In late 2011, a contingent of new bands emerged specializing in acoustic, banjo-driven folk music with pop undertones. It seemed like every time you turned on the radio, either Mumford & Sons, Of Monsters and Men, or The Lumineers blared through the speakers. Perhaps lesser known at the time—but nonetheless a huge influencer in the genre—was The Head and the Heart. After releasing their self-titled EP in April of that year, the Seattle-bred band toured throughout the country, opening for everyone from Vampire Weekend to Dave Matthews Band.
"It was a moment in time," said lead singer Jonathan Russell of THATH's folk roots Thursday night, before the group's headlining set at Rough Trade in New York City. Drummer Tyler Williams chimed in: "I hate the term 'folk-rock.' None of us set out to be in a folk-rock band. I think we got lumped into this backwoods category." Fast-forward five years, and THATH has a new album, Signs of Light, replete with lush, grandiose vocals and instrumentation. "It feels like the record I always hoped we could make," Williams added. "We're finally creating our own identity and coming into our own, artistically."
Below, THATH talked more about Signs of Light, their acting debut, and tour bus dance parties.
How would you describe the new sound?
Tyler Williams: It's been an evolution. The first record was very organic; the second one seemed to branch out a little bit more sonically. I feel like we gravitated toward sunnier, brighter production on this one. It's never a conscious decision.
Charity Rose Thielen: At the beginning, we were playing at a lot of open mic nights on small stages. We'd bring our acoustic instruments and it was very stripped down by nature of where we were playing.
Your lyrics feel very personal. Where do you find creative inspiration?
Jonathan Russell: Everywhere. For this record, I made a conscious effort to travel more. I went to L.A., Mississippi and Florida—where my family lives—and then Haiti to volunteer for the non-profit Artists for Peace and Justice. I was trying to pop my bubble and curate an environment that would give me something new to write about. If you don't change that up, it can get a little stale.
Speaking of new experiences, you had a cameo role in Cameron Crowe's new Showtime series, Roadies. How did that come about?
Tyler Williams: Cameron Crowe's brain. He brought it to our management. We didn't know what we were going to be doing when we went in there. We just said, "Yes."
Jonathan Russell: "Cameron Crowe? Sure. Yes. Anything you need."
Tyler Williams: We didn't have any lines. We were just supposed to play music and look frustrated. But he was super cool. We were talking about Neil Young bootlegs that I had found online, and then he sent me these very rare acoustic demos.
Jonathan Russell: Our tour manager in the episode was Neil Young's tour manager for years, a consultant for the show.
You've toured quite a bit yourselves over the past few years. How do you pass time on the bus?
Tyler Williams: We do dance parties at night. We had a big one recently driving from Toronto to Buffalo, N.Y.
Jonathan Russell: I still have stitches. We were bumping some Kendrick Lamar and the bus swerved.
Tyler Williams: You never know who's going to tumble!
Let's talk about style for a second. Where do you like to shop?
Tyler Williams: I'm a big fan of Need Supply Co. in Richmond, Va. I try to stop in there and see what they have. I like A.P.C. shirts and I pretty much only wear Levi's jeans.
Jonathan Russell: Levi's is great. These boots are by this guy named Joe Ghost. They're over-the-top.
Charity Rose Thielen: I like Opening Ceremony and Totokaelo. They have a lot of Japanese designers, which tend to be more conceptual. I've recently started to obsess about color in every facet, hence the hair. Sometimes I'll match it to my clothes for a monochromatic look. It's like a shoe!
Watch the music video for "All We Ever Knew" below, and buy Signs of Light for $10 on the iTunes Store.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.