Dead Angel #28 (9/97)
BLABBING WITH HELIUM
Yes… Helium is BACK. Hot on the heels of the NO GUITARS ep comes the new album, THE MAGIC CITY, which is out now (and there should be a review of it in here somewhere). For those of ye not already up to speed, Helium is the Boston-area band led by Mary Timony, along with Ash Bowie of Polvo and Shawn Devlin of Dumptruck. Mary originally started out in Autoclave, a short-lived Washington, DC band with future members of Slant 6 (they released only two vinyl EPs before calling it quits, which have recently surfaced for the first time on CD — see the review section), before moving to Boston and forming Helium. As it happens, she’s on a rush schedule to promote the new album, so her answers in this interview are somewhat brief… but nevertheless, DEAD ANGEL was pleased to have the opportunity to chat with Mary about the floaty odds and ends o’ Helium. Observe, then:
CITIES FILLED WITH DIRT-COVERED ANGELS: DEAD ANGEL FLOATS WITH HELIUM
DA: What’s the not-so-brief history of Helium?
MT: Helium started as a band in the summer of 1992. We started playing in the old bass player’s basement. He had kittens. It was in Brighton MA. I think we drank beer at every practice. I was only 22 then. I rode my bike to practice. A few years later Ash joined the band.
DA: Who’s in the band now? Is it just you?
MT: Ash Bowie on bass and keys and slide guitar, Shawn Devlin on drums.
DA: How’d you like working with Mitch Easter, btw?
MT: Mitch Easter is the greatest greatest greatest.
DA: Is Ash still in the band, or has he gone back to Polvo full-time?
MT: Ash is in the band.
DA: It seems like all the albums/etc. are sort of thematically linked (continuing references to holes, dirt, angels, etc.), even though they all sound different… is that intentional?
MT: No this is not intentional, those symbols are the only ones in my vocabulary because they reflect my life somehow.
DA: You’ve been contributing to film soundtracks as of late… how different is that from recording for your own albums?
MT: Well, we’d LOVE to do soundtracks, but so far weve only had previously recorded material in movies.
DA: How did you develop such a unique sound? Really, the only obvious influence i can spot is (maybe) Pere Ubu….
MT: I don’t think we’ve been influenced by Pere Ubu…. Not sure what we are influenced by…. Camp songs… Hieronymus Bosch… The Gap Band (circa the Gap Band IV).
DA: One of the things i like best about Helium (beyond the sound, of course) is the artwork and packaging… it’s all so cryptic and layered with mysterious hidden meaning. How does that develop each time?
MT: Thanks… well, it usually reflects the music in some way… same symbols an’ stuff.
DA: … and i have to know about “the wobs.” I eyed the CD and that kind of got my attention… (!)
MT: Oh!! The WOBS was written by my brother when he was like in first grade, I think. He also took those picures on a camping trip in fourth grade.
DA: So what exactly is up with the new album?
MT: It’s out now!!!!!
DA: What kind of goodies are you listening to lately when you’re not busy being Helium?
MT: F. Hardy, Gainsbourg, J. Mitchell, R+L Thompson, Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Eric Matthews, Dick Anthony: keyboard musings.
DA: Have you ever heard Rhys Chatham’s “Die Donnergotter”? After hearing “Riddle of Chamberlin,” i’m thinking you either have or you would like it a lot….
DA: So how did Boston suddenly come to have so many interesting bands? Or is this something everybody’s just been missing?
MT: Hmmmmm… does it?
DA: For that matter, what is the coolest place to play in Boston?
MT: The Middle East.
DA: Given the sorry shape the record biz is in right now, where do you think the future of music in this country is headed?
MT: In ten years the number one song on the billboard chart will be a Coke jingle.