Interview: The Head and the Heart

Since first buying their album back in August, I can’t stop (and won’t stop) raving about The Head and the Heart and what their music has meant to me. It was one of those special moments where it felt like an album was speaking both to and for me because it came to me at the perfect time. The themes of the album are the themes of this blog, the themes I’ve been thinking and feeling since I moved here. I couldn’t articulate the connection in words but fell deeply in love with the record. Then, Josh Loveseth of Sound on the Sound put it into words for me:

“Coming into oneself and growing up to a point of becoming self-aware and self-determining is that awkward period when we’re deciding who we want to be for the rest of our life, and feeling out how we’re most comfortable interacting with the world. It’s a time of thrill and fear, of excitement for the possibilities of the future but of regret for loss of innocence and the burden of responsibility. The Head and the Heart’s debut self-released self-titled record contrasts the difficulty and beauty of that time of change, but also the elemental need to wander and figure things out for oneself in spite of those ties that bind.

If most of us who’ve been through it remember that time as fraught with turmoil and a fair share of moments we’d rather forget, the Head and Heart smooth that over with playful pop harmonies and a jaunty set of keys that offer a vision of that time as the best time of our lives. The pull of home and familiarity is ever-present on the record, but so are the themes of self-determination. Acknowledging owning the mistakes from this time of growth, co-songwriter Jonathan Russel intones “lord have mercy on my rough and rowdy ways” while Josiah Johnson opines, “oh I love my vices, but they’ve taken me to places I’d never thought I’d go.” The final track of the record “Heaven Go Easy on Me” addresses this tension directly and in a single lyric make clear the side they come down on, ending a verse exclaiming “don’t follow your head, follow your heart!” before building a refrain of “We’re on our way, we’re well on our way.”

Though much of popular music songwriting these days pivots on the notion of opposition and communicating a response to being wronged, the Head and the Heart have turned that idea on it’s head: instead of steeling themselves against the tides of life and shouting at the waves for existing they are bodysurfing the swells for all that they’re worth . . . For those younger than the early twenties of the band, they’re providing an aspirational window into what’s ahead for them, into the freedom to come. For the older among us, it transports us back into the thrill of the unknown and endless possibility that this time in life holds.”

Thank you, Josh.  To quote another Sound on the Sound founder, Abbey Simmons, “Their songs are just that good,” profoundly accessible and universal.  And, thank goodness, the world is taking notice.  In the last few months the band has made every local top-10 list, gotten repeated national press attention, signed to Sub Pop Records, started touring nationally and internationally, and in the new CityArts magazine released today, graces the cover.  Hell, my plan was to post this interview to get more people to their first Chicago show ever at Schuba’s this Sunday, but it has already sold out!  Great bands should not be secrets, and it is absolutely heartwarming to watch all their success.

It was a pleasure to sit down over dinner with Tyler Williams, drummer for The Head and the Heart, and reflect on my favorite themes – beginnings, music community, and transition – pre-show at the Doug Fir in Portland, OR a few weeks back.  Here are a couple of text excerpts, followed by the entire interview in short mp3 segments.

I’ve never seen [a music scene] so inclusive and community-based.  I’ve never seen as many people come out to see local live shows as I have in Seattle.  People actually care about local music. I think they’re just accustomed to local bands being really great. That’s what they look for, people going to shows – non-musicians and even people in bands.  On the East Coast I felt like there was almost a competition between bands, and out here it’s definitely more of a helping vibe.” – Tyler Williams, The Head and the Heart

“Coming from the East Coast, I thought that you had to have a posture – had to be cool – there was a certain image that you had to put out there.  It’s just what I grew up with, what I knew.  Then I met Josiah and Charity and Kenny and Chris, and they’re just themselves.  Be who you are and let that shine on stage . . . Do what makes you happy.  I think that is the quickest way to success.” – Tyler Williams, The Head and the Heart


MH: “What is the origin story of The Head and the Heart?

MH: “Was there ever a moment that felt like a catalyst or turning-point?”

photo by Dylan Priest

MH: “As a fellow musical transplant, how would you characterize the Seattle music scene?”

MH: “What are some inhibitors to building good/authentic community around music in Seattle?”

MH: “How has your understanding of Seattle music community/scene changed in the last year?”

Reflecting on the community that has grown around the Conor Byrne Open Mic on Sunday nights:

MH: “What advice would you give someone moving to a new city to do music?”

As I mentioned, The Head and the Heart’s Chicago debut this weekend has already sold out.  I will let y’all know if there are any in-store appearances or the like planned.  In the meantime, visit to connect with the band, sign up on the email list, and get a free download of my favorite song on the album “Down in the Valley.”

Also, you should purchase the entire album digitally from iTunes, or wait with baited breath for the physical Sub Pop re-release in April.