Hall Of Mirrors: The Helio Sequence

"I guess we took more chances..."
The Helio Sequence.jpg
Life on the road can be pretty stressful. Demanding their independence, The Helio Sequence often organised their own shows, acting as tour managers to maintain control of their own lives, their own schedule. Then, mid way through a typically lengthy North American tour, their studio flooded.

“Well it was kind of strange because everything was moving so quickly at that point” Brandon Summers recalls. “The first thought I had was “oh that’s OK, I’ll just deal with that when I get home!” We knew going back that there would be a bunch to deal with when we got back and actually saw the state of the studio – and it was pretty bad. We had a sewer line across the wall. It smelled really terrible. We were lucky because we had most of our good equipment with us and somehow we had the forethought to lift all of our main recording gear off the floor. It was all at least ten feet off the ground and the water didn’t touch any of the super expensive stuff – so we were luckily spared”.

Forced to shift location, The Helio Sequence set their stall on the edge of Portland. Moving away from the artistic complex which had spawned the group, the band were simultaneously freed from its grasp and cut adrift from their support mechanism. “At the new space, there’s absolutely nothing surrounding us and we can play through the night as loud as we want and that was amazing because this record ended up being recorded almost wholly at night” the singer says. “It’s funny, since the release of the last record I’ve had two kids, two little girls and I worked it out that I would stay at home with them during the days and leave in the evenings. I’d work from six in the evening until one or two in the morning, so I got kind of the best of both worlds. I got to be at home, be around – which can’t be said for most people, playing dad and touring a lot. It was nice to then go to the studio, it became a very peaceful place for me with no kids running around and it was more of a contemplative atmosphere. I think that that was – along with the space itself – lent itself to the more introverted tone of the record”.

‘Negotiations’ certainly has an ‘introverted tone’, as Summers puts out. Ending a lengthy silence from The Helio Sequence, the album shares the noir tones of prime era Interpol yet has a deeply personal significance for the people involved. Very much a rock record (in fact, it’s midnight feel could well be borrowed from The Velvet Underground’s numb third LP) it seems that the group were taking influence from some unexpected quarters. “Both Benjamin and I have got into listening to music on vinyl” the singer states. “I mean, we’ve always had records and built up a small collection of LPs but then we both got nicer turntables and just went off the deep end. We’d go off on strange little tangents and we’d share these records with each other. I guess we took more chances buying vinyl because it’s all off the beaten path”.

In particular, The Helio Sequence fostered a love for the introverted, hushed tones of 50s West Coast jazz. “Absolutely” he says. “That was a huge influence, the cool delivery over all. All those guys had so much depth in their delivery but they didn’t feel the need to reach out and grab you by the throat. They expected you to, look – if you wanted everything they had to offer then you kind of had to go to them. It creates a mood at the same time of not just being pure mood music which is something which I really like”.

Perhaps bizarrely, the new record seemingly owes a lyrical debt to a neglected aspect of Frank Sinatra’s career. “I really started listening to a lot of Frank Sinatra and I got really into his – he put out a string of records on Capitol in the 50s, some people call them the Suicide Records” Summers reveals. “They’re hit down tempo records, rather than the swing easy stuff – which I like as well. It was really ‘Only The Lonely’ or ‘Where Are You Now?’ which just had this real pathos, this down tempo, late night noir, almost romantic kind of thing. I guess it was really influential. I thought of a place that Helio Sequence hadn’t gone anyhow, up until this point which would be interesting”.

The results, of course, don’t betray the sound of ol’ Blue Eyes. Sophisticated, affecting songwriting ‘Negotiations’ is a typically poetic slice of American alt rock in the 21st century. A valuable, probing addition to the Helio Sequence catalogue, its often claustrophobic atmosphere is matched by a palpable sense of redemption. For the band, it seems that having the ability to make and perform music for a living is its own reward.

“Touring is difficult but it is also amazingly uplifting to be playing for people. I realise, every single time round if I ever forget in the middle of the show – God, this is what I want to do” Summers says. “We’re always counting our blessings, we’ve been professional musicians for ten years who’ve been able to make music we love and go round the world playing it for people. Whether that’s ten people in a small city in the Mid West or a sold out show in New York, either way – we’re really thankful”.

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'Negotiations' is out now.

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