The Helio Sequence on negotiations, flash floods, and producing

The Helio Sequence on negotiations, flash floods, and producing
Photo by Pavlina Summers

The Helio Sequence may not be a household name, but they are a band to keep on your radar. The Portland, Oregon band is comprised of only two members, Brandon Summers on vocals and guitar and Benjamin Weikel on drums and keyboards, yet have the magnetism of a full band. Touring in support of their new album Negotiations, the two bring out their rawest material yet, due to making their new album in a new studio that changed the underlying currents and sound of the music altogether. 

Gimme Noise caught up with Brandon as the band was driving through Idaho for their U.S. tour to learn his thoughts on the new album and sound of the band.

Being in a band with only one other person has its pros and cons, and according to Summers,  it's more pros than cons. He says, "It makes it easy, because over the years, you learn you either have a consensus or you don't. It's obviously difficult at times, because you can be at a stalemate if you feel strongly about something and the other person really feels strongly about the opposite. I think what we've learned from being around each other so much, is to use it as a strength and realize that the song, record, the vision, and everything is more important. It often becomes, 'We know it's going to be close to our vision, and we both agree strongly about it,' so it simplifies things. It's not like in a full band where you have three people out of four loving what they're doing and the drummer hates every song they're playing. That's the politics of being in a band or any sort of collaborative endeavor. There are going to be those kind of tensions, but we know where the tensions lie. There's just the two of us."

The title of their new album, Negotiations, has a lot to do with the contents and lyrics of the pieces. It's a reflective, contemplative record, and Brandon says that it reflects more on the contents rather than the negotiations between him and Benjamin while recording the album. He shares, "It has to do with the places you find yourself when you are alone, and you're thinking about the past in your mind. You run over conversations that you've had, people that you knew that you've lost track of, people that you have relationships with right now that you're working things out with -- that's kind the gist of how I push things lyrically. It was always about writing letters or little memos to people in my life and things in the past that happened -- that kind of negotiating."

Before recording the album, Brandon and Benjamin were in the middle of a tour, and while on the road, they got a call late one night from a neighbor saying there was record rainstorm in Portland. The neighbor was concerned about their studio which was in the basement of a building that housed many other bands' practice spaces, because it was flooding on the lower level. Their neighbor eventually had to break down the door to get into the studio to lift up the equipment to be able to salvage some of the equipment. The duo resigned to the fact that they were thousands of miles away and would have to deal with the situation when they got home. 

Thinking everything would be ok, the two returned to Portland, and they came home to find the whole studio inhospitable. Brandon says, "It smelled horrible, and there was water damage everywhere. We knew that we had to leave, so we took everything and threw it in storage and began the long process of finding a new space." The search took a couple of months and another five months to get settled in. Their new studio was the exact opposite of their old studio, where they were contending with metal and reggae bands for time. At their old space, the two had to arrive early and finish by afternoon to record to avoid bleed from the other bands. With the new space, which was an old cafeteria nestled between warehouses that houses children's books and furniture, the band worked in a more isolated atmosphere that flavored the new album. "At the new studio, we are out in the middle of nowhere, and it was a really isolated vibe, which was actually great, because we really felt free and out there on our own. I also think a lot the isolation played into the introspectiveness and melancholia of the record, because we started working at night. It was more of a nocturnal vibe. Everything slows down a bit, and there was more time to contemplate and reflect; that accounts for the introverted sounds of the record."

The Helio Sequence on negotiations, flash floods, and producing
Photo by Pavlina Summers

Summers is undecided about whether he is a night owl or a morning person, but he does concede that he is always drawing from everything around him for the creative process. "When you're making music, you're taking cues from everything around you. Wherever you are in life, your relationships, and literally where you're recording. This next one, I'm looking forward to working more during the day." 

Growing up, Brandon and Benjamin realized that they wanted to be able to control the sound of the music without compromising their time. The two took into their own hands the task of learning how to produce their sound via trial and error. While in high school, the two formed the band and realized that other recording studios weren't able to get them and their peers the sounds they wanted. Thus, it was up to them to figure out how to get the desired effects. "We set up, what was then, a very elaborate system, but now it's totally laughable. We had to learn our way through it, and if we didn't know something, especially then without the agility of the internet, we had to ask other people, read magazines and later on we'd get into web forums. The great thing with learning this way is you end up in places that you don't expect. You can be trying to get a sound on one thing and you end up with something else. It allows the process to be integrated instead of somebody, literally and figuratively, on the other side of the glass telling you what to do. You learn how to work with yourself."

With his talent, the singer and his bandmate have been getting a lot of offers as producers from other artists. The only issue is their own band has been picking up a lot of momentum lately and have little time to dedicate to others, although Brandon says that he would love to do more production in the future. "It's so consuming to record an album, release it, and tour it. Finding time to produce anything is difficult. Producing someone else's music involves full attention, and I wouldn't want to give anyone anything else but my full attention."

With their success, Brandon and Benjamin don't have to worry about settling down to solely produce anytime soon. Their tours have had near sellouts every night with fans connecting to the new album. Summers says, "It took me by surprise in some of the bigger cities we've been in like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Boise. Sometimes we've had the audience singing along with every single word through the entire show, so it's been phenomenal." Don't go to a Helio Sequence show merely to sit. The band truly knows how to bring the party. "Our shows are really loud, and it's a full show. It goes to a lot of different places, so it's not just a full rock show all the way through. It's peaks and valleys, and I would hope something that amounts to an experience overall than just a show."

Perhaps they'll play Summers' favorite track off the new album, "The Measure." He shares that he doesn't feel that it's not the strongest track off the record, but there's something about it that keeps drawing him back. A parallel that can be drawn to the band.

The Helio Sequence will perform with Ramona Falls at the Turf Club on Thursday, November 8, 2012. 
21+, $15, 8 pm
Purchase tickets here.

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