Ash and Mary (and Alan and Kendall), interviewed by Kevin on 89.3 WXYC, Chapel Hill, NC 22 November 1997:[pullquote]”I don’t know, I like to make videos if it’s like a fun project but it’s not what it’s about. It’s about making a commercial for your band, you know, in order for it to be really effective, it’s like a marketing tool. And it’s not fun, it’s not fun to think of it that way.”[/pullquote]
Kevin: I guess we’ll start with music, what are some of your influences outside of rock? Anything in particular?
Mary: You wanna answer that one, Ash? [laughs]
Ash: Um [laughs]
Alan [their soundman from the background]: Techno!
Ash: Just being on tour and stuff like that is a influence, I guess.
Mary: Is an influence? [laughs]
Ash: I just have to think of something quick, I don’t want a lot of silence on the air.
Mary: Oh. [laughs]
Ash: I wouldn’t say television or anything like that, cause I don’t watch much.
Mary: No, what’s an influence? I don’t know, everything is an influence.
Ash: Yeah, sure.
Kevin: Anything more?
Ash: It’s a hard question to answer.
Mary: Yeah, so hard. We could make up a bunch of answers. [laughs]
Kevin: So who were some of your inspirations to get into music in the first place?
Mary: It would probably have to do with going to see shows when I was in high school. You know, the rock scene, that kind of thing.
Kevin: That was in DC? Like Fugazi or Minor Threat?
Mary: Yeah, I never saw Minor Threat, but I used to see those bands that were playing in that time. Whatever. Fugazi was a big one, yeah, and just those bands from DC, Dischord bands.
Kevin: So, you were actually in a band from DC called Autoclave. And you put out a ten inch and seven inch. What was it like to be a part of that scene back in the day?
Mary: Well, it was like a bunch of kids really into what they were doing. It was really far removed from anything that we experience in the rock world now, I think. ‘Cause it wasn’t about having to tour or like having to make money or sell records. From my experience anyway. It was fun. It was just you know, a different thing.
Kevin: What kind of adjectives would you use to describe your band and your music?
Mary: OK, you wanna try Ash? [laughs]
Ash: [laughs] Pop, rock.
Mary: Um, nice [laughs].
Ash: OK, that’s a good one.
Ash: No, I don’t think it’s very strange. I don’t know, it’s hard to answer those types of questions, like talk about your own thing in these terms, you know what I mean? It’s like, it’s embarrassing a little.
Mary: Yeah [laughs].
Kevin: So when you’re writing songs where do you get your subjects and ideas from?
Mary: I don’t know. Let’s see. Um. For the lyrics you mean?
Kevin: Both. Music and lyrics.
Mary: Um. I guess I can talk about lyrics. Most of the lyrics on this record that we just put out are pretty imaginary, like they’d have to do with imaginary things. Imaginary like just not realistic, Like, I’m not sure how to — fantastical situations.
Kevin: Fairy tales.
Mary: Yeah, that kind of thing.
Kevin: When did you guys start playing guitar?
Mary: You go Ash.
Ash: Ah, I started playing when I was in college here, actually. Many years ago. I think it was 1987. Ten years ago.
Mary: Are you really — when did you start college?
Ash: ’86, it was the fall of ’86 I guess. Twenty-nine years old. I got out of high school in 1986. I lived in Morrison [dorm on campus].
Kevin: What’s your favorite musical format?
Mary: Style of music you mean?
Kevin: Like in terms of putting music out: CDs, vinyl.
Ash + Mary: Records, definitely.
Ash: I mean, CDs are all right. I don’t know, records — maybe they sound better? I don’t know, it’s sort of a tired argument. Personally I still like records.
Mary: Yeah, I like playing used records. That’s my favorite format. [Laughs] Old records.
Kevin: What are some of your worst experiences playing over the years?
Mary: Um, let’s see. Playing shows, you mean?
Kevin: Playing, recording.
Mary: Um, I’m sure there’s some…
Ash: We have to be careful here…
Mary: [laughs] I know. Well, how about this tour, let’s go with what’s happened on this tour.
Ash: Um, well. We had this wacky soundman, but we fired him.
Mary: Yeah. [laughs]
Ash: In Los Angeles.
Alan: [pops back in] Wait a minute, was I fired?
Ash: No, the other one.
Alan: Oh, right.
Ash: We flew you in, remember?
Alan: Oh, that’s right.
Ash: On the Concord.
Alan [fake accent]: Oh yes, the Concord.
Ash: It was a nightmare soundcheck and we and ran paged you over in England. And you were there by the time the doors opened.
Alan: It was four hours till doors, wasn’t it? Three hours by Concorde. Plus I managed to do the night before, that was a weird thing.
