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Helms Alee interview (04/2022)

With: Hozoji Matheson-Margullis, Ben Verellen, Dana James
Conducted by: RaduP (in person)
Published: 29.04.2022

Band profile:

Helms Alee

Helms Alee! They have a new album out today! Go listen to it! Here's what we managed to talk about when I caught them at Roadburn.

[Ed: I definitely mixed up Hozoji and Dana a lot, so I apologize for any misattributions that have resulted from my inability to adequately differentiate speakers. The crowd noises weren’t even that distracting; I’m just not skilled. But I’m going to say that the whole band shares the same opinions anyway.

It’s also important to note that everybody was giggling pretty much constantly through this interview and it made it very fun. They were evidently all very tired and it just got worse as the interview went along, which is even funnier because it wasn’t even 15 minutes long and they just got kind of loopy.]

Keep This Be The Way

Radu: We’re here in front of 013 with Helms Alee. Is that how you say it?

Hozoji Matheson-Margullis: Yes.

Radu: And we’re here with:

Hozoji: Hozoji.

Radu: Drums.

Hozoji: Drums.

Ben Verellen: Ben, guitars.

(some general laughter as each member takes a turn leaning into Radu’s phone [at least, that’s how it sounds from here])

Dana James: Dana, bass.

Radu: So what I found most fascinating doing research is that you’ve been around for quite a while, yet you were always the same three lineup.

Hozoji: Yes, it’s true.

Dana: True.

Hozoji: We’ve been a band for… going on 16 years, yeah?

Dana: Mhm.

Radu: Some places say 2006, some places say 2007. I think you know better than them.

Hozoji: 6, yeah, 6.

Dana: So we started – we met each other in 2006 and started playing music together, and then we had our first show in 2007.

Radu: So yeah, technically kind of in between. I supposed you’ve been asked about this a lot, about “what’s the secret,” but I think I would say what’s the biggest challenge?

Ben: To… music? Or life? [Ed: I’m glad he’s ready to tackle the big questions, but we only do stupid questions here on Metal Storm.]

Hozoji: Being together for that long?

Dana: Longevity.

Radu: Like finding the right chemistry. And just not feeling like *urrghh* [Ed: Radu makes the sound that is accompanied by Meshuggah face]. “I so wish I found someone who would just go along with my ideas!”

(general laughter in recognition that Radu’s ideas are questionable)

Hozoji: That’s your first problem!

Radu: I recognize it’s the first problem; you have to do some sort of compromise anyway, at some point.

Hozoji: Yeah, it’s constant compromise. It’s trusting each other’s ideas and trusting each other when your bandmates are telling you your idea is bad.

Radu: What’s your least trustworthy idea, then?

Hozoji: I’m not sure I understand the question.

Radu: I’m not sure I understand it either.

[Ed: I’m not sure I understand it either.]

(laughter ensues as I wonder how much Radu has had to drink before this interview)

Ben: What was it? What’s the least…

Radu/Hozoji: Trustworthy idea.

Ben: Least trustworthy idea.

Radu: You said you had to trust each other, in terms of your ideas. What was the least trustworthy idea you had so far?

Everyone: Ohhhh.

Hozoji: Like ideas we had to say “fuck no” to?

Dana: Dress up in matching outfits for the tour?

Ben: Dancing, dancers, no, uh –

Radu: You had to do the whole Beatles, uh, Beach Boys routine, like ____ [Ed: and then brief silence as Radu presumably demonstrates some sort of dance, and we shall all live in regret that we could not witness his moves].

Hozoji: Right, yeah, choreography, yeah.

Ben: I mean… that’s a great idea.

Dana: That still might happen for the future.

Radu: A bit hard with the drums, though.

Dana: Right, yeah, that’s not my problem.

(laughter at all drummers for not being able to dance)

Hozoji: We have to do what she’s doing.

Radu: You’ll have to drum standing up then.

Dana: Right, yeah.

Radu: And also, all of you are playing vocals.

Dana: Mhm.

Radu: Which is something that usually happens with bass or guitars, but I figure that drum playing and playing vocals has gotta be the toughest of them all.

Hozoji: I always did it, so it comes natural, but also there are a lot of drummer/singers.

Radu: Yeah, I have seen some, but in less of a capacity than…

Hozoji: Right, it’s less common.

[Ed: In case you want some examples, there’s Chris Reifert of Autopsy, Brann Dailor of Mastodon, Grant Hart of Hüsker Dü, King Fowley of Deceased, Proscriptor McGovern of Absu, and Roger Taylor of Queen.]

[Radu: I was thinking more along the lines of...]

Radu: Less common.

Hozoji: But it’s extreeeeemely rewarding. Like, yelling while also slamming on shit is, like, very, very rewarding. (laughs)

Radu: I reckon it’s extremely cathartic, like you [to Ben and Dana] have to pick out the right notes and she’s just, “Fuck it, SLAM!”

