The Helms Alee Way

Digging into the Seattle band's mishmash approach to metal

Helms Alee are even happier when they're on stage playing super loud metal. - RYAN RUSSELL PHOTO
Ryan Russell photo
Helms Alee are even happier when they're on stage playing super loud metal.

Helms Alee's music sounds like a big bag of broken glass and candy bars, bursting at the seams.

On the Seattle band's 2014 album Sleepwalking Sailors, for example, songs zig and zag from sludge-metal howls to soaring pop harmonies to stoner-rock rumblings to spacey psychedelic drifts.

It all works, sonically. But the way Helms Alee makes it work is bewildering. When bands talk about their songwriting process, they tend to speak of developing ideas or jamming on a riff or whatever. To hear guitarist Ben Verellen tell it, he and his bandmates — drummer Hozoji Matheson-Margullis and bassist Dana James — live inside a mystical blur when composing.

"All three of us are coming from such totally different places, as far as how we understand music and how we listen to music and how we write parts. We almost can't even have a conversation while we're writing," Verellen says in a telephone interview.

"We don't understand what we're doing," he continues. "Like, I don't understand what Hoz is doing and why. She doesn't understand what I'm doing and why. We all just kind of bang at it until it's finally like, 'Well, that sounds cool to me.' It's so weird. We all see it and understand it, but from a different perspective."

Verellen likes it this way, mind you. He's been involved in music stretching back through two decades and a handful of dormant Northwest bands, including Harkonen, Roy and These Arms Are Snakes. (His older brother Dave sang for Tacoma punk heroes Botch.) He knows there are more efficient ways to make music. But quick and efficient just isn't the Helms Alee way.

"I think the reason all of our stuff ends up so weird and bizarre is (because of) that mishmash approach," he says. "I write a riff and then Hoz puts some drums on it and it's completely different. And then I have to kind of reunderstand it and it's like, 'OK, well, that's not at all what I had in mind. But it's f---ing way better and way weirder.'"

Helms Alee has been pretty quiet over the past couple of years, working on the follow-up to Sleepwalking Sailors. Due out later this year, it's called Stillicide and was recorded in February at Kurt Ballou's GodCity Studio in Salem, Massachusetts.

Verellen says Stillicide might be a bit more concise than Helms Alee's previous efforts, but beyond that, it's the same kind of genre-blind blend we've come to expect from a band that doesn't know how to do it any other way.

"Every time we make a new record, somebody will say, 'Man, all these songs are so mellow.' And then someone else will be like, 'Listen to all this crazy heavy shit,' and we start to worry it's too much of one or the other," he says. "But then we sit down to listen to the whole thing and we're always like, 'Yeah. It's just us.'" ♦

Lush in Space feat. Helms Alee, Dark White Light and Lucky Chase • Thu, June 16, at 9 pm • $8/$20 for six nights • The Observatory • 15 S. Howard • • 598-8933

Royale Duo @ Nighthawk Lounge (CdA Casino)

Fri., April 16, 9 p.m. and Sat., April 17, 9 p.m.
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