Helmet were the pioneers of the genre of what later became the known as nu-metal which dominated much of the musical climate of the later part of 1990s. And now after five years founder/leader/guitarist Page Hamilton has decided to reactivate the band, albeit with a different line-up that features Chris Traynor on bass and John Tempesta on drums. The new studio outing Size Matters (Interscope) hits stores this month along with a U.S tour behind it. On the eve of the record release, Maximum Ink’s Joe Matera sat down and interviewed Page Hamilton.
MI: What made you decide to reactivate the band now?
PH: I had started a band in NY but was spending more time in LA so I was flying back and forth. Eventually things got exhausting so I got tired of it and tried to form a band in LA but I didn’t really know anybody. So through a mutual friend I met John Tempesta and we started jamming together with another guy and in eight months we were like ‘hey we’re a band and we sound good’.
Then out of the blue, Jimmy Iovine (Interscope Label Chairman) called me and asked me to go in and talk to him. So I did and Jimmy asked me that he’d like me to make a Helmet album since Helmet had helped Interscope early on by signing with them. He said we were an Interscope band so should be making records there. So from those events, everything started coming together.
MI: A lot of people have questioned whether the revamped Helmet is really Helmet without the other original members, John (Stanier, drummer) and Henry (Bogdan, bassist) in its line-up?
PH: Though I really admire John and Henry as musicians, we don’t really have any sort of personal relationship anymore unfortunately. And it’s their choice to not be part of the band now, as they decided to leave my band. I mean I formed the band back in ’89 from an ad in the Village Voice and though everything was fine for awhile, and as happens in the years and miles and travels together, eventually it causes tensions that become too high until you finally get of tired of each other. So Henry decided he wanted to leave and then a couple months later, John decided he didn’t want to do it any more as well too.
But Helmet is my baby; I started it, I write the words and music and the arrangements. And as I write all the time, every thing I do as a rock musician comes out sounding like some version of Helmet, which made realize it wasn’t necessarily about the personalities or great musicians that execute this music, but in a minimal way and in a rock context, it’s my voice and guitar playing that really shapes the music. And I thought I didn’t feel that we were done at the time as I wanted to make more records but to take a year off first but it just wasn’t in the cards. And I did approach both Henry and John about this reunion but only received very cold responses from both camps.
MI: What do you hope to achieve with the new album?
PH: What it has always been from day one, which is to play music full-time. I’ve never had any fantasy of headlining Madison Square Garden with 20,000 people or being on the cover of People magazine or hangin’ out at the Playboy Mansion, I was never interested in that stuff. I just loved music and I grew up at a time when rock music was the main music so I have been part of what I love. And by making a living and being given money to make records and put them out, has allowed me to hopefully make more records. And I just want to keep doing it.
I have enough material at the moment to make another album that is non-Helmet-esque as well as make a few more Helmet records down the track. I also want to do more film work as a hired gun. And I also like to produce stuff too like I just produced the new solo album by Gavin Rossdale (Bush) album. But there are so many things that interests me as a musician”.
MI: What sort of approach did you use in regards to the album’s songwriting?
PH: Most of the songs are based on experiences like some songs are about relationships. And for me for some reason, I’m always attracted to relationships that go haywire. Titles come to me first and then once the lyrics come to me, I’ll start to alter the titles to make them more appropriate to the lyrics. Things like the song titled ‘Drug Lord’ for example, bears no relation in some ways to the subject matter as that was a working title and because I never came up with another title for it, I just kept it, but the other songs are obvious as far as having a relation to the title.
For me a song is always a work in progress until it’s actually released on an album. I don’t necessarily write political songs, as most of my songs a commentary, things that I’ve observed and things I’ve observed myself and in other people. And I’ve always tried to have a sense of humor, but it doesn’t always come across as people take things so literally. I think on this album what I’m most happy with is that the humor comes through more.
I’m always fascinated with the sounds of words and rhythm and in the past a lot of the images were very abstract as far as how one line related to the next; it was more about something referring to something itself buried in layers of fog. But as you get older and more experienced, clarity becomes more and more important.