Public practice sessions in resonant stairwells and open mic nights at Seattle institutions are the foundation of the Seattle folk-pop band The Head and the Heart. Charity Rose Thielen, Seattle native and a member of The Head and the Heart, gave Visit Seattle the story behind the early days of forming a band in Seattle and how their hit song “Rivers and Roads” was born out of it in a new episode of Music Genesis.
Charity Rose Thielen grew up in North Seattle (or North of Seattle depending on “which local you talk to”). Thielen recalls a natural pull towards music and song when she was growing up under the influence of her mother, who was a retired orchestra teacher. The church and faith community she grew up in were also very integral in her introduction to music. She has memories of sitting in the back of her grandmother’s car singing hymns as a family with her two older sisters. She learned violin and guitar, when she was young and soon after teaching herself guitar she began to write songs and go down that “rabbit hole” of the Seattle music scene. That was how she became aware of the Seattle record label, Sub Pop, (which was the first record label The Head and the Heart signed with) as well as a variety of local Seattle artists that were making the “singer-songwriter kind of mellow” music she was drawn to.
The Head and the Heart was formed in 2009 and is made up of Charity Rose Thielen, Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russell, Chris Zasche, Kenny Hensley, and Tyler Williams. The Head and the Heart built the foundation of their band in the open mic scene in Seattle, specifically Conor Byrne Pub. It is where the interview for this episode was shot and where Thielen believes she and The Head and the Heart got their introduction to the Seattle music scene. The Conor Byrne is one of Seattle’s oldest-running pubs and has made a name for itself in the Seattle music scene for regularly providing a large variety of live acts and open mics. Open mics provide a space for artists and musicians of all types to explore their craft and take creative risks. In the early days of the band this particular open mic allowed them to collaborate and improvise and find the additional members who were the missing puzzle pieces of the band.
When remembering early performances and versions of the band’s breakout song “Rivers and Roads”, Thielen recalls feeling “super inspired” and also a “very kinetic, wonderful energy” upon hearing her band member, Josiah Johnson, play the song. The band collaborated on the song and worked through it together. Along with the inspired feeling Charity also felt a sense of fear to share “the very honest thing” that was coming to her. Luckily, she did not “let the fear silence” her and she shared the lyrics “rivers and roads” and from there the song took shape organically.
The band continued to perform the song live and refine it. Charity told Visit Seattle about their live practice sessions at Pike Place Market where they would search out “the natural reverb that happens in parking garages and stairwells”. Pike Place Market is one of the United States’ oldest and largest continuously operating public farmers markets. Located in the center of downtown, the market is famous for live performances and busking that attracts locals and visitors alike. Performing their music in the hustle and bustle of Seattle provided the band with a diverse audience made up of the residents and visitors of the city. This audience and the way they received the music massively informed how the band continued to perform and create, naturally infusing the tastes and perspectives of Seattle into the music of The Head and the Heart. Today the smash hit song “Rivers and Roads” has been streamed hundreds of millions of times. Its success has taken the band and their music all over world and back to Seattle where they performed “Rivers and Roads” live during rooftop concerts at Pike Place Market in 2019 and 2021.
Thielen sees venues like Conor Byrne Pub and the Seattle music scene in general as providing opportunities for artists to perform and begin to make waves outside the local scene. She felt the local scene was an “extension of Seattle culture and the welcoming kind of openness” she felt growing up there. It inevitably was the perfect springboard to launch The Head and the Heart to global success with the band going on to release five albums and countless tours and festival appearances.
Thielen aptly equates The Head and the Heart to Seattle when she talks about their shared “welcoming energy”. This welcoming energy is seen in the band’s early live performances, as they are walking off the stage and out into the audience and in Seattle’s music scene, which has become so much more than its famous grunge scene and celebrates and supports musicians and artists of all types. Charity also mentions a “collective dynamic that embraces more than just one voice” within the band, which yet again speaks to the influence that Seattle and the city’s vibrant and diverse community of musicians have had on the band’s philosophy and priorities.
The song “Rivers and Roads” is a song that often changes meaning for Charity Rose Thielen from performance to performance, but at its core it is about longing for home. And for this band that Thielen describes as a “chosen family”, Seattle is not only their birthplace, but their home. The Head and the Heart is a band that perfectly exemplifies the welcoming, collaborative, and eclectic music scene in Seattle that many artists call home.
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