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Mental Health

The Head and the Heart’s Jonathan Russell on How Exercising Quelled His Onstage Anxiety

"If you can get control of your body, your brain will follow," says indie-folk singer
The Head and the Heart
Jonathan Russell from The Head and the Heart (Credit: David Gabriel)

For most of the past decade and a half, the Head and the Heart have been one of indie-folk’s most reliable bands. A lot of that has to do with their intricate songwriting and tight-knit group interplay. But just like many others settling into veteran status, they also understand the importance of maintaining their mental health. As singer Jonathan Russell says, managing anxiety with the use of unhealthy habits doesn’t help.

“There’s a blanket of anxiety that rises and falls constantly,” Russell told SPIN editorial director Daniel Kohn backstage at BeachLife Festival. “When you’re first starting out, just like any other 20-something-year-old kid, you just mask [anxiety] with whatever you have access to, which is typically a beer or a shot. But once you start playing for two hours a night, it is not feasible or good for you.”

After doing some thinking, he found that exercising before shows keeps his pre-show anxiety in check.

“Once I quit drinking before concerts, I had a harder time,” Russell says. “It would take me seven songs before I was not thinking anymore, which is bad. You want to go up there and help people lose themselves and be free and open. … Exercise helped me…exercise those demons. Your body calms down, and your mind calms down. Any time I’m feeling anxious, even when I’m off the road, I don’t always feel like I have control of my brain, but you can have control of your body … That’s my rip cord. If you can get control of your body, your brain will follow, I’ve learned.”

It took Russell a long time to realize that this method works. Returning to touring after the pandemic, he wasn’t completely comfortable being onstage after two and a half years away. He knew, though, that he needed to change something in his preparation, and exercising has helped keep things in check.

“There’s probably 30 minutes between when I end my workout and go on stage,” he says. “You know how when you’re watching an NBA game, and they’re sweaty by the time they start the game? It’s a similar thing — you just get loose.”

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