For those of you not in the know ‘helms alee’ is a nautical term used in sailing when coming about. The helmsman first signals the intent to come about by shouting, “Ready about!” When the crew responds, “Ready,” then the helmsman will signal that he or she is beginning to come about by shouting, “Helm’s alee!” As such it is the perfect moniker for the tempestuous squall and heave-ho of the Seattle sludge/noise rock trio who take their name from the term.
The group recently released their fourth album eerily titled Stillicide via Sargent House. An at times murky, bruising and battering set, the record also finds ample room for off kilter melody and some rather enormous choruses.
We had the chance to have a chin wag with the group about the ongoing seafaring theme in their music, touring with (the) Melvins, and indoor combat style laser tag.
Overblown: Your new album is called Stillicide. Where did the album title come from?
Helms Alee: Stillicide is drops of water or the sound of drops of water. We just liked the imagery of that very dark sounding word. The record artwork ended up being the idea of this sort of minute thing, a drop of water, causing something catastrophic like a full scale tidal wave.
O: This is your fourth album together. Do you do anything to keep the writing and recording process fresh?
HA: We just keep plugging away, practicing real regularly, half to work on things, but as much to just kick it. We always have an abundance of new song ideas that come out of that, it’s just wading through them for keepers. But we don’t try to jostle the approach to make things new again. We’re comfy with our process. After 10 years we’re still taking the same approach.
O: You toured the US with the Melvins. What was that like? Are they as ornery as their reputation would have you believe?
HA: We had an amazing tour with them. They were a pleasure to be around every day, and there was some good hijinx and proper razzing. I appreciated how super respectful those guys were to everyone they worked with. They obviously take their work seriously, but approach it with an air of calm confidence. We were in school, for sure.
O: Your album artwork and name seem to be very much influenced by the seafaring tradition. What attracts you to that?
HA: Well we’re surrounded by that in the Pacific Northwest so that watery aesthetic has always been there in the background. It makes more sense to me to take inspiration with the things in front of your face that grab your eye or ear, rather than try to borrow from something fantastic and foreign. We wouldn’t be good at making desert rock or Norwegian black metal or something.
O: I really love your track ‘Galloping Mind Fuk’. Particularly the wandering bass line. What is that song about?
HA: Thank you! So tough to get literal about Helms Alee song meanings usually. That song has 3 people contributing vocals and lyrics, and really without any coordination, so the song ends up being this barrage of different meanings to each of us. We like it that way, but it makes answering this kind of question pretty tough.
O: Another thing I love is how ferocious and yet melodic your sound is, combining elements of sludge metal, post metal, and grunge. Is this something that you concentrate on creating?
HA: We’re very much shooting from the hip without lots of intention when we write. We like all kinds of stuff so that comes out in the mish mash of ideas.
O: Next year will be the ten year anniversary of the band’s formation. Anything special planned?
HA: I’m shooting for indoor combat style lazer tag, we’ll see how everyone else feels about that. But 2017 should be a busy year with tours and writing songs. We’re all very proud of Stillicide, and coming off of those tours with Melvins and Russian Circles, we’re feeling real inspired and jazzed to get back out and play these songs and keep the writing going.
O: What is your favourite memory of playing live with Helms Alee?
HA: So many memories in 10 years of shows. Teaming up on stage with our childhood heroes Melvins to play ‘Nightgoat’ is a recent highlight, embarrassing myself by trying to address a crowd of a couple thousand in Madrid with my 9th grade level Spanish skills is a fond memory, and so many rowdy house shows in Seattle.. those will always have a place too.