There will always be a place for the brand of vulnerable indie folk that Seattle's Head and the Heart have been perfecting since 2009.
At the moment, the band is still riding high on critically lauded sophomore album, Let's Be Still, playing through dust storms at Coachella, and slowly putting the pieces in place for its next release. But in addition to that sort of success, these perpetually road-bound folkies also represent a new generation of roots artists who refuse to let the human element be completely stomped out of popular music.
So naturally, when we spoke with drummer Tyler Williams, the conversation turned toward the future of Americana and rock 'n' roll, and what he thinks the world needs instead of more EDM.
Crossfade: How was your first weekend at Coachella?
Tyler Williams: It was good! We actually had a dust storm kick up in the middle of our set, which was a little funny. But then it lasted for ten hours, so we were finding sand in places where sand should not be. It was good times. It felt like the party at the end of the world, like the apocalypse party.
I can't imagine what it was like for fans that flew out there only to get stuck in a sandstorm.
Yeah, people were definitely, like, running for cover, but it was kind of funny. Like we were on Mars or something.
Americana and folk bands really seem to thrive on human interaction in the live setting. Do you guys enjoy playing the big festivals as much as the club dates?
Well, I feel like festivals are kind of a necessary evil, in a way. They open up your audience and they put you in front of people who may have never heard of you, because it's kind of hard to keep track of the thousands of millions of bands that are out there. But if you're able to play a good set for these people and kind of grow your fanbase, it's definitely helpful. Then again, we love playing theaters for 2,000 people who are there to see us and just us alone; it's a much more confidence-inspiring sort of situation, where you don't have people who are like, "Where's your synthesizer? Where's your drum machine, man?" That's sort of how festivals feel nowadays.
Let's Be Still received such a positive reaction and it felt like a really massive musical leap for the band. But it's been about a year now. Has the band started working on new material yet?
Jon, Josiah, and Charity are always kind of collectively writing, waiting for the right time to show us certain songs that they've written. It seems like we've got a good little stockpile going right now, and we've been doing little jam sessions in soundcheck, just to kind of get out ideas. We can take a song in a totally different direction than where it's going to end up, but you have to explore it to get to the final destination of the song. You have to like go as far as you can out there into space to come back and find really where the song belongs. That's kind of where our process is right now.
Is there a date in mind for a new release? Or is the band waiting for the right schedule break?
It looks like we're basically touring the whole rest of this year, but the whole time we do little iPhone voice memos, so we have our demos all in one place on our iPhones and we kind of send them around to each other to all listen to and get ideas. There's no date set in mind yet, but we're definitely looking forward to it.
For Americana and folky outfits, the third release can be such a pivotal thing that frequently sees a major shift in sound or approach. Is there any change in the direction that your band is headed?
Yeah, I see people more willing to experiment with different instruments, not necessarily organic instruments, which is kind of cool in my mind. I'm really excited about one thing right now, and that's the idea of blending organic instrumentation with something a little more inorganic. I'm into seeing how far I can take drum samples or drum loops, and twist them around and find out where they fit in with what we do.
Awesome! That's a really cool trick to pull off. Nine Inch Nails current drummer, Ilan Rubin, does some incredible stuff that melds organic drumming and the loops and sequences from the band's records.
Yeah! That's kind of what I'm talking about, kind of figuring out where that fits into what we do. And you know, it kind of depends on other people in the band and where they're willing to go with that as well.
I think being that the band has made such statements with starkly human, organic music, that you have to be wary of crossing that line and losing that element.
Exactly. It needs to retain that element entirely!
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The Head and the Heart's ride has been a bit of whirlwind. How does it feel going from open-mic nights to playing Coachella in a dust storm?
It's kind of weird because it feels like we're in a bubble. We almost don't really experience time or space, you know? You're flying all over the world. You're always on the road. Nothing's really constant. So you don't have anything to really hold on to either. When I look back, mostly what I see is shows, different crowds. I don't really get a feeling of what is happening anymore. It's kind of out of our control.
Who have been major influences on you as a drummer?
My biggest influence when I first started was Dave Grohl from Nirvana! I was superyoung, I was probably 8 when I first started playing drums. I would play along to Nirvana records and I'd play along to Green Day records. I gradually moved forward. I think nowadays I really like the drumming of Bryan Devendorf of the National, and I really like Glenn Kotche from Wilco. The way that they use percussion as textures while they play the drums is just awesome.
I imagine you've had the chance to meet Mr. Grohl at this point?
Actually, yeah, we did! It was wild! We went to see Foo Fighters at the Metro in Chicago, it was like the Lollapalooza aftershow. And we were with somebody who knew the band, so we got to go backstage afterward and meet everybody!
Did you gush over him or anything?
Yeah, I feel like I don't really like to gush anymore, you know? He's heard it from so many people that it probably doesn't really matter. I just shook hands and I feel like being a human is more important than being a fan at this point.
I hear a lot of Levon Helm in your playing, particularly your fills, which are very lyrical. Is he an influence at all?
He is, but I think he's influenced so many people that you can almost look anywhere and find his influence. So it's kind of like, even if I'm not influenced by him personally, I'm influenced by people he's influenced.
It's a very interesting time for Americana and folk music right now with a lot of great bands coming up. The genre is seemingly enjoying a bit of a resurgence.
At Coachella, you wouldn't think that at all. You would really think that electronic music was, like, the be-all and end-all. For me, I'm not like the biggest acoustic music listener, and I don't really listen to pop radio, but I miss good rock 'n' roll. I feel like there's two extremes: the EDM pop world and this soft world. But there's nothing that is really getting my blood flowing, which I'm a little disappointed by. Like, I watched Queens of the Stone Age's set at Coachella and it blew my mind that they were one of the only bands I saw all weekend with electric guitars. It was like, "What is going on right now?" But they blew my mind, so it was like, "I want more bands like that!" That's what I want to happen right now.
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The Head and the Heart. Tuesday, May 6. Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and tickets cost $27 to $35 plus fees via livenation.com. All ages. Call 305-673-7300 or visit fillmoremb.com.