The Head and the Heart’s Tyler Williams doesn’t mind revealing that there were battles he lost during the creation of the Seattle quintet’s second album, Let’s Be Still. The drummer notes, for example, that he seriously pushed for the group to have Peter Katis (Interpol, the National) produce the record. Even though Williams is more than happy with the final product, the production of Let’s Be Still would mostly be handled by the band and Shawn Simmons (who also helmed the group’s eponymous 2011 debut on Sub Pop).
“There was a lot of deliberation about where we were going to record, how we were going to make that happen, and who we were going to record with,” Williams says, on the line from a New Orleans tour stop. “I had certain ideas I wanted to get across to the band when we were talking about where to do it, and who to do it with. And I basically got half of what I wanted. I really wanted to work with Peter Katis on the full record, and have him produce the full record. We sort of did it ourselves with our friend Shawn, and then went to Peter’s house in Connecticut to mix it. So I guess you could say we all had our way.”
Williams, who joined the Head and the Heart after moving across the country from sunny Virginia to rainy Seattle, also fought to have the recording sessions take place somewhere less gloomy than the Pacific Northwest. That battle was also lost, even though, in hindsight, he’s able to see that was a good thing.
“I didn’t want to record in Seattle again because it was going to be over the winter, and obviously you know what that’s like,” Williams says. “It’s a little harder than the rest of the year. But it worked out well, though. Because it was so rainy and grey, that made us kind of focus in the studio a little bit more.”
There’s nothing on Let’s Be Still to suggest any intra-band strife or that sessions were overshadowed by the kind of weather that makes you question why the hell anyone chooses to live above the California border on the West Coast. Instead, the Head and the Heart once again announces itself as accomplished purveyors of driving folk-rock, with golden-hued ramblers like “Another Story” designed to make you wonder what you ever saw in Mumford & Sons.
What stands out this time is the way that the Head and the Heart has kicked things up on the orchestration front. The arrangements on Let’s Be Still are noticeably more textured and often more ornate, whether the group is hauling out the distortion pedals and rawking the hell out of “Shake” or layering on the vintage synths for the gorgeous waltz “Summertime”.
That Let’s Be Still sounds like a leap forward isn’t an accident. Williams and his bandmates—singer-guitarists Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell, violinist Charity Rose Thielen, bassist Chris Zasche, and pianist Kenny Hensley—had a collective goal on the record, and that was to show exactly what they are now capable of.
“We’re not a band that sits down and discusses what we want to do—we approach everything instinctively,” Williams says. “We really wanted our growth as musicians to shine through, though, and how we’ve progressed from the last record. So this one was a little more layered, and a little more complicated.
“Beyond that, we also wanted to make a record that just sounded like where we were,” he continues. “It reflects that we were suddenly playing large theatres instead of small clubs. Being in those kinds of spaces helped give us an idea of how we needed to sound. Looking back, I don’t think that our first record was everything that we wanted it to be. It sounds like a young band that went into the studio for three days, and that’s what came out.”
Despite that, the drummer has no complaints about how things unfolded for the Head and the Heart after the release of its debut. The band initially self-pressed the album and sold it at shows, catching the attention of Sub Pop. A rerelease of The Head and the Heart on the iconic Seattle indie label followed, quickly turning the band into a major draw, and not just in Seattle. The group’s rise since then has been a rapid one, to the point where there are now decided benefits.
Some of those benefits are personal, with Williams noting that the group has been successful enough to enable him to move back home to Virginia, where he can hang with family and friends when he’s not on the road. Others are not only easier to quantify, but also make up for the fact that, when you are in a band, you’re not going to win all your battles.
“We’re definitely out of the van and onto a bus now with a trailer,” Williams says. “You’re actually able to get some sleep at night and be rested for all the promo and playing that each day brings. Having our own crew now helps as well, to where we have a front-of-the-house sound engineer, monitor engineers, a lighting designer, and stuff like that. It’s all conspired to make the shows smoother and better for whoever comes to see us. So I really have no complaints.”