Heart of Steel: Interviews

Helix: Canadian Metal Legends
Gear Up For New Album In 2003
Interview With Vocalist Brian Vollmer 
Interview By Celtic Bob

The last well known release from Helix is Wild in the Streets (even though "Back For Another Taste " did get some radio attention) after that things seems to become very low key...why?

There were several reasons. Wild in the Streets was our last release on Capitol/E.M.I. Once they were out of the picture we were faced with trying to get ourselves a deal in the U.S. and Europe. In Canada we had a very solid relationship with the company and it wasn't any problem getting them to sign us to a distribution deal. Dean Cameron, the president of the Canada/E.M.I gave us the best shot we could ever have hoped for and as a result, Back for Another Taste was fairly successful in Canada. We had a Top 40 hit in Good to the Last Drop and won a video award for Running Wild in the 21st Century. In the States we were on Grudge Records who eventually took off with our money into the night. Instead of the major tours we were now on the bar circuit. It was a difficult time for us. Then Paul, my writing and business partner was killed in an accident coming back from touring western Canada.

I had been working on tunes with Marc Ribbler, a writer from Brooklyn previous to Paul's death. Marc and I had written Good to the Last Drop and had hit it off together as writers. Paul and I had never really been prolific writers and now with the pressure on, Paul was having a terrible time coming up with the licks we needed for a new CD. When he died there was very little written. My manager, William Seip, came to me and suggested that we use the tunes Marc and I had been working on as the new Helix CD. I didn't really feel right about that-I had never intended for the songs we had written to be Helix songs. Bill persisted, using the argument that with Paul gone we were just chasing our tail trying to hold onto a "sound" that was the product of Paul and I. With music changing and our audience getting older anyway, he reasoned that maybe this was the "next step in the progression of Helix." In retrospect, I believe this CD cost us a lot of credibility with the fans that we've been trying to win back ever since. This is a real shame, because I was very proud of those songs I wrote for that CD-the problem was that they should have been Brian Vollmer songs, not Helix songs.


1990's "Back for another Taste" spawned a few singles that got a fair bit of airplay but 93's "Business" disc seemed to get no support. How did that affect the band?

It's a Business Doing Pleasure did get support. I think the problem was the public's perception of the band. Aquarius, our label, and in particular, Keith Brown, put their nuts on the line for us. The problem was a band that people perceived as being "Canada's heaviest" being Canada's most commercial. When the first single "That Day is Gonna Come" broke the Top 40 charts it didn't really move any units because everybody liked the song but didn't know who the fuck we were anymore. Much wouldn't play the video and then Lee Aaron bailed out of being in the second video for Look me Staight in the Heart and we lost our government grant. I felt like the ghost of Paul was hovering above my head scolding, "See, this is what happens when you wimp out!"

Canada has a habit of eating it's young, and once we had lost our exposure south of the border no one wanted to know about us.

I felt tired and defeated and I thought to myself, "What the fuck do I need this for?"

By this time I had established a successful vocal teaching practice and had just remarried. For the first time since I was 18 years old I had some stability in my life and where I felt there was more to life than just being in Helix.

For several years I coasted along playing whatever gigs came up, but my heart wasn't in it and I had no intention of carrying on. It was really just for money. We had a revolving door of new members and although they were all nice people and great musicians, it didn't seem "like a band."

But I could only go on so long before I realized that I couldn't deny the biggest love of my life-music and performing. I split with my management of 20 something years in 1997, established the planethelix.com web site and since then I've never looked back. The band is now experiencing a resurgence, which is really me just re-connecting with my own head and most importantly the reasons we became successful in the first place.


Why is Helix not as "big" now as they were in the 80's? Would you like to have that level of success once again?

Kids are all shakinFor the reasons why Helix isn't as big now as we were in the 80's you'll have to read my book when it comes out. As for success, I feel it is possible for the band to attain the same success we/I had then. I say "I" because "I" am the only one left. I started the band in 1974 and I'm still here, which says something I guess.
To me a lot of success has to do with good business practices. For much of the 90's no money was invested back into the band. You can't run any business like that. Helix, at age 28, is presently going through a re-building process.

I have to invest all the money I make from the band back into the band in the hopes that we can get back to where we were. Recently I commissioned a videographer to put together an 8 minute commercial with footage of the band layered over sound bytes going back to the Breaking Loose CD. A lot of people nowadays may not connect with the name, but when they hear the the music they go, "I know that band!"

On our upcoming tour through western Canada we'll be using the video of the commercial in the clubs we're playing to advertise the fact we're coming to town.

I use the history of the band as a marketing tool, but I also realize that if people are going to take us seriously again that I have to put out some new quality material. We're close to that now; hopefully the new CD will be out by February. We have a world-wide fan base, so even if the CD only breaks even it still keeps the band alive until our next disc. And basically that's my game plan: To keep surviving until maybe someday Helix becomes cool again just from the fact we've been around for a ca-zillion years…………



Do you make a living from music now or do you have to work a 9-5 job like some artists?

I consider myself extremely blessed that I can make a comfortable living doing the thing I love most after my wife and daughter-music. I don't consider what I do a job and that is why you will probably find me doing what I do now in 20 years.


From your perspective, how has the Metal/Hard Rock scene changed since the 80's?

I find that good showmanship and musicianship take a back seat to a great looking video. I don't really care for the devil shit and all the heavy "slash your wrists" type of themes. Helix was always a party band that emulated bands like AC/DC and Slade. There was much more emphasis on "a good hook" and melody. If you look at the truly great metal bands ie. Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, they are really just heavy pop bands.



Are there any new bands/artists that you find interesting? Do you keep up on new hard rock and metal bands from Canada or anywhere else?

