Paige Hamilton, 2006

 

Written by: Jason Perlman

 

The first question that comes to mind is, Why the Warped Tour?
The main reason is that Kevin Lyman, who is the big chief here, started this label with Bob Chiappardi and Helmet signed to their label and it just made sense. They approached us about doing this tour in like 1996 or 1997 and I think even the first one they talked with us, but there was always a conflict schedule-wise and we would do what was best for the band at the time. But this time it just made perfect sense. They are putting out our record in about a month, July 18. So Kevin asked if we wanted to do the whole thing or just a couple of weeks, and I was like, "Let's just do the whole tour." We have had far more difficult tours than this, like 22 in a row and being in a van. Overnight drives, driving ourselves and crashing on people's floors. But of course I am a lot older than I was back then and these kids are looking real young.

 

I was going to say, how is it that not just the kids in the crowd, but the bands are young and anyone with any musical knowledge will say what an influence Helmet has been. It is weird for you to go through that process of being an influence?
It has been like that for a while. We did the SnoCore Tour last year and we played with various bands from Korn to Marilyn Manson, so I am always flattered and surprised when musicians come up to me and say they are influenced by me or dig what we do. Everyone from the Korn guys to Fred Durst and Wes (Borland) of Limp Bizkit, it's totally cool. I understand that the vocabulary we established back in 1989, '90 and '91 was kind of a new thing and may have changed the way people thought about and approached the way of playing the guitar. So I completely understand where that enthusiasm for our music comes from and am totally flattered by it. I had a couple of guys come up to me yesterday and said they loved the band, and that is just totally cool. I have heard from someone that they used their first Communion money and went and bought Betty, and I am like, "Wow, wow I was like 34 when I put that record out."

 

I remember back in like 1992, I thought I was into heavy music and my brother brought home the Helmet record and I heard this totally heavy, yet choppy riffing and this strange sense of timing. I would get into it and then it would stop, and start on a downbeat instead of the up. How the hell did that sound come about?
You can't really say for sure where that came from, whether I was born with a weird gene that just made me feel rhythm and stuff differently. But I got into Led Zeppelin, and then I got into George Benson. So Jimmy Paige was my hero and I loved Aerosmith and Ted Nugent and then George Benson and Grant Green and this whole world of Jazz opened up for me. I kind of grew up with it because my parents were always playing Ella Fitzgerald records, so when you listen to Jazz players you sort of absorb a different sense of rhythmic feel. Sonny Rawlins played across the bar line all the time and it makes you fall out of our damn chair. It's so incredible. So I found myself in Grad school and I would be riding the subway in New York and I always had this thing where I would be constantly absorbed in music, and the subway is very musical. There is this industrial sort of repetitive thing and I was always doing this drumming thing like three against four. I have always had this weird thing of like, rhythm, rhythm. And when I joined Band of Susans, they turned me on to the wall of guitar thing and then I got into Sonic Youth and then the rock world opened up again for me when I heard Gang of Four, Wire and Killing Joke. And I was like, "Wow!" And then Big Black and Sonic Youth came along. So when I started writing, it happened when I was walking home one night. We had done a couple of things, Born Annoying and Geisha To Go, a couple of things I wrote very inspired by Husker Du mixed with my twisted sense, such as Geisha To Go has 3, 4, and 5 in it against each other. Drums in four, guitar in three and bass in five. But it was more of an intellectual thing. And I started becoming more and more patient with the writing process and let stuff come to me. And when I heard this thing walking home one night on Avenue A in my head, I went home and picked up the guitar at like 4 in the morning. I had to drop-tune the guitar, which I new you could retune but it never occurred to me until I heard this thing in my head. I drop-tuned and everything I learned and knew went out the window and all of a sudden the guitar was a brand new thing. It was a paintbrush. I was like, wow, I should listen and be patient and let things come to me rather than play things I know on the instrument. I was really liberating. Since then, of course there are always times where you have to sort of force your way through writing and chisel up the asphalt, but after you get a couple of those out a lot will just start to flow again.

Do you ever give advice or should people sort of figure out their own path.
I start by listening to music and form, especially classical music, is really a good thing to do, because you are listening to form and development. And I talk with a lot of guys about this. I worked with Limp Bizkit for a couple of days and saw them struggling with stringing riffs together, and that is not ever rally going to create something that is going to hold up. If somebody understands musical development, themes and variations and stuff like that, it shouldn't be too difficult. After all, a heavy metal riff is the most basic riff there is. Ta ta ta tommmm, ba ba ba baaaaaaamm (Beethoven's Symphony No. 5) is the greatest heavy metal riff ever. And just listening to that riff, there is this incredible theme and variation and development. But at the end, you have to trust your ears, I think. That is how I have always written.

 

You mentioned growing up listening to jazz, and then sort of finding Sonic Youth later, so were you ever surprised at the direction your music took you?
No, because Led Zeppelin was my first love. I have been producing some records, and I was being interviewed and a guy asked me about producing. I remember my first production moment was lying in the back of my dad's station wagon and America's Horse With No Name came on, and I was like, wow, there are so many layers of music going on. And it would be another six or seven years before I would pick up an instrument. But I think people end up getting inside music at an early age and the Eagle's Already Gone was kind of the first rocking track I got into a pretty young age. And then I discovered Led Zeppelin, and Led Zeppelin is still obviously one of the heaviest bands ever as far as I'm concerned. I mean, my family and friends of mine would meet me and say, "You have a Masters degree in jazz guitar and your Bachelors is in classical guitar, and you play this kind of music?" I am like, this is good music. It is musical. Some people cannot get past that aggressiveness or perceived aggressiveness, but to me, when I came up with the riff for Bad Mood on Strap It On, I was laughing. I was like, "I am going to get some coffee, let's take a break." And then I get this riff in my head, Na na na na, Na na na na, it was this repetitive thing. I told the band, "I have this riff, let's throw some bass in it." And then John (Stanier) came up with this ridiculously amazing drumbeat and I was like, YEA! And we were laughing. I always teased the band that this song was going to have the Sergeant Dildo vocals (insert best death metal-meets-Full Metal Jacket sergeant voice here). A total drill sergeant delivery. And I always thought there was humor in that song. So when John and Henry (Bogdan) left the band in '98, and I needed a break, too, but after a couple of years I missed it so much. I missed playing music.

