INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS JULKE OF HELIX
Date: November 7, 2015
BACK ON APRIL 9, 2015, I CAUGHT HELIX PLAYING A BENEFIT CONCERT IN BARRIE, WHICH IS ABOUT ONE HOUR NORTH OF TORONTO. THE WHOLE BAND PUT ON A GREAT SHOW BUT THE ONE BAND MEMBER THAT REALLY CAUGHT MY ATTENTION WAS HELIX’S NEWEST GUITARIST CHRIS JULKE WHO LOOKED LIKE HE WAS HAVING THE TIME OF HIS LIFE PLAYING ONSTAGE. JULKE’S ENTHUSIASM WAS CONTAGIOUS AND I JUST HAD TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE TALENTED AND VERY ENTHUSIASTIC AXEMAN! JULKE DISCUSSES HELIX IN DETAIL INCLUDING HOW HE JOINED THE BAND AND WHAT HIS BAND MEMBERS ARE LIKE.
Sleaze Roxx: How did you end up joining Helix?
Chris Julke: You know, I played with anybody and everybody long before the band opportunity came along. A mutual friend of Daryl Gray’s and myself — Jamie Constant who used to play drums in a band Syre — Jamie Constant and Daryl Gray used to have a band called Scurvy Dogs. It’s a cover band that does a lot of classic rock stuff. They needed a fill in guitarist. I had never met Daryl Gray before. I learned the songs and I filled in. The regular guy that plays for the Scurvy Dogs was Gary Borden and he plays for Sass Jordan as well. So I walked in and filled in and had a really great time doing it. I filled in one other time and again, had a really good time with the guys — enjoyed the songs and everything. I got a phone call a little while later — maybe a few weeks later. I never knew that Helix was in need of another guitarist. They had another guitar player at the time as I found out. Daryl Gray asked me if I was able to travel and I am able to travel. I ended up replacing John Claus who was in the band for maybe a year and a half. That’s how it got started. I was playing with Daryl in Scurvy Dogs and I guess that he was scoping me out while you know, they were keeping somebody in mind to replace John Claus so anyways it worked out pretty good and I found myself in the band. Our first big gig was taking off to Barcelona, Spain!
Sleaze Roxx: Cool!
Chris Julke: What a kick off!
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Were you a big Helix fan growing up or in the years before?
Chris Julke: When I was growing up, I went to GCI [Galt Collegiate Institute] high school here in Cambridge [Ontario, Canada] in the Galt area. [Helix drummer Greg] Fritz [Hinz] also went to that high school before I did. Helix came to play my high school in 1982.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Cool!
Chris Julke: …before all the big hits came along. I thought that was great. And then years went by and you know, Helix was always on the radar because the hits started coming. “Heavy Metal Love” came along in ’83 and in ’84, they were on the radio a lot. We saw them open for Ronnie James Dio in Toronto and they were on top of their game. I really got the chance to take a look at what Helix was really about. And that was about 1985 and they were really happening at that point so they were definitely on the radar. Now, I find myself in the band and it is a real 360.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] For sure! How is it joining a band when you have guys like Brian, Greg and Daryl that have been in the band for decades?
Chris Julke: It’s fantastic. We couldn’t get along better. They were very welcoming. We share a lot of good laughs. They’re great musicians and they have been really accommodating and helped me with a lot of things vocally. Just with the songs and putting it all together and turning into a top show where we can be called at anytime and go out and play at a high level. It is a great line-up the way it is right now. I am thrilled to be there. I love every trip that we take so there is never a dull moment and when there is, you know, you’re hard at work on new riffs.
Sleaze Roxx: This might be a potentially long answer for you but what is your musical background before Helix?
Chris Julke: Well, I started playing guitar in 1980 and when I got started, there was hardly anybody at that time — 13, 14 years old — that really played. I got guitar lessons. I was in grade 9 at GCI and there was a guy in grade 12 at GCI. I got guitar lessons off of him. He kind of got me going. At the beginning, I learned from a cheesy black and white chord book. It was not very motivating but I did learn all the chords that I needed. We just did not have distractions like video games and computers. We really did not have a whole lot to do. The guitar was a great escape for me and I played probably two years at the beginning through bands and in high school. After I turned 19, I thought that it would be a dream come true to go to the Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood, California. By 1989, I saved up thousands of dollars, sold my hot rod, quit my job, left my girlfriend, quit the band and pursued my dream to go to GIT and learn about harmony and theory and scales and arpeggios — the list goes on and on and on. I got to live my dream and learn really everything that I know from being down there, living there, not working and being 120 percent immersed in the whole scene down there. You got to think back to how cool it must have been in 1989!
