INTERVIEW WITH HELIX FRONTMAN BRIAN VOLLMER
Date: June 17, 2019
HELIX HAVE RECENTLY RELEASED A BRAND NEW STUDIO ALBUM VIA PERRIS RECORDS TITLED ‘OLD SCHOOL’ WHICH HAS A REAL OLD SCHOOL FEEL TO IT SINCE THE SONGS ACTUALLY DATE BACK TO 1979 TO 1987 WITH MANY CO-WRITTEN BY HELIX GUITARIST PAUL HACKMAN WHO PASSED AWAY DURING A BUS ACCIDENT BACK IN 1992. SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH HELIX’S LONG-TIME FRONTMAN AND BAND LEADER, BRIAN VOLLMER, WHO STILL HAS THAT MUSICAL FIRE MORE THAN 45 YEARS AFTER HELIX FIRST FORMED.
Sleaze Roxx: I guess that the first thing that I have to ask you is — Greg is back on drums.
Brian Vollmer: Fritz has been playing with us again the last weekend and the weekend before out in Vancouver and Calgary. It was great!
Sleaze Roxx: Is he fully recovered?
Brian Vollmer: Well, I don’t think that he’s 100%. He still doesn’t have his hearing back in one ear. He doesn’t have his sense of taste or his sense of smell. He told me that he still gets vertigo at times i things are too loud. So probably, the answer is no. Will he ever be at 100% again? I don’t know. Hopefully, his hearing, taste and smell will come back but there’s no guarantee when you have a major brain injury like he had. You know, he had a skull fracture where he had bone fragments went into his brain.
Sleaze Roxx: Wow! That’s pretty crazy. When he did have his accident, did you think that you might have to replace him?
Brian Vollmer: Well, I thought that he was going to die! I mean, I had no idea if he was going to come back. We had Jamie Constant playing with us for the March dates and I actually had Jamie booked on flights to Barcelona [Spain] for the summer and that. I was quite shocked when Fritz was like, ‘Oh no, I’ll be back by June.’ I couldn’t change the flights for Fritz for Sweden because there were no other flights coming in at that time so we are going to be using Jaime in Sweden but Fritz will be in Barcelona with us. We are actually taking Jaime along [laughs] because I told him that he was going to Spain and I didn’t have the heart to tell him he wasn’t so Jaime is coming along.
Sleaze Roxx: Well, that’s cool! Now, let’s talk about ‘Old School.’ It seemed incredible to me when I saw that you had discovered a whole bunch of songs that you had never used before. So how does that happen?
Brian Vollmer: Well, I knew the songs were there but they were on two inch tapes in a corner closet down the stairs and the problem with two inch tapes, over time, they become oxidized so even if you have the machine required to play the tapes, a lot of times, they won’t play because of the oxidization. You have to go get them thermally baked, which is an expensive process. $250 a reel and a lot of the stuff, I already had. It was already out on albums and things like that. So you know, I wasn’t going to do that. The rest of the songs were on cassette tapes and none of them were in good enough shape that you could actually just use them. So I started cleaning out my closet and was eventually going to sell the tapes, and I got a call from Greg Godovich. He’s a good friend of mine. Greg said, ‘No. No. Don’t do that. The University of Toronto, you know if you donate them, the University of Toronto, they’ll give you a tax receipt that you can use as a tax deduction.’ When I started looking at all the stuff down there, I realized that there were a couple of albums at least. I have much more stuff too, actually pre-‘Breaking Loose’ material. Some of our first foyers into the recording studio.
Sleaze Roxx: Wow! That’s incredible. So just to give people an idea, I know that there’s a couple of songs that Paul Hackman wrote. That must be very special to have an album with him playing on it again, right?
Brian Vollmer: Well, the majority of the songs were written by Paul and I but there’s three in particular with Paul playing on them. On the tracks “Games Mother Never Taught You” and “Your Turn To Cry” — “Your Turn To Cry” has a great blues lick, a blues lead in that song, and I listened to that song just for the lead in it. I remember writing all these songs with Paul and where we get it. It was special times. I think at that time, our manager was looking for the big hit single so a lot of these songs got overlooked.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] OK. Around what year would these songs have been written?
Brian Vollmer: Well, let’s go down the list. “Coming Back With Bigger Guns” is probably written around 1986-87. “Whiskey Bent & Hell Bound” is written in Niagara Falls around the same time period. “If Tears Could Talk” — same time. Around ’87, ’86. “Your Turn To Cry” — same thing. “Tie Me Down” — same thing. “Closer” — yeah, they are all around 1986, 1987. The only exception to that would be “Cheers” which was probably written around 1983 or ’84, and “Houng Dog Howlin’ Blues” which was written around 1979.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool! I really like the cover for ‘Old School.’ Who came up with that?
Brian Vollmer: Well, I had the idea in my head but the person who actually put it into fruition was Brent Doerner who was a former guitarist for the band, who was ‘The Doctor.’
Helix‘s “Coming Back With Bigger Guns” lyric video (from Old School):
This is the first track from Helix’s 18th studio release OLD SCHOOL. Produced by Daryl Gray and mixed by Juno award winning Siegfried Meier at Beach Road Studios in Goderich, Ontario. The CD was mastered by Harry Hess of the band Harem Scarem.
Helix‘s “Whiskey Bent & Hellbound” lyric video (from Old School):
This is another track from OLD SCHOOL in which Daryl and I played around with the arrangement. Produced by Daryl Gray, mixed by Siegfried Meier at Beach Road Studios in Goderich. Official release on Perris Records (out of Houston, Texas) for the U.S. & Europe.
Sleaze Roxx: I noticed for Helix’s upcoming tour dates, you have a lot of dates in Canada, a few in Europe but the [United] States [of America] seems to be left alone. What’s going on with that?
