Head and the Heart

Group Love

Words: Tyler Smith 
Photo right: CURTIS WAYNE MILLARD 

From open-mic night at the local pub to stadium shows, the Seattle sextet on getting intimate with crowds and why all you need is The Beatles. 

Open-mic night at the local pub can be a dubious proposition. Legions of half-crocked acoustic troubadours fumbling through the opening to “Wish You Were Here” or “Use Somebody” can be too much to bear. There are exceptions to the rule, however. And Seattle sextet The Head and the Heart proves to be one of them.

Formed at the Conor Byrne Irish pub in Seattle in 2009, The Head and The Heart is made up of six accomplished musicians, all coming from different musical backgrounds with different musical tastes—something you can definitely hear on the band’s albums, from their self-titled 2011 effort to their sophomore smash, 2013’s Let’s Be Still. Both albums feature tight harmonies, multi-instrumental arrangements and songs that range from the soaring optimism of “My Friends” to the pensive meditation “Another Story,” a response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012.

We sat down with Josiah Johnson (vocals/guitar/percussion) and Charity Rose Thielen (vocals/violin) to talk about how they progressed from open-mic-night darlings to full-fledged stars. 

“Some bands need a dictator, but all of us are usually on the same page. In the end, we need to have that perfect blend.”

THE RED BULLETIN: You started playing open mic in Seattle, and now you’re playing some of the biggest music festivals in the world.

JOHNSON: Success definitely didn’t come overnight. There have been stages to our success, and I think that’s been a good thing. We haven’t had to jump into things we weren’t anticipating or prepared for. It’s been a steady growth, and especially considering the bands we’ve gotten to play with or open for, the vibe was always good, really good, and the bands [including the Dave Matthews Band and Vampire Weekend] were always supportive.

How do large and small venues differ?

JJ:
It really all depends on the audience. I think you can have an intimate relationship with the crowd, no matter how big it is. It all just depends on making that connection. And the microphones work better now, which is nice, because I like to go into the crowd.

THIELEN: No matter where we are, we have such a great fan base—people that have really stuck by us, and we love them. They’re all old friends. And we do have better equipment now.

Because it was such a big jump, were you ever intimidated?

CRT:
For sure. But we’ve all had to make a lot of sacrifices, and we’ve all had to turn our backs on more stable or conventional work. That’s the intimidating thing.

JJ: That and Vampire Weekend. The Vampire Weekend shows in Seattle were crazy. It’s our hometown, and here we are going from playing 500-seat shows to a 3,000-seat arena. We had pretty much no road experience and no concept of what to expect. It was a real trial by fire. We overpracticed for those shows, but they were amazing.

So how does a song come together? Is it a big collective undertaking or do you all come in with ideas individually?

CRT:
Some of both. One person may bring in an idea, but the song ends up a blend of everyone’s input. As for the genesis of a song, it’s different every time.

The Lineup

Josiah Johnson (guitar/ vocals/percussion)
Charity Rose Thielen (vocals/violin)
Jonathan Russell (guitar)
Kenny Hensley (keyboards)
Chris Zasche (bass)
Tyler Williams (drums)

Discography

Let’s Be Still (2013)
The Head and the Heart (2011)

Do you sometimes split up into writing factions?

JJ:
Not factions, but groups. It’s one of the things that helps our band. Some bands need a dictator, or [songwriting] ends up being a battle of egos—that kind of thing—but all of us are usually on the same page anyway, and no one person’s input is more important than another’s. In the end, we need to have that perfect blend, so it’s definitely a collaborative effort.

How do you reconcile so many musical influences and styles?

JJ:
We all have varying influences. Everyone in the band has their favorite artists that are very different from one another. When we were first starting the band, it was great meeting people with such different influences because we all learned from each other. We all add things and contribute nuance that we never had before.

CRT: At this stage in our career, I think we’ve kind of devoured each other’s influences. But right from the very beginning, we all intersected at the Beatles. The Beatles bring everybody together. 

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1 2015 The Red Bulletin

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