Interview: Helmet


On Saturday, August 6, Sausage, Helmet and Rollins Band demolition team rolled through Zion. If you were there you came, you saw, you got your ass kicked. Needless to say, if you weren’t there, you missed an incredibly intense show and you are a loser. I had the opportunity to interview Page Hamilton, the lead singer and songwriter for Helmet—here’s how it went:

SLUG: So, how’s the tour working out with Rollins Band & Sausage?

Helmet: It’s awesome. It’s great, it really turned out to be a great thing.

SLUG: The tour itself is just for a limited time though, right?

Helmet: Just five weeks, yeah. I’d like to keep on doing it. It’s a fun time, and everybody from every band is really cool. It’s been really fun.

In case you didn’t know, Hamilton has a bachelor’s degree in music guitar and a master’s degree in jazz guitar. According to him, “It doesn’t make me any better or any worse, it’s just the way I approached it.” John Stainer, Helmet’s drummer extraordinaire, has a background in orchestral percussion and has gone to college. As Page describes him, he has a “natural gift” Rob Echeverria and Henry Bogdan are just plain bad asses and learned their stuff from playing with a bunch of different bands with various styles. When Page talks about his bandmates, you can’t help but notice the sincerity and adoration he has for them. He’ll be the first one to tell you that Helmet is a great band and there isn’t a weak link to be found.

SLUG: When I saw Helmet at DV8 about a year ago I was amazed at how you guys came off like this well-oiled machine, clean and tight. that comes across on your recordings, but people that see a lot of live bands don’t expect the music to sound as tight live as on their recording. Mainly because live is sloppy and there’s room for mistakes. What are your practice and recording sessions like?

Helmet: First off, every member in the band is a good musician and we go in to make an album like we’re doing a live show. We go in and record rhythm guitar, bass and drums live. The first tracks we lay down are all live tracks. A lot of other bands go in and spend a week getting a snare drum sound. None of us have the patience for that. We’d kill each other if we spent six months making an album. Once we get in and play, we work quick. It took 17 days to record from beginning to end, including mixing. Betty took about a month, all the basics in just 5 ½ days. Sorry, no information on Strap It On. In rehearsals we know what needs to be done. Once an arrangement is done, if there’s just a part that’s difficult, then we focus in on that part and iron it out until it’s right. What you’re hearing on the album with Helmet is a fair representation of what the band sounds like live. We are a live band. We’re not a studio band and we’re not a corporate brainstorm. We just do what we know how to do. Some people don’t dig it, that’s fine.

SLUG: You guys are so rhythm oriented. I’ve always thought Helmet songs were great to dance to.

Helmet: Yeah, that’s more straight ahead for me than some kids, but I love to see people groovin’ to our music.

SLUG: Do you use any effects for your live show?

Helmet: When too many bands try to push technology too far during a live performance, it just comes off too cold, ya know? And if people can’t bear to hear a rock band a little more raw than the album, then they shouldn’t come out. I would rather hear those live Led Zeppelin things than an overproduced U2 album any day.

If you have seen Helmet, one of the first things you probably recognized was that they don’t fit the rock-n-roll image at all. They are clean-cut and wear clothes that you could buy at any Gap or Banana Republic store. Sorry, not your usual band of malcontents that shop at secondhand stores and try to put across some phony, “I don’t care for myself and haven’t bathed in days” look.

SLUG: Helmet definitely does not fit into the mold of what a hard rock band often look like. It’s great because people always try to pigeonhole other people or bands or whatever into certain categories. It seems like you guys strive to keep away from the stereotypical image of what a rock band should look like. Do you strive to avoid that image?

Helmet: No, we’re not striving to go against the grain. We strive to do what we think is right and what suits us and not be swayed by what will gain us wider acceptance or what will make people like us. Everyone is susceptible to some sort of commercial pressure or peer pressure or whatever, whether it’s in life or music. For us it’s like “Gosh, we like playing so let’s play,” and that’s what Helmet happens to be about. That’s more important than looking the part or acting the part.

SLUG: That’s great to be able to approach it with that much honesty.

Helmet: Oh, some people hate it. Some of the people in the British press hate us for that. People unfortunately don’t have a lot of imagination, so if you don’t feed them and give them media-friendly personalities then they don’t take you so seriously. Part of me is like, “Wow we probably sell ourselves short because we could sell a lot more records,” if we played along better. At the same time, is anybody really going to care that Suede lost their guitar player? I don’t really give a fuck, but it’s like front-page news in Britain.

Hamilton because they get airtime on a certain radio station, and because of that, people in this area are more familiar with their material and always come out to support them, (Gee, maybe there is more to X96 than just being a milk beast … Spit it out!) A splendid time was had by all.

Thanks to Gianni at SLUG and Paul at Nasty Little Men for setting up this interview. Thanks to Page Hamilton for his time, and thanks to Black for helping out. You guys ROCK (ha ha ha).

Read more from our September 1994 issue here.