Interview with Helix Singer Brian Vollmer

By Mick Michaels

COSMICK VIEW: Hello, Brian! Welcome to The Cosmick View. Thank you for taking some time out of your day to chat with me, it’s greatly appreciated.

CV: Bands and artists come and go...some exit on their own finding other paths and others simply don't have what it takes to keep it going to stay in the game.  But Helix has endured and there’s no sign of it slowing.  As the band is now in its 45th year, do you consider yourself a survivor?
Brian Vollmer: Yes I am.  However, quitting was never an option.  I hated working in a factory and when the band was going through its hardest times (the 90's) nobody would hire me.  I hadn't been in the work force for many years and going back to school wasn't an option either.  I became a teacher of the old Italian method of singing called "Bel Canto" to earn money to live.  I still teach today and am one of the last people in the world who do.   Many people say they teach Bel Canto but seldom really do.  "True" Bel Canto requires the singer to inhale their voice-that is, to draw breath into the head WHILE singing.

CV: Brian, what do you see has kept you going all these years? Is it pure passion for the music?
BV: Honestly, even with all the bullshit the music industry can throw at you, it's still the best job in the world.  Nothing turns me on more than writing a good song or performing live.  It's a way of life though; either you love it or hate it.   I love it.

CV: Given the band's 45 year history, you have seen your share of changes in the music industry; from musical tastes to technology advancements.  Has there been a particular change in the business that you feel was unnecessary? Anything that may have set the industry back rather than advance it forward?
BV: YES.  THE DEATH OF THE BAR CIRCUIT.  Today I had one of my young students in for a lesson.  I saw this kid play for the first time a couple of weeks ago in the opening band for Danko Jones and was blown away.  So much talent!  But he only gets to play and perform once a month...  I don't know how young musicians/songwriters/performers do it nowadays... When we started in the biz, we had the bar circuit.  That's where bands like Helix really earned their spurs: 3-5 sets/night, 6-7 nights/wk.   It either killed you or made you invincible.  There is the odd club left nowadays, but for the most part only on the weekend.  Back in the day you could travel out to the west coast playing gigs and then turn around and head for the east coast and never come home.  It was a gypsy life style that made the music more eclectic, tighter, and the performance electric. 

This is also why you see a lot of young bands self destruct.  Think about it.  You have this basement band who suddenly gets a radio hit and have to play in front of an auditorium full of people 5-6 nights/wk.  They burn out pretty quick.  By the way-not only did the bars mature us musically, they also matured us personally.  The time that was taken "developing" both enabled us to handle success when it was finally dealt to us.

CV: One of the major changes many artists highlight, as a point of concern and/or contention, is the lack of album sales across the board. Many feel that making albums is not relevant anymore...simply there is no real return on the time and cost associated with such an endeavor.  With the release of Helix's new album "Old School", do you agree with such popular sentiments? Is there a concern about sales?
BV: There's no arguing the fact that it's tough to break even on a release nowadays.  At least immediately...You have to be in this for the long term-not the short term-if you are going to make money.  Many musicians get into this for the wrong reasons ie. fame & glory.  If you are in for the right reason, which ultimately has to be a love of music, then somehow, some way things have a way of working themselves out. 

I have a different attitude towards releasing new material, even in this depressing musical climate.  My attitude is that the reason I got into this in the first place was to make music.  At the end of every year I think to myself, "Wow, wonder what's going to happen next year?" to keep the band going.  You never know.  I could never have forseen the Trailor Park Boys talking about us in the episode "Closer to the Heart" with Alex Lifeson, which led to me appearing in the TV show, which led to a tour through western Canada with them, to being in the movie "Countdown to Liquor Day", to being in their new cartoon show (Season 1/Episode 10).  My point is that you just have to do your best and God (or the Universe, or whatever higher power you believe in) will take care of you.  I also think the audience picks up on this, identify with it, and become dedicated, die-hard fans as a result.

