easy,” which takes on the 2012 Newtown school shooting.
Inspired by a New Yorker profile of the gunman’s father, “It Ain’t Easy” takes what in lesser hands could be a clumsy protest song and frames the tragedy through the disarming lens of empathy and personal relationships.
“Without the history behind the shooting,” Mike Shaw says, “it can still be a song about a father and a son, or about society as a whole.”
Like The Head’s music, the lyrics to “It Ain’t Easy” are honest and unpretentious, along the way making a simple yet resounding point.
The ability to tackle a topic as heavy as Newtown in a simple rock & roll song has a lot to do with the mood the band cultivated in the studio when the new EP was recorded. “This time around, we were a lot more open” Mike Shaw says. “We let the instrumentation breathe, and we weren’t as uptight about forcing things into a particular shape. It’s the result of us exploring a newer and more varied set of interests.”
Millipedes is notably the first set of songs the band has produced themselves.
“Until recently, we’d always recorded in professional studios with a producer,” Jack Shaw told PopMatters earlier this year, “but this time out, we felt we owed it to ourselves to make a record without any outside influence. It was definitely the most natural and relaxed we’ve ever felt about the process. We got creative and allowed mistakes to happen, which gives the songs this raw energy.”
Asked what’s is in store for The Head for the remainder of 2015, they have just two words—“heavy touring.”
Since the start of summer, the band has been spending at least two weeks on the road each month. It’s given them a chance to bring additional life to the new EP’s vibrant cuts, and to treat crowds to fresh new songs that are still taking shape.
“We’re always trying out new material live,” Mike Shaw says. “From here on out, the road is pretty much going to be our home.”