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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Exclusive Interview: Brian Vollmer of Helix on the 'Controlled Passion' Necessary for Longevity in Music


Sometimes in this life you have to take a risk. That's exactly what Helix founder/lead singer Brian Vollmer did way back in 1974. He walked away from that nine to five drudgery to chase a musical dream that just so happened to turn into his life's work. The faces in Helix may have changed over the years but Volmer and the current lineup, Chris Julke (lead guitars), Kaleb Duck(lead guitars), Daryl Gray(bass guitar), Greg Fritz Hinz (drums), are just as thrilled to be able to perform the classics live as they are to be creating new music.

I had a chance to catch up with Vollmer this week and appreciated his insight on the business side of making music as well the kind of "controlled passion" that it takes to persevere as an artist. Check it out below!


Cate Meighan: So how's life in London, Ontario Canada?

Brian Vollmer: Pretty good, my wife and I spend summers here and we'll play concerts across the country, with an occasional gig outside of Canada. Then our winters we spend in Fort Myers, FL and we love it there.

CM: I didn't realize that you spend part of the year in Florida. I know a lot of Helix fans wish that they could see you perform in the states.

BV: The problem with that is that the U.S. work permits are very restrictive. If we were to do a date anywhere in the states we need a work permit. If you slow track the permit then you have to apply for it four months in advance of the date and it's about $400. If you don't have the time to slow track it then add another grand for the permit, so it would be $1400 for the band and another $1400 for the road crew. Then we still need flights down, a car at the airport and so on. All of these things come with zero guarantees that we'll get in (to the country) and zero refund if we don't. So why should I go through mountains of paperwork, rolling the dice when I can play here in Canada (laughing)?

CM: It's important to mention these things so that the fans really understand how the business works and some of the major ways that it has changed over the years.

BV: Exactly and that's why I have a newsletter that I've been working on all year long. It gets sent out through a mail delivery service online and I've worked really hard personally to get people to sign up one at a time. I think that's a great way to do it because it gives me a personal connection with each fan and so I really don't mind if it takes a little bit longer to build up the readership, because I know that they're going to open the thing up when they see it in their box. We have a very high opening rate, this service tracks these things so we can actually see how many have been opened, and I believe going that extra mile really does matter to the fans.

CM: When Helix first started out back in the early 70's did you think that heavy metal would last for longer than a wave or two?

BV: I always thought that heavy metal would eventually turn into something similar to what blues became, a genre of music that a smaller fraction of people follows, but they follow it fervently.  The same thing did, in fact, happen with metal. There are certain metal labels around the world that are thriving and it's because of the fans.

Country fans are like that too, they're very loyal. Back in the days of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and the like, their fans never forgot them and they would always come out and support them.  The same has happened with metal but we could use a little more radio support. The same goes for new music by classic rock artists, if you stick one song in there every once in a while people could care less. I think if you had a whole station or playlist with new material by old artists, then I think people would follow that. The fans are there for the new Robert Plant or the newest Great White, or whatever. It sounds like whimsical dreaming (laughing) but I believe that people really would listen.


CM: What keeps you out there performing after all these years?

BV: It's the music. I was always into music even as a kid I writing music, drawing pictures, taking photographs with my grandfather's camera- I did all that stuff. I still do those things but now I'm paid for it (laughing) and that's pretty cool, ya know? Life is full of decisions and I made the decision a long time ago to leave a job in 1974, one that I could now be retired from and sitting in a $500,000 house. That wasn't the life for me, I hated it so I sold my car and went on the road. I didn't have another new car for 26 years. It shows you how lucrative the music business is and I bought that car after gold and platinum albums, for god sakes!

I still just love the music and I even love the traveling. Some musicians hate that part and I think it's the most exciting thing in the world (laughing). I was a farm kid and so my parents really didn't have the money to go anywhere so for me, it's still a thrill. I like to point out to people that in any given 24 hour day we spend 8 hours sleeping, 8 hours working and 8 hours paying bills, painting the house or whatever. So since we spend a third of our lives working isn't it better to pick a job that you like? Most people don't! Most people end up picking jobs that they hate just to get two weeks of holidays a year. If you like your job then it's like a holiday every day. Not every day is fun, don't get me wrong, it's work and you have to have controlled passion when you do this job.

I think that's why a lot of musicians are prone to be up and down emotionally because they get off on that rush of playing, and then there are a whole bunch of days where you have to handle actual business which is a drag (laughing). Not every day is a big gig and a lot of people need that rush and then they're in it for the wrong reasons. You need to be in it to make music and you need to have a controlled passion because you're developing a craft. Your craft isn't fully made in two weeks, two months or even in two years, it takes a lifetime.

CM: What's up next for you and Helix?

BV: We have three more dates left for the summer and we're always working on new music. We have The Story of Helix coming out soon. I just keep putting out new material and hope that people will like and buy it (laughing). While no one is selling as many units these days I do think that people look at you in a different light if you're still putting out new material. They see you as more of an artist that way, rather than somebody up there just doing a milk run. If you record new material it might not hit right off the bat and that's okay. Maybe ten years down the line it'll get some attention, you just never know what's going to happen.

CM: Helix fans are so loyal, what would you like to say to them?

BV: Well thank you because the fans are our lifeblood. We need them to make it out here so it makes sense to take the time to connect with them in a real way. I once saw something on the internet about how to maintain a business with just 5,000 customers by adding details about your product as it grows and changes. I think the same goes for the band and that those little details matter. It really doesn't take that much to make music fans happy, they just like to feel included and so we really make a point of including them in all that we do.

Check out Planet Helix for absolutely everything- upcoming show dates, their newsletter and of course their music and merch! You can also connect with Helix on Facebook.


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