My Band Nearly Broke Up After a Decade. Therapy’s Giving Us a Future.
NO BAND can fake great chemistry for very long before its members eventually feel like calling it quits. So when The Head and the Heart’s dynamic began to break down, they didn’t strike out on solo tours or go on a prolonged hiatus—they actually did therapy.
The band formed in Seattle in 2009 and originally featured Jonathan Russell, Josiah Johnson, Charity Rose Thielen, Kenny Hensley, Chris Zasche, and Tyler Williams. They quickly developed a cult following in the Pacific Northwest and were signed to the influential label Sub Pop in 2010, who released a remastered and expanded version of the band’s self-titled debut album. Since then, The Head and the Heart have toured relentlessly and released three additional albums, each one landing on Billboard’s charts and exposing the band to a wider audience.
But The Head and the Heart’s ascent wasn’t without its share of setbacks and challenges, including Johnson’s exit from the band to enter rehab to seek help with a drug addiction. After spending the last decade at a nonstop pace, the band’s members reached a breaking point—physically, creatively, spiritually—as they set out to record their 2019 album, Living Mirage. To navigate this difficult time, they enlisted the help of a therapist.
Williams, the band’s drummer, shared why the group felt compelled to pursue therapy and how that choice is factoring into the next chapter of The Head and the Heart.
I think in our band, we’ve never wanted to peak with success early. We’ve always wanted to maintain a long journey. And I think when you start a long journey, you don’t really realize the paths that you’re going to go down. It’s been an interesting 10 years, but the beginning was a very beautiful honeymoon phase where it felt like we had all been destined by fate to be together.
The Signs of Light tour in 2016 was the first time touring without Josiah, one of our people that we love. We had to rearrange the whole flow of the show and Jon had to be a much more charismatic person than he is—he’s more introspective, he’s an introvert. Then he had to transform into this gregarious storyteller.
So there would be shows where he’s just like, “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing anymore.” There were multiple times when there were meltdowns after shows because we’re trying to figure out our way through this problem. And I don’t think at any point did we say, “We should go see a therapist,” even though it was so evident we needed to go.
How we got from obviously needing therapy to actually getting it
When we were recording Living Mirage, Charity brought up [therapy] and it was heavy at first. You don’t want to admit that you need help, especially when you’re trying to portray confidence as a band. It’s like a competence thing: If you let your guard down, you’re going to be found out or you’re going to get caught.
But it wasn’t getting any better. Our relationships were fracturing further because there was this giant elephant in the room that was trauma. So we weren’t talking hardly at all and songs were getting harder to finish because we weren’t able to be vulnerable. You hit these creative dead ends where you set someone off with a phrase or a word, and it’s just baggage. Charity was like, “I’m not doing this unless we go see a therapist. I’m not going to live in this environment.”
We found this amazing person, Dr. Lee Norton out of Nashville, and she came to Atlanta and did this marathon session with us over the course of two days—individual members and also full group. It was the first time we had really talked to each other about how we grew up or the things that we went through as kids that have now manifested into problems as adults. We didn’t grow up together. We weren’t best friends. We were pushed together in this weird, fated way. It was more like an arranged marriage, but there was no arranger.
We didn’t pretend it was going to be easy
We approached therapy knowing it’s going to be hard, and it’s going to probably be a lot of tears. But it can only get better from where we were, and we needed to connect to restart the progress and focus on the mission of music. We wanted to get back to a place, but we had never been in that place to begin with. We had never known each other so intimately and deeply, to where I now understand why something would trigger one of my band members. Maybe I don’t need to do that thing.
We started to see the progress being made over a course of weeks, and how much the temperature has been lowered in our discussions and our ability to get a cohesive vision together. It feels like we’re going to keep doing [therapy] because it’s not like the work ever really ends. We just have to keep going and keep communicating, and it helps to have a moderator there who can guide you and show you some of the pitfalls to help you not fall into them.
[Therapy] is helping us regain some power over our decision-making, which is super exciting going into our second decade. It feels like we’re finding this whole new life.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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