Hozoji: Yep. Bash and scream.

Radu: I reckon that’s extremely cathartic.

Hozoji: Very, very cathartic.

Radu: And how do you do with the vocal harmonies, as opposed to just writing the music – how do you write the vocal harmonies themselves?

Ben: Happenstance, I guess. We kind of just hash it out in the moment, pretty much. Nobody’s busting out the sheet music and anything like that; just start singing and somebody else starts singing on top of it, and just kind of figure it out.

Dana: All of us really love to sing, so oftentimes I feel like when we hear when one of us presents a vocals idea, at least one other of us will be like, “Oooh, I immediately hear a harmony!” and then start trying to do a harmony, ‘cause we all just like to sing along.

Ben: Yeah, yeah.

Radu: So you’re a band where everybody sings. You’re like the Beatles! [Ed: Yep, that’s them]

Hozoji: Yeah! (laughs)

Ben: Exactly like that.

Dana: Exactly like the Beatles. I’m glad finally someone noticed that.

Radu: A partially gender-swapped version.

Hozoji: True.

Radu: If at least you had replaced him [Ed: Here he points at Ben, I assume], I could say that you’re a girl band, but now you’re putting in a lot of difficult of placing a label on it.

Hozoji: Yeah, it’s so hard, isn’t it?

Ben: It’s fine, you know. Whatever works.

(giggling as funny voices ensue and everybody agrees that IT’S FINE)

Hozoji: Dana and I are both kind of dudes and Ben’s kind of a chick, so I think it’s just…

Radu: So you’re finding yourself at the very right average of the gender spectrum.

Hozoji: We meet in the right place, together.

(a dude screamed at this point)

Radu: That’s fantastic.

Dana: You’ll get that in there, too?

Radu: We will have to place somewhere in there that says, “A dude screamed at this point.” [Ed: did it] Hopefully that’s the worst that happens.

Hozoji: Yeah.

(more collective giggling as we appreciate the dude who screamed)

Radu: You have a new album coming out. I listened to it and it’s great. [Ed: Radu, you smooth-talker]

Hozoji: Oh, thank you!

Ben: Thanks, yeah!

Radu: I’m not going to review it, because that’s a job for someone else. [Ed: Somewhere in the distance, musclassia feels a cold wind blowing.] But I did reckon, if I’m interviewing you, I should at least have the courtesy of giving it a listen. And, lo and behold, it’s good.

Hozoji: (laughs) Thank you.

Dana: Thank you.

Radu: I mean, I don’t think I listened to any of your albums that wasn’t, like, at least good, but how do you feel about it?

Dana: Very good.

Radu: I have never asked a band that said, “What do you think about your most recent album?”, they’re like, “Eh.”

Hozoji: “We hate it.”

Radu: “We did it just to break a contract.”

Ben: “I like the old shit.”

(another laugh break, gosh these people are so much fun, I love it)

Dana: I mean, it is kind of – we’ve made records where it took a while for us to like them, just because of contextual shit of when we were making it and stuff.

Hozoji: Yeah, stressful…

Dana: There’s times when we’ve got to the end of making a record and we’re kind of like, “Oof, I don’t want to listen to that one or think about that one for a while,” and at least speaking for myself, that’s not the case for this one at all.

Hozoji: I agree, that’s not the case for this one.

Radu: Maybe you’re so perfectionistic about it, once it’s done you don’t want to think because you’ll just overthink about what you could have done differently.

Hozoji: True, yeah.

Dana: Yeah.

Ben: Yeah, I feel like the second they’re done, I’m just done thinking about it. I’m completely just thinking about the next thing, so –

Radu: Oh, so you’re already thinking about the next thing? [Ed: The hungry reviewer has spotted his prey.]

Ben: I mean, there’s no ideas necessarily, but there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s done.

Hozoji: You feel that about this record?

Ben: Yeah. I feel like it’s just like… yeah. I like it. I like looking back on it. Like… (brief pause, as everyone stares at Ben and waits [I imagine]) I’m really tired, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!

(everyone laughs as the train of thought sort of slumps off the tracks)

Radu: I’m really tired, too! I’ve been going to sets since 2 pm. I had to make notes because I will be writing a concert review. Imagine what it’s like writing a concert review about a concert you’ve seen a month ago!

Ben: Yeah, yeah, that’s tricky.

Radu: But I reckon you also had to do your live check, carry your instruments and stuff? That’s probably a lot more tiring.

Hozoji: Yeah.

Ben: Little bit chaotic.

Radu: And you’re also on tour.

Hozoji: We’re on tour, yeah.

