Helmet's Page Hamilton: 'We Never Set Out to Play Music for the Masses, Sell Toilet Paper or Boner Pills'

Helmet's Page Hamilton: 'We Never Set Out to Play Music for the Masses, Sell Toilet Paper or Boner Pills'

In 1998, after nine years and four albums, Helmet's front man Page Hamilton officially put the band to bed. But after a six-year hiatus, Helmet returned not only with a new lineup but also a new full-length: 2004's Size Matters. Now, six years into its second incarnation, Helmet is back in the groove of doing what it does best.

With a show this Friday at the Galaxy Theatre in Anaheim (headlining a show with openers Bison B.C., Killing California and Cheva) the fellas of Helmet are testing the waters with new material from their recently released full-length, Seeing Eye Dog.

Heard Mentality caught up with Hamilton while on the road for a Quickie. OC Weekly (Justin Shady): You're back on the road. Do you still fall into that routine easily, or does it get harder to get out there as the years go by?

Page Hamilton: Well, it's only week two; talk to me over Christmas after we get through the next 70 shows! I'm feeling pretty good so far and the band is hitting its stride. It's always challenging to introduce new material, but this lineup is more in sync as we've had several years of touring together already.

How does the new album differ from Helmet's previous albums?
I'm not great at analyzing my own songs, but the Helmet fan response to the new album has been awesome so far. The new songs are going over really well live and they are a blast to play. I can't ask for more.

You've worked primarily in metal/hard rock, but you were formally trained on jazz guitar and have also done some film scoring work. Was the new work on Seeing Eye Dog influenced by those elements as well, or do you just flip a switch when it comes time to create music that's specifically under the Helmet banner?
When I'm home the majority of my time is spent learning jazz standards and working on chord voicing and substitution. This is a life-long pursuit and it absolutely influences what I write, play and the way I hear music. Harmony, melody, rhythm, form and text are the elements we work with as writers. Helmet is thematic. I start with a motif and develop it like one would when improvising or writing orchestra music. I trust my musical instincts because I spend every day working at it... actively listening, playing, reading, etc.

After Helmet reformed in 2004, were you ever concerned about not being able to recapture what made the band work in the first place?
Nope, I never gave it a second thought. I am a musician. The success of Helmet in the nineties doesn't influence what I do on a daily basis. I'm solving musical problems, as my great mentor Garry Hagberg used to say. I was dedicated then and am still dedicated.

Primarily, how does the post-2004 Helmet differ from the pre-1998 Helmet? 
We have three more albums of material to draw from for live shows. Communication has improved. I have no problem telling someone when something they are playing doesn't work. I explain that it is never personal, it's just about making the music better.

What projects, if any, are you working on outside of Helmet?
I did Julie Taymor's The Tempest last year. I love Julie and her husband Elliott Goldenthal; he's a genius film composer, and I've done several movies with them over the years including TitusAcross the Universe, and ten or so others as a hired guitarist on Elliott's scores. There are two scripts I have now that I have been asked to score: Survival Mechanism and The Other Side of Acheron. I've also been doing gigs back east--New York, Connecticut and Long Island--with my jazz group in between Helmet shows. We are called Jazz Wannabes. And I produced two indie bands this summer: Nothing Error, which is Pixies-inspired pop, and Kallahan, which is Alaskan metal! I will continue to do clinics and have been collaborating on canvases that mark the 20th anniversary of Helmet.

If the Page Hamilton of today could go back and give the Page Hamilton of 1989 one piece of advice about either the band or the industry as a whole, what would you tell yourself?
That I'm doing what I love and fortunately am able to eek out a living. I have no interest in business. I have faith that if I continue to do things the right way people will listen. That said, we never set out to play music for the masses, sell toilet paper or boner pills. Music is not a competition. I have always said that the challenge of developing musical ideas is the most rewarding part of playing music.

Based on the momentum of the band, is it safe to say that Helmet fans can expect an eighth studio album somewhere down the line? 
Yes.

Once this tour wraps, what part of your normal, non-touring life will you look forward to getting back to the most? 
Having breakfast with my girlfriend every day.

Who: Helmet w/ Bison B.C., Killing California and Cheva
Where: Galaxy Theatre
Cost: $15

Visit GalaxyTheatre.com for more info.


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