(London, ON) – Helix has been around the block for 41 years now. Their shelf life by far trumps over many bands that formed from that era. They have amassed 13 studio albums, as well as multiple live and compilation albums. Their latest venture into the studio is entitled “Bastard of the Blues”, which was released May 27, 2014 . Although they’ve had many line up changes throughout the years, one thing remains constant, original frontman Brian Vollmer. I was fortunate enough to interview Brian yesterday. Here’s what he had to say.
Sue – Thank you for talking this time to do the interview with me
Brian – You’re welcome
Sue – Congratulations on celebrating 41 years with Helix! Did you, in your wildest dreams, ever imagine such longevity?
Brian – Ah never, we just got in to play and we didn’t look any further than that really. But in the beginning we had our sites set on being a world class concert band so we did have a goal fixed in our head that way but for whatever reason we didn’t think to much about that.
Sue – You had it rough in the beginning of your career, speaking of windowless hotel rooms and having to sell your car. What made you continue down this desolate and uncertain path? Was it for the love of music or chasing the dream of being a “Rock Star”?
Brian – I love music, I don’t think we ever dreamed of being rock stars. I don’t know what that really is to tell you the truth. We got into it because we want to perform, write songs, record songs and release songs.
Sue – If you had taken the easy way out , not enduring the many hardships of trying to establish Helix, what do you think you would have ended up doing career wise?
Brian – Ha ha ha digging a ditch.
Sue – Helix was originally called The Helix Field Band. How did you come up with this name? And why the change?
Brian – We needed a name because we were playing a gig, so there’s a couple of guys that I went to school with who picked it out of their science text book. When we brought our first manager in he said uh that name is to long. So we shortened it. That’s how we came up with Helix vs Helix Field Band.
Sue – After you were finally signed with Capitol in 1983, did the record company attempt to change any of your songs to make them more commercial? If so, how did you respond?
Brian – I don’t think there was a push to make us more commercial per say, but there was a push to try to convince us to write something that was accessible to radio because that was how bands got exposed, that was the only way to get exposed , but that pressure is on everybody not just us. For us we were always kind of a jukebox anyways, even back in the beginning days of the band when we were traveling. As a jukebox we would play everything that was on the radio, the top 40 stuff or you didn’t play in the bars. The original music is usually the product of what you are listening to. It wasn’t such an unnatural thing for us to try to write songs for the radio. Although we were a heavier band.
Sue – They say trends come full circle. Do you see the era of Rock and Roll returning anytime soon?
Brian – No I think that the music industry has been radically changed. The biggest thing in my mind that has really changed in the music industry is the fact that there’s no bar curcuit anymore. The bar curcuit was essentially the training ground for bands to learn their craft. What we do is a craft, writing songs, performing and there’s really no place to do that anymore. Bands are what I say locked into the city because there’s no place to play Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and sometime Thursdays. Bands can’t tour the country anymore. that lowers the scope of perspective when writing music. Your not playing every night to become better players, better song writer. So from that perspective the music industry isn’t very healthy. But for Helix, to answer your question has the music business come full circle? I think because we are an established band and people know us coast to coast, and around the world it allows us more flexibility in continuing to play. In other words if someone is going to hire a band for a fair in Saskatchewan, their not going to pick some band that they don’t know from London Ontario, whose never gotten their music out, they are going to pick somebody that people know. And people know us because we’ve had airplay, sold records and played out there for years. We have an advantage so from that perspective it’s come full circle with the fact that we are continuing to play. But I don’t think it will ever go back to what it was in the early days of the 70s and 80s. That really was the golden age of rock and roll in Canada and maybe around the world for that matter. It was a great time to be in a rock band. There was lots of opportunities and lots of ways to make it as a band if you really wanted to. Now days choices are very limited for bands. Even with the internet out there which exposes you to world wide audiences, unless you have great money behind you it’s almost impossible to get lets say someone from Hong Kong to hear your music. Unless they just happen to find you on the internet.
