Fans of The Head and the Heart might recall that cofounder Josiah Johnson left the band ahead of their 2016 album Signs of Light – first to get sober, then to pursue a solo project. But since 2019, Johnson’s been playing bass in Mount Saint Elias, an Oakland-based indie-folk outfit fronted by singer-songwriter and guitarist Joey Coe. The pair met as if through fate: “Joey and I—How could we not meet?” Johnson tells American Songwriter. “Two handsome, devil-may-care songsmiths in the Bay Area, melting hearts and singing about feelings and brains and how they connect and affect each other? I meet Joey anew every time I see him. But the first time was at a party where we both played some songs.”
For Mount Saint Elias, this was something of cosmic, full-circle development, because the band originally formed after its own founding members–Coe, Tatyana Schmid, and Matteo Lovik–sang a Head and the Heart song, “Rivers and Roads,” around a campfire while working together as adventure travel guides. Now the group—rounded out by Luna Fuentes and Will Norman—is gearing up to release their debut EP, Stars Already Shone, on March 4. The band has already shared four songs off the EP (“Juicy Love,” “URA BIRD,” “Cigarettes and Summer,” and “My FaVoRiTe rEgReT(s)”), and today they’re giving American Songwriter an exclusive stream of the full EP, including the previously unreleased “Everywhere Ghost” and “The Call Home.”
Like “Rivers and Roads,” the songs on Stars Already Shone are rousing, heartfelt indie-folk numbers about finding—and losing—close friends. Importantly, the EP includes songs made before and after Schmid passed away in 2018, from a biking accident. “The common thread running through these songs is the power of friendship and the pain of losing a friend,” says Coe. “Our bandmate, Tatyana, wrote and performed with us on [‘Cigarettes and Summer,’ ‘My FaVoRiTe rEgReT(s),’ and ‘Everywhere Ghost’], and [‘Juicy Love’ and ‘The Call Home’] are basically about her passing.” The EP was mixed and engineered by Beau Sorenson, with additional mixing and engineering by Jeff Kolhede and Ian Pellicci. From start to finish, the writing and production process spanned “a huge swath of time for this band.”
“The Call Home” features some of the EP’s most evocative imagery, including the titular lyric: “Your bones are made of bones of stars already shone,” Coe sings, “So when your feet don’t touch the ground / My friend, that is just the call home.” The song, Coe explains, “is for anyone who struggles with anxiety and depression, as I do. I wrote it primarily for our guitarist and one of my best friends, Matteo, in the aftermath of Tatyana’s passing (his longtime partner). It’s just a way of saying: ‘I know you feel like you are suffering alone and there’s something wrong with you, but there’s not, you’re just feeling what it’s like to be human.'”
“Everywhere Ghost,” meanwhile, was inspired by Coe’s work in the adventure travel industry. “Traveling that much is really exhilarating and exciting, but after a while, leads you to feel like a ghost everywhere you go, even in the place where you ‘live.’ The song is about all the things you might do to try to feel like you have a home somewhere. Most of them I do not advise. Weirdly, when I met Josiah, this was one of the first things we bonded about, since he spends much of his life on the road as well, touring.” Musically, “Everywhere Ghost” might be the most ebullient, free-spirited song on the EP. But even at their most irreverent, Coe and Schmid sing with sincerity: Where’ve ya been, purpose? the pair harmonize on the track. Since ya left last year, purpose / I’ve spent a lot of time here with worthless / It’s always good to see ya, purpose.
Asked what he hopes listeners take away from the EP, Coe says, “That it’s okay to be sad, to be broken, to be hopelessly in love.
“This band is made up of people who have been through various forms of hell—tremendous loss, injuries, addictions, insanities, depressions—and that’s what our songs are about: how painful it can be to be a human,” he continues. “But we are also a group of people who’ve been strengthened by the challenges of life, and our songs are about that, too. So these songs are our way of saying to the listener: ‘Being a human is a manic shit show of a ride, but you’re not alone in it, and it’s going to be okay.'”