Helen Money

by Mike Huberty
November 2009

Helen Money - Heavy Cello

Helen Money - Heavy Cello

Listening to the new instrumental record by HELEN MONEY, In Tune, is a completely different kind of instrumental experience. Alison Chesley is a Chicago-based cellist who earned her rock credentials with the 90’s alternative band, Verbow, then started performing with world-rockers, Poi Dog Pondering, and even recorded with nu-metallers, Disturbed. If you’re expecting just cello renditions of rock n’ roll songs, you won’t hear that, but you’ll hear music that’s completely unafraid to reach into dark places and her mixture of pizzicato, heavy bowing, distorted leads over beds of soft strings is a fascinating listen of how to channel rock’s traditionally guitar-oriented aggression through an instrument that gets most of its heavy metal recognition from the bridge section of Whitesnake’s “Still Of The Night”.

For her interesting choice of musical direction, Alison says that it was because the traditional model didn’t appeal to her.“ I grew up in Los Angeles and I spent about ten years after I dropped out of college, where I just wasn’t feeling inspired playing cello.”, she says. “So I started going out to clubs to see bands like The MInutemen and Meat Puppets and Bob Mould. My brother turned me on to rock music in my early 20’s with The Who. I gravitated towards that type of music.  I met someone who wanted a cello in his band, we started to play together and really hit it off. It was a very aggressive, dark place where the cello didn’t start to have like a pretty stringed instrument. That’s the music I was playing, what I wanted to hear instead of what people expected a cello to sound like.”

Then opportunity struck and she hasn’t looked back. “My heart wasn’t really in it until I started playing rock music.” She continues, “I was in my second year of grad school and Jason (from her band, Verbow) and I had been playing together and we had a chance to open for Bob Mould (Minneapolis’ legendary songwriter and singer from Hüsker Dü and Sugar). He offered to produce our record for us and then we had a chance to open up on tour for Live and I had to make a decision. I could do this or I could do a doctoral program. I thought I never would have a chance to go on tour again, so I decided I was going to do it. That was it and I’m glad I made that decision.”

She also explained why she uses the name, HELEN MONEY. “My friend said it once in a conversation and it stuck with me. I want to have a band name, I don’t want it to be just my name. It sounds more rock and then I can bring more people in it and do whatever I want and can still call it HELEN MONEY. I didn’t want any folk or jazz connotations and confuse people.” As an introduction to her style of music, Alison recommends her new album’s title track, “In Tune”, because “ I like aggressive music that makes you feel something. You don’t have to think so much, I feel like I really tried to communicate that with that song. I tried to do that with most of the songs on the record, but I feel like I did pretty good with that one.”

As far as using her classical training in her rock playing, , she says, “Some of the melodies that I hear are from playing melodic music for so long. And also I feel like, for some reason, even though I never practiced much playing fast, I always worried about getting a good sound. Even when I played classical music, I was always interested in getting a great sound. And that’s something that’s carried over with me. That’s why I don’t use an electric cello, because I like the sound that I get from my cello. Even with this record (In Tune), that’s why I recorded to tape at Steve Albini’s studio (from Big Black and Shellac) because I knew they’d get a great sound.”

Part of Alison’s live show is her use of electric guitar pedals and that she plays standing up, creating an experience that most people are used to seeing with a lead guitarist, but she doesn’t want her instrument to be what sets her apart. “I want people to come to see what I have to say through my instrument. Don’t come because I’m playing cello, even though it’s a great instrument. I had someone asked me once ‘why they should get me versus Apocalyptica?’. I thought they should get it because they want to hear what I have to say and not because of the cello.” HELEN MONEY will be appearing in Madison on Wednesday 11/25 at The Frequency and in Milwaukee on Friday 11/27 at The Cactus Club.

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Helen Money
CD: In Tune Record Label: Radium
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