London, Ontario based Helix is on of Canada’s hardest working and longest surviving hard rock bands. Though the band has gone through numerous personnel changes since it’s beginnings in 1974, the band is still fronted by singer Brian Vollmer. I have seen the band a number of times over the years and have interviewed Brian before. Anyone who hasn’t seen Helix should not pass the opportunity, as recent years have hailed a couple of excellent studio album, and the band always puts on a killer live & loud show, and Vollmer always sounds huge.
For more on Helix you can listen to their albums, check out the band’s history, loads of merch, and check out Brian’s book “Gimme An R!” – one of the most entertaining rock bios I’ve ever read!
For further information on Helix, check out: www.planethelix.com
Q] Since ‘Rockin In My Outer Space’ in 2004, the band went through a number of changes before Power Of Rock n Roll. Can you elaborate on some of the changes [you even had a keyboard player for a bit], and what lead to the current Helix line-up?
BV: The changes in the band actually started the minute Brent Doerner left the band in 1988. Brent/Paul/and myself had always been the nucleus of the band, although everyone was close to Fritz as well. After Brent left and then later Paul was tragically killed in an auto accident in 92, that left Daryl, Fritz, and myself. Daryl started booking the band and slowly tried to take over every aspect of it, which was a stupid idea, seeing as I was the writer and owner. Fritz had moved to Florida by this time and finally things came to a head between Daryl and I, and he left. After that I had to learn the ropes as far as booking the band and picking good band members. I went through a series of people who were quite capable as musicians but not good fits attitude-wise. I have a great line-up now, but the reality is that things could change at any moment depending on the circumstances.
Q] Helix has been consistently recording [every few years] and touring for years, while many older bands record seldom and do seasonal tours. What to you attribute to Helix consistency and grind?
BV:I have goals each year, which I hope to accomplish. This year I would like to play less and work on other projects ie. a book on Bel Canto, my teaching, and the possibility of a reality show. With the economy going down the toilet I think the best idea for the band is to take select dates in 2009 and play much less.
Q] Power Of Rock n Roll was a strong album; the best since the early 90s. What can you tell me about how this album came together and the recording?
BV: I searched for suitable writing partners for years and then accidentally wrote one day with Gord & Steve. We hit it off immediately and formed a very special relationship. Several people have approached me about writing with them within the last two years but I have no interest in writing outside of Gord and Steve. For me, it’s the perfect writing relationship that precedes all others.
Q] Power Of Rock n Roll included a couple of great Helix anthems and rockers like “Get Up” [one of the coolest Helix songs since the early 80s], “Fill Your Head With Rock” and “The Past Is Back…”. Can you tell me what inspired some of these songs, and how you guys wrote together? Got any personal faves from that album?
BV: Whenever the three of us get together to write, it’s over at Planet Helix, here in the office I’m sitting in right now. We start with a jam and tape as we go along. When we get something worth working around we stick on it until we get a melody we all like and a rough arrangement. I try never to change the melody to accommodate the lyrics. Instead, I try to hear the song talk to me. Many times when you vocally jam there are words or syllables that naturally flow from the mouth on certain notes. I try to listen to what the song is trying to say versus trying to fit something I’m trying to say into the song. Once I come up with what I think the chorus is, I work backwards explaining the chorus in my verses. My personal faves are the same as yours. I’d also add Baby Likes to Ride.
Q] You guys re-did “Heavy Metal Love” for this album, why? And is there any classic lost gems in the Helix catalogue that you would consider bringing out and re-doing in the future?
BV: Heavy Metal Love was our 1983 hit from the No Rest album. E.M.I. licensed the song to the people responsible for the music for the first Trailer Park Boy’s movie. The T.P.B.s are a huge smash show here in Canada. Unfortunately for us however, E.M.I. then got into a pissing match with the movie people to the extent that the song was dropped from the movie soundtrack CD. So the song ended up on the movie but not on the movie soundtrack. In a desperate attempt to record and license the song to the movie people ourselves we re-recorded the song, but we were too late and missed the deadline. We decided to release it as a bonus track on the CD anyway. There are no present plans to record the rest of the catalogue.
Q] How was critic and fan response to the “Power Of Rock” album, and which songs have become staples in the Helix live set?
