The Head and the Heart
The Lone Bellow, The Shelters
Thu, September 21, 2017
Doors: 5:00 pm / Show: 6:00 pm
SummerStage, Central Park.
New York, NY
$53.25 advance / $58.75 day of show
This event is all ages
Proceeds from this concert help make possible the free programs of SummerStage.
Rain or Shine
With every online ticket purchased for The Head and the Heart’s Fall headline tour, you’ll receive a choice of either a standard physical or standard digital copy of their new album, Signs of Light. As a thank you for being a fan, you will also receive a free download of their cover of “Don’t Dream It’s Over” originally performed by Crowded House. You will receive instructions via email on how to redeem your album shortly after ticket purchase.https://www.bowerypresents.com/event/1505049/
After his own cross-country trip to reconnect with family and friends, vocalist/guitarist Jonathan Russell traveled to Haiti and found inspiration working with the non-profit Artists For Peace And Justice. "When I found out we were going to have a significant amount of time off, I saw it as an opportunity to touch base again -- to listen to what other people were saying and what they were going through," he says. "I really wanted to make sure that I reconnected with a world that was starting to feel farther and farther away."
When The Head and the Heart regrouped last summer in Stinson Beach, Ca., to start writing together again, "it almost felt like we were a new band, trying things we hadn't tried," Zasche recalls. "We stayed at a bungalow on the beach. We'd wake up, have coffee and go boogie boarding. We were ready and excited to be back together."
That renewed sense of purpose can be felt throughout "Signs Of Light," the group's first release for Warner Bros. Records. "This album isn't about us now having achieved our dreams," says Thielen. "The day we started being able to live off our art was the day we achieved our dreams, in my mind. This is the album where we really fell into our true voices as those artists."
Recorded in Nashville with producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Cage The Elephant), "Signs Of Light" crackles with the upbeat, sing-a-long energy of The Head and the Heart's finest work. Lead single "All We Ever Knew," which was written during the "Let's Be Still" era but never captured to the band's satisfaction until now, is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, while "Turn It Around" seems primed to be a future concert staple, matching its inspirational message with a lush and multi-layered soundscape.
Throughout, the colors are brighter, the electric guitars are louder and the musical touchstones more universal. The propulsive, smile-inducing ode to Los Angeles "City Of Angels" and the head-nodding "Rhythm & Blues" nod to classic Fleetwood Mac, while the organ-flecked "Dreamer" is a timeless-sounding ballad that could have been beamed straight out of an old jukebox.
"Jay was really adamant about getting a great performance," Russell says. "We have all the tools in the world to make something sound real or more excitable, but it's never really as true as the band in the room for the whole take. 'City Of Angels' - we had previously re-cut that song and played it so many times. But within two takes in Nashville, we nailed it. It felt like we were playing on a massive stage in front of tons of people."
Elsewhere, Thielen's "Library Magic" could almost be seen as a letter to the other five members, acknowledging the ups-and-downs of life in a successful band while celebrating the unique and constantly evolving bond between them. "I wrote that song after having our first real time off as a band," she says. "It touches on the storied relationships between band members trying to survive living in a van off of accelerated time and gas station crafts for years straight, but it also applies to any of life's relationships."
The Head and the Heart's 2011 self-titled debut album captured a nascent but undeniable creative partnership between six strangers thrown together by little more than a shared love of music. It became one of Sub Pop Records' best-selling debut releases ever, and rocketed the band to acclaim well beyond its then-home base in Seattle. The formative experiences that followed both on and off the stage heavily informed the 2013 follow-up "Let's Be Still," which continues to remind Russell of "the stale beer, bleach and potato chips from all the venues we saw once this became our livelihood."
On "Signs Of Light," that gamut of emotions is felt most deeply on the Josiah Johnson-penned title track, which none of the other members had ever heard until they happened to walk in on him playing it over and over at the piano during pre-production in El Paso, Texas. "It was one of those moments where no one talks," Russell remembers. "No one needs the chords, no one is looking up. You simply pick up your instrument and play. The next thing you know, nearly 10 minutes have gone by and you have no idea how or why or what just happened."
"The feeling I get singing with Zach and Brian is completely natural and wholly electrifying,” says Kanene. “Our voices feel like they were made to sing together."
Long before they combined their voices, the three members of the Lone Bellow were singing on their own. Brian had been writing and recording as a solo artist for more than a decade, with three albums under his own name. Kanene and her husband Jason were living in Beijing, China, hosting open mic nights, playing at local clubs and teaching music lessons. Zach began writing songs in the wake of a family tragedy: After his wife was thrown from a horse, he spent days in the hospital at her bedside, bracing for the worst news. The journal he kept during this period would eventually become his first batch of songs as a solo artist. Happily, his wife made a full recovery.
