Helix has a new album out now called A HEAVY MENTAL CHRISTMAS and I had the opportunity to ask founding member/lead singer Brian Vollmer a few questions…..
12 Questions with Brian Vollmer of Helix
HMA — Helix has a brand new album out called A HEAVY MENTAL CHRISTMAS, please tell us about the new record.
Brian Vollmer — The idea for the CD came about while I was out to dinner with Mitch Lafon of Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles when we played in Montreal last summer. When I bounced the idea off Gord Prior (my business/writing partner) he took the idea to Wal-Mart, and from there to the recording studio.
HMA — The Trans-Siberian Orchestra has enjoyed great success with Christmas themed Rock operas since 1996 and Twisted Sister has also released a highly successful Christmas Rock record and DVD in the last couple of years. Did those bands’ success with this concept influence you to follow the same idea?
BV — Personally, I think it’s a great idea! Yes. Really though, the idea has been around since Bing Crosby, etc. One of my favorite CDs of all time is James Brown’s Christmas CD.
With our CD we’ve tried to keep the “Christmas Spirit” in the tracks as well as the Helix “sound”. On the surface the songs sound very simple, but if you listen closely to what the guitars, bass, and drums are doing and compare that to the original songs, there’s a hellva lot going on. Paul McCartney’s original ” Wonderful Christmas Time” for instance, really doesn’t even have a rhythm section. Gord says the original rhythm is based on “wishes and bubbles”. The John Lennon song “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” is another example of a song which we’ve stripped down and presented as a metal power ballad of sorts. I’m singing John’s part and Yoko’s part. At first I didn’t even want to touch the song (John Lennon is sacred in my eyes) but when I heard the final result I was happy with what I heard. Ditto for every song on the CD.
HMA — A HEAVY MENTAL CHRISTMAS is available through your website, PlanetHelix.com, and will be available for purchase at Wal-Mart stores throughout Canada. Is there distribution set up for the U.S. and Europe? Are there any plans to tap into the downloading market through sites like iTunes, CD Baby, etc.?
BV — Usually we distribute outside of North America through mail order companies or through the Planet Helix website. I like to keep control over whatever I do. Anytime you give away rights to press to someone else you’re taking the chance you’ll never see any money from them. Take the case of Sanctuary, on our last CD “The Power of Rock and Roll”. Universal bought them out shortly after, and no one from Universal has even bothered to contact me or send me a statement since. It’s almost been two years now!
HMA — Helix regularly gigs across Canada, any plans to tour in support of the new album in Europe and, most importantly, down here in the States?
BV — It’s hard to tour Europe because of the overhead costs. We did however play Sweden Rock Festival in 2005 and hope to return again in 2009. The States is another situation entirely. Clubs are a dead end deal; fall fairs, concerts, or tours are the way to go if you can get them. I would rather play one gig in a concert situation in the States than 20 shitty bars. Next August we’re booked to play in Des Moines, Iowa for a flood relief concert. That will be a high profile gig just like when we played last summer at South Texas Rock Festival, which drew 30,000 fans over 3 days.
HMA — PlanetHelix.com is your official website and it’s really a great hub for fans of the band and the music. You regularly update the website with plenty of news and information but you also keep it interactive: people can come and listen to all the Helix albums, they can purchase CDs and merchandise, and you keep an open line of communication with the fans. When I discovered PlanetHelix a few years ago, I was psyched to see that you could listen to every album. Not many bands are willing to do that. How important is it to have that connection and communication with the fans?
BV — Everything. It’s the grassroots following that has kept us going all these years. I spend a large part of every day just sending emails to fans and keeping in touch with people in the business.
HMA — In December 2005, you published your autobiography, Gimme An R!, and there was a lot of critical acclaim. I read a lot of reviews on Rock websites and I noticed a lot of positive comments from people like Sebastian Bach so I bought my copy in the Fall of 2006. I’ve read it about 8 times and I always marvel at how personal it is, you really get into detail about your life and all the highs and lows of being in a Rock band. How has the response been almost 3 years after the book’s release?
BV – The book still sells. I was standing at the merchandise booth the other night and someone bought 5 at once! Since I’ve written it a lot more has happened to us, so who knows? Maybe book # 2 isn’t too far in the future! The nice thing about the book is that when you cram 30 years of your life into a couple of hundred pages it all sounds so fucking exciting! LOL. In reality there’s a lot of boring days in between.
HMA — You’ve made Gimme An R! available for purchase through the website along with other Helix items like hats, t-shirts, DVDs, and CDs and it’s been a success. How has having a good online store changed the way you do business? I’m sure it’s still a lot of hard work but I’ll bet it’s a lot easier than depending on others to keep products in the retail racks.
BV — I do my own merchandise and publicity. In regards to the merchandise I try to come out with different t-shirts on a regular basis as well as a few Helix collectables, like the Heavy Metal Christmas coffee mugs. It all helps fund the next Helix project. The biggest reason I don’t let other people run the merchandise however is because there isn’t enough money to go around for a “3rd slice of the pie”.
HMA — I noticed that BREAKING LOOSE and WHITE LACE & BLACK LEATHER are sold out at PlanetHelix. Is there any chance that you might produce another pressing and make them available again? They are great albums!
BV — Yes, but right now it’s not a priority for me. Maybe later next year.
HMA — What do you think of the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal scene today?
BV — I worry about young bands having a venue to develop their skills as performers and to make money to finance their recording. Back in the day we had a healthy bar circuit where we could cut our teeth as performers and get a taste of “the life”. Nowadays bands do not enjoy the same luxury and music is suffering as a result. Regardless, there are still some great bands coming out, ie. Airbourne.
HMA — If Helix were starting out today, how do you think the band would do?
BV — Fucking terrific.
HMA — What is you all-time favorite album? Why?
BV — Love it to Death by Alice Cooper. It’s a great rock album.
HMA — Is there anything you’d like to say to the fans?
BV — Thank you for all the support. Please check out our new Christmas CD A HEAVY MENTAL CHRISTMAS and look for brand new Helix material in 2009.
*** Special thanks to Brian for taking the time to answer my questions and thanks to Nick from Two Side Moon Promotions for setting everything up.