Shannon Joy of the LA Music Blog recently conducted an interview with HELMET mainman Page Hamilton. An excerpt from the chat follows below.
LA Music Blog: "Seeing Eye Dog" came out a couple of months ago, and I feel like you've literally been nonstop since its release. Obviously, you've had a chance to play some of the new material live. How's the response been?
Page: They seem to be loving the new album. For some reason, it seems they like this one better than the last two since we've come back. But I'm too close to it to even evaluate. I'm really happy with this album, you know, owning the music myself and not listening to anybody. Not that I really listened to people in the past, but record companies do have a way to kind of get in your hair. But it's been great. So far we've played "So Long", "Seeing Eye Dog", and we play "Welcome to Algiers". We haven't played "LA Water" yet, 'cause it's got layers of stuff and it requires a different tuning and a different guitar and stuff like that. But we've played "She's Lost" and "Miserable" — everything on the album except for "Morphing" and "LA Water". For "Morphing", I would need like nine electric guitars and an orchestra to do it, so it just wouldn't happen.
LA Music Blog: The initial reviews for the album were pretty mixed. I guess when you've been a band as long as you have, there are always going to be people who only want to hear "Meantime" or "Betty 2.0". When you're readying new material, do you somewhat anticipate this sort of thing?
Page: I don't think about how people are going to respond at all. I never have, and I'll be honest, it can be disheartening. I tell my manager and I tell [HELMET's publicists] MSO not to send me reviews. I don't read them. I was saying this to my girlfriend. She's an actress, and we were sitting on set last night and talking to people she works with, and I said that I feel like at this point, I don't have to explain myself anymore. HELMET's always been its own thing. We've played with everyone from MÖTLEY CRÜE and SLAYER, to RISE AGAINST and THURSDAY and JOAN JETT on the Warped Tour, and the thing is, we're not really a metal band. We're not a punk band. We're not hardcore. We're not industrial. It's our thing, and so I feel that I'm the one best qualified to do the music and not really worry about it. But it can be disheartening. Somebody sent me the Spin review, and I've read reviews in the past where someone's said things about my guitar playing or my solos not relating to the chord changes or whatever, and then blaming me for nü metal. I'm just like "whatever" because the people that matter to me really are the HELMET fans, and they don't give a shit what critics think. I had David Bowie, Elton John, Billy Gibbons, Neil Young, Danny Kortchmar, T.M. Stevens, Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee, Dimebag from PANTERA, Phil from PANTERA, you know, on and on and on and on, musicians praise my band and love what we do. And those guys make records and they know what goes into making music; they know what's significant about HELMET and why it's great. It's not intended to be singer-songwriter. It's not intended to be metal. We don't wear outfits. There's not spectacle, no show. It's fucking music. It's rock music, and that means more to me than anything. You know, when Elton John told me that he loved HELMET, I was about to piss my pants. Bowie told me that in '97, and then I ended up playing with him. It's kind of awesome. My manager is always telling me that you've got to keep things in perspective. So just don't send me the reviews. I don't care anymore. If I was a schlocky band trying to make hits or whatever, then I deserve to get raked over the coals. But at this point, if someone doesn't get what we do, it's not my problem. But yeah, anyway, reviews… I don't know. Part of me is of the mind to not do any press or not get any reviews, but then there's the 90% of the people that really want to promote music and get it to people. It's hard not to let that 10% spoil it, but sometimes it does.
LA Music Blog: I know you've said in the past that there's never an agenda for you when it comes to writing music, but so many of your songs seem like such bold, anthemic statements. So what's the inspiration? Where does the music come from?
Page: If it's for a specific purpose, like for a movie or something, like that TATUA song we did, they said "Can you use the line 'revenge destroys everything' in a song?" and I'm like, "Why yes, I can." I can do that kind of thing, but HELMET's my own thing, and so there's nobody determining what I should write about. I'm not trying to describe a character in a movie or anything. It's stuff drawn from personal experience, mostly failed relationships or character assassination. There's social commentary without getting too political. I've never been one to stand on a soapbox because I think it's dangerous. You know, Bob Dylan said, "I'm not a political songwriter" though there are political observations in his songs. Also, I am fascinated with language; it's the craft of songwriting. My mentor, my jazz guitar mentor, the person that encouraged me to study and play in the first place, he calls it "solving musical problems," and that's what I'm doing with the writing. It's thematic writing, meaning I write a riff much like a classical composer would, but then I develop it, of course, into a three- or four-minute pop song instead of a ten- or twenty-minute symphonic movement. There are just ideas that come to me, and it's fun to sing against a 7/4 riff and a 4/4 drumbeat, you know? It feels nice to me. I trust my musical instincts and I'm very patient with the writing process. I read a lot. I read literature, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, whatever, and the language is always kind of part of it. I read 11 Mark Twain books in a row while I was writing this album, and it's an amazing, beautiful, poetic language that he writes; you could pull out a paragraph and it's a poem. It's amazing. I'm fascinated with words, but I think that standing on a soapbox or reciting from a diary is very boring, to me at least.
Read the entire interview from the LA Music Blog.
Quality fan-filmed video footage of seminal rock band HELMET's November 5, 2010 performance at the Key Club in West Hollywood, California can be viewed below.