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Tyler Williams of The Head and the Heart
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The Head and the Heart
Drummer Tyler Williams makes his homecoming debut with The Head and the Heart at the National on March 21. After listening to a demo of the track "Down in the Valley" sent to him by the band's lead vocalist, Jonathan Russell, who also happens to be Williams' childhood friend and a former Richmond roommate, Williams packed his bags in Church Hill and drove across the country to join the band in Seattle in 2009. The sextet's self-titled album was initially released independently in June of that same year, distributed after shows on CD-Rs in handmade denim sleeves, and by the time they signed with Sub Pop Records in November 2010, they'd already sold 10,000 copies on their own. The band spent the past year on a packed national and international touring schedule, opening for high-profile acts such as Iron & Wine, The Decemberists, and Death Cab for Cutie. Richmond's own Black Girls will add their psychedelic Southern soul to for the March leg of The Head and the Heart's spring tour. 8 p.m. $24. The National. 612-1900 or thenationalva.com .
AD: Why did you move to Richmond in 2005?
TW: I was going to go to VCU. I was there for a semester, and I was living with Jon. I kind of just screwed off and didn't really pay attention to schoolwork as much as I was paying attention to playing music with him and my other band mates. So it basically just became about me playing music.
AD: What band were you in at the time?
TW: It was called Silent Film Star.
AD: Silent Film Star?
TW: Yeah, it wasn't very popular. [ Laughs. ]
AD: What are your favorite Richmond hangouts?
TW: I love Bamboo [Café], and what used to be called Acapella, now Patrick Henry's, is one of my favorite bars. Instantly I go to the bars. [ Laughs. ] I used to work at Can Can, and I actually really like a lot of the people there. I spent a lot of my time hanging out there because I worked there so much. Gallery 5, of course. I used to play in Prabir and The Substitutes as well, so we were always playing at Gallery 5.
AD: Other than Can Can, what jobs did you work when you lived here before?
TW: I worked at Amici on Cary Street, and then I worked at Can Can serving and food running and basically doing all those jobs that happen at a restaurant.
AD: So you were doing that, but your focus was on music.
TW: Yeah. I mean, it's pretty hard to make a living playing music, especially in Richmond. I think that's one of the reasons I moved to Seattle. It just seemed like a larger industry.
AD: You didn't really know if it was going to take off when you moved to Seattle, right?
TW: I really just went out there because Jon moved out there, and he met some dudes. He sent me an acoustic demo of "Down in the Valley." I looked at my girlfriend, and I was like, "This is amazing. I have to move out there." It was really on a whim. When I got there, I guess I thought that they were further along than they were because the songwriting was so developed. I thought I was cherry-picking myself into a really nice situation. It definitely took a ton of work to get the band up to the point where I felt like we were able to play shows in front of people. We spent a lot of time just practicing five hours a day and honing in on that. It was like musical boot camp.
AD: You recognized that The Head and the Heart was a good band, but the whole world hadn't caught on yet.
TW: [ Laughs. ] At first I didn't even recognize it. I thought I was going to end up back in Richmond within three months. But then we started practicing, and all the right people fell into place, and all of a sudden we felt like we were part of a family and that we were actually doing something unique to us, something that we felt we could pursue a little further. Luckily, it just kind of came together really quickly.
AD: Was there a little window of time where you were thinking this might not have been the best idea?
TW: Definitely. I mean, I left my girlfriend, I left a job that I had been at for two years at Can Can, and I left my family. It was the first time that I had ever really done that. Looking back, it was insane. I realized when I started the drive to Seattle, I hit the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I was just like, "There's no turning back."
AD: Since the band signed with Sub Pop, you've pretty much been on the road for the past two years, right?
TW: We signed in November of 2010 with Sub Pop, and we've been on the road since June or September of that year. So yeah, it's been a long time. It's been about a year and a half that we've been kind of just touring straight through. Right now we have about five weeks off, which is I think the longest we've had off since we started the band.
AD: You've opened for a lot of big-name bands — Dave Matthews Band, Iron & Wine, the Decemberists — which group was the most fun to tour with?
TW: Actually, the most recent tour, surprisingly. We just did Australia supporting a band out of L.A. called Grouplove, who just got the newest iPod commercial. They're around the same age as us, and they're on the same climb as us, so we were just really compatible. We were best friends pretty much right away. And then in Europe we toured with My Morning Jacket in November, and those guys are like elder statesmen of rock ‘n' roll now, so they've been around for a long time, and we've always looked up to them. They kind of have this calm serenity of they know what they're doing and they're in control of everything. It was just nice being on the road with those guys and kind of feeling what it's like to be at that level.
AD: What's on the recently played list on your iPod?
TW: I keep going back to this artist Dirty Beaches. It's kind of like Elvis ran through the shittiest sound machine ever. It's kind of awesome. It's super low-fi and creepy. Really creepy and droney. It feels like a David Lynch film or something. It's pretty cool. I've been listening to LCD Soundsystem a lot. Richmond does this thing that makes me want to go to dance parties or house parties and just let go.
AD: Are you guys going to play any new songs at the National?
TW: We hope to. I think we're still in the creation stage for that, but we'd love to. Jon's been doing some solo stuff after we play the whole set. I think on this next tour we're going to come out and join him for some of those new ones. Our bass player, Chris, is originally a pedal-steel player, and he's phenomenal at it. He's talking about bringing that on the road in March. I think right now we probably have five new songs, and then we have sketches for like 10 different things that we're working on.
AD: How would you describe the new sound?
TW: It's less folk. That was what we listened to — country or folk or rock ‘n' roll — and we tried to combine that on the last record. We're trying to take away from a little bit of the folk element and add more of our own unique thing that we've stumbled upon in the past year and a half. I think we've found our sound a little bit, and I would say it's less folk.
AD: When is the new album going to be released?
TW: I'm thinking sometime early 2013. This [current] record doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon. We had our best sales week last week, which was insane. Like, a year and a half after it came out. It's just picking up speed, which is nice.
AD: How did you hear about Black Girls, and why did you choose to go on tour with them?
TW: I had a friend who introduced me to a couple of their demos, and I thought it was really cool. I hadn't heard a sound like that out of Richmond, I guess they call it snuff rock. The support they had behind them was kind of interesting to me because I also hadn't seen that in Richmond very often. I went to see a couple shows, and then I went to the Camel the other night for the CD-release show, and I thought they would be awesome on this tour. It just took a little convincing to get my band mates on board.
AD: That's great, getting Richmond bands out to the wider world.
TW: Definitely. It's always been one of my goals to see this place have a flourishing music scene. Any way that I can help push that along is awesome to me.