One of my favorite new bands is Stampede Queen from Calgary. I think their song 24-7 kicks ass.

I don't really search out new bands as such. You'd be more apt to catch me listening to the new Bob Dylan CD. (which I love) I have a hard time connecting with some of the themes to the lyrics. Lyrics are more the catalyst for why I listen to what I listen to; I just like writing heavy music naturally.



What are you listening to now?

The new Helix CD!



What CDs have you bought lately?

Nickleback. Bob Dylan.



What are the future plans for Helix?

My immediate plan is to get the new CD out. We're two songs short of a CD. I'll probably follow that up with a couple of "bootleg CDs" that I've had in the vaults for awhile. One is a live radio broadcast from the El Macombo and the other is a live broadcast from Harpos in Detroit. I have a brand new band except for Archie my drummer, who has been with me for many years now. The new guys are willing to sacrifice to help get us back into some markets we've been out of for awhile. I'm also working on getting a distribution deal in Europe and setting up European dates for next summer in Sweden, England, and Germany.



What can we expect from the new material? A return to the classic sound of the 80's or is it more of a modern sound?




Is there a working title for the new disc yet?




When can we expect to hear this album?




As a classic hard rock band, how do you go about re-inventing yourself for the new millennium…or do you think you need too? Is it important to reach a younger generation of fans, or is satisfying an older fan base enough?

I think we have to keep our old audience and hopefully attract a new one. I don't really think about things like that when I market the band. My plan is to write good music and put out a good product that should appeal to any age.



Any thoughts on doing an acoustic (i.e. unplugged) album?

Yes. I would like to model it after the Kiss unplugged CD. I quite liked the fact that they did all those songs they normally never play. I think that would be a kick.



Is a live concert dvd in the works? I remember seeing a live concert on TV years ago from the "Longway" tour. I believe it was filmed in Edmonton?? Any way that will ever be released?

The Edmonton show is the property of Much Music. I might approach them in the future about releasing it. I would like to see us do an unplugged thing .



Is there unreleased stuff sitting in a vault or was it pretty well all used up for the: B-Sides disc? Any plans to release it?

I've pretty much used up everything I got. There are a few songs however. I'd have to think about it before releasing them.



You recently re-released some of the old catalog on CD. Do you have any plans to re-release the rest of them on disc?

As many as I can except for Half alive.



Why are you not going to re-release "Half Alive"?

Financially, it doesn't make sense.



When will "No Rest" be back in stock? I wanted to order a copy but it was out of stock.

In the next month.



What is your personal favourite Helix album? Why is that?

It hasn't been written yet. I think the best is yet to come.



Was coming from Canada ever something that worked against the band?

Perhaps. Moreso now that 9/11 has fucked it up for us playing in the U.S. If Sheila Copps really wanted to do something for Canadian culture instead of taxing CDR's she could get off her fat Liberal ass and get rid of the $2000 cost of getting a work permit to allow Canadian bands to play in the U.S. Meanwhile U.S. bands are not facing any such restrictions when they work in Canada. Just another example of the Liberal Party's ineptitude.


Do you stay in touch with the former Helix members (Brent & Fritz)?

Fritz woke me up yesterday morning at 8 A.M. He told me he just joined a great Latino band in Florida and they're playing all the "A" rooms. He deserves it. He loves drumming and still has that great old rock n' roll attitude. I don't hear much from Brent. I don't know why. I've phoned him countless times to ask him down to my house but he never comes.



Is there a chance that they'd ever return to the band even for a one-time show?

Anything's possible, but don't hold your breath.



Who is in the band now?

The members of the band now are:
Glen Gamble: drums.
Jeff Fountain: Bass
Shawn Sanders: Lead guitar
Dan Fawcitt: Lead guitar.



When did Daryl leave the group and why? I thought he was still with you?

Daryl left the group in the spring. In Daryl's own words, "We had come to the crossroads in our musical journey together." You'll have to ask him what that means.



If you could choose one singer - male or female - that you could duet with, whom would it be, and why?

Cher. Because she's beautiful, talented, and a good person.



Are there any songwriters that you would like to work with?

Not really, but if a situation ever presented itself that I could work with a known songwriter I would, of course, jump at the chance.



Who are your main influences?

Whiskey throated singers: John Kay, Ian Hunter, Robert Plant, Steve Marriot, Bonn Scott, etc.



I found it interesting that you were the backing band for Del Shannon. Any other interesting stories that you'd like to share?

Well, there is one about Tracy Lords that'll probably end up in my book....................

Is there a target date set for your book?

Not yet.

Were any of the performances with Del recorded? If so will any of it see the light of day?

NO & NO.



Outside of making music, what are some of your hobbies?

Designing my home. I've remodeled it using salvaged architectural antiques. Much Music is coming this Wednesday morning to film me here for the Power Hour because of it's uniqueness.


What (if anything) do you remember of the "Long Way to Heaven" tour in Newfoundland, Canada?

Driving back, getting a flat tire in Nova Scotia, and learning that you can't put two dozen lobster in fresh water without killing them.

Helix in NF, Canada 1985

Will Helix ever return here (to Newfoundland) to play? If so, what would it take?

Coming back to Newfoundland is simply a matter of money. It's not like we're being primadonnas either. Whenever I'm offered a gig I have to take into consideration transportation, wages, rooms, etc. It's a big nut to crack when you're a promoter. To me it's more important to re-establish the band in a market then to make all sorts of cash but there has to be enough to cover expenses and pay the bills back home.

Helix in NF, Canada 1985


Are there any Eastern Canadian tour dates for Helix in the future?

I'm working on it. The trouble with getting dates in the Maritimes once again is money.


Any info you'd like to share or rumors you'd like to clear up?

My penis is not 12" long. It's 14………………….

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