Frustratingly, Seattle's The Head and the Heart got too popular, too fast. So popular, in fact, they had a hard time finding time to write and record a followup to their smashing self-titled debut, which they recorded all the way back in 2009.
Of course, that was before Sub Pop took notice and signed the group, rereleasing a remastered version of their debut in 2011. Then the group set off on a series of world tours as songs like "Rivers and Roads" and "Down in the Valley" exploded on the radio. Their legion of fans loved it, but the band started feeling the pressure of playing songs that didn't express who the group is now — as described by singer Charity Rose Thielen in a chat earlier this month before their Thursday show at the Egyptian Room. The pressure's off now, as the band has doubled their setlist options with the release of Let's Be Still this fall.
NUVO: Here's my first question: who is Josh McBride, the subject and name of a track on your new album, Let's Be Still?
Charity Thielen: Josh McBride, he is the subject of actually, who "Josh McBride" was written about. Josiah [Johnson] kind of wrote that song with a couple of really close friends. He wrote kind of the melody and the music and then his friends wrote the story about this guy that she started dating and his name is Josh McBride. And it's such a beautiful story and I love the song. They recently actually got married, the gal who wrote it and Josh. So, yeah, just good friends of Josiah's and they wrote that a long time ago.
NUVO: I was wondering if I should know who it is —
Thielen: Yeah, totally. Cause usually people have famous references, but not just some guy named Josh that I think lives in Los Angeles now.
NUVO: "Summertime" is my favorite on this album. Could just tell me about recording and writing that song?
Thielen: I kind of wrote that song in two different parts that kind of bridge I guess. The canary bird part, I was actually watching the History Channel on a flight overseas when we were going to play Europe for the first time and I was watching the History Channel about coal mining and stuff. Then just this melody and lyrics kind of came to me.
You know like thinking about in relation to how the coalminers used to use, bring down a canary bird to see if they could detect — if they started dying. They would protect the coalminers from being poisoned. In relation to time I was kind of thinking of this martyrdom and just kind of giving up and acting as the canary bird.
But anyway, so that was that part and once we got to Europe, I wrote the other verses and stuff. But there are two separate songs and those lyrics have just been sitting on the back burner and then I just started working on stuff right before the studio.
I practiced on my own and brought that kind of riff and the guitar was playing in the actual recording studio. All the guys kind of started one by one coming into the studio, picking up different instruments and we just jammed and literally the demo version we have is for the basic tracking we kept and that's on the record.
NUVO: Does this record have a narrative line you could speak about? Some songs seem to be paired together ("Summertime," "Springtime" and "These Days Are Numbered," "Gone") and there's a lot of writing about loss, memories, pictures.
Thielen: Yeah, it's definitely not a concept album and it's definitely not as unified and thematic as the first album and that's just because songwriting was a little less collaborative. Songwriting has kind of been, you know ... someone would have a full song. The first album was all of us kind of living and breathing together. John would have half a song, or Josiah would have half and they'd put it together kind of thing. I think that's just why you can't really come up with one theme, but as far as calling it Let's Be Still, that definitely references at least three or four songs on the album.
This idea, we're in this chaotic place. John was writing that on the road and kind of at the height of chaos. You know, touring. There was [the idea that], let's take a step back and let's just be still. Kind of taking time to be present and not get caught up in the normal scenes of vitality in this world. You see that in a few songs in the record.
NUVO: What are you looking forward to on tour as you're integrating all these new tracks?
Thielen: You know, I mean I'm just so excited to kind of play where we're at a little more. For so long we've been playing these songs with the one album we've had out for three-plus years and we started changing. We started being influenced by different things and writing in different ways, arranging in different ways.
But we couldn't really express that. We had to kind of still be playing in the past. So, I'm really excited because I feel like it's representative of how we've evolved naturally as a band and our live show. The attention to live shows will never change, but the phonics of albums will, to an extent. They'll have more electric guitar.
I'm just so excited, I think it's going to be cool to be able to drop them from both albums now, we can have a longer set and have more choice in choosing the songs we play.
NUVO: A bigger setlist for sure. Thank you so much for talking to me. We can't wait to see you in Indy.
Thielen: We've played at the Vogue so many times I feel like. We played outside in the park too. [referring to Broad Ripple Park] Indianapolis, I just remember we played for the first time with Iron and Wine, but it was one of our favorite cities on the whole tour. We had never been and [there was] this amazing energy from the crowd and was just very memorable. We definitely love Indianapolis. That park show was our largest headlining show to date. We're just so excited to be back.
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