There is no other band like Helmet
. Carving their own unique niche through the landscape of heavy music in the 1990's with albums like Meantime, Betty, Aftertaste and more recently Monochrome, Helmet
have inspired an entire generation of axe wielding maniacs to tune the f*** down and rock. Helmet has always been labeled "the thinking person's heavy metal band.
" And the band have always eschewed the traditional heavy metal image of long hair and black clothing, opting to go with their preference for simple t-shirts, jeans, sneakers and short haircuts.
Their music underscored by repetitive, syncopated, staccato guitar riffs, and often in odd time signatures, continues to find favor with rock music fans the world over. Recently Joe Matera
caught up with Helmet main man Page Hamilton
to discuss his plans for 2008 for both Helmet and his many and varied side-projects.
Ultimate-Guitar: In late 2006, you announced Australian Jimmy Thompson as the new Helmet guitarist. How has he settled into the band?
Actually Jimmy is no longer in the band, he's moving back to Melbourne [Australia]. We played our last show together in Tucson, Arizona on the night before Thanksgiving last year . We have a new guy now. He is from Minneapolis and his name is Dan Beeman whose brother Pete, is the drummer in Burning Brides who toured with us on that same tour. Dan knew all of us in Helmet and loved the music of Helmet and had just moved to Los Angeles a couple of months before we auditioned him. So it just worked out great for him and for us too. So we're really fortunate.
Speaking of touring you also recently toured with Guns & Roses?
Yeah and that was really fun. We did the tour last year and we had such a great time. And it probably was a little too much fun as far as the road parties went. It was this giant rolling family party atmosphere. Any rumors that we had heard about Axl Rose or anything were to be completely proved false to us. We love the guy as he was great to us and their crew was great to us too.
Has there been any progress when it comes to putting down ideas for the next Helmet album?
No. I've been busy working on jazz tunes. I've written four songs since the last tour ended but they're for this movie I'm working on. It has been nice though as I like to clear out the old palette and do other things. Helmet put two albums out in 18 months, Size Matters  and Monochrome , so I think the next album has got to wait. I'm planning to sit down and write a couple songs in March but that is assuming I can get on a role before we head out to Australia. But we probably won't get an album out until the end of the year.
Before the release of Monochrome you stated in an interview that you wanted to do, two more Helmet records and then move. Is this still your intention?
Yes, I think so. I hope I can do two more albums and that there is also interest on the touring front. But as long as we can go play shows and people come out to them and I feel good about what we're doing, then we'll do it. Realistically, I'm thinking of two more albums after Monochrome as in two years I'll be fifty years old. So I'm thinking will I be capable? It is very physically demanding and people kind of under estimate the energy you have to put out to play this music. And I don't to go out and do a half-assed job. So as long as I can maintain that high level and still feel great, I'll think about doing it.
You mentioned earlier you had written some jazz tunes, so can we maybe expect a solo album from you in future where you can let off some jazz steam so to speak?
|"As long as I can maintain that high level and still feel great, I'll think about doing it."|
I don't know what exactly could happen in future. I'm doing a guitar instructional DVD this year for Hal Leonard, where I might play some Helmet songs and some jazz tunes for guitar too. And we're doing a documentary DVD too which will have video and live footage culled from many of the Australian shows we did last year. So I don't know what the future holds as far as what sort of music I may put out. On my MySpace page, I've put up some of the orchestra stuff I've been messing around with. I studied orchestration with some guys at USC a couple of years ago and so am working on this little movie with these guys right now. Eventually that will all come out. But I'd love to do something in the jazz field.
With the upcoming Australian tour, what sort of gear set-up will you utilize?
I'm not really sure yet. I'll definitely be bringing the VHT 100watt Ultra-Lead that I brought with me the last time we came down there. And I will possibly rent some cabinets. The VHT is the only thing that has kind of become indispensable for me, and has been, for many years now. It's a tight sounding amp but not as tight as say a Diezel. Last time, I took my little grey pedal board that has a switcher for the head, a Boss NF-1 Noise Gate, an Analog Man CompROSSor, a'74 Vox Wah, an MXR Blue Box, a Roland volume pedal, a Korg SDD-2000 digital delay and a VHT Valvulator that is a tube buffer and powers my pedals. And I usually have a Tech 21 XXL in my rack and one in my traveling pedal board as well.
When it comes to the creative process, how do you approach that aspect? Is it a disciplined approach or more of a spontaneous thing where you just experiment with the gear that is at your disposal?
A lot of it is about putting on a lab coat and just doing lots of experimenting. Like for example, you can hit the wah wah pedal and tilt it forward and with a chorus and distortion box on it and then see what amount of feedback and certain responses you can get from the instrument. Or maybe I can try and push the guitar strings down on the pickups and stuff like that and see what can happen sonically. I learned a lot of stuff from Robert Poss from Band Of Susans about manipulating noise and sound, and so all those things are very important to me as a musician.
You've always been one to keep yourself busy, as you mentioned earlier with all your current projects. What else have you been working on?
Well next week I begin working on another album for Totimoshi. I did his last album. And I just did the guitar tracks for a Wire song. I actually just sent them the track last night. Their guitar player Bruce Gilbert left after 30 years recently and Colin and Graham unanimously asked me to be their guitar player. But it took me two months to figure out whether it would be possible to do both bands, one that is based in Europe and one that is based in L.A. The new album is fantastic. Wire is one of my top five bands and it was an absolute honor to be asked to play with them. You can imagine how I felt when I got the call from David Bowie and so imagine years later getting a call from Wire too. I feel so fortunate.
What is the status of Gandhi? Is there any chance of ever being a reunion of the band?
|"On my MySpace page, I've put up some of the orchestra stuff I've been messing around with."|
I don't know, I will never say never, as it just seems unlikely with the guys spread all over the place. Matt Flynn the drummer is in the band Maroon 5. The other guitar players, John Andrews and Anthony Truglio are busy with their own lives. John is playing with Nena in Germany while Anthony is teaching guitar and his girlfriend is also pregnant. The bass player Christian [Bongers] is in New York playing in this sexy cabaret thing. If I ever got to the point where I could afford to pay the guys something decent or we could actually book some shows and make some money, then we could do it. But life gets in the way of that stuff at times.
In closing I want to ask you your take on the following. It has been noted that the success of Nirvana played a major part in securing Helmet a record deal. Yet Helmet, was not your typical run of the mill grunge band, with its complex time signatures, alternate tunings and what not.
Nine out of ten dudes at the record label aren't going to distinguish between bands that much. And Nirvana came out of nowhere and exploded and nobody expected that. They were part of our scene. The Sub Pop label was patented upon and based on Amphetamine Reptile Records which was founded by Tom Hazelmyer and which was the label Helmet were on. But they [Sub Pop] had more of a retro kind of sound like with Mudhoney and Nirvana, bands that were more derived from Stooges riffs. And that soon became the Seattle sound. New York though was more eclectic as it is a bigger city and so you have a diversity of bands that run the gamut from Sonic Youth and beyond. All these bands that were related in the sense that they had electric guitars and there was noise in it. But Nirvana was good for us and having them explode was a great thing. We actually played with them when they were on Sub Pop. And Nirvana were also about this anti-fashion rock music. And it was something that we were all about too. We were about playing music and never worried about what we looked like or dressed like. But with their success Nirvana became a fashion thing, 'oh it grunge, so it's Doc Martens and flannel shirts'. And soon the geeks at the record companies were dressing like that too in order to look cool. And because of that it's kind of made the industry into where style over substance has become more important. And where people have become kind of unimaginative and just need to be spoon fed.
Interview by Joe Matera