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Interviewed by
Kiran Dass
Wednesday 15th June, 2011 12:19PM

After studying jazz guitar in New York, Page Hamilton formed post-hardcore group Helmet in 1989 after re-discovering rock music when he played with avant garde guitarist Glenn Branca and noise rock group Band of Susans. Helmet’s seventh studio album Dog Seeing Eye was released last year, and the group is set to play shows in New Zealand this week, which will be their second time here.

You've played in New Zealand before, what, 14 years ago? What was that like for you?

We had a blast. It was such a memorable trip and I'm still in touch with a friend I made over there then, Jaz Coleman.

From Killing Joke.

Yeah, we played a Killing Joke cover, 'Primitive'.

That's from one of the best Killing Joke records, too.

Yeah, we also covered 'Requiem'.

That's my favourite Killing Joke song.

Have you heard our cover? You should, it's good.

When Meantime came out, I loved metal but I was moving away from straight metal and getting into interesting groups like Wire. Still heavy at times but with a more experimental edge. What was interesting about Helmet was that it wasn't very traditional heavy music - you couldn't lock it into a specific genre. Is this a reflection of the kind of musical background you had with your jazz training?

I think so. When I was 19 I saw this jazz guy playing piano and he said, "I'm just trying to swing, man." I loved that. Helmet is like that. We're a heavy band that grooves!

(Hamilton backtracks to Wire) Man, I became obsessed with those first three albums. I was actually asked to join Wire after Bruce (Gilbert) left. I thought about it for two months but it would have been too much.

The logistics of being in both Helmet and Wire?

Yeah, what if we both had shows on in the same town on the same night? It wouldn't work. I played with them in L.A. We played 'Lowdown' and then they threw '12XU' at me and I didn't know it but it wasn't the most difficult thing in the world.

So you moved to New York from Oregon to go to the Manhattan School of Music in the early 80s. New York would have been a tremendously interesting and inspiring time for music then. What kind of impact did that have on you musically?

I mean, huge. I moved from a small town and moved to a city of 8 million plus. I stayed in a $180-a-month hotel with a shared kitchen and bathroom. There were Bengali speaking guys and guys from Hanoi. So I was surrounded by all these different foods and cooking smells and languages. I'd be stuck in an elevator with transvestite junkies, there was all that stuff.

I was studying Charlie Parker and John Coltrane at the time. That all shaped my musical identity. You know, when I was growing up in the 70s it was all Foreigner and Journey. I was more of a Led Zeppelin and Ted Nugent kid and then Sabbath a bit later on. All that pop/rock stuff didn't flip my boat. When I finished my degree and moved downtown, I discovered a different kind of music: Sonic Youth and Unsane. I was hearing all this music, I flipped out over Wire, Killing Joke, Gang of Four, the Buzzcocks. I got more into rock music again.

And around that time you hooked up with Glenn Branca (in Branca's legendary guitar orchestra). I have to ask about him. What was he like and what did you get from that experience?

Glenn was amazing. He was quite intense. You know, I've come to this revelation in the last year. Glenn might be the single biggest influence on the music of Helmet. He kind of freed me from some of that jazz school stuff.

On Eye Seeing Dog you cover 'And your Bird can Sing' by The Beatles from Revolver, which is one of the most interesting Beatles records, and that's a great song, it's got that clever dual guitar melody happening. What attracted you to that song in particular?

I always said that you can't cover The Beatles! But we did. I learned 30 Beatles songs. That one stands completely apart in the Beatles catalogue. They never did anything like that before or after it. I learned a lot from learning that song. There's a great sense of urgency in his voice that was so emotional and appealing.

It's been four years between the albums Monochrome and Eye Seeing Dog. What were you doing during those four years? Did you have a break, work on other projects or spend all of that time working on Eye Seeing Dog?

Man, I was kinda lazy, huh? (Laughs). I'm the writer, singer, guitar player and producer in Helmet. If I'm not working, nobody's working.

After all these years, I didn't want to be a bitter shithead. It's still about the creative process. You know years ago I got interviewed by some magazine like the Melody Maker or NME, I can't remember which one it was. And the guy said, "What are you going to do? You're not going to be able to keep up the sexual intensity of Helmet forever." But you know, I'm 51 and hornier than ever!

Kiran Dass