Sleaze Roxx: For sure!
Chris Julke: You’re around in the industry and you’re going around to places like the Roxy and the Whisky but keeping your nose to the grindstone and going to school. I graduated in ’91 and from then on, I taught guitar lessons. I went back to — I worked at a steel mill for almost 10 years and after I was done with the steel mill, I went full bore with guitar lessons and playing in bands. That slowly takes you towards the Helix time. In a nutshell, that is really how I got started.
Chris Julke: Well, really, I did a lot of the vocals on it. My vocals are on it. I played a little bit of guitar on the album. Unfortunately, they were almost pretty much done the album by the time that I got on board. So I did get to lay down lots of vocals and a little bit of guitar but it has turned out great anyway.
Sleaze Roxx: How do you think that ‘Bastard Of the Blues’ fares compared to some of the other Helix classics?
Chris Julke: It definitely has got — they still keep the same energy on this CD. There are still lots of really good songs on it. The energy is definitely way up there. They have a lot of feel for arena rock that is still there. We play a couple of songs from the CD and crowds are singing along to it so… You got to remember that when you do a new album, it’s a great way to fuel a tour so when you are out there, you are promoting the new album but at the same token, people really want to hear songs that they know — the old stuff. So we are heavy on the old stuff and we do draw two to three tracks from the new album and it’s been well received. We’re starting to write on some new riffs and getting news ideas together now and that is a process as well. But it’s a fun one. It’s a lot of fun to be around the guys and get out there and play. You know, with a band with a history like this, it’s really cool to be part of it.
Sleaze Roxx: Yes and one thing that struck me when I saw Helix play live in Barrie [Ontario, Canada] back in April [9, 2015] was that you literally looked like you were having the time of your life onstage and…
Chris Julke: Oh absolutely! I forgot that you were there. You gave me a wicked write up! Holy crap! Thank you so much! Without trying to make it like — you know I don’t want to [inaudible as Chris Julke is almost whispering] with the band.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Chris Julke: I am so happy to be there! And my energy is at it is. I just love it! I love the songs! I get into it! I feel like I am part of something really big. You know, some of our hometown crowds are hit and miss at times. There is still a lot of demand for the band. Brian still gets calls all the time to go out and play. We are working on a few right now. We are going to go to the Monsters of Rock Cruise in February. Our agent is working on a New Year’s Eve out east. There is never a dull moment. There is always something going on. I am leaving half of it out unfortunately but…
Sleaze Roxx: Fair enough. What is it like working with Kaleb [Duck] as you know, you guys are the two guitarists in Helix?
Chris Julke: You know what? He really helped me out in the beginning. We sat down for a few nights together to go over stuff and we still do get together. I was just talking to him today. We’re going to get together. It’s good to keep that end of the band tight. It is a guitar oriented band… by the sound of it anyways. You really need to be in the pocket with the other player for harmonies, for rhythms. It’s our goal to keep the band really tight. We still get together to go over things ahead of band practice.
Sleaze Roxx: What has surprised you the most in your time in Helix?
Chris Julke: Uuummm. Just the demand, I am overwhelmed by the demand for the band. Like when we go out west, it’s crazy! Sold out at the Deerfoot Casino [in Calgary, Alberta, Canada] and the Century Casino [in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada]. We have played at the Hard Rock in Vancouver [British Columbia, Canada] and it was just… The shit blows my mind and [it’s] so much fun! When we played in Sioux Falls, South Dakota [USA] in May before, towards the end of the night when the big crowd is there — we were on during the earlier part of the night as we were supporting Loverboy, April Wine. By the time that Loverboy came on, [there were] approximately 15,000 strong out in the audience and I am on the side stage kind of watching Loverboy go at it and looking into the crowd and seeing thousands of people. To get into a festival like that is just a surreal feeling.
Sleaze Roxx: How would you describe each of your Helix bandmates?
Chris Julke: Well, each guy is a little bit different — that’s for sure. Brian is like the timekeeper in a game. He’s the boss. Fritz and Kaleb are like two peas in a pod — really good time guys. Those two guys are the same. They both work. They both are in the construction trade. Brian does vocal lessons during his spare time. Daryl Gray , the bass player — he’s been a real mentor for me going over the songs with him and vocalizing. He’s been the mentor. Each guy is a little bit different in his own unique way and that’s what makes the times when we get together, you know, so much fun! The hilarity is overwhelming too. There are tears in your eyes at some of the jokes that are told. Private stuff, band stuff that is a lot of fun. You joke around after the show. The camaraderie that is there. It’s really feels like a family you know.
