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The Head And The Heart
It wasn't that long ago that the members of Seattle's The Head and the Heart were busking on street corners, strumming their acoustic guitars, stomping their feet and singing in harmony as they attempted to attract the attention of passersby. That unbridled energy informed their earliest original material, which was honed in local clubs before eventually being captured on the band's 2011 debut album for hometown label Sub Pop.
Then, something unexpected happened. That music began to reach audiences all over the United States and the rest of the world, and The Head and the Heart went from playing open mic nights to selling out headlining shows in prestigious venues. The album became one of Sub Pop's best-selling debut releases in years. And slowly but surely, ideas began to form for the band's second album, imbued with the experiences of traveling the world and cultivating a listenership with a deep connection to the music.
"There is a certain level of confidence gained from having such an amazing fan base," says group member Jonathan Russell. "You start to trust yourself more. When we were busking, we were filling so much space to keep the listener from walking away. Now we are in a very different situation," adds group member Josiah Johnson, "We wanted to write songs that felt bigger, and didn’t need to be so frantic. I think for the most part we wanted to record an album that sounds like the way we play now.
Indeed, The Head and the Heart's newest release, Let's Be Still, is a snapshot of a band that didn't exist just four short years ago. Virginia native Russell and California transplant Johnson formed the core songwriting partnership, which was rounded out by drummer Tyler Williams, keyboardist Kenny Hensley, vocalist/violinist Charity Rose Thielen and bassist Chris Zasche, who'd met Russell and Johnson while tending bar at an open mic they frequented. The nascent group dove headfirst into writing, recording and performing, and even moved into the same house to ensure that inspiration could strike at any moment.
San Fermin is the work of Brooklyn composer and songwriter Ellis Ludwig-Leone. His self-titled debut album is strongly influenced by his unique background in classical music, which includes a job assisting composer/arranger Nico Muhly.
After finishing his musical studies at Yale, Ludwig-Leone wrote the album in six weeks while holed up in a studio on the mountainous border between Alberta and British Columbia. He focused on life?s top-shelf issues youth, nostalgia, anxiety, unrequited love and tied these vast themes to different characters through vocal contributions from longtime friend Allen Tate, as well as Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius.
The first track released from the album, Sonsick, tackles many of these larger themes head-on. Its like a panic attack disguised as a birthday party, Ludwig-Leone says. I realized that the most intense moments are the ones in which conflicting emotional worlds exist inside you, equally, at once.
San Fermin is not an album of singles but rather a sweeping, full-bodied listen with multiple distinct peaks and ambitious thematic connections. Ludwig-Leone composed all of the albums arrangements and lyrics in full prior to collaborating and recording, noting that writing for a large group of unknown musicians infused the writing process with a kind of operatic scope.
Since then, the band has coalesced into a core of eight members in addition to Ludwig-Leone: Allen Tate and Charlene Kaye, lead vocals; Rebekah Durham, vocals/violin; John Brandon, trumpet; Stephen Chen, saxophone; Tyler McDiarmid, guitar; and Mike Hanf, drums.
San Fermin is available now on CD, vinyl and digital outlets via Downtown Records. The name is pronounced [SAN fur-MEEN]
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