MUSIC NEWS
Interview: Helmet's Page Hamilton Discusses 'Betty' + His Extracurricular Activities

Interview: Helmet's Page Hamilton Discusses 'Betty' + His Extracurricular Activities

By Chris Cudby / Wednesday 12th April, 2017 11:17AM

Page Hamilton's long-running New York-based group Helmet are masters of punishing locked-in riffage, both a sound and law unto themselves. Reaching near-mainstream omnipresence during the heights of the mid-90s alt-rock explosion Helmet has remained a singular voice in the world of heavy music, their dynamic muscular rhythms and bone-crushing guitars influencing multiple generations of metal and post-rock bands.

Next week the group will be arrving on these shores to perform the entirety of their classic 1994 album Betty, alongside material from their brand new album Dead To The World and faves from throughout a career which spans nearly three decades. Taking a brief breather from the European leg of Helmet's year-long Betty tour before heading downunder, Page was sounding slightly sleep-deprived but in good spirits as he generously took time out to chat to UnderTheRadar about the current tour, the new album, his extracurricular musical projects and more....


CC: I first saw you guys play in Auckland at a show with the Beastie Boys in the mid-90s when I was a teenager, what's it like returning to Betty and playing it as a whole?

PH: It's great! The twentieth anniversary would've been 2014, and originally I was reluctant because we'd done a Meantime twentieth anniversary tour and I didn't want to be an oldies band, y'know, and I was working on some new material and doing other things. One of our agents in London started to reach out to promotors around Europe and the interest was greater than it was for even the Meantime tour and it's turned out to be one of my favourite tours we ever did. So in a way it injected new life into the band. This lineup knows Strap It On, Meantime, Betty and Aftertaste, we can play all of those original first four Helmet albums, with the exception of me, I can't play and sing (the song) 'Insatiable'. It's fun, it's a really good time.

When you're in NZ you'll be playing Betty in full and also material from your new album and a selection of older stuff, is that right?

Yeah, we'll do the Betty album beginning to end for the first half of the set and then I'll say "hello" or something and then we'll launch into a second set which will consist of a lot of stuff from the new album, mixed in with songs from every other album. I usually can get in one song off each album, but sometimes I forget and people call me on it after the show (and say) “You didn't play anything off Strap It On” and I'll be like “Oh actually we did we played 'Blacktop' [laughs].”


How did your new album Dead To The World come together?

I woke up one day and I was like “Holy shit we haven't put out a Helmet album for four years” and I had one song written and a bunch of sketches and ideas. I always keep notes when I'm travelling, I'll write something down in a notebook if I read a billboard or hear a commercial or hear something on the news. So I finally sat down and put my nose to the grindstone and started writing. We recorded three or four songs and then we'd go away for a month and then record three or more songs and I'd try to write in the interim. It came together quickly once we put our minds to it.


 There was a six-year break between Dead To The World and Seeing Eye Dog. What did you get up to during that period?

To kind of go backwards a little bit from the album, last summer I did orchestra gigs with (composer) Elliot Goldenthal and I did two orchestra gigs in Oregon. I just wrote a piece for St Pius X High School in Atlanta and I did four movies – Phoenix Rises, Sons Of Liberty, Convergence and Skyhook – and I did some guitar on Shark Week. I did a bunch of projects like that which were film or TV oriented, and I started getting involved in the Britt Festival, a hundred-year-old classical festival in my home valley where I grew up. I did their rock camp and guitar camp, in fact I'm flying up there next week to go to a residency before we come to New Zealand. Helmet did the Meantime tour and the Betty tour and those were about a year of touring each.

You have a number of diverse projects you work on. When you're working on Helmet music and playing in the band, do you feel you're exploring a specific aesthetic?

Helmet is my band, so if I'm writing music for a movie I'm trying to describe a character or an emotion or a theme that somebody else has come up with. That's an interesting exercise and I enjoy it and it's a challenge. I've written songs for movies but those are a different kind of thing and those are few and far between. Helmet is one hundred percent me expressing what I want to express. It's part of why it's so unique, my voice is my voice and my guitar playing is my guitar playing. I know my tools – guitars, bass, drums and now I have other guys to sing I know I can do a couple of layers of vocals if I want to, which we do on many of the new songs. I still do all the vocals on the album but I have four guys who can execute the parts live really well. Helmet has been the main outlet for me lyrically over the last 30 years.

Could you talk about the physical requirements needed to play this kind of music night after night?

It's hard to describe but if you're playing a jazz gig you might be sitting, you might be standing, I don't know, there's an emotional and intellectual and kind of spiritual commitment that you make and it's a different kind of pain than it is to play Helmet music (laughs). It is very muscular in an odd way and I don't mean macho, but there's not like a ballad section in there where I can cruise and sit down and do candles. It's vocally very demanding. To have the guitar going and the singing at the same time it just requires a fuck ton of energy. It's the kind of thing that I will do as long as I feel I can do it at a high level, and I feel that I've never played at a higher level. My friend saw us in Italy and he said “Your voice is so much stronger it's kind of fucking incredible.”

When I started out I was screaming and yelling and sometimes you'd hurt your voice and I didn't really know what I was doing, but the more that I've sung the better I've gotten at it. The new material is appropriately more demanding because I have a wider range emotionally that I can draw from, singing in a two octave range. There's something to be said for that. Trent Reznor, you wouldn't call him Aretha Franklin but he's got a great voice to express what he does within the context of his music. Or Henry Rollins for that matter. I think for me it's similar, you limit yourself early on and then you hopefully expand on that as you improve as a musician. That goes for your guitar playing, lyric writing, arrangements and singing becoming a little bit more demanding if you're testing yourself. That's how it worked for me anyway.




Helmet

Friday 21st April, New City Hotel, Christchurch
Saturday 22nd April, Galatos, Auckland 

Tickets available HERE at UTR as well as in-store at Flying Out (Auckland only)





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