After a brief hiatus, indie band The Head and The Heart are back with a new album and tour, which includes a mid-month stop at DAR Constitution Hall. The band, which was formed in 2009 in Seattle, has a history with DC – drummer Tyler Williams and guitarist/vocalist Jon Russell hail from Fredericksburg, Va., and grew up on a steady stream of DC punk. But while one-third of the band has roots in East Coast punk, The Head and The Heart’s latest album is a classic West Coast take on the indie sound that has made them a phenomenon in the past seven years.
Even if you’re not too familiar with the band, chances are you’ve heard The Head and The Heart. Their songs have been featured in TV and film for years, including the soundtracks for How I Met Your Mother, Sons of Anarchy and the trailer for Silver Linings Playbook, among numerous others. Although that’s been a leg up for the band, it doesn’t totally explain their rapid rise from a Seattle bar to world tours.
“It has been really quick and everything happened really fast for us,” pianist Kenny Hensley says. “So many bands tour for 10 years before they catch their break, and we put a lot of work into it, but it did happen really fast.”
The Head and The Heart’s origin story almost sounds like fate. Hensley happened to go to an Irish pub to watch a basketball game shortly after moving to Seattle from L.A., and happened to catch an open mic set from Russell and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Josiah Johnson (currently on a health-related break from touring). The three struck up a friendship and started working on some songs, which they performed at the same open mic every week. Charity Rose Thielen, who plays banjo and violin, joined the band after hearing one of those sets, and bassist Chris Zasche was working at the bar as a bartender. Williams is an exception; a friend of Russell, he moved to Seattle after hearing a demo the group recorded.
“It was kind of a combination of super random events and a lot of luck, I think,” Hensley remembers.
But the luck kept coming as the band put in more and more work. They made copies of a self-titled EP, which helped garner attention from local record labels. Just one year in, they signed to legendary label Sub Pop Records, which remastered and expanded the album for release in 2011. In those first two years signed to Sub Pop, the band toured in the U.S. and Europe with Vampire Weekend, The Decemberists, Iron & Wine and Death Cab for Cutie, among others. Just two years after forming the band, they played on Conan and hit the Billboard 200 chart. A second album followed in 2013, as well as more touring. It was an exhausting beginning, and one that left everyone in need of a break.
“We hadn’t had a real break from each other and from the road in four or five years, and so coming into finishing the last album cycle and touring, we let everyone know we wanted to take an extended break to live normal lives and recharge a little bit,” Hensley says.
That break took different forms for the members of the band. While Hensley spent time in China, Williams came back to Virginia. Thielen worked with Mavis Staples, Russell went to Haiti and Zasche camped in the Canadian Rockies. When they came back together, they found themselves rejuvenated and ready to work on their third album, the newly released Signs of Light. It’s an album that Hensley sees as imbued with the space in which they wrote it, rather than a central message.
“We did write a lot of the songs in California at this studio north of San Francisco. The studio had this amazing floor-to-ceiling view of the ocean. I feel like the record sounds like a sunny, happy California record, and I hope people hear that. We were in a really good place when we were writing the songs, and I think that shows.”
After a few days in Europe, the band kicks off their Signs of Light tour in Nashville early this month. Their performance in the District is one Hensley is looking particularly forward to, not least because he’s a big fan of the city.
“I love being in that city, getting a [Capital Bikeshare] bike and checking out the monuments and museums,” he says. “It’s one of my favorite cities.”
The Head and The Heart are playing DAR Constitution Hall on October 22 at 8 p.m. More information and tickets are available at www.theheadandtheheart.com .