 

What did you do in that hiatus of the band?
I still worked on jazz stuff and did movie things but hadn't started really producing yet. But I really missed this (touring). Fans of the band understand it really well. That when you listen to sort of that hypnotic wave that you ride on and is so fun to be in. I remember playing in Dallas and the Pantera guys, who we met in Minneapolis and I was definitely blown away by their musicianship and the great show they put on and everything. And they came to see us play and ended up buying everything. Cassettes and T-shirts, the whole thing. They brought the whole gang to come see up play in Dallas and I remember seeing Phil in front of me and he was just waiting to go off during the song Distracted, and they were trying to find the groove. And once they did I could see their whole faces light up and the whole room went off. It was amazing. I love that kind of stuff.

 

I was at the SnoCore tour here in Columbus and I remember calling John Ferrante from D'Addario Strings and asking, "I am going to Helmet. Should I stay or will I be disappointed?" And he said I had to stay, that Helmet was just as amazing now as they were in the early 90s. Was there an issue in yourself of whether this band would still be able to perform?
I have this philosophy that if you maintain your focus on the music and keep away from the extraneous things like a career path, you will be okay. I have never had a plan, I have no idea. I didn't form Helmet thinking we were going to be the next Bon Jovi or whatever. But I felt when I came out of school and what was going on in New York with the noise thing, and I felt there was a void. I thought it was pretty cool, but was wondering why aren't the vocals more of a rhythmic instrument. So I knew that I had to do something, and it was always kind of about that. So I continued to write songs and when I had Gandhi, which were a bunch of friends that are amazing musicians, but they had commitments everywhere, so it was hard to keep it together economically. So Interscope called and Jimmy was like, "You have to make another Helmet record." And at that point I had been through like six different label things and was waiting, and then September 11 happened. Virgin flew me to California so I was there when it happened and couldn't get home. All this stuff was happening, so I told Interscope, fine, I don't care. They were like, "What about your drummer?" and I told them we don't speak anymore. So it became Johnny Tempesta. So I think when you have a strong compositional approach and theme-based music where the riffs and chords and my vocal sound, that is the sound of the band. It takes nothing away from the musicians that have played with me over the years, they were great musicians. I just found out after auditioning drummers for six months that what they came up with was harder than most thought. These drummers would be like, "I grew up listening to your music, but you are in 5-4 and I didn't know where the turnaround was." Well, you have to be good. You have to pay attention. A couple of guys came in and we were playing Give It, and they were just watching me and were saying, "I was just trying to follow you; just trying to feel it." I would be like, "It's in five and then it goes to four. Can't you count?" But nothing was written that way, thinking I was going to be cute and clever. I knew once I stumbled onto something or something came to me, that it was cool. But I wasn't necessarily forcing it intellectually. I think that has allowed me to maintain a fair amount of focus on the music and progress with the same vocabulary I came across in 1989.

Have you tried to branch off the vocabulary in the new record?
On the new record, there are some songs that I am using chord voicings that I never used before. The more time you spend with something, obviously you can expand what you do with it. Singingwise, I played it for friends at a bar in New York that I hang out it, and the first thing they said was, "Boy, your voice sounds different." I am 46 years old, I was not when I formed the band and I work at singing now. Every night before I go out, I practice guitar and vocals. Like an hour on the guitar and a half-hour on the vocals. You work and you learn. I dropped the range of the songs because I have a baritone voice. I dropped the range, so I got with a vocal guy in LA to find out how I can do 1/10th of what Bon Scott does. I want to do that. I know I can never do that, but how do I try and do that. So I use my head tone to brighten things, so I continually to progress as a musician and you have to work hard at it, and singing is part of that. The sound was done in three weeks, and it was recorded, mix and mastered with single vocal tracks. Bury Me was done in one take, I only had to fix one line and some other songs I did two takes and some songs were really difficult like Almost Out of Sight. I would work on it one day some and then not get back to it for a few days because the harmonic structure was so complex. But there is no trickery. After making the last album in Las Angeles, there were too many cooks in the kitchen, too many people making money off the band. This time was just a joy to go in and just strap it on and knock it out. I am so happy with this record. People who have heard it have been really excited, to it's cool. I was proud of the last record, too. That was seven years of writing. Then I was hearing from some people that is sounded very alternative rock!

 

After going through the tough times with the last record, was it hard to maintain focus on this record?
Well, I don't read reviews anymore. I haven't for years. It comes back to me. I will hear that some kids in the forum were saying this or that. I get on the forum once a year and read what is on there once a year. Inevitably there is going to be some stupid stuff said. I was in an interview one time and this guy was like, "Well, Helmet is so heavily influenced by Korn, because when Helmet put out its first record in 1997 Korn already had a record." So what can you say?