Interview with drummer/vocalist Hozoji Matheson-Margullis| Interview by Christopher J. Harrington
Helms Alee are a trio with three distinct voices. “We all take equal turns being the dictator,” drummer and vocalist Hozoji Matheson-Margullis laughs. Though there’s strong individuality throughout, the band morph together like few others. Every layer topples another, and the sequence blends like the salty water that surrounds them.
Like many groups from the Pacific Northwest, Helms Alee conjure space and time through a distinct lens. “We are surrounded by nutrient-dense darkness that is very conducive to holing up in a practice space and making loud noises,” Matheson-Margullis posits.
Except the Seattle rockers have churned out something quite effervescent with their newest album, Noctiluca, due out April 26 via Sargent House. It’s an album that celebrates the inner joy of the creative process. Hardcore, noise, sludge, and rock conjoin with a newfound directness. It is both their edgiest and most accessible record yet.
Noctiluca sounds clearer, or maybe more neutral and precise, in some ways than [2016’s] Stillicide. Does every record you make feel very particular and of its precise time and place?
I definitely notice a feeling of time and place when I listen back to records that we made years and years ago. While we are making the records, we are so caught up in the physical execution of the songs that not much, if any, thought goes into how the album “feels.” So, I enjoy listening back after a long time and being able to hear the memories of what life was feeling like while we were writing the songs and recording the album. In a way, it’s like I’m hearing the songs for the first time.
How much does working with a new producer change the direction, approach, or overall relationship with the music you make?
The style and personality of the engineers [and] producers we have worked with most definitely affects the end result of the records we make with them. Similar to the question about the feeling of the records, when I listen back to old albums with fresh ears, I can really hear a strong element of the person who recorded the album.
When Helms Alee started out, was there a conscious decision to balance ideas and energies and present them thematically and ordered, or was the whole process more organic and freer in nature?
We just freestyle it. We discuss ideas for arrangement and general vocal styles and stuff like that, but beyond that, we just let the songs become what they are going to become.
Has that changed over the years?
It really hasn’t. The unspoken language of collaboration has become stronger between the three of us, but we still just show up and start making sounds together like we did on day one, 12 years ago.
Since Helms Alee and some of the themes seem connected to the ocean and the life of the planet, is there a sense that you have to, in some way, connect and voice an opinion to what’s happening to this planet currently?
I don’t think any of us feel we “have to” voice specific opinions through our music. Any themes that exist just come out naturally because of the people who we are and what is happening in our lives at the time.
Do you think music is always political in nature?
How much fun was Noctiluca to make, and how much pain did it include, if any?
We had a blast making this record! It was one of the more painless recording experiences we have had. There are always struggles when you are put under a hard time limit to complete a project you care deeply about. Beyond those types of struggles, which I consider to be healthy, we really just spent 10 days doing what we love with people we love.
“Spider Jar” sounds so warm, and then, its fade-out is so tranquil. Do you think it’s a different sort of Helms Alee song?
“Spider Jar” is certainly one of the songs on the record that strays a bit from our usual meandering path. It’s also one of the songs that just barely made it onto the record. We were still writing it when we got into the studio.
Is part of creating albums about challenging yourselves, finding new ways to do things and new ways to approach things? It sounds like some new paths were opened on Noctiluca?
On an individual level, yes, for sure. I think it’s in all of our natures to be continuously challenging ourselves. It’s part of what keeps the process fun! I’m often trying to write stuff I can’t quite play yet or haven’t tried before. As a group, we really just let things happen naturally. We didn’t set out to make Noctiluca sound any certain way or be markedly different than any of our other albums.
What do you see out there in America when you’re touring and living? Is the world changing?
We see the inside of the van, gas stations, and clubs. We see people who love music enough to go out on a Tuesday night even though they have to work early the next day. We see other bands who care a lot about keeping this small music community alive and thriving. Being on tour is its own little bubble. We are seeing all the same scary shit on the news that everyone else is seeing, but in terms of the real-world interactions we are having, the only real changes we are witnessing are happening within ourselves.