Interview- The Helio Sequence redefines the mainstream
After a six-month tour ripped up Brandon Summers' vocal chords, the guitarist and lead vocalist for the Portland, Oregon indie-rock duo The Helio Sequence was forced to sit in silence for six months on doctor's orders– unable to contemplate life and his future singing career uncertain. He took the usual derailed-musician path to drinking heavily and sulking; but after reading a biography on folk icon Bob Dylan, Summers embraced a new regimented lifestyle– retraining his voice for hours, exercising, and shifting the sound of The Helio Sequence from pop-rock to bluegrass-influenced.
The resulting album, Keep Your Eyes Ahead, showcased a new direction for the indie-rockers. Summers, along with drummer Benjamin Weikel, had previous alternative rock and pop cred from years of touring with alt-rock headliners Modest Mouse and Keane– thus this new album and sound caught the attention of the music world, challenging any mainstream labeling of the duo.
The band, now on tour again with Keane after Summers regained his vocal health, continues to consciously challenge musical labels and tags by meshing acoustic influences with glitzy pop-rock.
The Hook: When did you and Benjamin realize you had musical connectivity?
Brandon Summers: I was good friends with Benjamin growing up in the same neighborhood. There wasn't much going on besides mainstream culture, so when we found we had the same interests, we gravitated to each other. We were some of the few people not listening to the music playing on the radio.
The Hook: What's the story behind losing your voice?
BS: We were really busy going into 2004, recording and touring with Modest Mouse. We were doing back-to-back touring all year.
The Hook: What was your initial reaction?
BS: It causes you to re-evaulate everything– it makes you think about a lot of stuff: what if my voices doesn't come back, what would I do? It makes everything more important.
The Hook: After you lost your voice, you became really strict with your practice regimen– what motivated you to do that?
BS: I work best with limitation.
The Hook: I heard you read about 60 books during your period of silence. Any highlights?
BS: The first book on tour that I read was Bob Dylan's biography.... there were some Cornell West books, some poetry, things I picked up in different places.
The Hook: Critics say there has been a shift between Keep Your Eyes Ahead and earlier albums, so what inspired the new musical direction?
BS: Memories and reflections. Being more lyrically focused.
The Hook: Critics have called Keep Your Eyes Ahead was a minimalist album– was that an intention?
BS: Relatively speaking, the arrangement is less cluttered. I wouldn't call it "minimal," but instead of using every single idea we had, we were able to pick and choose and make sure that every sound we used would complement the song and its meaning.
The Hook: There has been a lot of buzz that The Helio Sequence was moving away from indie-rock and into a folk genre with your latest album. Is this accurate?
BS: It's rock music. While getting my voice back, I was doing a lot with acoustic guitar, which is really different from playing with electric.
The Hook: Is there more musical ground to be covered?
BS: I like to think that everything we do is going forward. We're going into this very open– our vision is to write enough material to have a double record, then pick and choose songs from there.
The Hook: The Helio Sequence has been around for nearly 10 years– do you feel fulfilled, or is there more work to be done?
BS: Both. I am absolutely thankful that we are able to do what we do, but at the same time, there is always more to do, always stuff that is ahead. As strange as it sounds, we've been doing this for just about over 10 years, and it all feels new to me.
The Helio Sequence plays at the Outback Lodge on 5/29. The show starts at 9:00 pm and tickets are $10-12.