Amidst chaos, a glimmer a light. Is it hope? Probably not. But it's pleasant to the ear.
There’s one reason I wish I had started writing earlier for More Fuzz, and that reason is This Can Only Lead To Chaos, by Helicon, out in January 2020 on Fuzz Club Records (one of the top labels on earth, again). So when they announced they would be releasing a Fuzz Club Session on December 18th, I jumped on the occasion. Full disclosure: I’m totally sold, so don’t expect any impartiality in this review, I just hope you’ll want to listen to the album when you’re done reading this. I also jumped on the opportunity to ask them for a few words, and John-Paul Hugues, lead guitar and vocals, was kind enough to answer me, with a slight dose of Scottish humor. Let’s hear it from him.
Mr. Momo: After a (great) album beginning of 2020, you are releasing a Fuzz Club Live Session featuring 2 new tracks, where did the idea come from?
John-Paul Hugues: Thanks, man, we appreciate the compliment and glad you enjoyed the album earlier in the year. ‘This Can Only Lead To Chaos’ turned out to be quite a prophetic title for 2020 didn’t it? So if any of you want your palms or tea leaves read, we’re your boys. We’ll be moving into tabloid newspaper ‘Helicon Horoscopes’ next. We’d been talking to Casper at Fuzz Club about doing a live session down in London for ages, but never got round to it. Then off the back of the Fuzz Club Isolation Festival in the summer, he asked us if we’d be up for it in Glasgow and we jumped at the chance as we’ve been working on a lot of new material.
Mr. Momo: How was the album recorded? Did you enjoy playing in this specific format?
JPH: We recorded the last album with Luigi Pasquini (note: an Italian expatriate in Glasgow, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hw1S5nDJTZI) and he was opening a new studio called ‘Dystopia’ in Partick, with Omar Aborida (note: from The Cosmic Dead), Harrison Reid (note: Glasgow based photographer) and a few others. It has an amazing big live room and they’ve invested a lot of time, money, and effort in getting it ready for video sessions so it was perfect for the Fuzz Club Session. We tend to record our albums as live and then only add a few overdubs so we are very comfortable doing a live video session like this. Setup the day before then show up on the day of recording and just go for it.
Mr. Momo: Can you tell us a bit more about the band?
JPH: I play lead guitar and vocals. My brother Gary is on rhythm guitar. Mark McLure on bass. Graham Gordon on sitar and synths. Seb Jonsen on drums and anything else he can lay his hands on. That boy has a lot of energy and will try anything. I think we are coming up to the 10th year of the band but this line-up has been together for about 4 years I think.
We have really wide and varied influences as a band. All the usual stuff you’d expect in there for a band with our sound but we draw influences on everything from soundtracks and soundscapes to counter-culture and even traditional Scottish folk music, which Seb is really into. But more than anything I think we’re influenced and driven by a collective mindset that is so fucking bored by mind-numbing mainstream culture that we want to offer up an alternative to everything that is mundane and middle-of-the-road. We’re all from working-class Glaswegian backgrounds and so much of that seeps into the music you make whether you like it or not. Gary and I grew up in East Kilbride, which is the same Glasgow suburb town that produced The Jesus & Mary Chain and I guess you can hear the anger and disillusionment of that small-town mentality and way of life in both bands.
Mr. Momo: How would you define your music (according to the ever debatable classification, you’re playing “Psych Gaze”, a contraction of psych-rock and shoegaze, do you think that fits)?
JPH: Ha, I always have a wee chuckle when I hear genres being applied as we certainly don’t set out to fit into any category or conform to what’s expected. We always try and give listeners variation in our records and keep delighting them with surprises. I think my favorite description I’ve ever heard of our sound was simply “Noise. just good fucking noise.”
Mr. Momo: Sitar is always a nice addition in psychedelic music, was it a given from the beginning that Helicon would include some Sitar parts?
JPH: No, we certainly didn’t set out that way or plan it. But it just so happened we were writing songs at the time, not for sitar, but you could hear a sitar would really bring a new dimension so that’s when we approached Graham. That was about 5 years ago and he’s been with us ever since. Like a prison sentence, he has been a bad boy so hasn’t qualified for parole from us yet. Ever since then we’ve written songs specifically for the sitar when it feels right but are always conscious not to overuse it and become typecast as ‘the sitar band’. I’d fucking hate to become predictable. That’s about the worst thing I could imagine and generally signals the death of a band.
Mr. Momo: You have released all your LPs on Fuzz Club Records, how did you sign with them, and why are you sticking to them?