Sleaze Roxx: It was actually pretty tough getting some background information on you on the internet but I did dig up a few names of your likely past bands. You actually already mentioned Syre so can you tell everyone a little bit about that band?
Chris Julke: Well, I was never in Syre [Interviewer’s note: I misheard what Chris Julke said while we were chatting on the telephone] but Jamie Constant was the connection there. He was in Syre and he usually played drums with Daryl [Gray] in Scurvy Dogs so I got called into that one, which was great. It was nice to get that phone call. Just like the Helix thing was a phone call. So that takes a lot of pressure off. They already know who they’re looking at right? So that is kind of nice. As far as the past goes, Shades Of Black was an all-original band that we had in the ’90s from Cambridge [Ontario, Canada]. It was a very heavy band — four piece. We had our own CD. You know, it’s the type of band that it’s really hard to get noticed in a market that is diminishing right? There is no label support. You really are on your own out there but it was a really good experience recording the CD and promoting it in our own limited means. But I learned what is what like being in a studio and learned how to make a band tight so those were good times that way. That was one band that I carried on for about seven years. Another band that you may have not known about was a band called The Monsters. We were a cover band. We played all over Ontario. Every weekend, we were playing somewhere. It was leaning on Stone Temple Pilots and Creed at the time. At the time, those were two huge bands that were fuelling a lot of our bookings. So stuff like that, you learn a lot about how to keep a band tight when you are playing all the time right?
Sleaze Roxx: For sure. Have you ever played in band called Excalibur?
Chris Julke: Oh wow! Shit [laughs]! That was my high school band! Yes!
Sleaze Roxx: So what happened with them?
Chris Julke: Well, a good buddy of mine — him and I played guitar in my school. We had a drummer and bass player that we got together with and we got down on — again, a lot of heavy cover tunes. Some [Judas] Priest and [Iron] Maiden — those were the big influences at the time. [Led] Zeppelin, that kind of thing. As soon as people got out of high school, everybody sort of went their own separate ways. Different guys started jobs working different hours and it was kind of hard to keep the band together. So really, for a couple of years, not much happened. And then I had to go to GIT and there is Shades of Black in between all that. So that’s cool that you came up with Excalibur. I don’t know how that came up but that’s pretty good!
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Thanks! So what are Helix’s plans for the rest of the year and 2016? You have already mentioned a few things but is there anything else on the plate?
Chris Julke: Well, it’s a lot of performing and promoting and writing. Right now, we are in a bit of an idea gathering phase and whether that leads to another album, I don’t know. I don’t know why it could not lead to the release of a powerful single but it’s hard to say. That is always up to Brian [Vollmer]. In the meantime, we just keep working away and [are] having fun at it. He’s got lots of stuff coming in booking wise. The Monsters of Rock Cruise is a big one on the schedule and that takes us down to Miami [Florida, USA], Key West [Florida, USA] and Nassau [Bahamas]. We get to play with guys like Steve Vai, Gus G from Ozzy, Uli Roth from the Scorpions so there is going to be a lot of networking going on down there for sure. Not with just the players and the bands but with the agents and mingling and different business ideas that could be exchanged in the process. And as always, Brian is always working on videos. He’s doing episodes of The Vollmers, which is a reality show. He’s been down in Florida. We had our buddy from Norway, That was all filmed. If you get a chance to watch that, you got to do that. It’s really funny.
Sleaze Roxx: I think that I have seen the first two episodes.
Chris Julke: Lynda [Vollmer] is the star of the show if you ask me. She is hilarious.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] So last question for you — what are your three all-time favorite albums and why?
Chris Julke: Oh wow! Awesome question! Uuuhhh… I would probably say the first Van Halen album is a huge breakthrough with guitar because it sent everybody back to the drawing board. All you have to do is listen to that album and realize that you have a lot of practicing left to do [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Chris Julke: I say that my second all-time favorite album is Deep Purple’s ‘In Rock.’ Some of the best vocals ever — Ian Gillan, Richie Blackmore, Jon Lord is an amazing keyboard player. So I definitely have to say that. I think also that if I was on a deserted island and I only had one more album to choose from — man, that would be so difficult because there is so much I like. Probably have to say — I don’t know, it’s just hit me so hard right now — Michael Schenker Group’s ‘Assault Attack.’
Sleaze Roxx: And why do you choose that one?
Chris Julke: Well, Michael Schenker is one of my favorite guitar players as is Gary Moore and Tom Scholz from Boston and Brian May from Queen and Uli Roth from the Scorpions. Like I could have said a lot of different albums but it’s so hard to boil it down to three, isn’t it?
Sleaze Roxx: For sure. For sure. But you did a good job!
Chris Julke: [Laughs] Right on!