By Zachary Ahern
It became quickly apparent from conversing with drummer and vocalist Hozoji Matheson-Margullis that the story of Seattle’s Helms Alee is one of hope and discovery. After nearly a six-month void of contact back in 2006, Margullis and co-founder Ben Verellen (guitar, vocals) reconnected their longtime friendship with discussions of starting a new project. Margullis stated that, “Ben and I had been good friends for several years [so I] called him up one day and said if he needed a drummer that I was ready and willing.”
The two friends and a recruit from Los Angeles, bassist and vocalist Dana James, formed Helms Alee in 2007 and released Night Terror, their Hydra Head debut which has contributed to their growing success and made Helms one of the more talked about West Coast indie-metal bands of the last two years.
With a foot already in the door because of Verellen’s previous band, Harkonen, Hydra Head was willing to put out Helms Alee’s first EP (Lionize/Truly) and highly praised first full-length Night Terror. When recording their debut album, Helms chose producer extraordinaire and Minus The Bear co-founder of Matt Bayles, who with his wizardry helped craft a work of art that pleasantly surprised fans of many genres ranging from grunge, shoegaze and metal. For anyone unfamiliar with Helms Alee’s sound, it is a bit tricky to categorize or simply file into a specific slot. With the band hailing from the Northwest, gritty grunge acts from the area such as the Melvins or early Nirvana can be detected within, and Helms can even be compared to the Pixies.
“I can see the similarities because of the aspect of having male and female vocals, making us somewhat similar,” said Margullis. “We’ve all listened to them but wouldn’t consider them a direct influence. It’s a weird thing to compare bands in that way.”
When asked about some main influences to the band Margullis stated that “I’ve been listening to the Melvins my whole life. They rubbed off on me after 15 years of listening to them everyday [and] they’re pretty much my all-time favorite band.”
Helms Alee do a unique job of mixing heavy, riff-based tunes with softer angelic tones, often featuring vocals by all three members. By covering a wide spectrum of moods in their music, curiosities sparked of whether the band consciously decides to write a loud or mellow tune. “The process is very natural. It depends on what mood we’re all in.
Ben is a riff machine and is constantly bringing in new ideas. Sometimes you write something you think will be heavy, but might change and become mellow when the other instruments are added,” said Margullis. “It’s so cool playing in bands and having a completely democratic open forum to write music. Everyone has input and if one person was taken out of the equation it would change the whole dynamic of a song.”
The overall hype and general praise of Night Terror has sparked the curiosity of many fans who’ve wondered when a follow up might see the light of day. Margullis said that they “ hope to get back into the studio around February 2010 with at least the five new tracks, but Matt [Bayles] is a busy guy so we’ll have to work around his schedule.”
Helms Alee have also been very busy themselves. Whether it’s been touring, Margullis’ work in Lozen or Verellen’s steady climb with his business, Verellen Amplifiers, the group has managed to keep a positive outlook and playful nature. “We like to have fun on the road and on stage. Hopefully this comes across to the crowd and they can rock out with us.”
A June 23rd show at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall opening for Isis was among the biggest the band has played. The crowd, who sometimes can be a bit apathetic towards openers and co-headliners, was taken aback by the pure energy of the band. And although Margullis mentioned that this particular show was among the best of the tour, some uneasy feelings were still felt. “Sometimes when you play bigger shows the people involved are all business. The attitude directed towards you is set up, play, get off. The tour with Isis will probably be our last large-sized tour. We are more accustomed to and would rather play smaller, more intimate shows,” told Margullis.
It is this philosophy and mindset that demands respect. The fact that Helms Alee, a band on the rise, prefers and insists on playing smaller shows is a great thing to know; too many bands are sucking the American dream and are fooled by the hope of becoming a rock star.
“When it became a possibility for a garage or a low-fi sounding band to make a bunch of money, the scene was tainted. That created a second wave of people that were playing those styles but expecting more from it than just the pleasure of playing and the community aspect. I think now there are more people touching back down to earth and realizing it’s art and not necessarily about profit,” said Margullis.