PAGE HAMILTON On Collapse Of HELMET's Classic Lineup: 'Money Kind Of Came In And Changed Things'
February 22, 2020
Australia's Heavy magazine recently conducted an interview with HELMET frontman Page Hamilton. You can listen to the entire chat below. A few excerpts follow (transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On assembling a setlist for their 30th-anniversary tour where the band is playing 30 songs each night:
Page: "Everything's kind of mixed together. Some people were thinking it would be chronological, but that doesn't really work for me having all the old songs first and I like having stuff spread over the course of the set. One thing we've pretty much done, I'm a huge LED ZEPPELIN fan and they always close the show with 'Whole Lotta Love', and we always close with 'In The Meantime', and that's our 'Whole Lotta Love'. When we play that, the show is over, so go home. [Laughs] I love it when people are, like, 'I can't believe you didn't play' whatever. I'm like 'We just played 30 fucking songs. Give me a break.' [Laughs] It's just, like, 'Go home. Listen to the record.' I love doing it, but I guess people are going to be disappointed if you don't play the one song. But this is one where they can't really complain. We even do 'Gigantor', and I always swore we'd never do it. Turns out it's really fun."
On his greatest achievement during HELMET's career:
Page: "That I'm still playing and still love it. I love it probably more than I ever did, and I still get excited when I sit down to play guitar every single day. I really love playing jazz. It's not necessarily incorporated into HELMET, but it's part of the fabric of my musical persona, I guess, or my musical personality. That's my greatest achievement. I have so many friends that are in bands that seem to hate it; they're just burned out and they don't like their music and they're doing it for the money and the paycheck. I'm not. I'm doing it because I absolutely love it. Yeah, it's cool. I'm scoring a movie right now. I'm also playing guitar in another movie. The one I'm scoring is horror. The one I'm playing on is teen romantic comedy, so they couldn't be further apart. I have an album coming out in March with my New York band M'LUMBO. It's called M'LUMBO WITH PAGE HAMILTON. That's completely weird, out-there music. If you think you love playing music then you should stick with that your whole life and not make it about commercial aspirations or whatever."
On whether trends ever dictated the kind of music HELMET played:
Page: "No. The music industry was honest for a while when we signed a major deal. Then we had an MTV hit and we sold a bunch of records. Then, when we pushed the envelope a little further, people were, like, 'Yeah, it's too much.' The 'Betty' album was too much for a lot of people. MTV was, like, 'Yes, it's okay.' They played the stuff some, but then people moved onto the bands that wanted to sound like us. I don't know; I really like the 'Betty' album and I really like the 'Aftertaste' album and I took a lot of criticism for it at the time. Now, we play those songs and the people that are HELMET fans have stuck with it, but the people who were just fans of what was popular at the time, they're not going to stick with you anyway so I don't really worry about them."
On what advice he would give to his younger self:
Page: "I don't know. Maybe be a little bit more flexible as a bandleader or try to communicate more, not feel guilty about coming in with cool songs and just say, 'Hey, I got this.' I encouraged the other guys to write and they did, but I think we sort of lost our unity somewhere along the way and I felt like we were unified at first. But money kind of came in and changed things, I think. It wasn't my intention. It wasn't my fault either. People waanna blame somebody… I wrote the songs. What do you want? They were a great band; they were great at playing the songs I wrote. That was what was working for us. It's hard to be a bandleader. I just had this conversation earlier with someone about it. My manager used to manage David Byrne from the TALKING HEADS, and he and I had coffee, 'cause I was feeling pretty bummed when the band broke up about this kind of hatred that you felt from your bandmates. He's, like, 'Nope, you can't worry about it. That's the way it is being a bandleader.' And I had a conversation with Danny Kortchmar too, 'cause he produced [EAGLES drummer/vocalist] Don Henley. And he's, like, 'That's the gig if you're a bandleader; they're gonna be resentful and there's gonna be shit and you've gotta put up with it.' And now I don't have guilt about it. I used to have guilt about it. And now I don't. I'm, like, 'Man. I came up with something that's cool. And you guys participated and were great, and I couldn't have done it without you,' but it's still my vision. I didn't do it to bum anybody out. I just did it 'cause we were all together at one point; we were all unified. But that dynamic changes as you spend a lot of time with someone. And I don't know if there's an answer to say... I don't know how I could have prevented it. I'd tell my younger self 'Just keep doing what you are doing.'"
Having cut his teeth playing with avant-garde guitar icon Glenn Branca and indie stalwarts BAND OF SUSANS, Hamilton launched HELMET in 1989, and the band released its debut album, "Strap It On", on the independent Amphetamine Reptile label the following year. HELMET soon became the subject of an unprecedented major-label bidding war, ultimately signing with Interscope and releasing "Meantime" in June 1992.
Although HELMET disbanded in 1997, Hamilton revived the band in 2004, and the group has continued to tour and record.
Even while he band was absent from the spotlight, HELMET continued to exercise considerable influence on multiple generations of bands. Their songs have been covered by the likes of CHEVELLE, DEFTONES, FAITH NO MORE, PIG DESTROYER and SOULFLY, and the band inspired a 2016 HELMET tribute album titled "Meantime Redux". HELMET has also been cited as a key influence on such bands as GODSMACK, KORN, MARILYN MANSON, MASTODON, PANTERA, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, SEPULTURA, SLIPKNOT, STAIND, SYSTEM OF A DOWN and TOOL.
HELMET's latest album, "Dead To The World", was released in October 2016 via earMUSIC.
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