The Head and The Heart evolve with each album: what you need to know about the Vail Snow Days headliner
When The Head and The Heart play at Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver, they always invite all of their friends and family for an unofficial-official family reunion picnic in the VIP section at the venue. Drummer Tyler Williams said about 100-150 people have showed up each time. It’s built a community for the band’s family and friends: all the band moms have a Facebook group together.
“It’s the high point of the year sometimes when you come in and you have those two nights at Red Rocks,” Williams said. “It’s so insane. And then you can pick out your family members in the audience in the VIP section. And you can always see them smiling and just having a good time.”
The Head and the Heart have embraced change as they’ve progressed in their career. They started with acoustics-only on their self-titled debut record, and now have worked with Tyler Johnson and Alex Salibian (who together and separately have worked with Harry Styles, Ed Sheeran and John Legend) etc. on its newest album, “Living Mirage.”
But like many bands before them, when it first started, working with mainstream producers was the last thing on its mind. Founding members Johnathan Russell and Josiah Johnson met at an open-mic night at Conor Byrne’s Pub in Seattle, and the rest of the lineup joined soon after, including pianist Kenny Hensley, bassist Chris Zasche, violinist Charity Rose Theilen and drummer Williams.
They started recording and released its debut self-titled record in 2009, and it caught like wildfire in Seattle. CDs sold out at shows and local record shops couldn’t keep it in stock. Soon, Seattle-based legendary indie rock label Sub Pop remastered the tracks and had the band re-record “Rivers and Roads” and “Sounds Like Hallelujah.” The new version was released on Record Store Day in 2011 and is the same version available on streaming services today.
“We just were playing what we enjoyed playing and what we enjoyed listening to, which is kind of how we always create our music. I’d say that phase was kind of because we were really bad at our instruments,” Williams laughed. “We just didn’t know how to play very well. It was very organic and spun off of whatever we were doing in the moment, like campfires or going for hikes together.”
Once the band found success, it toured and started writing the 2013 album “Let’s Be Still” while on the road. The title track from that record got the band more mainstream radio play, and that trend continued with “All We Ever Knew,” a dance-y, upbeat track from 2016’s “Signs of Light.” And adding its fourth record to date, “Living Mirage,” into that mix, each record is different from the last. Some purists might accuse the band of selling out, but to the band and many fans, it’s more of an evolution than anything, and working with pop producers helped them further develop their sound.
“I think it’s helped us evolve into a place where we can make those left turns and constantly reinvent who we are as a band,” Williams said.
One of the challenges the band faced while producing “Living Mirage” was losing two bandmembers. Johnson, one of the group’s principal songwriters, took an amicable break from the band to enter a drug and alcohol recovery program, and Hensley took a break because of road burnout. Hensley’s back in the band for the tour and Johnson recorded all the piano parts on “Living Mirage.”
The band loves playing at Red Rocks, but is just excited to come into the mountains as well. Aside from its Vail Snow Days date on Saturday, the band will play at Belly Up in Aspen.
“And being in Colorado that time of the year, I think there’s a special extra winter quality that kind of is in a weird way,” Williams said.
Williams also said that some members are excited to get out on the mountains while they’re here for a few ski and snowboard runs.
“So somebody is going to hit the slopes. We just don’t know who yet, but it’s guaranteed,” he said.
The Head and the Heart plays Vail Snow Days’ Saturday headlining show at 6 p.m. in Ford Park.
If you go …
What: The Head and the Heart
When: Saturday, Dec. 14, 6 p.m.
Where: Ford Park, Vail
Cost: Free, with VIP passes available
More information: Visit vailsnowdays.com.
Annual fundraising ski day is Saturday, March 14.