The Head & the Heart
In their cameo on Cameron Crowe’s series Roadies, the Head And The Heart portray a version of themselves who are master pranksters purposefully trying to sabotage shows in order to be able to book their own headlining spots, when in reality while they still might pull some pranks – “but not malevolent in real life like that” – The Head and The Heart are a band who have no problem handling tours gracefully. They are veterans of being on the road and are looking forward to embarking on the road again in support of their upcoming release, Signs of Light.
“[Having Cameron Crowe] call us and explain the idea of the show and telling us he wanted us to be a part of the first episode, it was kind of staggering, you know growing up watching Almost Famous, growing up watching Singles, these great movies that he made, it was kind of an honor to be there with him working on the set,“ recalls Tyler Williams, who plays the drums in the band. He, along with Kenny Hensley (piano), Chris Zasche (bass), Charity Rose Thielen (violin, banjo, vocals), Jonathan Russell (vocals, guitar, percussion), and Josiah Johnson (vocals, guitar, percussion), were tapped directly by Crowe to appear on the Showtime show. While at this point in their career they have very much earned the notoriety and opportunity, The Head and the Heart never predicted this for themselves when they first formed.
The band came together through a series of open mic nights in Seattle, and after their debut, complete with self burned CDs, they were quickly courted by booking agents and labels. They ultimately went with Sub Pop, who are under the umbrella of Warner Music Group, with Warner being responsible for the band’s latest release. When asked if there was ever a specific moment of when he knew that the band had “made it”, Williams explains his view that it’s never as clear as a single instance. “Right before something big happens there’s this energy, this momentum that gathers behind the band and it’s always kind of happened in different levels and phases of the band,” says Williams. “The issue I have with the entertainment industry is that it’s created to always keep you wanting more success or more popularity or whatever it is, so I think for us trying to get out of that mindset has been really helpful – just enjoying where you are in the moment and not worrying so much about success, worrying about how you feel about what you’re doing.”
To write Signs of Light, their third album, the band took time away from their grind and retreated to a house in Stinson Beach, California. They described it as “weird” but with beautiful views of the ocean from the living room. It was here that the Head and the Heart employed their democratic writing process to create the new record, which it had to be, in order to accommodate all the artists and influences. “Usually John or Charity or just anyone will bring an individual part or an almost completed song to the rest of us and we’ll kind of start talking about it and fleshing it out, kind of messing around and usually we go off our first instinct of the direction for the song, says Williams of the writing process. “So we’re very instinctual players on how we approach new stuff but it’s very democratic- we all have our say in each other’s parts and we all trust each other now to get it right, but it is very democratic, very 6 pieces making a puzzle.”
Citing classical influences Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, and Paul Simon, as well as contemporary ones like Alt-J and Kendrick Lamar, the band has acknowledged how these have seeped into their creative process, manifesting in ways like a bigger pop hook or an electric guitar on a song, where they might not have gone previously. On top of the new creative choices, it’s the trust between the members that has let them evolve creatively between releases. “I feel like on the new record we took chances where we wouldn’t have before,” reflects Williams. “In the past we might have been a bit more controlling or less trusting of each other’s instincts and on this one, we kind of let each other breathe a little bit more and create parts that people were individually happy with. It was also the first time working with a producer, so that definitely helped us grow and taught us to how to let go and approach songs in a different way”.
While giving each other space creatively has been integral to the band's success, it’s also the shared experiences that keep them together and thriving. Before every show they have a ritual of going into a huddle and discussing all the requisite things like setlists and walk-on music, followed by “shot club”, where as the name suggests, all the members take a shot of tequila before putting their hands in and “stirring the pot together as if we’re all churning butter.” It’s in these shared ceremonies, in their lyrics, and on Signs of Light that the Head and the Heart are able to make the act of missing or being missed more bearable. “There are amazing things about being on the road and touring, and then there are also not such great things like not being able to see your family or seeing friend’s wedding or whatever it may be,” says Williams. “Just knowing that we’re all feeling a loss for home, that keeps us all connected, and knowing that we’re doing it for a good purpose.”
Written by Korina Harmsen
Photography by James Minchin