The Head and The Heart
Mon, March 6, 2017
Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm
$32.50 Advance / $35 Day of Show
This event is all ages
Buy tickets in person at the Port City Music Hall box office (504 Congress Street) Wednesday-Friday 10AM-5PM, charge by phone at 800-745-3000, or online right here. State Theatre box office will open one hour before doors night of show.http://www.statetheatreportland.com/event/1388163/
Then, something unexpected happened. That music began to reach audiences all over the United States and the rest of the world, and The Head and the Heart went from playing open mic nights to selling out headlining shows in prestigious venues. The album became one of Sub Pop's best-selling debut releases in years. And slowly but surely, ideas began to form for the band's second album, imbued with the experiences of traveling the world and cultivating a listenership with a deep connection to the music.
"There is a certain level of confidence gained from having such an amazing fan base," says group member Jonathan Russell. "You start to trust yourself more. When we were busking, we were filling so much space to keep the listener from walking away. Now we are in a very different situation." Adds group member Josiah Johnson, "We wanted to write songs that felt bigger, and didn't need to be so frantic. I think for the most part we wanted to record an album that sounds like the way we play now."
Indeed, The Head and the Heart's new release, Let's Be Still, is a snapshot of a band that didn't exist just four short years ago. Virginia native Russell and California transplant Johnson formed the core songwriting partnership, which was rounded out by drummer Tyler Williams, keyboardist Kenny Hensley, vocalist/violinist Charity Rose Thielen and bassist Chris Zasche, who'd met Russell and Johnson while tending bar at an open mic they frequented. The nascent group dove headfirst into writing, recording and performing, and even moved into the same house to ensure that inspiration could strike at any moment.
"The first record was very thematic. It just had to do with all of us being together and writing songs, and leaving home to come to Seattle," says Thielen. "I honestly don't know if there is a theme this time around. There are things that stick out, like the idea of going from busking to becoming a full-on band and touring like crazy." Adds Williams, "Before we started recording, I wondered, 'What if this doesn't work? What if the momentum dies down?' But once we got in there, we realized that we felt so good together doing it. The weight was lifted. It was like, 'Right! This is what we do.'"
Let's Be Still was recorded at Seattle's Studio Litho with assistance from prior production collaborator Shawn Simmons. Later, the band traversed the country to mix the album in Bridgeport, Conn., with Peter Katis, revered for his work with bands such as the National, Interpol and the Swell Season. The 13 tracks here build naturally on both the sounds and themes of the debut, from the piano and violin-dappled opener "Homecoming Heroes" and the heartfelt "Josh McBride" to vibrant, bouncy future concert staples "Shake" and "My Friends."
"The first record was written and recorded with a lot of limitations. It's almost easier that way," says Zasche. "This time around, with more time and resources, there were few limitations, so we had to be in charge of keeping a focus and not getting distracted but at the same time exploring the options available. It wasn't easy, but from this I think a clearer, more focused record has been made."
Band members point to "Another Story" as a moment that embodies their collective creative spirit. Russell wrote the song shortly after the elementary school shooting in Sandy Hook, Conn., but hadn't showed it to anyone in the band except Johnson. "One day everyone was taking a break from tracking and I was sitting in my booth and started to play this song," Russell recalls. "You could hear what I was doing in the control room and then one by one, a bandmate would walk in, grab their instrument and start playing along. We didn't talk about it. We didn't have to go back and rearrange anything. It was all there." Adds Williams, "Jon is so smart about waiting to introduce new ideas. He knows when the mood will be right." Says Johnson, "The song was undeniable, and the vibe didn't change from when he was playing it acoustically. Everybody just lifted it up, in the way that this band does."
On the opposite end of the spectrum was "Gone," which dated back to sessions for the debut album but didn't make the cut the first time around. The band wrestled with the arrangement while performing it live for several years, and finally cracked the code after adding a laid-back bass-and-drum groove to the beginning. Described by Thielen as "striking" in its solo acoustic form, Johnson's "Fire / Fear" underwent similar revisions until the rest of the band settled on a new progression to link the verses together. "There is a lot more patience in the music," says Russell. "I think that has a lot to do with feeling more comfortable as a songwriter and a performer."
During the mixing process, Katis was tasked with polishing what Johnson describes as "a beautiful mess" of finished tracks. Says Williams, "We have a certain energy when we play shows that didn't translate to the first record. I was getting worried about that before we went to Peter's. Things seemed a bit muted and dry to me. But I didn't realize how much mixing could change a record. Peter actually went in and messed with tones, had some production suggestions and wound up really being the right guy to help us finish the record." "His mixes turned the songs around, and breathed vibrancy into them," says Thielen. "He added some auxiliary details that helped make things more full-bodied, but still within the realm of what we do. It was really refreshing."
With Let's Be Still ready for release, The Head and the Heart is eager to return to the road to further hone the musical bond its members formed in such whirlwind fashion. "When I think about the two records together, the first one feels like we all wanted to fulfill this dream we'd had about playing music, meeting people and traveling around," says Williams. "This one feels like the consequences of doing that -- what relationships did you ruin? What other things did you miss? You always think it will all be perfect once you just do 'this.' And that's not always the case."
Adds Russell, "Has there been an impact on our lives since we have become full-time musicians? Sure. No band wants to write that second record about how hard they have it. But it's hard to get around all of it. There are a few songs on this record that express the band's hardships for sure. On one hand, it's everything you have ever wanted. On the other hand, you start to miss the things you've lost and had to give up. And that's just life. My job is to write about it."
Earlier in the year, Morgan went through one of those break-ups that completely topples your world. Though it was as amicable as those things can be, the twenty-eight year-old musician felt shattered. She began working on songs for Midnight Room during those strange waking interludes last summer, finding an abundance of beautiful melodies in the melancholy ether. “A lot of lyrics on the record are collaged or don’t necessarily make sense next to each other,” she says. “But I guess my whole headspace was like that for a few months. I felt like I couldn’t trust my memory completely -- like i was space cadeting through the weird space between sleeping and dreaming and waking and reality.”
The melodies came easily, but the words were initially harder to find. So she tried a new approach for Midnight Room’s lyrics, inspired by her own disjointed thinking during those months. When an intriguing phrase or evocative image occurred to her, she wrote it down on a piece of index card. Sitting with the dozens of scraps on the floor in front of her, Morgan would rearrange the fragments until she found a way to make sense of it all. “A lot of the themes are, like, ‘How do you lovingly change a relationship?,’” she says. “How do you say good-bye to someone in a certain way and still keep him or her in your life? I feel like I was asking a lot of questions during the making of the record that I still don’t really have answers to, but at least some of the songs were exploring that territory.”
In the interest of achieving a more cohesive sound for Midnight Room, Morgan reached out to producer Chris Coady, whose work with Future Islands, Beach House and The Orwells she’d admired. “To me, Chris’s greatest gift as a producer is creating a sonic palette for an album that really brings their songs to life,” she says. “I wanted the whole thing to feel like you’re looking through a cobalt blue glass, and to get textures that almost feel like being able to see stars in the sky. I wanted it to have this very velvety midnight blue purity to the sound, and I feel like the synthesizers that we used and a lot of the guitar tones we used evoked that kind of visual texture.”
609 Congress St
Portland, ME, 04101