Just when fans were beginning to wonder if and when The Helio Sequence would break through the indefinite period of silence following the 2008 release of their loudly applauded record “Keep Your Eyes Ahead,” the Portland-based duo has returned with their fifth full-length album, “Negotiations.”
Although Brandon Summers (singer-guitarist) and Benjamin Weikel (drummer-keyboardist) have been playing together and writing, recording and producing their own material for more than decade, they have managed to keep their momentum going on a journey they claim has yet to grow old. Despite the waves of trials they have faced along the way, The Helio Sequence is a testament to the fact that great things can be birthed out of difficult times.
In 2004, Summers lost his voice entirely, requiring him to relearn to sing. Still, out of this came the mesmerizing sounds on “Keep Your Eyes Ahead.” While on tour following the release of the album, they were faced with yet another challenge—a sudden studio flood back home, forcing them to relocate to a quieter, more secluded environment where “Negotiations” was born. The new expansive studio space, coupled with Weikels’ deep-rooted electronic influences and Summers’ jazz inspirations, allowed the album to erupt into something all of its own.
The IN caught up with Summers while The Helio Sequence was en route to perform on KCRW radio’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic.” From here they will be making their way to San Antonio, Texas, where they will officially kick off their latest tour.
IN: When you and Benjamin started out, did you imagine you would still be gaining momentum this far down the road?
SUMMERS: No one could have imagined then how long we would be going, but we’ve always known it was a long-term thing. It was never something where we would put out a record or two and call it quits. We feel like there’s still so much ahead. We are already talking about our next record.
IN: What made you decide that you would record and produce on your own?
SUMMERS: It all came out of necessity. When we first started, people would go into a local studio and would do it all in one day and weren’t happy with the result. It was at that point we decided, why don’t we record ourselves and get the sounds we want and produce a record the way we want to hear it.
IN: Do you consider losing your voice a turning point for you?
SUMMERS: For me, personally, that was a huge turning point as singer. When I had to put it down for a while and come back to it, it gave me a fresh perspective. There are always going to be setbacks along the way, but anything you have to overcome makes you stronger.
IN: Did your trials during that time period inspire “Keep Your Eyes Ahead?”
SUMMERS: All of the music I started listening to and singing because of it did. A lot of it was folk music. It was a really inspiring time and a lot of that made it onto the record.
IN: How would you explain the evolvement of your sound since then?
SUMMERS: Benjamin and I are big music fans, always listening to music and finding new music, and we both got new turntables and started collecting old vinyl. Hearing how real the old recordings sounded—the overall analog sound was really inspiring to us and it was kind of a stepping off point for us for “Negotiations.”
IN: How did the new studio space shape “Negotiations?”
SUMMER: Something about having a new surrounding always inspires new things. The space is really quiet and out of the way and we have it to ourselves. The huge physical space gave us more freedom for “Negotiations.”
IN: Did you have a clear vision going into “Negotiations?”
SUMMERS: We don’t sit down and storyboard out a record or throw out a word, a theme, or guiding principle. We just sit down and write and see where we are at with things. Then when we have something we are both excited about, that becomes the blueprint. The first songs, “One More Time” and “Negotiations” both had a little more of an introspective, laid back feel. That was something we were both feeling at the time and we ran with it.
IN: You mentioned you are already looking toward your next album?
SUMMERS: The studio is ready and we don’t have to move at this point in time—knock on wood—so the plan is to dive into it when we get back from this tour.
IN: What is one of the most memorable shows you’ve played?
SUMMERS: Different shows are memorable for different reasons—be it a small, intimate show at a pizza place or getting to play venues like the Ryman in Nashville, or Radio City Music Hall. Florida is really memorable to me as well. We’ve gone down there with Modest Mouse.
IN: Is Portland still home?
SUMMERS: Absolutely. Really early on everyone has their feeling of moving away from their hometown, but after touring around for so long, we love it that much more.
IN: Any other plans or ideas for the future of The Helio Sequence?
SUMMERS: More producing. We just remixed a Shabazz Palaces song and they remixed one of ours. We would like to collaborate more like that.
THE HELIO SEQUENCE
WHAT: The Helio Sequence with Shabazz Palaces
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
COST: $10 – $12; advance tickets available
DETAILS: vinylmusichall.com; heliosequence.com