CMOORE CONCERTS PRESENTS
The Head And The Heart – Every Shade of Blue Tour 2022
It wasn't that long ago that the members of Seattle's The Head and the Heart were busking on street corners, strumming their acoustic guitars, stomping their feet and singing in harmony as they attempted to attract the attention of passersby. That unbridled energy informed their earliest original material, which was honed in local clubs before eventually being captured on the band's 2011 debut album for hometown label Sub Pop.
Then, something unexpected happened. That music began to reach audiences all over the United States and the rest of the world, and The Head and the Heart went from playing open mic nights to selling out headlining shows in prestigious venues. The album became one of Sub Pop's best-selling debut releases in years. And slowly but surely, ideas began to form for the band's second album, imbued with the experiences of traveling the world and cultivating a listenership with a deep connection to the music.
"There is a certain level of confidence gained from having such an amazing fan base," says group member Jonathan Russell. "You start to trust yourself more. When we were busking, we were filling so much space to keep the listener from walking away. Now we are in a very different situation." Adds group member Josiah Johnson, "We wanted to write songs that felt bigger, and didn't need to be so frantic. I think for the most part we wanted to record an album that sounds like the way we play now."
Indeed, The Head and the Heart's new release, Let's Be Still, is a snapshot of a band that didn't exist just four short years ago. Virginia native Russell and California transplant Johnson formed the core songwriting partnership, which was rounded out by drummer Tyler Williams, keyboardist Kenny Hensley, vocalist/violinist Charity Rose Thielen and bassist Chris Zasche, who'd met Russell and Johnson while tending bar at an open mic they frequented. The nascent group dove headfirst into writing, recording and performing, and even moved into the same house to ensure that inspiration could strike at any moment.
"The first record was very thematic. It just had to do with all of us being together and writing songs, and leaving home to come to Seattle," says Thielen. "I honestly don't know if there is a theme this time around. There are things that stick out, like the idea of going from busking to becoming a full-on band and touring like crazy." Adds Williams, "Before we started recording, I wondered, 'What if this doesn't work? What if the momentum dies down?' But once we got in there, we realized that we felt so good together doing it. The weight was lifted. It was like, 'Right! This is what we do.'"
Let's Be Still was recorded at Seattle's Studio Litho with assistance from prior production collaborator Shawn Simmons. Later, the band traversed the country to mix the album in Bridgeport, Conn., with Peter Katis, revered for his work with bands such as the National, Interpol and the Swell Season. The 13 tracks here build naturally on both the sounds and themes of the debut, from the piano and violin-dappled opener "Homecoming Heroes" and the heartfelt "Josh McBride" to vibrant, bouncy future concert staples "Shake" and "My Friends."
"The first record was written and recorded with a lot of limitations. It's almost easier that way," says Zasche. "This time around, with more time and resources, there were few limitations, so we had to be in charge of keeping a focus and not getting distracted but at the same time exploring the options available. It wasn't easy, but from this I think a clearer, more focused record has been made."
Band members point to "Another Story" as a moment that embodies their collective creative spirit. Russell wrote the song shortly after the elementary school shooting in Sandy Hook, Conn., but hadn't showed it to anyone in the band except Johnson. "One day everyone was taking a break from tracking and I was sitting in my booth and started to play this song," Russell recalls. "You could hear what I was doing in the control room and then one by one, a bandmate would walk in, grab their instrument and start playing along. We didn't talk about it. We didn't have to go back and rearrange anything. It was all there." Adds Williams, "Jon is so smart about waiting to introduce new ideas. He knows when the mood will be right." Says Johnson, "The song was undeniable, and the vibe didn't change from when he was playing it acoustically. Everybody just lifted it up, in the way that this band does."
On the opposite end of the spectrum was "Gone," which dated back to sessions for the debut album but didn't make the cut the first time around. The band wrestled with the arrangement while performing it live for several years, and finally cracked the code after adding a laid-back bass-and-drum groove to the beginning. Described by Thielen as "striking" in its solo acoustic form, Johnson's "Fire / Fear" underwent similar revisions until the rest of the band settled on a new progression to link the verses together. "There is a lot more patience in the music," says Russell. "I think that has a lot to do with feeling more comfortable as a songwriter and a performer."
During the mixing process, Katis was tasked with polishing what Johnson describes as "a beautiful mess" of finished tracks. Says Williams, "We have a certain energy when we play shows that didn't translate to the first record. I was getting worried about that before we went to Peter's. Things seemed a bit muted and dry to me. But I didn't realize how much mixing could change a record. Peter actually went in and messed with tones, had some production suggestions and wound up really being the right guy to help us finish the record." "His mixes turned the songs around, and breathed vibrancy into them," says Thielen. "He added some auxiliary details that helped make things more full-bodied, but still within the realm of what we do. It was really refreshing."
With Let's Be Still ready for release, The Head and the Heart is eager to return to the road to further hone the musical bond its members formed in such whirlwind fashion. "When I think about the two records together, the first one feels like we all wanted to fulfill this dream we'd had about playing music, meeting people and traveling around," says Williams. "This one feels like the consequences of doing that -- what relationships did you ruin? What other things did you miss? You always think it will all be perfect once you just do 'this.' And that's not always the case."
Adds Russell, "Has there been an impact on our lives since we have become full-time musicians? Sure. No band wants to write that second record about how hard they have it. But it's hard to get around all of it. There are a few songs on this record that express the band's hardships for sure. On one hand, it's everything you have ever wanted. On the other hand, you start to miss the things you've lost and had to give up. And that's just life. My job is to write about it."
