In sports parlance, a team’s hometown crowd is often credited as an additional member — the 12th man in football, the sixth man in basketball — for its ability to effect an outcome. In some ways, Seattle could be considered The Head and the Heart’s seventh member, since the city drew two-thirds of the band’s membership from the outside world; only violinist/vocalist Charity Rose Thielen and bassist Chris Zasche are Seattle born.
The spirited Indie Folk aggregation began five years ago when Southern California native Josiah Johnson relocated to Seattle for graduate school and met fellow transplant Jonathan Russell through Seattle’s open mic community. The pair began singing and writing together, and quickly brought in keyboardist Kenny Hensley, who moved to Seattle to study score composition. Drummer Tyler Williams was a friend of Russell’s in Richmond, Va., and when Russell sent Williams a demo of “Down in the Valley,” a song from the band’s eventual first album, Williams dropped everything and headed West. Zasche bartended at one of the band’s open mic spots and offered his bass services, although he’d only played guitar and piano previously; Thielen was invited to join after the band was fully formed.
Mere weeks after assembling — the band’s name refers to the tension between the intellectual argument against forming the band and the emotional desire to do it anyway — The Head and the Heart recorded and burned copies of its debut album and packaged them in homemade denim sleeves. Local stores couldn’t stock them fast enough.
Within a year, The Head and the Heart was signed to Sub Pop, which remastered and added a song to the album for its 2011 reissue. The album reached the upper tiers of Billboard’s genre album charts (No. 3 Folk, No. 14 Independent, No. 18 Alternative, No. 23 Rock). After two years of solid touring, including opening slots for Dave Matthews Band, Death Cab for Cutie, Vampire Weekend, My Morning Jacket and Iron & Wine, The Head and the Heart hit big with Let’s Be Still, its 2013 sophomore album. The album hit the Top 10 of Billboard’s album chart and went to No. 1 on the Folk and Independent charts. The band’s appearance at last year’s MidPoint Music Festival was one of the most attended MPMF shows in the festival’s history.
While not quite a critical darling, The Head and the Heart has used its organic formation and deeply felt belief in its songs and each other to attract a large, intensely loyal and well-deserved fan base.
THE HEAD AND THE HEART plays at Taft Theatre Friday, Dec. 12. Find tickets/more info here.