Ash: [laughs] Yeah, you did.
Kevin: How did your European tour go?
Ash: It was fun, you know. We got to play a couple of shows in Slovenia and four shows in France, which we haven’t done before, so it was a lot of fun. It was grueling, but it was fun.
Kevin: How were you received over there by the fans?
Ash: Pretty well, sort of like here, I guess, in general. Some places are a little more…
Mary: Germany’s good for rock, you know. But Slov– I don’t know.
Ash: Slovenia was great, but they just wanted to drink.
Mary: Yeah, Slovenia was crazy. The kids there just go to any rock shows. It doesn’t matter who it is, if they know it’s a rock band coming to town, they’ll go see it. Like everyone is the same kind of fan there, it seems. And they just like to drink a lot. It’s really crazy there.
Kevin: So what do you do in your downtime when you’re touring?
Ash: Sit around and get depressed.
Mary: [laughs] Yeah. [laughs]
Ash: No, we write postcards and shop around for the cheapest phone cards and all that kind of stuff.
Mary: That’s the latest kind of craze, is that phone card stuff. I haven’t joined in on that yet. And when we’re in Europe we try to do sightseeing.
Kevin: Last album you did a video for “Pat’s Trick” but so far you haven’t done one for The Magic City?
Mary: Well, we have actually.
Ash: Yeah we did one in August for “Leon’s Space Song.” Don’t know whether they’re showing it or not.
Mary: But MTV doesn’t like it.
Ash: [mocking voice] Well I don’t like MTV.
Mary: No, it’s not like cool, it’s not like over-produced-looking, enough for them.
Ash: I heard that Beavis liked it but Butthead didn’t.
Mary: [laughs] I see.
Ash: The car wasn’t cool enough for them?
Mary: Yeah [laughs], the car. It was a little too adventurous for MTV.
Kevin: So do you have fun making videos?
Mary: Sometimes. This one was actually pretty fun, because it was um kinda crazy. But we’ve had a really bad time doing it before. I don’t know, I like to make videos if it’s like a fun project but it’s not what it’s about. It’s about making a commercial for your band, you know, in order for it to be really effective, it’s like a marketing tool. And it’s not fun, it’s not fun to think of it that way.
Kevin: I guess about two years ago you guys toured with Lollapalooza, what was that like playing such a big show on the second stage?
Ash: It was fun, you know, We got to see Built to Spill and a lot of other good bands. We got to go over to the main place see some bands and everybody was just kinds hanging out, so it was an OK atmosphere and it was different. I thought it was all right. You liked it? [to Mary]
Mary: Yeah, I thought it was OK. It was a little overwhelming cause there were so many rock stars around. I thought, I was kinds like, scared. But it was fun, I mean, the sound system was good. There were a lot of kids there, so… it was fine.
Kevin: So in addition to Helium you’ve been involved with Mind Science of the Mind?
Mary: Actually that was Nathan Larson from Shudder to Think’s solo project, I just played on his record.
Kevin: Is he going to be doing anything more with that?
Mary: I don’t know if he is! I haven’t talked to him about that, I’m not sure. Right now he’s like writing songs with R&B artists in New York. He’s not doing Shudder to Think right now, I mean, they’re just taking a break, I guess.
Kevin: And then there’s also Led Byrd, which is just you two. How did that come about?
Ash: I think, I’m not really sure, somebody asked for some kind of a Helium song or demo. And so we four-tracked something, because we didn’t have anything at handy at the moment you know, but we wanted to give it to him. I think it was a Kill Rock stars thing.
Mary: We did that down here, actually.
Ash: Right, then a couple other people asked us if we had any other stuff. So we gave them similar things that we just did really quickly on the four track. We’ll probably do some more one of these days.
Mary: We’re planning on putting out a Led Byrd record,
Ash: Yeah, um but there’s no telling when we have time to record it.
Mary: But we’re planning on it.
Kevin: What do you think about the state of music today?
Mary: Well, we were just talking about that on the way over here. Um, you wanna go, Ash ?