CV: Let's talk a bit about the band's latest album "Old School." This is a special album as it has both written and performance tracks by former Helix member, the late Paul Hackman, who passed in 1992. Paul appears on three of the album's cuts and co-wrote a total of eight tracks. Were these the songs that Paul and you were working on following the "Back for Another Taste" record in the early 90's?
BV: No, actually a lot of these tracks were written FOR the Back for Another Taste album.  Coming Back With Bigger Guns was written at Paul's first house in Lucan, Ontario.  The house was so small it looked like a doll house.  Every time we'd write a new song we'd go out at night and let off a bottle rocket.  Probably woke the whole sleepy town up.  LOL.  Each song has a little story behind it.  For instance, "Cheers" was written by Bob Halligan and myself.  Bob wrote many hit songs and I suppose nowadays he's doing pretty good financially.  But when we wrote this song he was living in some flop house down in The Bronx.  We both had to sleep on mattresses on the floor.  To survive, Halligan would busk during the day.  And that, my friends, is why a hammer shatters glass and forges stone.  One of my most favorite tracks is "Closer", another song written out in Lucan.  The last studio track Paul ever played on was "Your Turn to Cry".  I love the bluesy lead he plays-totally Hackman.  Gawd I miss that guy and his music...

CV: What sort of emotions does working with Paul's material, after all these years, invoke in you and bring to the music's overall end result? From your perspective, is there a more powerful connection to the songs given their origin? Is this album more personal?

BV: Oh, I don't know...I loved Paul like a brother.  Ditto for the guys I have now.  It's always "personal" for me.  Every song I write has a strong personal connection…this album especially so. 

CV: Do you believe the fans will also feel such a connection to these songs given Paul's involvement?
BV: I think the first connection will be because the songs are great. No one writes like this anymore.  I tell people that the songs are so old they sound new.

CV: Brian, earlier we mentioned about the changes in the industry over the years, did the digital revolution provide the tools needed to allow Paul's originally recorded tracks to be included on "Old School?"
BV: Most definitely.  From "baking" the 2" tapes to re-recording the cassette tracks digital allowed us to record.  The cut to costs was/is enormous.

CV: Just hearing the first single "Coming Back with Bigger Guns," this is a very welcoming throwback sound. Was this the intention?
BV: I believe Paul came up with the chorus - a great one.  He felt it was an "in-yer-face" attitude song that expressed exactly how we all felt at the time.  With the advent of 90's grunge, we felt knocked down but not out.

CV: Looking back now, do you see "Old School" as the album that should have followed "Back for Another Taste" instead of "It's a Business Doing Pleasure," which essentially was to be your solo debut release?
BV: Yup. A real cluster fuck.  

CV: In recent years, Rock and Metal fans have flocked to see their favorite retro artists and bands perform, thus, giving many acts new life and even some a second shot.  Has Helix found this 80's revival of fan nostalgia something to embrace?
BV: Yah, squeeze it 'till it cries.  

CV: Also in recent years, the rise of tribute acts has begun to dominate the market, giving fans an alternative to high ticket prices as well as offering them a tried and true set list of songs to enjoy over a possibly unknown set of originals from a young, new and often unknown artist or band.  Brian, has the tribute act phenomenon hurt original music as a whole in your opinion?
BV: No, not at all.  Personally, I think if a tribute band wants to emulate a band they love, what's the problem?  Sounds like a lotta fun if you're into it.  The guys in Destroyer are friends of mine. Making music is always a GOOD thing.

CV: Is the music market still a big enough place these days that young, new, original talent can find a place of their own amongst what is now considered by many, a digital sea of home studio rock stars and copycat acts?
BV: Do it for the love of it and you'll get where you want to go.

CV: Can fans expect to see any US dates in support of the new album?
BV: Do you want me to lie? LOL.  Working in the States usually means less money, more hassle, and no guarantees.  I hate gambling...The Monster of Rock dates are great for us 'cos we're not actually performing in the States (International Waters) but we're touching our American fans.  Love to get back on the cruise.   We'll see...

CV: What's next for Helix?
BV: Summer gigs, more writing, and good times.

CV: Thank you again Brian for spending some time talking and sharing with our readers. I wish you all the best and continued success.

Check out Brian and Helix at:

Like The Cosmic View on Facebook at:   

My name is Mick Michaels...I'm an artist, music fan, songwriter, producer, dreamer and guitarist for the traditional Heavy Metal band Corners of Sanctuary. Writing has always been a creative outlet for me; what I couldn't say in speech, I was able to do with the written word.  Writing has given me a voice and a way for me to create on a multitude of platforms including music and song, articles, independent screenplays, books and now, artist interviews. The Cosmick View is an opportunity to raise the bar and showcase artists in a positive and inspirational light. For me, it's another out-of-this-world adventure.

Want to see your logo here? Contact The Cosmic View for details and rates.


  1. We are really grateful for your blog post. You will find a lot of approaches after visiting your post.
    mls london


Post a Comment

Popular Posts