Plenty of musicians attend open mic sessions. Few end up forming national acts. The Head and the Heart is the exception. Band members first met years ago at an open mic night at a Seattle pub. They formed a group and then recruited drummer Tyler Williams, a friend of singer-guitarist Jonathan Russell’s who was living in Richmond at the time, to join them. Now, the indie folk band known for its sharp vocal harmonies and brittle anthems has two well-received albums under its belt. It performs tonight at Masonic Auditorium and then plays in Nelsonville, Ohio on Saturday as part of the Nelsonville Art & Music Festival.
“I thought [the demo Jon sent me] was more mature than the stuff that he had been doing back in Virginia,” says Williams when asked what made him want to join the band in the first place. “It was what I was gravitating toward at the time.”
The band put out its self-titled album in April of 2010 and sold copies at shows. Songs such as the somber “Down in the Valley” suggest the band’s ability to mine folk traditions and update them for contemporary listeners. And the music caught on quickly. It wasn’t long after the band signed to Seattle’s Sub Pop Records, which consequently reissued the album. For the follow-up album, last year’s Let’s Be Still, the band had a bigger recording budget but went back to the same studio it used for its debut.
“It was nice to be in the studio for longer than two or three days,” Williams says. “We had more time to create the record we wanted to make. Sound-wise, we’ll keep adapting the way we actually record and figure out what works for us for each project. For the first record, we self-financed it and all worked day jobs to pay for it.”
The new record was co-produced with Shawn Simmons, who had helped engineer the first record. Peter Katis (the National, Interpol) did the mixing.
“He was there as the sounding board,” Williams says.
Both albums have great vocal harmonies and suggest the extent to which all the band members can sing.
“Everyone in the band can sing,” Williams says. “We all have a background in harmony. I don’t think anyone considers themselves just a drummer or a guitarist or whatever. Everyone works on understanding each other’s instruments. We all grew up on the Beatles. Our parents all played the Beatles. I think we all like the Band and Crosby, Stills Nash and Young. That’s where our influences meet."
On the current tour, the band is playing bigger venues than it did when it toured last year, a sign that its popularity hasn't quite peaked.
“We definitely have been thinking about the future of the band a lot,” Williams says. “We started writing and cataloging demos, which you usually do on the road. We talked about next year to figure out what we want to make it about. We need to take some time to think about it.”