The Head and the Heart’s Tyler Williams on Every Shade of Blue and group therapy
In its decade-plus as a band, The Head and the Heart has changed from a folk-adjacent indie rock group to something which–while still carrying some of those original seeds–is grander and more ornate. This transition is even more evident in the group’s latest, the 16-track Every Shade of Blue, released at the end of April. The album is biggie, but tackles relationships on an intimate scale.
The band is out on the road in support of the new LP, marking their first tour in two years, and we spoke with the Head and the Heart’s drummer, Tyler Williams, via Zoom last week—right before it all kicked off.
The Pitch: Everybody we’ve talked to who’s going back on the road is just like, “Oh yeah, we’re having to relearn a bunch of stuff,” but it seems like you all also had some new things you had to learn. We’re very curious about the group therapy the band went through.
Tyler Williams: I think it’s interesting starting a band, almost sight unseen. We weren’t a band that grew up together. Jon [Russell, vocals, and guitar] and I went to high school together and we played in a band afterward, but other than that, I think we all basically met in Seattle.
It was sort of based around music, and around this love for music, that we all found each other, but then don’t have that history to go back to when times get tough, you know? I think it was necessary–a lot of stuff happens in a decade and you kind of run with an idea about someone, whether it’s true or not, after years and years of being together. You have to deconstruct that image in your head that you have of your band members or your spouse or whoever it is that you’re doing therapy with.
It was super helpful and we couldn’t have made this album or probably been just feeling so healthy and happy right now otherwise.
That’s a really interesting comparison to folks and their relationships with bands in general–the idea that you all change and you mature and things are not going to be the same in 2022 as they were when you put out your first album in 2011. We like the parallels there.
I think if you don’t evolve–I don’t know. It just seems like a natural thing. I don’t know anyone who’s the same in their thirties as they were in their early twenties.
I think it shows in our music over the albums that we’ve made, but also in the way that we treat each other. I’m always trying to get better at both things–in music as well as our relationships, ’cause I think they go hand in hand.
It’s really hard to be vulnerable and write something that means a lot to you personally, if you don’t feel comfortable sharing that with the people around you in your immediate circles. You have to evolve.
Of all of the musicians in the Head and the Heart, your drum sound is probably the one that has changed the most. This new album has a lot of electronic drums and things of that nature. How has it been for you, getting to add different layers and textures? Most people, if they think of the Head and the Heart, they think of you as an indie folk rock band, thinking of those first couple of albums.
I think it’s interesting. It’s something that we made our name on, I guess, but I think that kind of goes back to that evolution thing. We don’t shy away from it and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, as well. There’s power and there’s cleverness in stripping things down and in the intimacy of that thing that happened on our first couple of records. Once–at least for us and on the drums–you have done that, you start looking for other things.
You don’t want to change the soul of something, but you want to add to it and you want to layer things in a way that you would be proud to put on a record. For me, it’s funny because now it feels like I have eight arms sometimes. There’s a lot to do behind the kit and I’m triggering things and I’m very much playing in an electronic and acoustic drum situation, which is super fun.
I think even on those first two records that you could classify as indie-folk, we were trying to find different unique sounds, and then it was hard to replicate those live. It was a steep learning curve for us in the last three records, figuring out the proper way to incorporate those sounds that we hear in our heads onto record and into the live setting, but it’s so fun to be able to. I can get the tambourine sound that I dreamed up for this record.
It’s those little things that just make a song powerful in a live setting because you’ve spent the time in a studio getting to really fine-tune it and get it to sound great. To me, it’s the best of both worlds.
On Every Shade of Blue, you’re not just spending time in a studio, you’re spending time in a studio at home on your own. Was there an additional difficulty of getting lost in the weeds because you don’t have the immediate feedback of, “Hey, take it down a notch”?
We all spent time recording from home. You know, we all actually got the same exact setup, so everything was compatible with each other and could share files back and forth. Some people were really already well-versed in home recording like Matty [Gervais, guitar] and Charity [Rose Thielen, violin and vocals]. They already had a home studio, but the rest of us had to set it up.
We had to really learn mic placement, especially for drums, and also how to engineer your own stuff. There were days when I would play 50 takes on a song and that would never happen in a studio. You just don’t have that luxury of time. It can be a good or a bad thing.
Usually you go back to the third take and you’re like, “Should have moved on there,” but I think, especially for me on the drums, there’s something about finding the groove of a song that just feels good and I’ll play it for hours. It helps me later on in the live setting. When I already know the heart of the rhythm so profoundly, it just feels like I’m already in the song.
During the pandemic, time was the one luxury that everyone had. This album feels as though you really took advantage of that time and let these songs breathe. It does not feel like a hurried or rushed recording in any way.
No, and even listening to the record, I think we wanted to get that across this was a lot of time. This was two and a half years–or longer in some songs’ cases–so I think it would have felt almost like we were not telling the whole story if we didn’t put everything on this album I think 16 songs sounds like a long record, but then you listen to it–and I’ve listened to it a lot–and I love the journey and the narrative that it takes you on.
That was intentional, for sure, and it was also something that we had to fight for. We had to fight with them, for that many songs on a record. There were a lot of people who thought that a concise record was the move, but this just felt right to us. We felt like what you were saying–that it breathes and you have to spend time with it.
It’s not a 35-minute little trek to the store or something. It’s a journey.
The Head and the Heart’s Every Shade of Blue is out now. The band plays the Uptown Theater on Tuesday, May 24, with guests Jade Bird. Details on that show here.