While rehearsing in Nashville, vocalist and violinist Charity Rose Thielen took time out to chat with me over the phone. You can catch the Head and the Heart playing live at the Pageant on October 22 as the band tours in support of its latest release, "Let's Be Still."
Nathan Brand: So, I understand that the Head and the Heart formed through a series of open-mic nights in Seattle in 2009. Can you give me a little more background on that?
Charity Rose Thielen: Yeah, sure. So, basically Josiah [Johnson] had come up because he had always loved Seattle. He was from southern California, and was going to pursue a degree at University of Washington. Jon [Russell] lived in Virginia and his friend was moving up to Seattle. He kind of needed a change and had always heard about music and Sub Pop in Seattle. He was just like, "Well, why the hell not? I'm just gonna go with her." So, the two of them met pretty early on at this open mic. They both liked what each other was playing and met when Josiah started dating the girl Jon had come to Seattle with.
Then, Kenny [Hensley] had come up from southern California and was watching the open mic because his friend's band was playing. He told Josiah and Jon he played piano, and they were like, "Oh yeah, we play, too." You know, just not thinking anything of it, and then Kenny started playing and they were like, "OK, you can play piano for our band."
I had just moved home and was at the open mic where Chris [Zasche], our bass player, was bar tending. So this open mic night kind of magically brought everyone together. Other than Tyler [Williams], a friend of Jon's who had moved out from Virginia. It's actually pretty amazing thinking back on it.
Some of the most endearing parts of the Head and the Heart for me are the harmonies coming from you, Jon, and Josiah. Coming from such a foreign background to one another, was that something that came naturally or did it take some work to blend everything together?
Well, early on Josiah and Jon had been rhythm guitar players. So, if Josiah was playing a song, Jon didn't really know how to accompany him other than drawing on a harmony, and vice versa. That's how that started. I grew up as the youngest of three kids, and my mom was an orchestra teacher. We would always sing hymns, the four of us, and I would always stack on the last harmony. So, it was always a natural thing for me to fill in the third when we were together.
Also, I think a lot of the music we were all listening to was folk-based music, where the songwriting was really important. I guess, being more bare bones and acoustic, harmony is such a huge basis. It just makes you want to sing along, too.
The band is getting ready to start touring for "Let's Be Still." Do you think the touring aspect of being in a band has shifted since digital music has become increasingly available?
You know, I honestly don't think it has. Not really. I think live music is something that you have to be in a place, at a time, with an energy, and really experience. The accessibility to digital music, if anything, is affecting the record industry and how artists are getting paid, but it's not really effecting touring. Sometimes it even aids touring. More people know the songs and are excited to see it in a form that's live, so they go buy tickets.
Throughout touring have you found any favorite spots other than Seattle?
Oh, man, there's way too many. Well, we can go the reclusive, sort of quiet route. We've stayed in Marfa, Texas and we're talking about doing that again on our day off. I don't know if you ever been out there.
No, I've never heard of it.
Ah, you should look it up. I guess Sante Fe is the closest large city. It's like four hours south of Albuquerque, really close to the Mexican border. It's this really small place and it's magical. It kind of feels like a ghost town, but it's just beautiful and relaxing. We stay at this old motel and ride our bikes around town. They've hosted a bunch of huge bands playing in these small little places. It's just a magical, kind of quiet town that doesn't boast much, other than art. It's inspiring for artists.
I'll have to check it out if I find myself out that way. Speaking of staying quiet, I noticed that "Let's Be Still" has a little more going on, as far as production, than the first album did. Did that come about naturally, or was there a conscious decision to go that route on this album?
It definitely came about naturally. There is definitely more layered sonic elements, and that's just because we literally went in to record our first album as a demo, using all the money we had. We just had a few days for all the basic tracking and then doing overdubs at a friend's house. Because of the time and monetary limitations, we didn't have time to explore space. In the intention of having it as a demo, we weren't really trying to smooth out all the details and finishing touches. So, there is a rawness and a dryness to vocals and things that we have on that first record, but we've also developed so much as a band. But there is always an attempt to capture our passion live and put it on to record.
Having more time and writing in the studio is a huge liberty and luxury. When we were writing in the room with our headphones on, we could hear like, "Oh, there's room for this." It's definitely a more lush and fuller sounding record. I multi-tracked violin parts for a lot of the songs. We paid a little more attention in the studio this time because we had that allowance to. But I think having a character and rawness to our albums is always going to be a focus. I don't think we ever want to be over produced. We worked with our same engineer this time. We never want to be too smooth sounding, but still have a difference between the live show and the listening ear.
Well, it still sounds great. Do you have any new tracks that are particular favorites for you?
I mean, they all have their individuality, so I like different ones at different times, but I really like "Another Story." It's such a heavy subject to talk about. We all got together late one night in the studio and just started jamming on that song and ended up keeping the bulk of it from that night, maybe even everything. There's such a magic in that moment and that song. There still is for me, and I can't help but to be affected by it every time I listen to it.