Artist Spotlight // Benjamin Weikel – The Helio Sequence

Read our Q&A with The Helio Sequence’s Benjamin Weikel!

We caught up with Benjamin Weikel of The Helio Sequence to talk about the band’s new album, their process and of course all things Vinyl.  Benjamin is an avid vinyl collector and he told us all about his prized vinyls and what’s on his wantlist.

EH: Your new album is a self-titled album, despite it being your 6th full-length release. Why did you guys decide to go with a self-titled album?

BW: Well, it kind of came out of the process of making the record. We were originally setting up to do this thing called the 20 song game, where you record 20 songs in a day. You do it with a bunch of other musicians and then you all listen to what you come up with. So, we were setting it up and you know we were testing out just jamming to some keyboard loop I had and it was really cool, so we were like we should record this, so we recorded it. Then I was like I’ve got like 30 more keyboard loops, you wanna do another one? Next thing we knew we were canceling our friends, we weren’t going to do the 20 song game we were actually recording our album and we ended up taking the spirit of that and we recorded 26 complete songs in 5 weeks and mixed them and everything.  When we were going through all the 26 tracks we didn’t really have time to think about what we were doing or try to push ourselves in any certain direction.  It was 26 songs that all sounded like something we would do.  There’s 26 songs that just sounded like us, so we thought before we try to put a narrative on this record, before we try to make it anything we kind of just decided then ok this is going to be self titled, it just sounds like the Helio Sequence. It became sort of the identity of what we were doing in general, we were making a record that just sounds like us.

EH: Can you tell us a little bit about the writing process for The Helio Sequence? How was it different from your last album, Negotiations?

BW: I think one of the biggest differences with this album, compared to others, was that we actually figured out with our studio how to record ourselves playing at the same time with enough isolation. We have this huge acoustic project where we built these huge acoustic panels, so.

For the first time we were actually able to record me and brandon playing together which is not, we’ve always done everything separately with Helio Sequence.  I think that allowed us to work so quickly because, we’d just play, one or two takes we’d just jam on a keyboard loop for a few minutes and come up with something and then just record it. That’s what the album is, it’s literally the first of second take of any of these jams we did. Where we had literally just come up with what we were going to do and it’s like I think I got an idea…record.

We spent so much time with negotiations trying to finesse and fine tune with a labored and meditative process of trying to find this particular feeling.  With this new album it was kind of trying to not do, trying to keep everything new and fresh.  And not make it a labor process but make it a more breezy, quick process where the initial idea was there we weren’t changing it after it was down, the intent was to keep the initial feeling only.

EH: Do you think you’ll use the same approach on your next album or will you revert back to your usual writing process?

BW: You know, I’m not totally sure because we already have ideas of what we’d like to do next.  This always happens, we’ll finish an album and we’ll decide almost immediately after finishing a record just a very very general direction of what we wanted to do.

Even when we finished negotiations we knew we wanted to do something more quick more bright and I guess optimistic than negotiations. So, we already have an idea of what we want to do for the next record.  It kind of just depends on how difficult it is to do, because I think we’re definitely going to be challenging ourselves for the next record.

EH: While you were working on The Helio Sequence, I read that you guys finished a total 26 songs and then sent them to 31 friends that would then rank their 10 favorite tracks. Were there any Tracks that were overwhelmingly chosen as favorites by your friends?

BW: The 2 lead tracks: Stoic resemblance and upward mobility those had the most votes.  I think after that was seven hours, which hasn’t seemed like it has been getting attention.  It’s always interesting to see what does well and what doesn’t.

But yeah, the top 10 songs were the songs we chose for the album.  We really loved all the songs, so that was kind of one of the inspirations for doing the Sunrise Demos was just trying to get some of the other tracks out there any way possible. Sub pop always lets us do a pre-order bonus item, so we just decided to give away more of these tracks.  There’s even another four that were going to be on the record that were finished but weren’t demos. I have no idea when those will surface or how they will surface.

EH: Were there any songs that you thought would make it on the album, but ended up on Sunrise Demos?