Sue – Early on in your career you were diagnosed with vocal cord “nodes”, and were told to stop singing or risk losing your speaking voice. You then had the opportunity to meet and train with Edward Johnson a voice coach. What technique did he teach you and can you explain how it helped you progress with your career?
Brian – I was sent to Ed Johnson who taught me the old Italian method of signing called Bel Canto or Bel Voce, which means beautiful voice. I teach it today and I probably wouldn’t be singing without it. The biggest difference with Bel Canto is that you inhale your voice vs pushing your voice. It doesn’t take any muscles to inhale your voice, where when you push you’re force to use muscles and muscles are what causes nodes, polyps, soar throats and limitations of the voice. That is why Bel Canto is the only way to sing without effort and the only way to sing as you get older without losing your voice.
Sue – You are now a vocal instructor teaching Bel Canto. Beside doing personal face to face sessions, do you teach via Skype? And who are some of your students?
Brian – I don’t teach via Skype yet. I just haven’t had the time to get around to do it. Skype has a few problems with it in regards to teaching this. But in the past I’ve taught Tim Hicks whose a big country star in Canada, The girls from Kitty Morgan, all sort of solo artist, Amber Beatty has a Patsy Cline clone show, Fred Lewis who is a country guitar picker, pretty good from what I hear. Kiley Joe Mason who has country albums out, and all sort of rock bands too. Lots of people.
Sue – You are now a self published author of a book called “Gimme an R”. Did writing this book come natural to you? And has it been well received by your fans?
Brian – Well when I wrote the book I just wrote it as I would have talked in a natural conversation. So I don’t know, does that make me a good writer? I guess. Most good writers just write like that. At least when you are doing something based on fact. The book came out quite a few years ago and it’s done well for me. I’ve sold all 3000 copies. You know, it was a learning experience, and we’ll leave it at that. Maybe I’ll write another one in a couple of years when I get more stuff.
Sue -“Rock You” was a rock & roll anthem when it was released in 1984. When writing this song did you anticipate it’s popularity?
Brian – No we had not idea that song would be as big as it was. The song was actually written by Bob Halligan, who wrote the song in New York city and it came to us through his manager Barry Bergman. It was when we were writing the “Walkin’ the Razors Edge” album and we already had a couple of rock songs on the album. We didn’t actually want to use the song and our manager and Tom Treumuth who help produced the first album, talked us into doing it. We first put the song on stage at the El Rosa Villa in Columbus Ohio, actually the same place where Dimebag was murdered. We put it on stage and we’ve played it every night since.
Sue – You’ve released 13 studio albums, have 3 live albums and are featured on many compilation albums. Out of all those songs, name your top 5 all time favorite songs.
Brian – Oh geese, you know, you write songs and they are like your children, once you’ve written them and pushed them out the door their not yours anymore. There’s songs I really liked writing, like “Dirty Dog”, “Heavy Metal Love”,” No Rest for the Wicked”, some of the newer stuff as well, “Bastard of the blues” off the new album, “Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved In His Hometown)” every album that I put out I have a favorite song. One off the “Vagabond Bones” album is “When the Bitter’s got the Better of You”. Then there’s other songs like “Tug of War” from “It’s a Business Doing Pleasure”, “That Day is Going to Come”. “Good to the Last Drop”
Sue – You have quite a few, I guess it’s hard to chose just 5 songs with such a vast discography.
Brian – Yeah , Like I don’t ever sit around listening to Helix except when I’m putting the album out. And as soon as the album comes out then I never listen to them again. I think I just play them to death as I’m writing them. As the actual album is coming together I listen to them like 3 times a day. But then as soon as it come out that’s it.
Sue – Thank you Brian for allowing Music Life Magazine to interview you. All the best to you and your future endeavors.
Brian – Thank you very much!
Interviewed and written by Sue Sadzak
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