Sunday, November 16, 2008

Interview with Brandon Summers of The Helio Sequence

Here's an interview I did earlier this year with Brandon Summers of the Helio Sequence for the first issue of my zine. Keep Your Eyes Ahead (Sub Pop), is one of my favorite albums of 2008, and I highly advise all of you to check it out. He was a really interesting guy, and I'm pulling this out of the archives so it can find a new life with a broader audience on the Internet. Enjoy!

On Wikipedia it identifies the Helio Sequence as an indie-electronica band but I definitely noticed a lot of other genres in your music. How would you describe it?
Brandon Summers: Well I wouldn’t describe it as indie-electronica; I think that’s a really funny tag. I don’t even know, I think of what we do more as songwriting, really, and that’s why there are so many elements and different sounds that make it into the songs that we write. When we’re writing songs we’re always just searching for the right sounds and arrangements and mood to communicate what needs to be communicated.

There seems to be a big Bob Dylan influence on this album. Was that conscious or did it just happen?
BS: I mean I’ve always listened to Bob Dylan just in passing, you know like I’ve always listened to the Beatles or Velvet Underground since I was a teenager, but there was a really distinct point where I just went out one day and I saw the record “The Times They Are A’Changin’” on vinyl and I just decided I would buy it, and I hadn’t really listened much to his early stuff. It was a poignant time in my life and some of the songs hit me really, really deeply and I think kind of made sense to me. Even just listening to the songs that he wrote gave me a different idea. I went in to write songs and I was really inspired to pick up my acoustic guitar and write songs on it, which I hadn’t done much in the past. Before, everything had been pieced together from jams and bands and keyboards and that sort of stuff. So this was just a different way of writing songs. And I also started to learn a bunch of his songs and see if I was singing them and putting them under my fingers and putting my voice in those settings if I would get a better understanding of how he gets his songs to be so amazing.

Your vocal chords were shredded prior to making this album. How did that change the course of the production and songwriting?
BS: Well it’s interesting, that kind of goes hand-in-hand with the whole Bob Dylan thing because when I was building my voice back up again I would start taking not only Bob Dylan songs, but songs in general, if I heard something I really liked I would try to teach myself and learn that; a lot of old folk tunes, old singer-songwriters from the seventies; new stuff, even. I would just learn it, play it under my fingers, figure out what was going on vocally. I used a lot of that just to build my voice back up again. Also it shows in a lot of the arrangements we used and the world of the songs we were choosing for this record, because there’s a lot more acoustic guitar. The singing going on in that setting, rather than rock, sitting down and jamming and then putting vocals over the tops, everything became more integrated in the songwriting process.

Would you say it was worth it to lose your voice just to gain the different perspective on your songwriting?
BS: Yeah, absolutely. During the time that I lost my voice there was a huge time of self-doubt, and what if I was never going to sing again? I took a good look at things I had taken for granted. I took time to sit down and think about what matters to me and refocus everything. Looking back, difficult as it was to build things back up again, and as scared as I was, and as much self-doubt as I had, I think it was really important.

For a band with two-members, you have a very full sound. Has that always been a goal of yours?
BS: Definitely. Both Benjamin and I have always been fascinated by big sound and things that are really sonic, and textures and depth and recording in general. It’s interesting that there are only two of us, but we knew that we could do it. And the further we go on we have a deeper understanding of things like sonics and textures and start to look more at the skeleton, you know, which is the song itself, and more and more I think that is a fascination for us.

Do you have a favorite song off the new album?
BS: I like all of them for different reasons. I really love the song “Shed Your Love” because it was one of the songs where I didn’t consciously write it, where I sat down and the song sort of came out at one time, and there’s something that’s really close to my heart about a song that happens in that way. And there are other songs that came about like that too, like “Hallelujah,” where it all just came together really quickly. I’m really happy about how that one turned out.

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