My introduction to the Head and the Heart came courtesy of an RVA Magazine interview with drummer Tyler Williams, who took a leap of faith a few years back by moving from Richmond to Seattle to join the group. He did so at the suggestion of another former Richmond resident, Jonathan Russell, who is half of the band’s founding partnership (he also happens to be a former high school friend of Williams’). File what I’m about to say under “Small and Mostly Meaningless Coincidences,” but I read this article in the midst of my own westward journey, aboard my very first cross-continental flight, bound for Portland. As tenuous as that connection may have been, I was pretty damn excited to see what the west coast was like, and reading about these fine Virginia gents heading west made me feel adventurous as well (so much so that I bought the 7-inch single of “Down In The Valley” while in Portland, even though I had no idea what it sounded like).
Reliving that adventurousness is one reason I was so excited about heading to the National this Wednesday evening to see the Head and the Heart in person (another reason being that Richmond’s outstanding Black Girls was one of the two opening acts — more to come on their performance in a separate post). And there was so much to love about the headlining set — singer and violin player Charity Rose Thielen’s impressive voice and magnetic personality won the crowd over completely, and Russell playing a solo acoustic tune to kick off the encore was a treat — but it was the last song of the night that best illustrated why I love the Head and the Heart so much.
For me, the lyrics of “Down In The Valley” call to mind the hidden, personal spaces and transitions that, though we think of them as momentary, can end up being both long-lasting and meaningful. Maybe for you it’s a job you thought you’d have for a year or two that turns into a career. Or a friendship that comes out of nowhere but goes on to change your life. I love this idea of permanence and impermanence existing side-by-side, and love it even more because the group commits it to sound by offering tons of transitional moments, moving from slow to fast or from one time signature to another at the blink of an eye, as if they combined parts that were originally intended to be different songs. Watching this in action on Wednesday night, it became clear that Williams’ drumming does a great deal to facilitate these changes. Even while smashing away, he exhibits a greater calm that acts like glue, bonding disparate pieces so they can work together as seamlessly as possible. That same patience made it feel like time slowed down in the many in-between moments, and whether that shift was real, imagined or some hypnotic spell he was casting, it felt truly special, and I’m so thankful I got to see it.
You can find these twists and turns all over the group’s self-titled first album, making it perfect for enjoying over and over again, each listen offering a slightly different journey than the previous one. I hope you’ll start choosing your own adventure by listening to “Down In The Valley” below, or by checking out the short video I took of the last few minutes of another favorite, “Lost In My Mind,” with guest appearances by members of Black Girls and the second opening act, Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives. If you dig, then click here to snag the Head and the Heart’s album on iTunes.
The Head and the Heart — “Down In The Valley“
The Head and the Heart — “Lost In My Mind“