BW: Yeah, on the sunrise demos theres a track called ‘The Witness’ and another track called ‘No Mathematics’ and those were definitely two that were really close to being on the album but at the end didn’t end up on there.

EH: What do you think of the recent resurgence of vinyl?

BW: I mean obviously, both Brandon and I are pretty avid vinyl collectors and have been for quite some time.  I love that a lot of obscure records are getting printed that maybe were insanely expensive or really hard to find, so basically people have access to them.  But, at the same time I think part of me is also worried about the fact that there’s too much vinyl being printed for how many plants there are.  And I feel like the quality of the vinyl is definitely suffering. Furthermore, I feel like a lot of bands are just taking their compressed CD masters and just throwing those on the vinyl and I can usually tell, it doesn’t sound as good as unlimited, un-smashed music, it sounds a lot better on vinyl.

So, I love it when I hear a band that maybe has done stuff right, using high res files that maybe aren’t as limited.  There definitely are plants that are doing better work than others. It’s always kind of special, like you know RTI has their HQ-180 which I think sounds great, or we used Quality Records for this last album and I feel like the quality is really nice.

EH: What are you currently spinning?

BW: Well I kind of am forever obsessed with vintage electronica.  I went through this period where I became obsessed with the history of ambient and electronic music, so that’s kind of a huge part of my collection. Maybe now, a third of my records are just all vintage electronic records.  So, yeah some of my favorites are a lot of the German stuff: Bordelius, cluster…I like Ashra. There’s also this great record: Michael Stearns Planetary Unfolding it’s a really trippy ambient record, tons of stuff like that.  So that’s what I like to spin most.

EH: What are some albums currently on your wantlist?

BW: Let’s see here, I mean I think some of the records I want are just nearly impossible to get. I actually have a list I always carry with me, on my phone.  There’s these two David Behrman[albums], one called On the Ocean Floor and other one’s called Leapday Night, those are really really hard to find and I really want those.  There is a Bruce Haack record that I really want, maybe it has been reissued by now but it’s called the Electric Lucifer book ii, and then this other one I really want but I can’t find it without it being crazy crazy crazy expensive is Alvin Curran Songs and Views of the Magnetic Garden.  It’s one of those records I’ll look up on ebay and it’s $200.00.

EH: What are some of your favorite record stores that you like to visit while on tour?

BW: That’s a tough one because as a musician I really appreciate stores that really are supporting new releases, those record stores are really important to our band.
At the same time there are record stores here in town[Portland] you’ve got Crossroads and Clinton Street Records or Mississippi Works, they have some new releases but it’s primarily vintage records, obviously that’s where I’m going to find the records I’m looking for.

I kind of love all of it, and brandon and I try not to go to record stores on tour.  For example this tour, we’re touring in the summer, it’s probably going to be hot.  It gets challenging if you have some collectable vinyl in the car and it’s really hot.  It’s hard because you never know when you’re going to have time to do anything, so it really is by chance if the venue is close to a record store.

EH: What is your most prized vinyl?

BW: My most prized vinyl, that’s a tough question, I don’t know if I can answer that question.  One of the more valuable vinyls I have is an original pressing of Cluster’s Sowiesoso which is in really really amazing condition and it’s a really really amazing pressing.  I have one of the original Michael Stearns pressings of Planetary Unfolding which has this really trippy hand drawn thing, that’s been one of my favorite pressings to listen to.

EH: What can fans expect from The Helio Sequence in the near future?

BW: Well I think we’re going to start doing some archives based stuff. We’re probably going to be reissuing our first two albums: Com Plex and Young Effectuals, most likely for the first time on vinyl. They are out of print at the moment and our label[Cavity Search] wouldn’t do a vinyl release, because at that point vinyl was pretty unpopular, we wanted them to but they never did.

I think we’re going to start basically uploading, to various places on the internet, the history of our band.  We have all this crazy stuff like the videotape of our first show over ever in 1996 and all the B-sides and demos from every one of our records at this point.  We want to start putting that stuff out there for people to hear.  And we’ll probably also be working on another Helio record.


Check out the band’s tour info, videos or pick up The Helio Sequence on vinyl here.


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