Helms Alee will be rocking out at The Complex in Glendale Oct. 12, offering up their signature blend of sludgy genre-bending hard rock. Their new album, Stillicide, has been widely lauded as their most hooky and melodic effort to date, a more accessible blend of the beauty and brutality that has become their calling card.
In the midst of touring with The Melvins, Ben Verellen (Helms Alee’s guitarist, singer, and Verellen Amplifiers founder) caught up with Concert Guide Live, to talk about the new album, nervous poops, and why metal bands are so darn sweet.
CONCERT GUIDE LIVE: How’s The Melvins tour been so far?
BEN VERELLEN: So fun! This is the longest trip we’ve done, so I think we were all a little apprehensive about how we were going to feel at this stage, smack in the middle of it, but everyone seems in good spirits. Nothing negative to report.
CGL: Jody Stephens gave you guys a tour of Ardent Studios in Memphis. What was that like?
BV: What the hell, right?! It was crazy. They reached out and asked if we wanted to come check out the studio. We had no idea. It wasn’t until we showed up that the receptionist was like, “Oh yeah, Jody Stephens from Big Star is going to be doing the tour for you.” He popped out and introduced himself. Dana [James] is probably the most familiar with Big Star, so she was really trying to contain her excitement about hanging out with that guy.
CGL: Ok so let’s go back to the beginning a little bit. How did you get into music?
BV: I was lucky. My older brother and his buddies got together and started a band (Botch) when I was coming up in junior high and high school, so I got to tag along with them. They were touring around the country and the world, so that was really inspiring, and set me on the path of, “Well, that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
CGL: Stillicide, came out a few weeks ago. You guys had 10 days to record it? Is that right?
BV: It was all positive. A little stressful, but I think we felt somewhat prepared. There’s always working out kinks at the last minute and finishing up the last little bits. Personally, I like the pressure of saying, “Here it is, we’ve got to do it.” It was definitely under the gun but Kurt Ballou, who owns and runs the studio over there, he’s really organized. We didn’t really have to worry about anything other than performing.
CGL: Noisey called the new album “weird stadium rock for music nerds” but a lot of other reviews called it your most accessible release to date. Were you consciously going for a more accessible sound?
BV: Definitely not going for anything like that, but once it was all done and in our hands, I can see it. To my ears, some of the songs have more hooks, some more catchy moments then the dissonant and more challenging stuff. There’s more head bob-ability [laughs].
CGL: Do you or your bandmates have any weird pre-show rituals?
BV: Does poop count? That’s one. What other pre-show rituals do we have (he asks his band mates). Ya, Hozoji [Margullis] said it best: Be nervous, pace around and hopefully take a dump. The pre shit-show show-shit.
CGL: The heavier the music gets, the nicer the people playing it are. Do you agree with that?
BV: It’s therapeutic for sure, to scream and yell and play all this angry music. You get it off your chest, and then you get to be a normal human being. I’ve been playing in bands like this since I was 15, and I can’t imagine what it would be like if I didn’t get to do that, to get my hollering out and all that [laughs].
CGL: In addition to Helms Alee, you also started Verellen Amplifiers. What advice you would have for someone that’s trying to build something like that?
BV: Try and keep everything as cheap as possible for as long as possible. If you can work from home, do that as long as you can. Don’t think you have to have a space, that’s just a lot of rent and overhead. Use as much elbow grease and as little money as possible to get going. More importantly, this is no longer a time when you can have a faceless company. It’s much more personal now. All you have at that point is your reputation, and the way that customers and potential customers feel about what you’re doing. It’s making sure that you bend over backwards to take care of customers, and problems that will inevitably arise, and everything else should take care of itself.
CGL: Helms Alee is coming up on 10 years. How have you guys managed to keep the peace and keep everyone happy?
BV: These guys are my best friends first and foremost, so we’re going on camping trips every summer and everybody’s really involved in each other’s lives. We’ve also never made money playing in this band, in terms of paying our rent and whatnot. It’s always been the thing that we come home from work to do, to unwind and feel normal, as opposed to it being something we have to do to perpetuate our lifestyle. You just want to keep the business side of things out of the forefront as much as possible, and just remember that you’re doing this to feel like a human being, get stuff off your chest, and hang out with your friends.