JPH: We’d been fans of that label for a long time and friends with several of the Fuzz Club bands so it felt like the most natural place for us to be and release our music. There’s no pressure from Fuzz Club to do things a certain way or produce a certain amount of records, they let you do your thing and that’s a great way for musicians to work with a label. So as long as they want us, we’ll be there.
Mr. Momo: Glasgow has long been home to a lot of talented musicians and bands, do you feel it is the case today, especially in the wide “psych-rock” genre?
JPH: Glasgow is a city that has always punched above its weight creatively. There is a rich and vibrant history across all the arts and it’s no different today. A lot of credit for that has to go to the people that make so many great wee venues available for independent, grassroots music and arts. It’s tragic that it is under threat today due to Covid enforced closures. We need to rally around and do all we can to help keep the subculture of our cities alive. And of course, the people who get up off their couch and come see live music and the arts. Who put their hand in their pocket to see bands and buy music instead of streaming everything for free whilst putting nothing back in. Without them, it can’t exist and they’re every bit as important to the Glasgow music scene as any band.
Mr. Momo: Any recommendations of Glaswegian bands we should definitely listen to?
JPH: Yeah, we’ve good friends in bands like Filth Spector (Billy from FS played bass for us in this session as Mark had just become a father for the first time so was a bit busy) and Tomorrow Syndicate (Mark from TS played synths for us in this live session). Seb is another 2-piece band called The Poachers. Mike and Solveig. Kundalini Genie. Sean McGeoch (sometimes records as Stara Zagora). Kidney Flowers. The Cherry Wave. Caitlin Buchanan. Duke 72. Dead Otter. And of course, you’ll probably know The Cosmic Dead. Go check ’em all out and it’ll lead you down a wee tartan rabbit hole of brilliant Glaswegian and Scottish music of which there are just too many great acts to mention here.
Mr. Momo: I guess that like most bands you’re anxious to get back on stage, anything scheduled or too early to tell?
JPH: Aw man, like you wouldn’t believe. We had two tours canceled this year but it’s allowed us to write a demo and loads of new material which we couldn’t have done otherwise. We probably have enough for 2 new albums when we shortlist the best of them. We have dates booked across the UK from April 2021 but we aren’t confident those will happen. But when we are allowed to gig and tour again, by fuck are we going to make the most of it, so hopefully, we’ll get over to Europe and see you guys next year.
Have a cosmic Christmas, stay safe and I hope you enjoy the new record.
How is the sound?
Even if they wouldn’t take it – artistic pride, no shame in that – I think the “Psych Gaze” description fits. The sound more often than not feels like shoegaze with a heavy psychedelic vibe. Of course, that also means it’s much more varied than shoegaze, because psychedelic can mean a lot of things, and allows for even more; but there’s definitely a dark/melancholic vibe going through the album. Nevertheless, some songs surprise the listener with a very different take, like The Sun Also Rises, a welcome glimpse of hope. The Fuzz Club Session is mainly tracks from This Can Only Lead To Chaos, though revisited, with more synthesizer effects, taking their time… The mastering also feels like a captured live session, which, after all, is the goal. Session also includes a piano intro, plus 2 previously unreleased songs, Il Bacio Di Giuda (Judas’ Kiss), a song with a more krautrock approach associated with electronica effects that The Oscillation wouldn’t deny; and Permo, with a vibrant neo-psychedelic vibe à la Brian Jonestown Massacre. Altogether, rhythmics are often to die for. Oh, and also, sitar. Of course, this Fuzz Club Session is more a variation on a theme than a new album, so unless you’re a die-hard fan like me it’s not a must-have, but it’s a damn good way to discover the band, its universe, and its music. In the end, Helicon is never really where you expect them, with a true variety to their approach and their music, but, hey, as long as they’re awesome, I’ll be there.
Why is this album worth listening to?
- It’s more Helicon
- It’s a Fuzz Club Session
- Just good fucking noise
In what situation you should listen to this album?
At the pub/bar/home as the rest is closed, loud enough to cover conversations, so the other people can appreciate it too. Anyone with a decent taste in music that isn’t allergic to saturated guitars should like something in the album.
Something Particular to note?
Most of the songs were also filmed. They are available on https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCC9JlwKFhvtyPPJv3QLPOmg. They feature a lot of goats so you should check them out. Also, the band has done a lot of covers worth checking out, see https://heliconglasgow.bandcamp.com/album/kickstarter-requests-covers-album.
For Fans Of
The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Underground Youth
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