While the city of Los Angeles has been both an inspiration and a home to the four members of Dawes, they found themselves traveling East last fall to record their third album in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina with newly enlisted producer Jacquire King. It was a chance to hunker down and work each day for a month away from familiar landmarks and routines. The tracks they laid down at Asheville’s Echo Mountain Studio have yielded a 12-song disc of tremendous sonic and narrative clarity, book-ended in classic album fashion by two very different versions of the wistful “Just Beneath The Surface” – a misleading title, really, since the songs stacked in between dig so deep. Stories Don’t End is not so much a departure from the quartet’s previous efforts as a distillation of them. It spotlights the group’s maturing skills as arrangers, performers and interpreters who shape the raw material supplied by chief songwriter and lead vocalist Taylor Goldsmith into an artfully concise and increasingly soulful sound.
Once again, Goldsmith displays a particular gift for tunes that balance tough and tender, hardboiled and heartbroken. As a writer, he prowls his psyche like a forties detective, looking for clues to the mysteries of life and love. “Just My Luck” has the irresistible pull of a vintage country tune, though the arrangement is understated and contemporary. If Goldsmith’s vocal delivery weren’t plaintive enough, the band ups the emotional ante with a beautiful wordless coda that intertwines Tay Strathairn’s piano and Goldsmith’s lead guitar. Similarly “Something In Common” is a morning-after shuffle that builds into a bigger and more dramatic track before dropping back to a quiet melancholic finish. Goldsmith takes a few simple words, like “something in common,” and uses them like chapter headings to develop a compelling story, full of unexpected twists, from verse to verse. “Someone Will” includes the same kind of word play while boasting a little more swagger. “Hey Lover,” a cover of a tongue-in-cheek tune by Dawes’ good buddy Blake Mills, is a playful mid-album break with Taylor Goldsmith and his young brother, drummer Griffin Goldsmith, trading off lead vocals.
Before he started composing for the album, says Taylor, “I went through a Joan Didion tear.” It was right after he read the legendary author’s Democracy that he found the title, Stories Don’t End, in her work. Though Didion is currently a New Yorker, she is most associated with Southern California, its culture of the sixties and seventies, a subject she examined in gimlet-eyed prose. When Goldsmith started penning new songs after several months on the road in support of Dawes’ 2011 disc,Nothing Is Wrong, his writing was even more keenly observant. “From a Window Seat” was the first he completed and, he admits, “It’s a very singular song. A lot of the songs on the record can be a little more broad, about a period in someone’s life or trying to explore a certain feeling. This song is about a specific experience of being on an airplane and that’s not a very poetic or lyrical idea.” Yet Goldsmith, employing an accumulation of small details, once again finds the bigger picture, about the narrator’s past and his (and our) uncertain future, about the history lurking beneath the swimming pool-dotted landscape below him. Just as important is the track itself — lean, propulsive and guitar-driven – lending urgency to Goldsmith’s in-flight musings. Similarly, “Bear Witness,” a last-minute addition to the lineup that the band arranged during the Asheville sessions, is an almost cinematically vivid rendering of a man having a conversation with his child from his hospital bed.
Nothing Is Wrong had garnered considerable acclaim, with London’s Independentdeclaring, “It’s as close to a perfect Americana album as there’s been this year.” Up to then, the band had relied on good friend Jonathan Wilson as producer, cutting its 2009 debut disc, North Hills, at Wilson’s Laurel Canyon studio and its follow-up with Wilson at a larger room in Echo Park. But Wilson’s own career as a solo artist was taking off following the release of his Gentle Spirit disc, and the band began a search for a new collaborator. King boasted an impressive and unusual resume, having produced an eclectic range of artists, including Kings of Leon, Modest Mouse, Norah Jones and the Punch Brothers. Says keyboardist Strathairn, “He’s really easy to work with. As a producer he doesn’t want to be the artist, he simply tries to make the band sound the best that the band can be. And the work speaks for itself.”
Recording with King and foregoing the quickly cut, straight-to-analog tape approach of its first two recordings was a way, says Taylor, for Dawes “to push the boundaries of what might be expected of us, or feel like a comfort zone for us, while trying to be the same band we always are. That was important to us. We didn’t want to abandon anybody’s sense of who we were and, more importantly, our sense of ourselves. We wanted to stay true to this thing that we had while starting to widen the spectrum a little bit.”
The reprise of “Just Beneath the Surface” at the end of the disc, however, is a first-take document of the band figuring out the tune together, and it was too good not to keep. As bassist Wylie Gelber recalls, “We knew the vibe we were going for and we were running through it while Jacquire was setting up. But we were completely unaware that he was recording us. We were fooling around and towards the end of it, we stopped for a minute and Jacquire said, Hey man, I think we’ve got it. We tried to beat that take but we couldn’t. You can hear it there, you can feel that it’s the first time it’s being played, it’s a simple song and there’s a subtle art to doing it. It ebbs and flows.”
“With Jacquire,” explains Taylor, “we were able to hold on to an essence of what we had been, but I feel now, more than with our first two records, that this makes a case that we’re a band from 2013. There a lot of bands that harken back to a period or style of a different time and that can be really limiting. That was never our intention.”
“The album is very honest,” concludes Strathairn. “It’s us.”