BV: The CD was critically acclaimed by both the press and fans. Get Up!, Fill Your Head With Rock, and Baby Likes to Ride are staples in the set.
Q] You’ve just released a Christmas album. Who’s idea was that? And how did it come about? [as far as choosing songs, arrangements and record label]?
BV: The idea for a Christmas CD came about after a conversation with Mitch Lafon of Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles. Gord made a cold call to Wal-Mart, pitched them on the idea and they went for it. Gord and Steve handled the arrangements. GBS is our own label. Our distribution was handled by Fontana/Universal in Canada. We had developed a relationship with them when we were shopping around “The Power of Rock and Roll”.
Q] Have you heard [or been influenced by] any other rocker Christmas albums out there in recent years? [see Twisted Sister, Lynyrd Skynyrd….]
BV: Interested from the aspect that they’ve all made money….
Q] Can one assume a few Christmas songs will be played live, closer to the season?
BV: Actually, we only did one on this last 13 date tour of western Canada, and that was the original “Christmas Time is Here Again”. Next year I’m contemplating playing one charity concert where we play all Christmas songs from the CD.
Q] Last time I saw you guys you opened for Alice Cooper [‘06]. How was that tour? Did you get to hang with any of Alice’s group? Any stories?
BV: It was pretty hectic on that tour but we did get one brief 20 minute meeting with Alice (just the Helix band and him) and I regularly would run into Eric Singer or Alice’s daughter at the breakfast/dinner/lunch table. My favorite memory of the tour was delivering Alices 8 foot Burmese Python from Kitchener to Halifax!
Q] Your book was a great read, and I still pick it up from time to time and check things out. How long did that take you and how did you approach it?
BV: The book took me about 3 years to write. I started off with stories I remembered and then pieced them together time-wise through write-ups, articles, interviews, talks with former members, etc. It was all new territory for me as far as the nuts and bolts of putting together a “book”, but I did it and I’m proud of myself for seeing it through to the end. The book continues to sell well and helps the band look larger than life.
Q] I take it [from your book] that even after the 80s, with the hits, hit albums…. That you went through some rough years [personally, financially]. Is there a bit of a ‘myth’ about rock stars?
BV: You know those people that say, “…I’d do anything to be a rock star?...” Well, 99.9% of them are full of shit!
Q] You guys have played lots of big shows over the past few years, such as the Swedish Rock Fest. What can you tell me about that experience? And was there any other huge shows that stand out for you?
BV: Sweden Rock was an experience I’ll never forget. Some other memorable concerts include: Wembley Arena, London / England w/ KISS; The Philadelphia Spectrum w/ Aerosmith; Maple Leaf Gardens / Toronto / w/ Kim Mitchell The Salt Palace / Salt Lake City, Utah /w Whitesnake & Quiet Riot; Nassau Colliseum & The Meadowland / N.Y.C with Rush; Long Beach Arena / w/ W.A.S.P. & Krokus; L’Amours/Brooklyn, N.Y. w/ Motorhead; The Montreal Forum, w/Triumph; Paris, France / w/ Ian Gillan; Albany, N.Y. / w/ Black Sabbath & C.N.E. Stadium w/ The Scorpions.
Q] You are really in to the internet stuff – you have an incredible website set up, answer the emails and you put up a lot of stuff on you-tube…. With record labels being what they are these days, has the whole internet thing helped to add to the Helix lifespan and fan-base?
BV: The internet is everything for Helix. It’s incredibly expensive to tour nowadays and with the internet I can connect with fans all over the world.
Q] What’s in store for Helix in 2009? Any shows abroad or new albums in the works?
BV: This year we’ll be playing less and I’ll be concentrating on other projects.
Q] You played the Carl Dixon Benefit Show recently. What can you tell me about that night? You had a good time, I take it!? [saw you running around the audience with your hand-cam!] Any special mentions or stories from the old days about Carl Dixon and the Coney guys? It was a great night of Canuck rock!
BV: I actually have only run into Carl a few times during my career. I did it more to help out a fellow musician who had had something terrible happen to him. I think that is the responsibility of the musical community.
Q] Heard from Bernie lately? What’s your take on the new Uriah Heep album?
BV: I thought the new Heep CD was great. Bernie actually thanked Lynda and I in the liner notes.
Review: © Kevin J. Julie /
Thanks to Eddie and to Ron Mann.