Brian Vollmer of Helix

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Interviewed By EvilG
Transcription by Nick / Live Photos By Celtic Bob

In early August I had the pleasure of interviewing the legendary Canadian metal icon, Brian Volmmer. Of all places for the interview, it took place in Gander, Newfoundland. We had driven in to Gander from St. John’s, a four hour drive, to see them live and to get an int person interview with Brian. Although he had a busy day in front of him, he managed to set aside about 30mins for me to ask him all about Helix, their new line-up, the recent 30th Anniversary show, his upcoming bio, etc. Enjoy……

Thanks for putting out your new album finally. It?s a killer, great album. < ?xml:namespace prefix = o />


It was a relief to get it out.


Why did it take so much time for a new studio album to come out? Was it finding the right lineup or the right time or the atmosphere for hard rock/metal for a release of this nature?


It was basically finding the time to do it. Part of the problem when you?re in my situation is that I do other things besides being in Helix to help supplement my income, so I?m a teacher. I teach belcanto, which is an old old method of singing that was developed in < ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Italy. Back in the golden age everyone was using belcanto to sing and I was lucky enough to have been taught it by Eduardo Johnson, who I still do to, he?s in his eighties. So anyway, I was doing the album and writing it with guys who don?t even do it as a living. One guy does computer work at the university and Tony Paleschi, the bass player, actually sells fish, tropical fish. The way we wrote the songs for the album, we used to get together on a Thursday night in my basement. We would just jam in the basement and a lot of the time we couldn?t get together even once every two weeks to even write. Then to work on the songs and then we we got into the studio it was the same thing. We had to find time and Rainer [Weichmann] who produced the album over here also has his own guitars, he makes guitars? you wanna tell him about your guitar business?


[background voice]: Sure! Ok, Rainer Weichmann here. GW basically stands for Guitar Works which is the name of my business. I started building guitars basically as a hobby something like 25 years ago and now in the last six or seven years I?ve actually had a facility with the tools and everything I need to really turn out some good guitars. I?ve been building guitars for a few other people. So basically I split my business between building guitars and I have a repair shop that I work at during the daytime and then the studio and whatever band I play with too. It?s a part of having enough time to do everything else we try to do.


Brian: So obviously my time is attached to his time. This time I would be available and he wouldn?t be available. So a big part of being at this level is trying to coordinate with all these people and working with all the personalities involved to get it done and trying to pick a good team of people around you and that their sole motivation isn?t money. Money is a motivation in life, it?s a motivation in my life, you gotta make money, you gotta live, you gotta pay your bills. But you don?t wanna get people that are just motivated by money, you want to get people who are into the music first and foremost, people that enjoy what they?re doing and people that are willing to go that extra mile to come out with a good product. We had that on this album, but it moves at a lot slower pace because of the framework we were working within.




So how long was it roughly from when you decided to do a new album until it was done?


Like three years. And believe me, it was a relief when it was finally released, but I?m glad we didn?t rush any part of it. At the beginning of last year I think we were gonna just try to finish it up and it was actually Bill Gadd who came to me and said ?I think this could be better, let?s hold out? and I said ?Ok, but we gotta have some kind of a cutoff day here, we can?t go on forever with this, it?s been too long?. So Bill said June and June became August and the next thing you know, it came out the next year. But I?m glad we waited cause I think we got a better product.


Rainer and Brian in Gander




When you were writing for the album, did you try to keep in mind the previous Helix albums you did or is it just written off the top of your head?


No, not really. You know, you always try to? In the back of your mind, you?re thinking of a contact with what the band?s all about, but I don?t think you can focus on that when you?re writing. When I write, I just try to write songs that feel good to me and I figure if I like them, then somebody else is gonna like them. First and fourth, if I don?t know what the hell Helix is about, then he?s not gonna know and he?s not gonna know and you?re not gonna know. I gotta know first. I?m kinda like the litmus test.




The title ?Rockin? In My Outer Space?, what?s it about? Your website is Planet Helix, there?s kind of an astronomy theme happening.


[laughs] That was just coincidental. When I write lyrics I never know what the song?s gonna be about. I don?t go in with a pre-conceived notion of  ?I?m gonna write a song about this?. There are writers who maybe do this, but I think the majority of lyricists, what they do is they jam with a vocal line until they get a melody they like and then they try to fit the lyrics into a melody without changing the melody. That?s what I do. When we were writing the song those just happened to be the words that fit in, you know. I didn?t really know what that meant. I think that when you write songs you?re just a lightening rod for things that are floating around out in space, just impulses really. To be receptive you just have to be open and do it for the right reasons and stuff. And I?m just getting back to your question why I wrote that title. It wasn?t a definite metal connection on a logical level to connect it with Planet Helix, it just kinda turned out like that.




And your new guitar player, who we just heard from, was he a member of the band when the album was recorded or did that come about after the album was done and he recorded parts?


Well, throughout the recording of the album, on one level we were recording with this bunch of people over here and then from a live standpoint we had not a completely different band but a couple of guys were different, most notably Shaun Sanders and Dan Fawcett who didn?t play on the album but they were in the live band. As it all went along I had problems with Dan and finally I had to let him go in the Spring. The biggest problem with Dan actually didn?t have anything to do with personality, it was just the simple fact that he didn?t sing. Once again, when you?re out there and try to put on a good show, it?s not like when it was the line-up from the 80?s. I want to front a great band that can do the songs correctly, but basically it?s me out there people are coming to see because I?m the guy that has been here for 30 years, you know what I mean? It?s reality, y?know. It?d be great if I could undo time and have the same lineup that he had in 1985, but it doesn?t work like that. So out there, my greatest concern is to reproduce the songs so when the fans come out and hear the tunes, they?re hearing good music above everything else and see a good visual show, people with good attitudes that are great to work with and things like that. All those things come into consideration when putting together a lineup to come out with this.




