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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: February 27, 2017

It’s mutual love between the State Theatre and The Head and the Heart

Written by: Ray Routhier
The Head and the Heart is scheduled to play a sold out show Monday at Portland's State Theatre. Photo by James Minchin

The Head and the Heart is scheduled to play a sold out show Monday at Portland’s State Theatre.
Photo by James Minchin

Chris Zasche and his bandmates in The Head and the Heart love playing Portland’s State Theatre. He said he’s played beautiful old theaters all around the country, but few that match the sound and energy of the State, built in 1929.

“I love old theaters, but they don’t always sound great,” said Zasche, 34. “There’s just something about that room, the crew is great. As soon as we walked in, it was like, ‘When can we come back?’ ”

The answer to that is Monday, when The Head and the Heart is scheduled to play the State Theatre again. The band has played the theater twice in the last five years or so. And as much as Zasche likes the venue, he likes the fact that they have a lot of fans here in Maine, too. The 1,800-capacity venue is sold out for Monday’s show.

No matter where the band plays, Zasche said, one of their key characteristics is their effort to engage the audience, to make the audience part of the show.

“As far as entertainment goes, we’re not Beyoncé, putting on a show like that. For us, the most exhilarating thing is getting crowd feedback, getting the crowd into it with us,” said Zasche. “Sometimes you just walk on stage, lock eyes with the audience and nod. And you know it’s going to be a great show.”

The band formed in Seattle in 2009. Its members met because they all performed, individually, at a weekly open mic session at the same pub. Zasche grew up in Seattle and said he wasn’t “super musical” until after he became a skateboarder in his teens. He said that hanging around with other skateboarders introduced him to new ideas and new music, which inspired him. He was especially influenced by Modest Mouse, an alternative rock band from the Seattle area, which began playing in the early 1990s. He said he jammed with friends, but didn’t join any bands until he was about 21.

The band produced and released its self-titled debut album in 2009, in hand-made denim sleeves. They toured extensively and opened for several folk-flavored or indie rock bands like The Decemberists, Iron & Wine and My Morning Jacket. By 2011, their album was re-released on the Sub Pop label and stayed on the Billboard 200 album chart for 10 weeks.

Here’s “Lost in My Mind” from their 2010 debut album.

The band’s third album, “Signs of Light,” came out last fall, just a few months after one of the bands’ singers, Josiah Johnson, went into treatment for drug addiction. The band has two others singers besides Johnson, Jonathan Russell and Charity Rose Thielen.

Johnson is still working on his addiction and won’t rejoin the band anytime soon, Zasche said. He said the band refrains from playing two or three songs that depend mostly on Johnson’s voice, but other than that, they perform all their past works.

“He’s doing really good, and we’re friends above everything, so we really don’t want him to rush this,” said Zasche.

When The Head and the Heart first gained a following, they were seen as part of the folk boom led by Mumford & Sons, among others. But “Signs of Light” has been called more rock and less folk by some critics.

Musically, that may be slightly true, as the electric guitars are more prevalent. But lyrically, the songs are thoughtful and paint pictures, like “Library Magic”: “I’m drawn to that sorta library magic/Whisperin’ through the dusty aisles/Watchin’ All the thinkers read/Tryin’ to keep a grown man quiet’s like/Pulling teeth on a winter’s eve.”

Here’s “Library Magic”

Zasche said the band isn’t trying to change direction, but he said that every song the band writes and arranges together is approached “as its own entity.”

“It’s liberating because when a song is brought to the table, it’s a free zone, anything can happen,” said Zasche. “We’re not trying to be super edgy or come up with songs that are super palatable. We have no agenda.”

The Head and the Heart

WHEN: 8 p.m. Monday
WHERE: State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland


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