Interview with Chris Zasche of The Head and The Heart
The Head and The Heart: Josiah Johnson, Kenny Henley, Chris Zasche, Charity Rose Thielen, Tyler Williams, and Jonathan Russell (Photo by Kyle Johnson)
Every now and then when the wind blows just right and the planets align, an opening band will blow the headliner out of the water. It is an extremely rare occurence, but every so often, you arrive at a venue early and have your mind blown. If any of you were at the Troubadour on December 10th, 2010, you know exactly what I'm talking about. All thirty of you.
A young band from Seattle with a cumbersome name, The Head and The Heart, took the stage at around 8:30pm and stole the show right out from under the headliners. With their gorgeous, classic folk harmonies and feet stomping energy, this six piece managed to whip the crowd up in a matter of minutes. It was not a surprise then that a month later it was announced that they had signed to Sub Pop Records and were the toast of SXSW.
We caught up with bassist Chris Zasche yesterday to talk about their debut album, fireflies, and time travel. Here is some of what was said.
When did you start playing the bass?
I started playing in March of last year, which was pretty much when I started playing in this band. I kinda bluffed my way in. I had seen them play a bunch of times, and it seemed like a really fun project. So for the first six months I borrowed gear from friends and figured out how to play from there.
Wait, how did you convince them to let you play bass if you hadn't played before?
Well, I said things like, "Yeah dude, I can play the bass. I know someone who has one." I had played piano and guitar in other bands, so they took me at my word that I could figure it out.
When did you figure out it was going to work?
The first time played we together. I was wondering if I actually knew how to play, but we gelled really quickly. It was kind of a no brainer. I was good for the kind of music they were starting to write. They didn't need a fancy bass player or a noodler. They just needed someone who knew how fill that frequency. When we all played together it just seemed to make sense.
That's really lucky.
It is. Fortunately they had a lot of their structure put together. It was easy to hop into. It's not like they needed a bass solo.
You were bartending at the open mic that these guys formed around. How did you know you wanted to join the band?
I was playing in a couple bands at the time, but we were only practicing once a week. These guys had a real energy towards creating and the bands I was in seemed to be in a lull creatively. The Head and The Heart had a real eagerness and the energy which is how I feel about music. They seemed to be starting a project that they were really excited about what they were doing, and when I heard the first demos it got me really excited about what they were doing. Also playing the bass was really fun. Playing the piano or pedal steel means you're sitting down a lot and don't have a lot of energy to give. This was something new, which I needed at a time. I was in a rut and their energy was contagious.
Was it hard to break up with your previous bands?
Totally, I was playing with a lot of good friends. At the beginning I could balance all of it, but then I began missing those shows for these shows. We were building The Head and The Heart from the ground up. All of us were booking shows and pitching in, so my word was on the line, my name on the line. All six of us was really excited, so eventually when it came time to make a decision I had to pick them. But all of my old bands have done fine without me. It's not like I ruined any of them, but it's always an awkward conversation. Almost like you're breaking up with a girl. It's like, "You don’t mind if I hang out with this other girl, right? She’s more fun. You don’t mind, right?"
Breaking up is always awkward. So where did you guys end up recording this album?
We did the basic drum, piano, bass, and acoustic guitar at Litho in Freemont in Seattle. It's a great room. It's were Pearl Jam recorded a lot of their stuff. We did the basic tracks there, but at the time all of the recording money was coming out of everyone’s pocket, so we cut as much cost as possible. We did all the overdubs in a basement studio called Bear Head Studios. All of the vocals and the mixing and all of the tedious long work we did with them. We didn't have a whole lot of money and so we did it on the cheap. The people we worked with were great, though and it came out really good.
What song are you most proud of on the album?
"Cats and Dogs". It's only a two minute song, but that was one of the songs we all wrote together. It wasn't a song that was brought to the table, it was a total collaboration of everybody. It's probably how a lot of the next record is going to be written, and I was more comfortable on the bass. Plus it sounds great. The arrangements are great. There's just something about it.
What is the band’s writing style like?
Most of the songs on the record were written by Jon, Josiah, and Kenny, the piano player. They molded the songs and worked the changes and the harmonies. And then we added the drums and then came the bass, but there are always tweaks along that process. It starts with a song, and then me and Kenny and Tyler take a stong structure and turn it into more than just chords. New songs that we're writing now, the structure will become our job...everyone’s job. A good example is "Coeur D'Alene". When Josiah first played that at the open mic it was a really soft, somber song, which got turned into a dance jam. The origins of that song compared to what it actually turned out to be is amazing. It changed by leaps and bounds. It went from a song you'd play at a campfire to...
Yeah! Something completely different. It's so much fun to add weird rhythms and really mess with it.
How did Sub Pop Records win your heart?
