My friend Rich from Seattle and I ran an errand during our stay at his Vilas County cabin last summer. It was a beautiful morning up north. Sunlight speared down between the tall pines, turning the road ahead into a length of gold ribbon. Steam rose from the ground and moved low, as though the forest floor around us was breathing.
"You gotta hear this new band from Seattle," he said, and slid a CD into the dashboard slot. It was the Head and the Heart. The songs were drugs. They took all the visuals around us and amplified them. How could it be?
The self-released, self-titled disc, some of which was conceived in public piano spaces in Seattle libraries, is a sonic dream come alive. The first cut, "Cats and Dogs," starts out with a shy guitar pulse. That morning in the car with Rich, the song seemed to be calling for the yellow road stripes to disappear beneath us.
What's mesmerizing to some, especially on record, can be sedative to others. And so I wondered how this stuff will translate to a live show when the esoteric indie rock band performs at the Majestic Theatre Oct. 7.
"When we recorded the record, we had only been together a month," says drummer Tyler Williams. He explains that some of the songs' restraint was the result of the members getting to know each other and the music at the same time.
"We put much more energy into the songs in the live show," says Williams, who was so moved by hearing a Head and the Heart demo track that he moved from his Virginia home to the Northwest to join the band. "The drumming is more powerful, less restrained, more fluid."
There's a powerful lyrical refrain in the song "Heaven Go Easy on Me" that repeats the line, "We're well on our way." It's a spot of clairvoyance. In a year the Head and the Heart have gone from self-releasing to signing with Sub Pop and, last spring, touring in support of the Decemberists. In Madison they'll be staying overnight at Williams' aunt and uncle's house. "Gotta save money wherever you can."
He says nothing will be held back in performance, though. "Everybody gives their all. We like to show how lucky we are to be doing this for a living."