Last time you were in Newfoundland, Kaos was the opening band. When you got together with these two people again, did you remember them from the Kaos days when they did the opening slot on your tour?


Yes. Going through the album, Cindy [Weichmann] actually came after I had asked Rainer to join. I had really no intention of asking Cindy at first, but Cindy had volunteered to sing background vocals on some of the local gigs, because she sang on the album she wanted to come up. I thought that was great and once we started practicing we heard Cindy and it sounded so good that I just asked her if she wanted to come with us and now she?s here for the duration.




Do you feel confident, or have you thought far enough ahead, that this will be the lineup that writes and records your next album?


I think the lineup players are gonna be on that one, sure. Once we get into writing for the album, I think what I?m gonna do is I?m probably gonna sit down and write with various memebers of this lineup too. Rainer and I have now a relationship, Cindy writes some too and I?ll probably write with Stan/Jeff [Fountain] and Jim [Lawson] and continue to write with the guys I wrote the last album with. Because realistically? Your first question when you came in was ?why the hell did it take so long?? and it?s because I?m writing with one group of people and it took me a long time to find people that I could develop a good writing relationship with. It wasn?t like those were the only people I tried to write with. I tried to write with a lot of people. One lineup was the old Helix line, which was Daryl Gray, Mike Hall, Darren Smith and Gerry Finn, and nothing came out of those sessions and they took a lotta time. We spent like four months of Sundays or something, driving to Burlington, which is like an hour and a half away, and you spend a lot of money to rent a studio and stuff and nothing came out of those sessions. And I wrote with other people around the London area and finally I was in a weekend band with Tony and Bill and Rob Long and that was how that writing relationship developed that we had with the ?When pigs fly? album, which was a solo album. It really came about by accident.


So getting back to your question, how am I gonna start writing, that?s how I?m gonna approach it in a different way this time. We need to cut time on this. Realistically, Helix should be putting out an album every year and a half. Every two years at the most, not three years. You know, people?s musical memory is short and a lot can happen in a year of music. So you want to keep putting out albums. We?re probably gonna put out some other albums that can bridge the gap. I was talking to Rainer about maybe putting out a Christmas album so you can listen to a Helix Christmas album. It?ll just be something that if you?re a fan of the band, it?ll connect you to the next studio project and keep their interests up so you don?t have one album one and then, three years later, another album. I don?t wanna go like that, there?ll be something for sure inbetween. If you look at this year, we put out three cds and two dvds. That?s a lot of stuff to be putting out. So we?ve got time now to relax a little bit.




You yourself released the new album through Dirty Dog Records. Did you look for a label or did you want to put it out on your own label?


I thought it was fruitless to go to a big label. Especially back a coupla years ago, it was fruitless going in the front door. I saw a lot of bands from the 80?s, they tried to shop stuff to the record companies and got ?noone?s interested in guys from the 80?s, gimme a break?. At that point, with major labels, their attitude was that they wanted young guys and music had change. Music wasn?t the same anymore and they weren?t gonna sell mega units by signing Helix to their label, so why would they want it? To go to a small label, in my opinion, is a big mistake, because especially for bands like us, what the scam is is this: You get a company, like Company X, and they come to Helix going ?Listen, you know, we?ll give you 15-20 000 dollars for this album?. If the guy is broke enough, he?ll go ?15-20 000 bucks, that?s alright?. Then they?ll sweeten the price, they?ll go ?And we?ll give you a percentage?. What happens is, a lot of artists sign over their product for very little more than they actually spent recording the damn thing. The company goes and presses up like 20 000 units, floods the market and says ?five bucks a unit!? to all the mail order companies and disappears. They put out like 20 000 units at five bucks, that?s 100 000 bucks, they pay you 15-20 000 and you?ll never find them again. That was the problem we had with D-Rock. Suddenly, about six months into it, we failed to hear from them. So what I decided to do was to sell my own album. I had to sell Christmas cards when I was six years old, I bicycled around the farms delivering Christmas cards. I decided to sell the album myself, so I went to magazines and looked for mail order companies and I phoned them or e-mailed them. Simple. ?I?m the singer from Helix, I?m gotta get this album made up. Would you like to buy some?? Finally I got a few people who wanted to buy off me and I just went from there. I learned what is a respectable price per unit, what I can charge, how to ship, my payments, y?know. Then I set the website up to receive credit cards and PayPal and then I also started selling it. I think this is really important for baby boomer heavy metal bands or hard rock bands to start selling your own album on eBay. EBay is important, because a lot of people for the 80?s aren?t into music anymore. They are, but they?re not, like they don?t go out and read rock magazines anymore and things like that. What happens is, they go on the Internet though, and they buy stuff through eBay. They?re consumers now. They have money now. They?re not broke kids. So they go on there and when they go to change their vinyl albums into cds, lo and behold, there?s Brian Vollmer with his own cds. And they come to me and they come to the Planet Helix website that makes them aware that we?re still around and a lot of the time they buy the whole catalogue and they buy the new product. Nowadays there are lots of classic rock stations, but very few of them play new music from classic bands. We need to have new music played in order to survive. That?s why it?s great we?ve got the Internet and things like that and right now, you interviewing bands like Helix and me and increasing their product?s visibility.


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