We had met a lot of different labels at the time, and they were all great. We met some really great people. They all wanted to do the best thing that they could for us with the resources at their desposal. Then we met with Sub Pop and it was kind of a no-brainer. Their ideas and their approach for what they wanted to do with us was really exciting. We were all pretty familiar with what they’ve done in the past five years to ten years and their catalogue, so it seemed a good fit. We knew that if we put in the time and they put in the time, it would work well. I've got nothing but great things to say about them.
How was SXSW for you? You guys were everywhere.
Great, really great. I had been once before, so I knew the craziness of it. We got put on some great showcases and got some cool time slots, but the best part was that a month later we were playing a show in Gottenburg and this promoter came up to us and said, "I saw you at SXSW. You were my favorite band there." That's just amazing. It's amazing that some dude from Scandanavia caught your show in a backyard in Texas. You play so many shows that you don't have time to grasp what you're doing. What a great opportunity. It doesn't matter if it's in a proper venue, or a mellow radio show, or a backyard, we just rolled with it.
Do you have a pre show ritual before you go on stage?
Sometimes. Usually there’s some random song or video that we're obsessed with. A theme of the week. For awhile it was "Come On Eileen" then it was "Tarzan Boy." We usually blast something before a show and do a shot of tequila then hit the stage. The tequila is pretty constant, if we can find it.
Who came up with the "Lost in Mind" video in the snow?
It was the director Christian's (Sorensen Hansen) idea. He did three general treatments that he had thought of and this one seemed the most interesting. It was really fun to work with him. He's a local guy in Seattle and this idea seemed the most interesting.
It looked freezing.
It was freezing . I’m not going to lie. We were told it was just going to be a single shot. Four minutes and you're done, but we had to do extra shots to make sure we got it all the covered. I don't think we filmed that long, but because of the cold it felt like a long time. We were only somewhat prepared too. I felt bad for Jon. To play the guitar when your hands are frozen is the hardest thing to do. It got really cold, but we knew it was going to look good.
Was the piano lit on fire on purpose or by accident?
Totally in purpose. It was a Craigslist piano. It was totally out of tune. It was a goner piano. Nobody wanted it, so we lit it up.
If you could play with anyone in the world who would it be?
It's not a specific person, but I want to play bass on a hip hop record. Something I’ve thought about for awhile. I can’t think of who it would be. I'm just going to throw out big names...Jay-Z. I think that would be fun. It would be a totally different experience. Not that I’m listen to hip hop all the time, but I like the rhythm. That shit is cool. You know when I'm noodling by myself I usually do it to reggae or funkiest shit that I can. I think I could hold my own. Jay-Z, if you're reading this. I want to be on your album.
I don't see why not. Kanye has Bon Iver on his album.
Exactly. If you listen to really good producers they always throw in a shredder guitar player or Spanish guitar on top of the traditional beats, and normal synths. They always add other styles for good texture. That's what I think he needs, a 6'3" white bass player.
They'd never see it coming. Speaking of which what’s the craziest thing you’ve seen in the audience?
I feel like we've had tame audiences in that respect. There's never been a time when I've wondered "What's going on? Who is that?" in a negative sense. It's always surprising when people you don’t really expect to know your song, get rowdy and start singing. Suddenly everyone is with you. That's cool. We've had those shows after the first song we're like, "Woah where do theses people come from?" But I've never been hit with anything or flashed.
You sound sad about that.
It would be nice if people felt comfortable expressing themselves...in that way.
You promise? If it doesn’t happen this year, I’m coming to you.
It'll happen. I promise. Okay last question. If you had a time machine where would you go?
Man, I'm hoping some day we’ll get there technologically. It would be cool to be one of the first explorers of America. There are so many amazing natural landmarks. I can’t imagine being the first to stumble across the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone or the Devils' Tower or Yosemite. Not like Lewis and Clark, but one of the first people traveling across this country, witnessing natural wonders first time. That would be amazing.
Yeah, I would imagine it would be impossible to write letters home about. How do you describe all the new animals and plants?
Yes! Exactly. It's like the first time I saw fireflies. You don't get them in Seattle, and so I had heard about them, but kind of ignored it. I was like, "They light up. I don’t really get that." Then I was in in Kentucky and there was this enormous grass field of fireflies. It blew my mind. Exploring Yosemite for the first time was probably like that times a million. I just remember thinking. "Holy shit! There’s a fucking bug that lights up and flies." I couldn’t believe it. It was not real. It’s like make believe. There were Tinkerbells everywhere. I was twenty two the first time I saw a firefly. I flipped out. I was so giddy.
That is awesome! Thank you so much for talking with us.
*Be sure and catch The Head and The Heart at the Troubadour tonight, 4/25!