Ash: I don’t want to talk about what we were talking about but um I don’t know. I don’t really pay any attention to anything in the top ten, I probably wouldn’t recognize 80% of the bands that are in it and so I don’t feel particularly qualified to comment on it. And now I’m 29 years old and so I can’t necessarily relate to stuff that 18 year olds are gonna listen to. I remember being 18 and you know, being in college or whatever and having these things I was into: these bands or scenes or whatever. And you know like Sub Pop just started and all this stuff and all these English bands like My Bloody Valentine were really cool. And I couldn’t really understand some of the stuff that older people were listening to, you know? Being younger you always… I don’t know, the adage being young and having everything figured out and then you think your favorite bands start to get older and start putting out records that are a little more boring, you think. And then you think, “Oh God, that’s what happens.” But once you get a little older it makes sense a little more, you know? And then you look at younger kids in their teens and whatever scene their into and I don’t really understand it very much. You know like rave stuff and all that, I was never, I never had anything to do with that, so to me it’s interesting but I — just to make it short, no I don’t really relate to a lot of it so I don’t really feel qualified to talk about the state of music. I mean, who am I to judge it, you know? Certainly there’s not a lot of mainstream stuff that’s very good, to my taste. But this is me, as far as indie rock… I don’t know, I haven’t had that much time to pay attention to that either. I would imagine there’s probably some kind of major rut going on it, just because I would think there would be at this point, but maybe there isn’t. I’m sure there are a lot of young bands been lucky enough to hear that are just really carrying the banner for new music. I don’t know. As far as electronic stuff, that’s what we were talking about earlier, I don’t really relate to much of it, you know? I get excited about hearing some of it that’s supposed to be really good and invariably I just don’t relate to it at all.
Kevin: So do you guys get to pick who you get to go on tour with?
Mary: Yeah, well for the most part, yeah.
Kevin: Oh, so I know for so far on this part of the tour you’ve played with Cornershop, Mike Watt, Sleater-Kinney, Blonde Redhead, Syrup USA.
Mary: Yeah, you got them all.
Ash: And Bis.
Mary: Yeah and Bis. [says with Scottish accent] Bis!
Kevin: So what was it about those bands that made you want to play with them?
Ash: Well, we didn’t necessarily get to pick them, I mean for example, we were more or less opening for Sleater-Kinney. And this Blonde Redhead thing, I’m looking at it as a co-headline, cause to me they’re pretty much my favorite band. And it feels weird going on after them. We’re opening for Mike Watt — so I mean, we don’t pick like call up Sonic Youth and say, “We’re gonna open for you,” you know. We just get a phone call if we’re lucky.
Mary: Yeah, well, we did ask Syrup to come on the road with us.
Ash: Yeah sure if it’s band–
Mary: They’re friends of ours from Boston and they’re also like completely the greatest band ever. So we choose them, but other than that, it’s been like who’s available and around and stuff.
Ash: Yeah our booking agent will ask us if we have any bands we wanna play with and that’s how it happens, we just say well we’d like to play this band or this band’s really good. And then he makes a couple of calls and if happens… and sometimes he has suggestions. Like we didn’t know about playing with Mike Watt until we were pretty much on the road. I think it was sort of a surprise. Cornershop as well, I mean we didn’t have anything to do with that, they just came about somehow.
Kevin: So on your albums, especially your new one, there’s a lot of instrumentation — guitars, drums, bass, keyboards, and things like mandolins and stuff. So how do you make that translate to part of your live show?
Mary: Well, we’re touring with a keyboard player. Who’s in here somewhere, wandering around, and she’s playing those parts. Or the most important ones on the keyboard.
Kevin: It’s not the girl from Juicy is it?
Mary: Yeah! You’re very well-informed.
Kevin: Actually, she’s the one who told me.
Mary: Really? Do you guys have the Juicy record here?
Kevin: Yeah we have two of them.
Mary: Really? Hey Kendall? I don’t know where she is. There are Juicy fans in here.
Kendall: Noooo! They’re not.
Kevin: You recorded the new album and the No Guitars EP with Mitch Easter, how was it working with him?
Mary: It was great, he’s really talented and awesome to work with.
Kevin: Were you a fan of his work, like maybe Let’s Active or his producing?
Ash: I definitely was. I mean, Let’s Active was one of my favorite bands when I was in college. I went to see them a lot, so Mitch was a big inspiration for me. So I always wanted to work with him in some capacity one day, and the opportunity came about and I was pretty excited. It was great.
Mary: Polvo recorded with him too, for this record.
Kevin: Do you have a favorite song you’ve written so far?
Mary: Hmmm. Hmmh. I like “Revolution of the Hearts.”
Ash: Yeah, I like that one too.
Mary: And “Medieval People.”
Kevin: So do you go see a lot of music when you’re not on the road or recording?
Mary: I think we do when we don’t have any other stuff going on. Not when we’re recording, for sure. We don’t do anything, it’s like record record. But in Boston, yeah sure.
Kevin: So how it’s different paying in Chapel Hill versus Boston? I know you’re from Chapel Hill, or at least were.
Ash: Yeah, well I am still, I think. I don’t know if I am or not. I feel like I am. Um I don’t know, Helium’s only played here twice and I just feel like either show, they were all such a blur. Like one time we went on really early and the other time we played at the Lizard and Snake which is fun. I was a long time ago, so…
Mary: When was the first time we played here?