Brian Vollmer: Well, work permits are very restrictive going down. For instance, if you do multiple dates — by that, I mean more than one — you have to pay a 30% withholding tax, which is just killer because what small business can have 30% taken off the top and then you have to chase the government around trying to get it back. And then you have over a thousand dollars for a work permit for the band, a thousand dollars if you take a sound man, a carnet which is when you got to put a surety down of 30% plus a $300 charge and if you don’t get it signed, they take it off your surety. Well, I know from playing at Sault Falls a couple of years ago, we got to the airport and I said to the immigration people, ‘I need to get my carnet signed.’ He didn’t even know what a carnet was!
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Brian Vollmer: And then I got back to Toronto and the office is closed so I phoned where I got it in Canada — I forget the agency — I say, ‘So now what? I couldn’t get it signed because they weren’t opened.’ Bla, bla, bla. They say, ‘Oh, we’ll fine you.’
Sleaze Roxx: Oh! Wow!
Brian Vollmer: There’s some much bullshit that I don’t even go there anymore plus I live in Florida in the winter. I’m not going to screw it up and not be able to go down to my house there so except for the boat cruise… When it comes to the boat cruise, we’ve played the Monsters of Rock boat cruise three times. You know, the first time that we played there, they supplied rooms the night before and a shuttle to the boat. Now, it seems like a minor thing but it’s a really major thing. It costs a couple of thousand dollars now that they’ve changed and they don’t supply those rooms and the shuttle so what happens is, for us, there is no way that we are going to fly down the day that we have to get on the boat. You’ve got to come down the day before. Well, the last time, it went out of Miami beach, it was a thousand dollars for rooms! And how do you get to the boat? You have to pay a shuttle for all these people. Either that or rent cars. What do you do with the rental cars? You have to park them at the boat. It adds up very quickly. You know, I live in Florida in the winter so I am already paying for my place down there. I don’t need to get on a boat.
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, no kidding.
Brian Vollmer: So, essentially, the changes they made ended up… What that meant is that I got $2,000 less so I asked for more money and at that point, they did not want the band. But you know, it doesn’t take many dates nowadays to keep us busy because we are all doing other things. So we’re out there playing in the summer and like I said, in the winter, I’m down in Florida. When I am down there, I am working on my films. I have an incredible amount of footage of the band which goes back all the way to the ’70s so I spend a lot of time trying to get that together. I am one of the last people in the world to teach true Bel Canto, the old Italian method of singing. So I am going to start working on that as well.
Sleaze Roxx: When we last spoke which I believe was around February 2017, you had spoken about getting your Helix films going so where are you at now?
Brian Vollmer: Well, I got them sorted on a great big four gigabyte freagin’ external drive. And, now I’ll probably put it out in segments and call it just ‘The History of Helix’ and start going in chronological order. I don’t exactly know how I’m doing it yet. I might stick actual new footage of myself talking about the clip that you are about to see. Things like that.
Sleaze Roxx: Obviously, I know that you ended up releasing ‘Old School’ but before that, Helix had a couple of singles that you had worked on so you must have been working on another album before you found out about ‘Old School.’ So what would be the status there?
Brian Vollmer: Well, we are going to continue writing with the band. Essentially, you are talking about “Gene Simmons Says”, “The Devil Is Having A Party Tonight”… I’ve written a couple of new songs with the current line-up since then so that will be the next album. I’d like to do it with the line-up I have now. Kaelb [Duck] and Daryl [Gray] really want to be involved and do original material. They have earned that. They’ve earned that. You know, they have been in the band for a long time. Daryl did a great job producing ‘Old School’ and Kaleb has been wanting to write with me for a long time so we are going to continue on with that.
Sleaze Roxx: Now, one thing that I noticed about Helix is that I saw you play twice in 2015 and one thing that you guys did is that you took the setlist from April 2015 and it was really the same songs, but you completely changed the order for the next gig that I saw you which was in November . I thought it was a very wise move because it felt like a fresh setlist but really you were playing kind of the same songs. Is that what you had in mind when you did that or you keep changing as you go?
Brian Vollmer: We keep changing as we go. You know, there’s the basic songs that everyone wants to hear — “Rock You”, “Heavy Metal Love”, “Gimme [Gimme] Good Lovin'”, “Deep Cuts The Knife” — so they are always in the set. You know, fans paid money to come and see [those]. Bu this time around, we’ve got “Coming Back With Bigger Guns” from the new album. “Even Jesus [Wasn’t Love In His Hometown]” has become a staple in the set now. “The Devil Is Having A Party Tonight”, so we switch it up. We try to — we might actually change the arrangements of certain songs that are in there but we like to get a number of new material there but you have to really be careful because if we get too much material that people don’t recognize, it kind of defeats the purpose.
Sleaze Roxx: Fair enough. Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Brian Vollmer: No. Just come out and support the band. There really isn’t a place for new music for classic rock bands. I know that I sound like a broken record when I get on this rant but there’s really no place in Canadian radio for bands in the past and it’s just a shame. The CRTC [Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications] ratings actually work against bands like Helix that are still releasing new material because you have a program director who has a choice between I don’t know, playing something by Rob Hughes or playing something new, they always play Rob Hughes because it’s safe. So if they are going to have the CRTC ruling about Canadian content, I wish they’d have something there that says you have to play so much new material by old bands. I think that would help us out a lot more. It boils down to fans going out there, older fans buying the new music and then spreading the word because as we get older, I think that we don’t, you know, buy new music like when we were younger. If you want to stay young [laughs], keep buying new music.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Brian Vollmer: That’s my message.
Helix’s “The Devil Is Having A Party Tonight” video:
To buy this song as a digital download and support Helix, go to – https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/helix413