So many decisions in life and in the music we love can come down to a critical tug between the logic in our heads and the hot red blood beating through our hearts. Seattle’s The Head and the Heart live authentically in that crux, finding joy and beauty wedged there. Their music pulses effervescently—both explosively danceable and intuitively intelligent. With Americana roots and strong vocal harmonics that swell like a river, this band finds its anchor in solid songwriting that has even the jaded humming along by the second listen.
Leaving a variety of day jobs and academic pursuits, The Head and the Heart came together in the summer of 2009, during frequent visits to the open mic night at Conor Byrne in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. California-transplant Josiah Johnson and Virginia-native Jonathan Russell formed the core songwriting partnership, quickly adding keyboardist Kenny Hensley to the mix. Kenny, then 21, had packed up his piano and moved up to Seattle from California to pursue musical score-writing. The luminous Charity Rose Thielen, violin and vocals, had just returned from a year of studying and playing music in Paris. Drummer Tyler Williams cold left a successful band in Virginia after Jon sent him the demo of “Down in the Valley,” relocating across states to be a part of this. Finally, Chris Zasche, was bartending at Conor Byrne and mentioned one day that he’d be happy to play bass for the nascent band. It all felt right: The Head and the Heart was born.
Whether penning songs on the beach at Seattle’s Discovery Park, or working out melodies in the piano practice rooms at the Seattle Public Library, Charity describes the early months of the band’s existence as touched by a shared purpose and connection. She recalls an email she sent to Josiah that summer, confessing that she was “sleepless and penniless, but inspired nonetheless.”
The band entered Seattle’s Studio Litho in early 2010 to record these songs that had been kicking and twisting in the catalytic development of their live show. Recorded by Shawn Simmons at Studio Litho and Steven Aguilar at Bearhead Studio, the band was selling burned copies in handmade denim sleeves at local shows within a few weeks. Self-released in June 2010, the debut album helped build an impressive head-of-steam for the band through the second half of the year, gaining fans at influential Seattle station KEXP, local record shops (a consistent top 10 seller for Easy Street and the #1 album of 2010 at Sonic Boom), and venues up and down the West Coast, culminating with signing to Sub Pop Records in November. For the 2011 re-release of the album, “Sounds like Hallelujah” has been re-recorded, live favorite “Rivers and Roads” has been added, and the album has been re-mastered.
The songs resulting from those first inspired months pick at the multicolored threads of leaving home, finding home, and through that process of deconstruction, finding yourself. These are songs about crossing rivers and roads to get to the one you love, about family far away, and the desire to chase Technicolor dreams down foreign horizons. When people hear these songs, or see the band live, the first thing they have to do is tell someone else. Their shows are, simply, one hell of a lot of breathless fun. Each song explodes into a potent supernova on stage, where half the audience is zealously singing along with every lyric, and the other half is wishing they knew the words. The band has accepted nearly every show offered to them in the past year, from backyards strung with Christmas lights to coffee shops, open mics, and even high school classrooms in Middle America. From the first months of the band’s life, their reputation as a phenomenal live band has preceded them wherever they play.
The strength of Josiah, Jon and Charity’s vocal harmonies on the album makes it feel like these three were born to pour their voices together, as the band’s songs revel in jaunty bass lines with ebullient handclaps peppering the best moments. A palette of orchestral elements weave their way through the album, including cello, glockenspiel, and violin, all shading in the songs’ development. For all the times your toes tap while enjoying this band, often the lightness will deceptively belie the depth of ache in the lyrics when you sit down to really listen. There is magic in the music, but not magic contrived by trickery or posturing. “It seems actually that the more genuine and honest we are in the songwriting and performing, the more people relate to that transparency,” Charity muses.
This is an album for people who unabashedly sing and drum along on the steering wheel, and also for those who appreciate a well-crafted collection of songs that build into something wholly beautiful.
There is in this music a counter-cultural optimism, with roots that grow deep and melodies that lodge themselves far into that place inside you where the head meets the heart.