When folk-pop band The Head and the Heart rolls into Wilmington on Wednesday to play their emotionally and sonically dynamic tunes at Live Oak Bank Pavilion, it’ll be a summer-vacation homecoming of sorts for the band’s drummer, Tyler Williams.
Williams grew up in Richmond, Virginia, where the band is based, but he would spend time with his family each summer in Brunswick County’s Sunset Beach.
“It’s an amazing place. We went every year,” Williams said, speaking from Aspen, Colorado, on Tuesday, where The Head and the Heart was on tour. “Sometimes we’d stop in Wilmington for lunch on the drive. It’s really cool to be able to play there.”
The last time The Head and the Heart was in Wilmington was 2019 for a sold-out concert at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater.
“Greenfield Lake, my memories of it were, I think there were some alligators in the water behind (the stage)? So that was kind of funny,” Williams said. “And it was just a great show. It’s a really great, beautiful venue, but I can’t wait to see this new spot.”
The band has only gotten more popular since its last Wilmington, hence its graduation from a 1,200-capacity venue to one that maxes out at over 7,000. That’s due in part to The Head and the Heart’s most recent album, “Every Shade of Blue,” which has helped push the band to well over 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify while taking its sound in a slightly edgier direction, with song themes born of the pandemic as well as some intra-band turmoil and exhaustion.
Singer/guitarist/songwriter Jonathan Russell and violinist/guitarist/singer Charity Rose Thielen have spoken publicly about being on the “hamster wheel” of near-constant touring and/or recording, and feeling creatively drained. Williams said he has a slightly different perspective, but gets where his bandmates were coming from.
“For me, it kind of kind of makes sense what we do,” the drummer said. “But I’m also not, like, the spark of creation. I kind of play more of an editing and arranging role. I think when it comes to people like John or Charity who require space to get into that creative mode, I think that’s a valid concern.”
As horrible and disorienting as the pandemic was, Williams added, the band members of The Head and the Heart found the same silver lining others have.
“I think it was it was an important time for the band to have that downtime,” he said. “It wasn’t what we necessarily would have asked for, and obviously it was not a great thing in the grand scheme of things. But for us as a creative entity, it really helped us kind of get to a deeper space creatively.”
Besides, Williams said, “I think as artists, there’s some responsibility for us to sort of light the way a little bit,” perhaps leading its fans out of a dark time.
For him, the band’s new songs hit different than its older stuff, Williams said.
The title track of “Every Shade of Blue” “gave this darkness to our music that had been missing,” while tunes such as “Hurts (But It Goes Away)” delved into “territory that I think we haven’t explored musically. There’s almost, like, a little R&B. There’s a tenderness that I think we hadn’t put to record yet.”
When the band first got together in the late 2000s, Williams said, “It felt like we were meant to be together in a weird, fated sort of way. And the music that we were making was just stuff that we wanted to listen to and that we couldn’t find. It was Beatles-influenced, but there was also a folk influence and a pop influence. So I think, for us, it was it was kind of an amazing time when were all so close. We were living together. And we were practicing every day, five hours a day, just trying to get better, to improve the shows and improve our craft. We were also broke, right? So broke. We all pretty much got fired from our jobs simultaneously because we started trying to tour. We found ourselves kind of scraping by (on) iTunes checks back when iTunes was a thing.”
Consistent label interest kept them going, and five studio albums later, including three for major label Warner Bros. and one for acclaimed indie Sub Pop out of Seattle, where the band used to be based, The Head and the Heart has achieved a level of success none of its members could’ve likely imagined 12 years ago.
“We just kind of felt like we were doing the right thing, even though we had all just gotten fired and were completely penniless,” Williams said.
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Williams, 35, said he got into music as a child thanks to his father, a bassist.
“I think he had the idea of like, ‘Let’s do a family band,'” he said. “My brother and I started music playing music together when I was 9. I started drums and he was playing guitar. And it was this thing where we always loved writing our own songs and arranging and changing lyrics.”
Eventually, Williams knew he wanted to be a musician but hadn’t quite figured out his path. He went to Virginia Commonwealth University for two years, “then dropped out to play music,” he said. “At the time it was a scary decision. My parents were freaked out. They love it now.”
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Success, however, often brings new and different and problems to overcome. After being a unit for more than a decade, the members of The Head and the Heart made the decision to enter therapy: together, in a group setting.
“In the beginning you’re a little scared to be vulnerable about around people who you didn’t know before this band,” Williams said. “You don’t have that, like, old history. You kind of have to uncover who this (other) person really is. That was kind of what was happening in the original sessions, and then grew into dealing with some of the trauma of one of our band members leaving because of addiction and, you know, trying to make peace with that.”
It wasn’t a one-off therapy session.
“We’re still doing it,” Williams said. “I think we started to realize that therapy is not ever over. New issues come up or we’re still finding ways to have good communication with people that you’re in relationships with.”
He continued: “You know, it’s like, this is our lives, and the more comfortable and the more vulnerable we get with each other I think the more trust we have, the more creative we can be.”
As for taking the band’s foray into therapy public, “It was a very short discussion. It never felt like there was anything to hide. That’s also one of our goals, getting this out there and saying this is nothing to be ashamed of,” Williams said. “If you need help, go get some help as well. It’s out there. It is a privilege to have access to a therapist or mental health support, (but there are) options. Online services are kind of becoming really amazing right now for that.”
Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or John.Staton@StarNewsOnline.com.