Ben: Yeah, tomorrow we’re gonna be in Paris. It’s like a five-hour drive and I think we’re shoving off at 8 in the morning, so we got our six hours of sleep ahead of us here.

(laughter at impending doom of stress)

Radu: I hope I’m not taking too much of it, then.

Ben: Oh, no, no, not at all.

Radu: You mentioned you had something to do afterwards?

Hozoji: Yes, yeah, we’re going to do a photoshoot after this and then probably get home as quickly as possible after that and crash out.

Radu: That’s my plan, too.

[Ed: That’s my plan, too.]

Radu: And is this your first tour past the pandemic?

Hozoji: Say it one more time?

Radu: Is this the first tour you’re having after the pandemic?

Hozoji: Oh, yeah.

Dana: Our tour in 2020 got canceled here, obviously.

Radu: Obviously, yeah.

Dana: This is the redo. It’s almost exactly the same time period.

Hozoji: Yeah, right, we were gonna do Roadburn and tour around Roadburn in 2020 and then the world –

Radu: And now you’re doing it.

Dana: Yes, yeah.

Radu: Well, it’s a bit delayed. I’m also on my 2020 ticket.

Ben: Oh yeah, yeah, cool. I guess there’s a lot of people probably that are here that were planning to be here two years ago. I hadn’t really thought about that.

Dana: Yeah, ‘cause I think they were honoring the tickets, right?

Radu: Yeah, so if you close your eyes, you could just imagine that it was 2020 anyway.

Hozoji: I don’t want to imagine that!

Dana: That’s all right.

Hozoji: I never, ever want to imagine 2020 again!

Dana: Canceled.

Radu: I’ll not speak that word again.

(the gang laughs at the cancellation of 2020)

(then there’s a brief pause, which Radu decides to break with a sudden change of topic)

Radu: Harkonen reunion when?

Ben: Talk to Matt Howard. (laughs) I still talk to those guys; we talk about it sometimes. I’m sure some day we’ll get together and do something, at least some of us, you know. [Ed: That’s a lot of qualifiers.]

Radu: Yeah, like a cover of the Dune soundtrack, maybe?

Ben: Yeah, maybe cover the Dune soundtrack…

(Hozoji and Dana laugh because they know what is coming)

Radu: Because I heard that when you got the band name you didn’t actually know about anything Dune.

Ben: That’s true. I’m a total fraud, yeah.

Radu: Well, now’s your chance.

Ben: Sorry?

Radu: Now’s your chance.

Ben: Now’s my chance, yeah. Do some research, figure it out, Dune soundtrack. That’s a good idea. That’d be fucking amazing, actually.

Hozoji: People are really into that soundtrack, yeah?

Ben: From the new movie?

Hozoji: Yeah.

Ben: Yeah, the new movie’s soundtrack is dope. Real good.

Radu: Yep. And you [Hozoji and Dana] were also in Pegadeth.

Hozoji: Oh, we did Pegadeth, yeah! (laughs)

Dana: Oh my gosh, yeah. That was a long time ago.

Hozoji: Yeah, that was a little one-off project with that woman [Peggy Doyle]; it was like her brainchild and we were just musical robots. We just basically did what she told us to do, ‘cause she had this whole album in her head that she’d been wanting to make for a really long time. So all the creative credit is hers, is Peg’s, for sure. But yeah, it was a fun thing.

Radu: Okay, so it was a one-off.

Hozoji: Oh, yeah, that was – we never played any shows or anything. It was just creating a record that she had been wanting to make for a long time.

Radu: Okay, ‘cause now I’ve run out of side projects to ask you about.

Dana: All right.

Radu: Seems like now I have to ask you about your band again. Geez. [Ed: I will never tire of Radu showing friendly disdain for his interview subjects right to their faces.]

(fortunately, everyone agrees that this is funny, because it is)

Radu: Okay, imagine a thousand years from now, most music has been lost and only one Helms Alee record has been kept. Which one is it?

(silence, as they contemplate this premise)

Ben: The new one, right?

Hozoji: I mean, yeah, that’s the answer every time, right?

Ben: Always the new one.

Hozoji: Whenever you make a new one –

Ben: That’s the one.

Radu: That’s the one. Buy it!

Hozoji: It’s the most up-to-date representation of us creatively and us as a family, so…

Dana: Exactly. I agree.

Ben: Yeah.

Radu: Same question, but you’re not allowed to picket. [Ed: Radu is a strikebreaker.]

Hozoji: Wait, but I’m not allowed to picket?

Radu: Yep.

Dana: The second one.

Radu: Deal with it.

Hozoji: Wait, I’m confused, sorry.

Dana: If you can’t pick Keep This Be The Way, which one?

[Ed: Yes, Radu was saying “pick it,” as in “select that album,” not “picket.”]

