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The Head and The Heart move forward with second album
In just four years and two albums, Seattle's The Head and the Heart has become one of the hippest bands on the burgeoning contemporary folk-rock scene.
But drummer Tyler Williams says there's a big difference between the sextet of the just-released "Let's Be Still" and the group that recorded THATH's self-titled 2010 debut.
"I think it's a different band now," says Williams, 27, a Virginia native who was recruited for the group by high school classmate Jonathan Russell, who'd moved to Seattle earlier. "I feel like we're definitely more seasoned and kind of approach this from a more professional mindset. I think we're still finding our sound, which is good. As a band, we're still pretty young."
The members of THATH -- most of whom, like Williams, moved to Seattle from elsewhere for various reasons -- met each other via open mic nights at the Conor Byrne pub, where bassist Chris Zasche was a bartender. The group quickly recorded an independent album and became a fixture around the city, ultimately signing with the iconic Sub Pop Records label and re-releasing its debut album in April of 2011.
THATH was named Seattle's Best New Band by City Arts magazine, while the track "River and Roads" was used on the TV shows "How I Met Your Mother" and "Chuck" and "Down in the Valley" appeared on "Sons of Anarchy." The band toured with groups such as Death Cab For Cutie, Vampire Weekend, My Morning Jacket and others, and it made its network TV debut on "Conan" during April of 2011.
And the group -- which was one of the headliners at this year's Ann Arbor Folk Festival -- had its best sales week ever, moving 42,000 copies of "Let's Be Still" for a No. 10 debut on the Billboard 200 and a No. 1 bow atop the Independent Albums chart.
Williams says he was lured into the band because the music "was more mature than anything I'd heard (Russell) do before. There was a gravity to it, a weight that you can't really deny when you hear it." At the same time, he notes, THATH's sound "was not very formed" and took a little discipline that the drummer instilled in order to gain focus.
"Charity (Rose Thielen) joined the week that I moved out and we had a fill-in bass player until January of 2010, when (Zasche) joined," Williams recalls. "At that time we had no idea. We were directionless. I had to kind of crack the whip on people to get to practice and really spend some time in the space together, but after (Zasche) joined all of a sudden it came together and we were recording by March of that year."
Williams adds that THATH quickly developed a creative method which involves the whole group, though it's often spurred by frontmen Russell and Josiah Johnson. "Usually Jon or Josiah brings in either a piece or a song and we'll get together in a room, all six of us, and start playing whatever we feel works with that," Williams explains. "Then we'll all criticize each other's playing. It's a pretty democratic process, but it can go on for weeks at a time, sometimes months for certain songs, until we're happy."
The new "Let's Be Still," meanwhile, brought even new challenges to the fore for the band.
"We were more open to adding textures and layers this time," Williams reports. "I think the first album was done with just us plying those songs live in a room, as if you were seeing us in a club or something. But being on tour we had the ability to kind of take from the other band that we were with on the rod and see what they did and how they approached music and songwriting.
"So I think we were more open to experimentation with more instruments and with a little bit more texture, I guess, on this record. They're not as overtly simple folks songs; they're much more kind of classic, timeless pop songs. It's more musical. We're just better musicians now, and inevitably that's going to show through."
Williams says the THATH members' growth was also evident in how they worked together on "Let's Be Still." "I think we've learned not to push each other's buttons too much," he notes. "I think we've all found what annoys each other, and we try to stay away from that as much as possible."
That's a good thing, because the musicians will be spending plenty of time together in the foreseeable future. The group's North American tour rolls into mid-December, with Europe and Australia on tap for early 2014, followed by another U.S. run and a summer full of festivals. But Williams says THATH is happy to be out playing, and it's hoping that having more material will help to distinguish the group from the other bands it's often compared to or lumped in with.
"I've never heard of a band agree to the definition that someone else has put on them and say, 'Yeah, that is exactly what we are,' " Williams says. "Sure, you can the records folk and lump us in with Mumford & Sons and whoever you want to. But we never listened to that kind of music. We listened to old folk, and a lot of Beatles and a lot of Crosby, Stills & Nash.
"So I think the (folk) tag is something we've never really related to and is not something we enjoy, really. But all we can do, really, is get out there and play and let people hear it for themselves."
The Head and The Heart, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down and Quiet Life perform Tuesday, Oct. 29, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 432 E. Fourth St. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. Call 248-399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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