The Head and The Heart
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, Quiet Life
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
The Head and The Heart
So many decisions in life and in the music we love can come down to a critical tug between the logic in our heads and the hot red blood beating through our hearts. Seattle's The Head and the Heart live authentically in that crux, finding joy and beauty wedged there. Their music pulses effervescently--both explosively danceable and intuitively intelligent. With Americana roots and strong vocal harmonics that swell like a river, this band finds its anchor in solid songwriting that has even the jaded humming along by the second listen.
Leaving a variety of day jobs and academic pursuits, The Head and the Heart came together in the summer of 2009, during frequent visits to the open mic night at Conor Byrne in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood. California-transplant Josiah Johnson and Virginia-native Jonathan Russell formed the core songwriting partnership, quickly adding keyboardist Kenny Hensley to the mix. Kenny, then 21, had packed up his piano and moved up to Seattle from California to pursue musical score-writing. The luminous Charity Rose Thielen, violin and vocals, had just returned from a year of studying and playing music in Paris. Drummer Tyler Williams cold left a successful band in Virginia after Jon sent him the demo of "Down in the Valley," relocating across states to be a part of this. Finally, Chris Zasche, was bartending at Conor Byrne and mentioned one day that he'd be happy to play bass for the nascent band. It all felt right: The Head and the Heart was born. Whether penning songs on the beach at Seattle's Discovery Park, or working out melodies in the piano practice rooms at the Seattle Public Library, Charity describes the early months of the band's existence as touched by a shared purpose and connection. She recalls an email she sent to Josiah that summer, confessing that she was "sleepless and penniless, but inspired nonetheless."
The band entered Seattle's Studio Litho in early 2010 to record these songs that had been kicking and twisting in the catalytic development of their live show. Recorded by Shawn Simmons at Studio Litho and Steven Aguilar at Bearhead Studio, the band was selling burned copies in handmade denim sleeves at local shows within a few weeks. Self-released in June 2010, the debut album helped build an impressive head-of-steam for the band through the second 1/2 of the year, gaining fans at influential Seattle station KEXP, local record shops (a consistent top 10 seller for Easy Street and the #1 album of 2010 at Sonic Boom), and venues up and down the West Coast, culminating with signing to Sub Pop Records in November. For the 2011 re-release of the album, "Sounds like Hallelujah" has been re-recorded, live favorite "Rivers and Roads" has been added, and the album has been re-mastered.
The songs resulting from those first inspired months pick at the multicolored threads of leaving home, finding home, and through that process of deconstruction, finding yourself. These are songs about crossing rivers and roads to get to the one you love, about family far away, and the desire to chase Technicolor dreams down foreign horizons. When people hear these songs, or see the band live, the first thing they have to do is tell someone else. Their shows are, simply, one hell of a lot of breathless fun. Each song explodes into a potent supernova on stage, where half the audience is zealously singing along with every lyric, and the other half is wishing they knew the words. The band has accepted nearly every show offered to them in the past year, from backyards strung with Christmas lights to coffee shops, open mics, and even high school classrooms in Middle America. From the first months of the band's life, their reputation as a phenomenal live band has preceded them wherever they play.
The strength of Josiah, Jon and Charity's vocal harmonies on the album makes it feel like these three were born to pour their voices together, as the band's songs revel in jaunty bass lines with ebullient handclaps peppering the best moments. A palette of orchestral elements weave their way through the album, including cello, glockenspiel, and violin, all shading in the songs' development. For all the times your toes tap while enjoying this band, often the lightness will deceptively belie the depth of ache in the lyrics when you sit down to really listen. There is magic in the music, but not magic contrived by trickery or posturing. "It seems actually that the more genuine and honest we are in the songwriting and performing, the more people relate to that transparency," Charity muses.
This is an album for people who unabashedly sing and drum along on the steering wheel, and also for those who appreciate a well-crafted collection of songs that build into something wholly beautiful.
There is in this music a counter-cultural optimism, with roots that grow deep and melodies that lodge themselves far into that place inside you where the head meets the heart.
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down
On February 5, Ribbon Music is set to release We the Common, the third full-length album from critically acclaimed artist Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. The album cut "Holy Roller" is streaming now at www.thaoandthegetdownstaydown.com. Frontwoman Thao Nguyen notes that the track "was the first song I wrote for this new record...it marked a shift in how I operate. I was steadily, in an overdue way, becoming grateful for everything and everyone I had. I tried to capture a sense of revival and a determination to be better."
Recorded at San Francisco's Tiny Telephone Studios and Dallas' Elmwood Studio, We the Common was produced by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Bill Callahan, the Walkmen, Explosions in the Sky) and features a duet with Joanna Newsom on the track "Kindness Be Conceived." Thao observes, "We the Common is an album about wanting to be a human who tries and is grateful for the opportunity. It is about wanting to be better and closer to people. I have had over a year respite from touring and recording-in this year I started really trying to be a part of the community I live in and the family I was born into." The album is the follow-up to Thao's 2009 release Know Better Learn Faster, which Pitchfork praised for its "warm exuberance that keeps the music spry" while SPIN noted that Thao's "lazily smoky voice has its bitterly harsh moments, but her coolly analytical self-awareness stings the most."
Based in San Francisco after growing up in Falls Church, VA, Thao Nguyen first picked up a guitar at age 12. She has worked with a long list of acclaimed artists including Andrew Bird, Mirah, Laura Veirs and producer Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens) and has recorded a pair of critically acclaimed records for Kill Rock Stars, 2008's We Brave Bee Stings and All and the aforementioned 2009 release Know Better Learn Faster with her backing band the Get Down Stay Down. Since her last album Thao has worked with the artist advocacy non-profit Air Traffic Control (http://atctower.net/) and has volunteered extensively with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. This year, in addition to recording her forthcoming album, Thao has toured the US with the nationally syndicated NPR program "Radiolab."
"Ms. Nguyen's voice, wobbly and rich, is engaging, and her gently confessional lyrics...are equally beguiling."-The New York Times
"Quiet Life sound like they stumbled from Big Pink, with a rambunctious roots sound that would make Robbie Robertson smile from ear-to-ear."
- The Portland Mercury
"Portland doesn't have a Laurel Canyon scene, but if it did, you could bet that Quiet Life would be the official house band."
- Willamette Week
"Near-flawless renditions of classic L.A. Canyon rock...loose, affectionate playing, and each song registers catchy, rust belt elements. You soak in this like a whiskey at quitting time."
- Jack Rabid, The Big Takeover