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Jack White and Whiskey: The Head and the Heart’s Must-Haves

The Head and the Heart (L-R) Chris Zasche, Kenny Hensley, Jonathan Russell, Charity Rose Thielen, Tyler Williams, Josiah Johnson

Only a couple years ago, the Head and the Heart were struggling to capture the attention of passersby while busking on Seattle street corners. Now, following the left-field success of the band’s 2011’s self-titled album, the sextet no longer has to worry about passing around the hat.

On October 15, the group returns with Let’s Be Still, a sumptuous folk-rock effort punctuated by gorgeous string arrangements and sharp vocal harmonies. “We’re more confident and trust ourselves more now,” says vocalist Jon Russell about the sophomore LP. “The headspace for this record was, ‘Let’s not figure out what this sounds like — let’s just write the best songs we possibly can.'”

In advance of the new album’s release, Russell and drummer Tyler Williams chatted with us about some of their favorite things.

I’ve been listening to a ton of jazz, mostly Miles Davis. I love things my brain can’t wrap itself around completely. There are no vocals involved, which is refreshing for me. It’s like you’re experiencing music, and it’s making you feel a certain way, but it’s not influences I can take and accidentally rip off. I’m not there yet. I’m not free-form jazz on guitar.

I was reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which I know is super bleak. I feel like everyone in my life right now is having these dissolving kind of years — relationships have blown apart, people are moving. That’s sort of seeped into my thoughts and colored my world. So I had to read this apocalyptic book to let it all make sense.

 I tend to really enjoy smaller towns. When you play a big city where they get a lot of music, the people that show up there are less excited, have already seen two shows that week. But when you play in a place like Pontiac, Michigan, it’s this nourishing aspect of touring. You get these 16-year-old kids who stood outside waiting for hours and are so stoked to see your band. You might have forgotten what these songs even mean to you — two years into an album cycle and it gets a little rough. Then you see these people and you’re like, “I can keep doing this.”

 We had a taco count going on during recording — whoever ate the most and the least were both the winners. If you ate the most tacos, the prize was a free membership to a gym for a year. Kenny won that one. He has a competitive streak.

 Scotch became a staple in the studio, and then tequila for the other end of that. Tequila was for a celebratory pickup. If we wanted to blur the lines and try to write another song, scotch. Then everyone felt relaxed.

Williams: For me, it was all about the Budweiser Cheladas. It’s like a Michelada, but in a can. It was the one beer that I could leave in the fridge and nobody else would touch. Nothing like a Mexican tomato beer.

We played the Gorge at Sasquatch Festival. At those kinds of festivals, you’re seeing all the guts of it all. But then later that night, on the same stage we played, Jack White headlined – and that’s one of those performances that just changes your brain. It changes the way you think about yourself on a stage, the way you walk on — everything. That motherfucker has a presence. It’s real. It raises the bar of how live music actually hits you.

 We all listen to music in such different ways. Chris loves pop country, which is awesome. On this trip he’s been blasting that, and it’s a palate-cleanser after listening to so much art. It’s like, here’s some Auto-Tuned bullshit, with fake pedal-steel guitar. It’s refreshing. It’s so arduous to constantly listen to just what people deem cool, because you’re constantly having to analyze it. So pop country has been on full repeat.”