Composed primarily of transplants to the Seattle area, The Head and the Heart write and play songs that speak to the newness of a fresh start, of the ghosts left behind, of moving forward, all brimming with a soulfulness and hope for a better life than the one we’ve all been sold.
Stylistically, think a folksy Beatles or The Avett Brothers with a little extra oomph. Catchy piano melodies stand side by side with a tight trio of harmonies, and solid minimalist drums, groovin bass, and plenty of hand percussion and foot stomps make the live show inspiring and really goddamn fun.
Amy talked with Josiah Johnson and Charity Rose Thielen about their inspiration and beauty.
Josiah answered 1-9 and Charity #10.
TDOA: I adore your band name – can you talk a little about where it came from/what made you choose it?
JJ: The band name came from being at that point, a crossroads in my life, where I needed to make the choice between doing the sane, logical thing and getting a job or pursuing music and writing songs. I was going to grad school en route to a career-type job, but always felt this tug to do this potentially dead-end but potentially life-changing music career. I found that a lot of my friends, in their own ways, were needing to make similar choices. Do we pursue what we’re most passionate about, or do we settle for what makes the most sense? That’s the choice everyone’s making all the time. The balance, and the choice between following your head or your heart were, and are still, so interesting to me.
TDOA: What’s it like being musicians in Seattle? Especially one that is oh-so-different from the city’s musical legacy?
JJ: Seattle is a great music city, now as much as I imagine it ever was. For different reasons today, I think. There’s a love from the culture of the city at large for the music being made there. Both from the people involved with the proper music industry, the venues, the papers, etc… and from fans, both young and old. Having a radio station with so broad a reach as KEXP willing to listen to and play up-and-coming local bands is killer. Having several hyper-local music blogs, like SoundOnTheSound.com, that are continually going to local shows and publicizing the new things happening really creates this sense of community among music makers and music fans. Seattle is fantastic for musicians finding their place.
And while our music is different from the city’s legacy, being the home of grunge music etc.. the indie/folk scene is huge there right now, so we didn’t exactly change the game in terms of what’s been happening. Fleet Foxes, and to a lesser reach Hey Marseilles, before us, and a plethora of bands that you’ll be hearing more from in the coming year are coming in the same folk vein that we’ve been recognized for.
TDOA: What’s it like being on Sub Pop? I can’t even imagine how exciting that must be for you guys.
JJ: A dream. They have great taste, not just in music (we’ve always known and loved the bands they’ve put out), but in the way it should be promoted and sold. They’ve taken to being a major support for the goals that we have. It seems they are closer to their artists than you would necessarily imagine record label executives being. Fantastic. And, seriously, did I mention all the great bands they’ve put out?
TDOA: How does it feel to be so well-hyped?
JJ: On the one hand, it’s great. Not a lot of bands get the attention that we’ve received so early on. That’s something that we attribute to the excellent aforementioned music community in Seattle as much as to any sort of merit. There are plenty of extremely deserving bands that never see the light of day outside of their own city.
On the other hand, I saw an advertisement for a show we played recently that labeled us “Seattle buzz band The Head and the Heart,” and I cringed. Being called a buzz band is to me the same as being called an “overly hyped band,” which I could do without. We plan on being around for a very long time. So being able to stand up to all of the hype with the skill and content to back that hype up is daunting. But I think that kind of pressure is just being used as a motivator to be constantly improving and honing what we do. That’s the best way to last, I think, constantly challenging ourselves to become better at what we do.
TDOA: I hear a VERY David Gray-esque vocal influence. Do you consider him to be an influence? (If not, who are they?)
JJ: Nope, Haven’t listened to much David Gray. A lot of CSNY, Bon Iver and Ryan Adams were being listened to around the time we wrote the album, as far as vocalists go.
TDOA: Opening for Vampire Weekend sounds awesome. How was it?
JJ: Super intimidating leading up to it. The night of the first show, I was bottling up so much nervous energy going into it. The room was probably 5 times bigger than any other room we’d played up to that point.
The crazy thing was, once we got up on stage and started going, while it was surreal for sure, it just felt like we were playing any other show. I kind of let go of thinking when I’m on stage, and just get my head into the music. It’s a cool feeling.
So surreal. And ultimately a ton of fun.
TDOA: I watched the NPR video from your studio session at KEXP – you guys look like you’re all best friends. How does that impact the creative dynamic?
JJ: It’s odd, it impacts the process in two totally opposite ways. On the one hand, it’s made writing a lot of the songs so fun, because you’re hanging out with your friends and making music at the same time, and there’s nothing better.
On the other hand, you have to be careful how you word your critique of what another person is playing. You have to get used to hearing your friends say frankly that they think the part you’re playing or singing is terrible or could be vastly improved.
We still walk that line, but I think the end result is pretty rewarding. Getting to create something you think is great with your friends is an amazing feeling.
TDOA: I agree with NPR, the percussion is truly interesting. How do you decide what to do, when to do it, and which instrument will be most effective?
JJ: Tyler’s the master there. He’s got a great ear for interesting textures and rhythms, and the percussion on the recordings benefited mostly from his ideas.
It’s funny though, the use of percussion in the first place was largely born from Jon and I not really having another instrument that we knew well enough to play while we were singing harmony on each other’s songs.
TDOA: I think that the comparisons I’ve seen to Ryan Adams are really shallow. Who do you guys think your music sounds like?
JJ: Hahaha, well, as I said before, he really is one of the influences several of us look to vocally and in song-writing. I think he’s great. We take all Ryan Adams comparisons as a compliment. The easy way out of saying we just sound like Ryan Adams is what the rest of the band does.
There’s a lot of Beatles influence in Kenny’s piano as well as the way the songs are structured, cobbling multiple songs/parts into one piece. Tyler really is influenced/inspired by by the interesting use of percussion by drummers like Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, and the minimalism and cleverness of The National’s Bryan Devendorf.
So I imagine while the song writing may sound like Ryan Adams, I wouldn’t say our band does.
TDOA: And, as always, Amy’s Woman Question. Charity, how do you think that you creatively impact the band? (BTW, vocals? Amazing.)
CRT: Each one of us are credited as songwriters and creative contributors. A melody or rhythmic line may come to mind, which I’ll then attempt to layer into the mix using my violin. I also co-wrote Winter Song and Rivers and Roads, the songs that I sing lead on. I don’t focus on the fact that I’m the only female in this band, yet I also cant ignore that it is part of my identity. It has a host of challenges, being a type of minority, but I have been told that it is a favorite aspect of people when observing our band and I love the idea that I am representing woman in this industry. I see myself as a writer, vocalist and instrumentalist and 1/6 of The Head and The Heart…who happens to enjoy wearing dresses and getting her nails done from time to time.