In 2011, many bands were beginning to strip back. After the success of the Indie Sleeze movement in cities like New York and L.A. in the 2000’s many bands began to move out to the country or wanted to get a different perspective in some more emerging music scenes in regions like the Pacific Northwest. Artists like Fleet Foxes, The Lumineers, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and even with the massive success of Mumford & Sons, this revival of Roots Folk Rock emerged on the charts.
Soft balladeers, big bands featuring stripped down acoustic focused sounds, with a more modern take incorporating a more pop sensibility to their tunes. Much like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, these bands would strip back and focus on writing pop-centric tunes that incorporated a simple chord progression and allowed for the lyrical content and vocals to carry a lot of the melody.
One of those bands was Seattle’s The Head and The Heart. Formed at the Conor Byrne Pub in Seattle, the group had a very Greenwich Village origin. Playing open mics every Sunday, working their songs and building a musical report and sharing creative ideas with one and other. From there they formed with the original members, John Russell (Guitar, Vocals), Josiah Johnson (Guitar, Vocals), Charity Rose Theilen (Violin, Vocals), Chris Zasche (Bass) and bartender at Conor Byrne Pub, Kenny Hensley (Keys, Piano), and Tyler Williams (Drums).
Since their self-titled debut, The Head and The Heart emerged as one of the most influential acts from this Indie Folk era and have continued to challenge themselves by mixing elements of R&B, Pop, and more modern folk sounds made popular by bands like the National, this electro-folk sound.
The Head & The Heart played one of the later headlining spots at Railbird Festival and sat down with CincyMusic before they took the stage. Drummer Tyler Williams, Pianist Kenny Hensley, and Bassist Chris Zasche discuss the past decade, influencing artists like Zach Bryan, who would later take the stage with the band, and what to expect in the next year, including new music on the horizon.
How has Railbird been so far?
Tyler: “Last night was really fun, Kenny and I came in early to see some of the acts.”
Kenny: “Yeah we came around 6 pm yesterday, got to meet Sheryl Crow and talk with her… She was super sweet and said she was a fan of the band so that was really cool.”
Who have you guys enjoyed so far?
Tyler: “Zach. (Zach Bryan) He was so great last night. We’ve been talking to Zach online. He’s a big fan of our band, we’re fans of his. So it was cool to finally get to meet and see him play.”
Well that’s interesting because, I think you can hear a clear influence on Zach Bryan’s sound from you guys and some the other Roots Revival bands of the early 2010’s:
Tyler: “That actually was what he said,” Williams laughed. “Which is really cool for us to get to see.”
Let’s talk a bit about your part in the Roots Revival of the 2010’s. Clearly, you guys played a big part in that era of music. How has that sound evolved and how have you guys evolved from that time?
Tyler: “I think it’s interesting, a lot of people called that a “Roots Revival.” Maybe it was the start of something but if you really look at it, that sound has continued. And it continues in the music of people like Zach (Bryan), Noah Kahan, Mt. Joy and many others coming up.”
Chris: “That whole time was interesting because I don’t think we were intentionally going for that sound and we sort of got lumped in with those bands and I get why, however, I don’t think there was any intention with what we were doing stylistically on our self-titled album.”
Tyler: “It’s interesting now coming back, and where we are now as a band, we’re sort of rediscovering those acoustic moments. We just got back from Virginia, where we were writing a bunch of songs and it felt like it was the first time John’s been excited to play his guitar in a while and that was kind of cool.”
What were you doing down in Virginia?
Tyler: “We were just writing, this trio and John.”
How did you guys begin playing together? Chris said he was a bartender in Seattle when he met the other members of the band. Talk about that a little. What kind of bartender were you?
Chris: “A bad one,” he laughed. “But it was great because I got to meet a lot of musicians while working there.”
Kenny: “This bar used to have an open mic every Sunday. John, Josiah, and I all met there every week. Chris was the bartender every Sunday. We got to know him and eventually he was like, “Do you guys need a bass player?” We also met Charity there, and so it all sort of formed at this little Irish Pub in Seattle.”
Do you think that pub had any influence on your sound?
Tyler: “I think the open mic did for sure. Watching John and Josiah go up there with Kenny, you got to see people beginning to listen a little closer. You know, maybe they put their beer down, stop talking to their friends, and I think it helped us tune the songs toward what was connecting with the audience at that moment.”
Kenny: “It was a really fun time. There was this old piano on stage, so I’d go up and play on and they’d have their acoustic guitars. So we were able to work on songs that included piano and work them out in front of a crowd.”
From 2011 to now what has been the evolution of the band?
Tyler: “I think our sound started to change with the venues we were playing. Playing larger venues we made a conscious decision to fill these venues with more sound. There was a lot of discussion about that, and I think John wanted to pick up the electric as well. It really started opening for My Morning Jacket. Watching them be able to fill any venue full of sound.
I think the departure of Josiah for a bit had us rethinking some things. Now we’ve been playing some shows with him again and that’s been great to rekindle that. But overall, it’s the evolution of any band. If you’re hungry to try new sounds and ideas that’s what really changes the overall approach.”
Who have been some contemporary influences on you over the years?
Tyler: “For me I think the National is always an influence on what I’m doing.”
Chris: “As any artist you’re always trying to find someone or something new to spark that creativity. I think we’re constantly just trying to see what else we can do.”
Kenny: “We also started from a foundation that wasn’t so busy from the get go, so we’ve been able to take influence from a lot of places and build on that.”
What can fans expect today from you as far as your Railbird set goes?
Tyler: “High octane!” Williams said jokingly.
Chris: “What’s nice about the catalog we have, depending on where we’re playing we can shift the setlist to who we’re playing with and who were playing too.”
Kenny: “It can changes if we’re playing from night and day. There’s a lot of flexibility with what we can play now.”
What does a festival lineup like this mean for you guys to see? I feel like this festival and others have almost been curated to your sound.
Tyler: “I think it’s great! As you watch other festivals like Cochella turn more toward Pop and Hip-Hop, this is kind of our sweet spot. We get to hang out with all of our friends we’ve met over the last decade and see all these up and coming bands, like Zach (Bryan), that maybe we’ve had some influence on over the years.
Kenny: “I think of it as a really fun challenge. I try to remind myself, no matter what slot we’re playing there's still a good amount of people who may only be familiar with a song or two of ours. So there’s still this opportunity to go and win over new fans.”
What can fans expect from you in the future?
Chris: “It’s such a part of the Human consciousness. It's funny, we just did a writing session last week and coming out of that I think we’re already getting back to that stripped down, rootsy sound. Which isn’t anything we talked about doing.”
Tyler: “After this we kick-off at Red Rocks for two nights. Charity’s back with us after having her second baby which is amazing. Then we’re out on the road with the Revivalist and Father John Misty this year. Then we’ll be doing our own fall headlining tour, and soon new music”
Kenny: “We’re hoping to record something early next year.”
Tyler: “As far as how the new album would sound, Chris said it best. We’re pushing in a new direction, while going back to that stripped down feeling.”
Kenny: “We really feel like we're in a good place as a band. After that first writing trip, we walked away having felt like we were making music more easily and we’ve been really connecting more as a band.”
You can catch The Head and The Heart on tour with the Revivalists and Father John Misty this summer. For full coverage of Railbird Fest and their performance go HERE.