"I HAVE this thing where no matter how much time it takes, if there's something that's really there in the record—if there's something to get to underneath it—it's going to stay alive for longer," says Brandon Summers, guitarist and vocalist for the Helio Sequence.
Those familiar with the Portland band know that, for Summers and drummer/keyboardist Benjamin Weikel, there's almost always "something that's really there." It goes a long way in helping to explain not only the length of time the duo takes between releasing albums—it's been four years since Keep Your Eyes Ahead was released, which was four years removed from Love and Distance—but also the degree of creative ascension explored.
But there's another, perhaps less esoteric explanation for why the band's new LP Negotiations sounds so amazingly different than the Helio Sequence's previous four albums.
It started with a flood.
Not necessarily of creativity, although that emerged later. Summers received a phone call that the band's studio space had fallen victim to a flood thanks to heavy rains while they were on tour supporting Keep Your Eyes Ahead in 2009. The chain of events this random act of nature started was a dizzying reminder of the power of fate. For the Helio Sequence, it was also a blessing in disguise.
After the band returned home from tour, they acquired a bigger studio space and gradually got themselves in a creative headspace to begin work on the next record. This regimen included absorbing lots of ambient records from the '60s and '70s for Weikel, and vintage jazz vinyl for Summers. The warm, deep tones of those vinyl expeditions became an epiphany ("that weird magic that's there in old recordings," Summers says), and the duo fortified their arsenal of gear with new-old upgrades.
The impact was immediate. From the onset of Negotiations, the tech-y trickery and textural calisthenics found on previous Helio releases is thicker, heavy with reverb and crawling with ethereal guitar squalls and Weikel's typically strong and intricate drum patterns. There's musk on songs like opener "One More Time," a tune that Summers and Weikel identified early on as the thematic blueprint of the entire record.
"That was the first recorded song on the record, and that kind of shaped the sonic identity," says Summers.
Other songs, like the spacious "Downward Spiral," benefited from the use of dozens of sound loops created by Weikel, which Summers would jam over, sometimes in 20-minute spurts. The improvised result is a hallmark of the richer analog sound found on Negotiations.
"That guitar sound... I have no idea how I got that," says Summers of the track. "I probably had 10 different pedals on at one time and we just played."
"Harvester of Souls," somewhat similarly, was written completely on the spot during recording.
"It's definitely one of the most personal records that we've ever done," says Summers. "I hold it really close to my heart for that. I knew that when we were going into the writing for this record, it was gonna take more than sonic pyrotechnics or just catchy melodies to get through it. I really had to dig deep for something emotional to invest in the record, and really recognize when it was there and really make sure that anything I was laying down was going to have that."