Without question, HELIX' Brian Vollmer is Canada's elder statesman in heavy rock with a illustrious and treasured history which will celebrate its 40th year in 2014. And let's be honest, in any genre, absolutely no other musician has kept his/her nose to the grindstone, churning out material in good times and bad. And well after the band's peak in the '80s with four vital albums - 1983's No Rest For The Wicked, 1984's Walkin' The Razor's Edge, 1985's Long Way To Heaven and 1987's Wild In The Streets - the singer continues to keep the dream alive at Planet Helix in his home-base of London, Ontario.
Part of the exhausting Helix history can be found in Sean Kelly's (GILBY CLARKE, Helix, NELLY FURTADO) new book about criss-crossing the expanses of Canada called Metal On Ice, which unites some of Canada's elite hard rock/heavy metal heroes including CONEY HATCH, HEADPINS, KICK AXE and KILLER DWARFS. Vollmer spent some time with BraveWords recently to talk about the book, coinciding EP (which sees a raucous updated version of the Helix classic
'Heavy Metal Love') and the future.
BraveWords: Talk to us about your involvement in Metal On Ice.
Vollmer: "There's a segment of Canadian musical history that seems to be ignored. It's actually a snooty viewpoint that '80s music wasn't important or something. But I will tell you something, these bands that are here are the meat and potatoes of the music business. They kept the music business going. The music business isn't just airplay, there's club owners, agents, promoters. People like that. That is the meat and potatoes of the industry. All these bands were the workhorses of the industry. They would go out there and play like 300 dates a year, which you can't do anymore. This brings back some great memories, and it's a reunion of sorts to me. But we never stop putting out material, so this is just a stop along the journey. But I'm always working this as hard as I can to get live dates and keep it going. You never know where things are going to lead. For example, the Trailer Park boys connection (Vollmer had a cameo in the second film, 2009's Countdown To Liquor Day), kept us going out there for a couple of years, especially out West. You need to be playing to pay those bills. When things aren't happening, you still have to pay your electrical bill, you still have to pay your heating bill, all that mundane boring stuff that you never hear about. A band is like a small business. And a band that's playing is more focused. When a band isn't playing everybody is going in their different direction for necessity because they have to. Hopefully we will get some dates out of this Metal On Ice project, but I have lots of other things on the go. We're talking about heading back to Europe and we may do some kind of tour of the Canadian military bases over there."
BraveWords: Do you sense of brotherhood/sisterhood with all these bands?
Vollmer: "Yes, they are all personal friends of mine. When Carl Dickson (Coney Hatch) had his benefit concert we were all there onstage for him raising money. But if I didn't make a cent from this, I would still be there for Sean. He's such a good friend, he's done so many favours for me. So money is secondary. So the main reason I'm here, is to support Sean. He's just such a good guy. He's a real talent, and I like being around people like that, and I think helping him out can only lead to good things."
BraveWords: How has Helix weathered the storm throughout time?
Vollmer: "This is a very intermittent type of business. You could have a really good summer one year, and then the next you go 'what the hell happened?' You have to run it like a business, you have to be really tight to the bone, especially with today's economy. Every other business has been affected, so why not the music business? In fact the music business has been decimated by a legal downloads and things like that. So you have to grow with music, and you have to adapt to these changing times and find different streams of revenue. With bands like us, it's mostly playing live and selling your new material at the show. I still think releasing new material puts you in a different light with people. It doesn't matter if they never buy your record, it doesn't matter if you sell 1,000 units, when people know that you're still releasing new material they just look at you differently than if you were running around the circuit doing the milk run. Helix has always put out albums. We never stopped putting out albums, even when people said, 'stop putting out albums!' At one point they were saying how could we possibly compete with a Mike Stone-produced (like Wild In The Streets) album, when you're putting out this thing that you spent $10,000 on. As an artist, you have that desire to be creative and to release – I'm being presumptuous – art; my songs, my music. It's the same as you putting out a magazine or working on your website. We are all driven to do it. We don't search it out, that's just the way we are, and we do it. Life is about living; it's like that AEROSMITH song (1993's 'Amazing') it's not the destination, it's the journey. If you put limits on yourself you may as well pack it in now."
BraveWords: I can't think of any other Canadian band that has survived like Helix. You must have a big smile inside that you continue to live the dream.
Vollmer: "Yeah, we've kept going. And the funny thing was … let me tell you about those smaller rinky-dink albums. You have to understand something, when we were with Capital/EMI, I wasn't personally involved with booking studio time, getting musicians, getting producers/engineers. So that was all new stuff to me. And everyone said, 'this all sounds like shit.' But when we finally signed with Sanctuary, they went back and bought everyone of those CDs from me and I ended up finding my first rental property. And I kept going. It's just part of the bands history. Any artist that's been in it for a long, long time has had his or her ups and downs. I can't think of anybody who has been in it for a long, long time who hasn't."
BraveWords: So what is left to conquer?
Vollmer: "I don't know, I never really looked at it like conquering something (laughs). I think just to keep going and put music out. I wouldn't mind getting into acting, but I don't know, it might be too late. I just want to search for opportunity, and try to enjoy life and keep playing. It's pretty simple. I will probably die in the middle of 'Rock You'… that would be nice! 'Give me an R arrrggghhh!'"