Hozoji: Oh. Well, then Noctiluca. (laughs)

Dana: Yeah, same. Noctiluca.

Radu: So we’re just going in reverse chronologically.

Hozoji: Yeah, go in reverse, yeah. (laughs)

Dana: Yeah.

Radu: Why do you hate your debut?

(more laughter ensues as Radu torments his guests)

Hozoji: Oh, Night Terror? I love that record! I love all our records.

Radu: But you don’t want it to be kept up.

Hozoji: Well, if I only get to pick one…

Ben: This is your science fiction story. We’re just trying to live in it.

Hozoji: Yeah!

Ben: I mean, I’m keeping, like… I’m not keeping records. I’m keeping, like, a shovel, I don’t know. A lighter?

Hozoji: A splint? A tarp?

Ben: A knife? I don’t know. Records, shmecords!

Dana: Make more.

Radu: Well, they can be very useful. If you’ve seen, like, Shaun of the Dead, you can see records are very useful.

Ben: Oh yeah, I forgot about those! Frisbees, yeah.

Radu: And the ones that suck, those are the ones that you can throw.

Hozoji: Right. Weapons.

Ben: Ah, I love that movie.

Radu: Okay, last question, because we are all tired. If you could pick one living director to direct a music video for Helms Alee, who would it be? [Ed: Brace yourselves]

Hozoji: Movie director?

Radu: It can be a movie director. It can be a music video director, but I don’t know any of those.

Hozoji: I feel like Ron should answer this one. [Ed: That is presumably photographer Ron Harrell.] [Radu: At some point I knew who Ron was supposed to be, but I have since forgotten.]

Ron: Pick one living director to direct a music video for you?

Hozoji: Direct a Helms Alee video, yeah.

Ron: I’m gonna go with… Darren Aronofsky. [Ed: He’s not David Lynch, but he’ll do.]

Radu: Okay, I see you like the table, then.

[Ed: This is a joke that I do not understand. This is followed by several seconds of silence, until…]

Ben: (cheerily) Who dat?

(a burst of laughter at Ben’s happy-go-lucky ignorance)

Radu: He’s got a new one coming out.

Ben: Is that like, Snoopy or something?

Ron: No, he did, like, Requiem for a Dream and Pan’s Labyrinth and…

Dana: Oh, okay, okay.

Ben: Okay, yeah, yeah.

Dana: Okay, I’ll agree with that.

Radu: He didn’t do Pan’s Labyrinth.

Dana: He didn’t?

Hozoji: No, that was Guillermo.

Ron: Oh, that’s Guillermo Del Toro.

Radu: That’s Guillermo Del Toro. He did mother!.

Hozoji: That’s Guillermo, yeah.

[Ed: That’s Guillermo.]

Ron: He did mother!, which is… The Wrestler, Black Swan

Radu: Well, it’s about as exciting [Ed: something something, I kind of missed this part], I imagine.

Ben: Yeah, yeah!

Ron: Yeah.

Hozoji: I’m glad we had Ron here for that one, because –

Dana: I’ll take Guillermo Del Toro, too.

Hozoji: You like him?

Dana: Mhm.

[Ed: I like him.]

Ben: Who did Snoopy? Who did Snoopy?

Radu: I don’t know.

Ron: Charles Schwarz?

Ben: Charles Schwarz, yeah, yeah. I’m going with Schwarz.

[Ed: Charles Schulz, but close enough.]

Radu: Anybody gonna vote David Lynch? No?

(the entire group answers with a flat “no” and I am euphoric)

Hozoji: Not me.

Radu: My editor-in-chief [Ed: That’s me], he is already so tired of everyone answering David Lynch, so…

Hozoji: Well, lucky him. This is his lucky day. We’re not voting for that. (laughs) [Ed: Hooray, I was mentioned]

Radu: Okay. So anything else you want to tell to our readers?

Dana: Hi.

Ben: Um… Go Seahawks? I don’t know.

(more laughter; we’re so close to the end here)

Hozoji: Let’s snuggle. Go Seahawks, let’s snuggle… what’s yours, Panda?

Dana: Let’s sleep.

Radu: Everyone is tired. We’re going to go home. Bye.

(and here the audio abruptly cuts off as everybody finishes laughing about this ridiculous interview and goes to sleep)

[Thanks again to SSUS for transcribing the thing and adding his beloved commentary]

Posted on 29.04.2022 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.


Comments: 2   Visited by: 42 users
01.05.2022 - 09:43
This was absolute chaos, I can only imagine the trio of them spent the next few days reminiscing about that mental Romanian guy that asked them confusing and indecipherable questions while randos screamed in the background. But if SSUS's commentary is accurate, it sounds like everyone had fun at least
02.05.2022 - 17:29
Skip Donahue
Account deleted
One of the most entertaining interviews I have read in a while. Thank you.

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