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Under a North Star: The Head and the Heart plot a unique but always melodic course


For Blondie and Talking Heads it happened among the grimy abandoned buildings on the Lower East Side. For Grandmaster Flash it erupted around immigrant working-class apartments in the Bronx. For Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf it lingered down the aisles of an open-air market on Chicago’s Maxwell Street. And for The Byrds it echoed between the picturesque canyons of Los Angeles.

The energy of a music scene—whether New York City in the 1980s or Los Angeles in the 1960s—where genius and chance converge and the opportunity for collaboration might be just around the corner, is uniquely palpable, and pioneering the sounds of a culturally momentous genre is the dream of any musician and singer, particularly in the early days of their careers. Just about any artist wants to find themselves in the right place at the right time.

pic by Shervin Lainez

Subsequent its famed grunge era, Seattle became the epicenter of an American indie folk & rock scene beginning in the late 1990s/early 2000s with bands like Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse, Band of Horses, Death Cab for Cutie and The Head And The Heart at the forefront.

The chronicles of The Head And The Heart, an indie folk sextet, originate in the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard—a once blue-collar coastal enclave with deep Scandinavian roots.

“[Seattle] just felt like the place to be for the style of music we wanted to make,” remembers drummer Tyler Williams, who along with guitarist and vocalist Jonathan Russell, relocated to the West Coast from their native Virginia. “We all feel like Seattle is a hometown for us.”

The Head And The Heart—Russell, Williams, Charity Rose Thielen (violin, guitar and vocals), Kenny Hensley (piano), Chris Zasche (bass) and multi-instrumentalist Matt Gervais—formed in 2009 by way of open-mic nights at one of the oldest pubs in town, Conor Byrne. About a year later, Sub Pop, Seattle’s iconic record label, signed the band.

“It was a wild time,” recalls Williams. “The feeling around that time was like a tornado of energy had picked us up and you kind of get taken to this other place in your mind and in what’s possible in your life. It’s a really strange feeling and it’s the closest thing I’ve ever felt to magic. It was just incredible. And we were very lucky to find ourselves there.”

Sub Pop released the group’s debut The Head and the Heart, and the band followed up with four more studio albums, including, Every Shade of Blue released in April 2022 on the Reprise/Warner label. This latest record seems to contain a different shade of blue in every song—the kind of blue synonymous with the skies and the seas, evoking feelings of expansiveness, calmness and intuition.

“I think as an artist you can sort of get typecast. Fairly or unfairly. By your audience or by critics,” explains Williams. “I think we asked ourselves what do we want to do and what feels right: we were going with that as our north star.”

As for Williams, he became a father during the pandemic when he and his bandmates were confined to their homes, giving him ample time to be with his child and The Head And The Heart the rare occasion to regroup.

“For the band it was a time of rest and rejuvenation,” recalls Williams. “It kind of felt like we were able to take a deep breath and look back on the decade before. We had never really had a break from touring. We had a chance to reflect, work on our relationships, work in music. It was kind of a fruitful time.”

The Head and The Heart play BeachLife Festival May 7.


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