Ash: We opened for somebody, I can’t remember who.
Mary: Superchunk? No.
Ash: No, it was um, we had to go on real early is all I remember.
Mary: Oh! American Music Club.
Ash: No we played, a show, but I wasn’t in the band then.
Mary: That was opening for Pavement.
Ash: Oh I was in the band then, right, okay, whatever. You’re right.
Mary: We opened for Pavement once when you were on the road with us. And then we came back, whatever, this is not important. American Music Club was the show.
Ash: So Helium is considered more of a Boston band I guess. So I guess there’s more, people are more familiar with the band there, and it’s just a city so there’s more people. So, I don’t know what it’s going to be like. I’ve got a lot of friends here, so that’s really what I’m excited about. I don’t know how the show is going to be. I’m sure it’s going to be fine. Blonde Redhead is just consistently amazing, so I’m sure they’re going to be fine. You know, great in fact.
Mary: Are you guys fans of theirs?
Kevin: Yeah I’ve seen them play before and they were pretty good.
Mary: They’re amazing. They’re so good.
Kevin: If you could add one instrument to the band, what would it be?
Ash: A rapper. [both laugh] A human gearbox.
Mary: We’d have Alan rap from the sound board, Oh, you want to tell them, can I tell the Mike Watt story?
Ash: What Mike Watt story?
Mary: About the soundman singing from the soundboard.
Ash: Oh yeah.
Mary: I was, like I didn’t understand cause we saw Mike Watt play three times cause we opened for them, they’re really good, but I was like always kinds mystified by this — sometimes he’d have this really deep voice, and I didn’t know where it was coming from. On the third night, the last song, I looked over to the soundboard and the sound guy was singing along in a sound force! [laughs] I was amazed I didn’t notice it before. But he has a really good voice.
Alan: Do you notice it when I do it?
Mary: Yes. No. No, I did not know. [laughs]
Kevin: So how’s the band’s sound evolved since the first seven inch came out?
Mary: Um, I don’t really, I don’t really like that early stuff at all. It’s really embarrassing to me. So I think it’s better.
Kevin: Do you get upset if you’re labeled as a girl band- cause in Spin, you seemed a little–
Mary: Labeled as one. Well first of all that quote in Spin was like, it was really weird. Cause I did not even say that, I don’t even remember the quote on the picture but the woman interviewing me was trying to ask me the question. “Do you think you get a lot of exposure because of Lilith Fair?” So, it was [laughs] I was like really confused and she kept rewording it and asking me again. Then I said. “Well OK maybe we do get attention cause we’re a girl band.” And they like used the quote, so it was like totally out of context. But yeah, I think that I’m definitely tired of us being on that tip or whatever. I’m not sure we’ve ever been labeled as a girl band, ’cause we’re not. There’s only one girl in the band.
Kevin: You had a little cameo in a movie called “All Over Me,” how’d you get involved with that?
Mary: Right, I knew a kid in New York who knew the director. So, it was easy. That easy.
Kevin: Were any of the other people onstage with you in that shot in bands or…?
Mary: Um, I’m not sure, I won’t talk about that. [laughs] No, there’s this one girl from this really awful band called the Murmurs. Who’s now going out with k.d. lang, Alicia? I think her name is Leisha.
Kevin: So what do you see in the future for Helium?
Mary: What do you think Ash?
Ash: More of the same I guess. I mean, when this is done just get some rest and think about recording another record and I don’t know — I look at it that way, you know? There’s nothing really foreseeable otherwise. Anything unusual I don’t know.
Kevin: So do you really want the band to become big or happy with your status now being, I guess, mildly famous?
Mary: I don’t know, it makes me uncomfortable to think about that kind of thing.
Ash: Yeah, I don’t really know how to feel about it. I’m pretty comfortable. Actually you know it’d be nice to have more money but I don’t really think about it very much.
Mary: Well we’d like to get like health insurance and like to be able to pay our rent without having like other jobs or whatever. Yeah, that would be nice. It would nice to make as much money as like an average poor person and not like an extremely poor person.
Ash: But it’s hard to figure out how to make that happen, you know what I mean? Like how to approach that, how are we going to get bigger? By touring all the time? I don’t think so. No.
Mary: No. But anyway, we’re pretty happy doing what we do.
Ash: Yeah, it’s all right, can’t complain.
Kevin: Anything else you wanna say?
Mary: Not really, tell people about the show I guess.
Kevin: Yeah they’re playing tonight at the Cat’s Cradle along with Blonde Redhead and Rebar. I’d like to thank Ash and Mary for coming by, we appreciate it.
Mary: Thanks for having us.
Kevin: All right then we’re going to go out with a song called “The Dragon #2” from the No Guitars EP.