When Kanene’s brother asked her and Zach to sing “O Happy Day” together at his wedding, they discovered their voices fit together beautifully, but starting a band together seemed impossible when they lived on opposite sides of the world. Brian soon relocated to New York and Kanene moved there to attend culinary school a couple years later. The three got together in their new hometown to work on a few songs of Zach’s, he’d been chipping away at the scene as a solo artist for awhile by then. After hitting those first harmonies did they decide to abandon all other pursuits. Soon the trio was playing all over the city, although they considered Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side to be their home. They opened for the Civil Wars, Dwight Yokam, Brandi Carlile and the Avett Brothers, and their self-titled debut, produced by Nashville’s Charlie Peacock (the Civil Wars, Holly Williams) and released in January 2013, established them as one of the boldest new acts in the Americana movement.
After two hard years of constant touring, the band was exhausted but excited. By 2014, they had written nearly 40 songs on the road and were eager to get them down on tape. After putting together a list of dream producers, they reached out to their first choice, the National guitarist Aaron Dessner, who has helmed albums by the L.A. indie-rock group Local Natives and New York singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten.
“It occurred to me that it would be fun to get together and make music with them,” says Aaron. “My main interest in producing records is community and friendship more than making money. I already do a lot of traveling and working with the National, so when I have to time to work with other artists, it should be fun and meaningful.”
“Aaron is just so kind,” Zach says. “And he has surrounded himself with all these incredibly talented people, like Jonathan Low, the engineer. His brother Bryce [Dessner, also a guitarist for the National] wrote these amazing brass and string arrangements, and he got some of his friends to play with us.”
Dessner and the Lone Bellow spent two weeks recording at Dreamland in upstate New York, a nineteenth-century church that had been converted into a homey studio. The singers found the space to inspire the emotional gravity necessary for the material and the acoustics they were looking for. (For Kanene, Dreamland had one other bonus: “I’m a big Muppets fan, and it looks exactly like the church where Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem lived.”)
Aaron set them up in a circle in what had once been the sanctuary, with microphones hanging in the rafters to capture the sound of their voices bleeding together. Most of the vocals were recorded in single takes, a tactic that adds urgency to songs like “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home” and “If You Don’t Love Me.” “There were a couple of times when somebody sang the wrong word or hit a bad note, and we just had to keep going,” says Zach, who says that recording “Marietta” in particular was daunting—especially the moment near the end when he hits an anguished high note, bends it even higher, and holds it for an impossibly long time. It’s a startling display of vocal range, but it’s also almost unbearably raw in its emotional honesty.
“‘Marietta’ is probably the darkest song on the whole record,” Zach explains, “and it’s based on something that happened between my wife and me. The band was getting ready to record that song when all of a sudden my wife showed up with our youngest baby. It was a great surprise, a beautiful moment. So I was able to go out and sing that song, knowing she was there to help me carry the moment.”
“These are true stories,” says Brian. “These aren’t things we made up. We tried to write some songs that had nothing to do with our personal stories, but we just didn’t respond to them. But we’re best buds, so we know each others’ personal stuff and trust each other to figure out what needs to be said and how to say it.” Case in point: Brian wrote “Call to War” about his own struggles during his twenties, but gave the song to Kanene to sing. “The content is painful and brutal,” she says, “but the imagery, the vocals, they build something delicate and ethereal. That kind of contrast illuminates the true beauty and power of a song.”
Says Brian, “We do this one thing together, and we carry each other. Hopefully that makes the listener want to be a part of it. It becomes a communal thing, which means that there’s never a sad song to sing. It’s more a celebration of the light and the dark.”
The Shelters have their self-titled debut LP coming June 10th on Warner Bros. Records. Just like the EP they released last October as an album preview, their full-length is a blast of Southern Californian rock and roll from a four-piece like they used to make them, when the factory was still up and running. Co-produced by Tom Petty, this album comes at you from behind, nothing you were expecting.
The Shelters had just banded together when Petty heard them and got a gut feeling about what they could be. He gave the Shelters the keys to his home studio and showed them a few things. Though mostly he left them alone, Petty had enough sense to leave the gear powered up. Maybe they were determined to show him he hadn’t made a mistake. Maybe they just liked the way those old tube amps sounded. They seized the moment and got to work, insistent on becoming a band. A real band.
One listen to their single “Rebel Heart,” or any one of the other eleven songs on their debut, and you’ll know they pulled it off. Led by the songs, harmonies and twin-guitar sound of Chase Simpson and Josh Jove, and powered by drummer Sebastian Harris’s groove obsession, the band has put together a collection of recordings that have an immediacy, an emotion, and a musical intelligence that suggests these boys are beyond their years.
People are going to reference some of the great rock and roll bands of yesterday and today. But this is no tribute show. The sounds they’ve made seem to have been dragged from the vaults and forced to fit the present. It’s all a beautiful reminder that rock and roll may have slipped out of view for minute, but it’s still out there, alive in the hands of the ones who need it the most.
The Shelters, now including Jacob Pillot on bass, have toured recently with the likes of Gary Clark Jr., The Kooks, The Wild Feathers, BRONCHO, Atlas Genius, The Struts and more, plus made major festival appearances across the country. They will tour with Mudcrutch in May and June of 2016.
SummerStage, Central Park.
5th Ave at 69th Street
New York, NY, 10065