Monday, June 24, 2019


Honestly, the story around releasing the second full length from Portland’s Prize Country is pretty boring, but one that shows that once I get an idea in my head I’m pretty driven to see it through, no matter how dumb or ridiculous it might be.
I distinctly remember reading a review in a trusted publication I respect for a band called Prize Country and their debut full length, “Lottery Of Recognition”.  The comparisons made were enough for me to really get pretty excited to check it out.  I sought out their music on the interhole, absolutely fell in love with it, and then noticed they were going out on an extensive U.S. tour.  I saw that Buffalo was one of the dates on that tour- a scant 2 hours away from me.  I decided then and there my band at the time- Mistletoe- should do a little touring around that same time and try to play a couple shows on the Prize Country tour.  Why not?  Well, we played some shows and that Buffalo show was the only one we connected with Prize Country on.   We played one of the best spots in town for shows- Mohawk Place.  It’s a great spot with great sound and toes the line between DIY punk ethics and respectable establishment you could invite your parents to.  It’s a great place to play.
I didn’t think the show would be all that big since it was a Monday or something, but I didn’t expect it to be all of about 4 people in attendance.  As we arrived the door guy straight up said, ‘Why did you want to play this?  You know the Sabres are playing tonight, right?’  I kind of laughed a bit, but he was dead serious.  Buffalo people don’t fuck around with their sports, it’s pretty crazy.  If it’s bands on a Monday night, or the Sabres they’re choosing the Sabres.

Well, I kind of didn’t care either way because we were playing with Prize Country and I was excited to see, in person, how they were live.  And even in that empty room they really brought it, and played so damn tight and loud that I was convinced right then and there that I ought to try and do a record for them.
I talked with them quite a bit that night and vowed to stay in touch.  My communications were primarily with their guitarist/vocalist Aaron Blanchard, who I learned I sort of met years ago as he was a touring guitarist with the one and only Fall Silent.  To go from the metallic insanity of that band to the heavy-handed post-hardcore of what he was doing now was not a huge stretch, but a different game nonetheless.  As I dug deeper, I found out Aaron had a pretty deep history with some notable projects, including a stint as guitarist for a studio band featuring all of Kiss It Goodbye (minus Keith Huckins) known as Family Man that made it as far as cutting a demo before splitting up.
So over the next few months we talked and came to an agreement for Hex to release their next LP, which became “With Love”.  It was released in October of 2009, right in time for the label’s 10th anniversary and a show to celebrate that milestone.  Prize Country toured all the way out from Portland for the celebration and I sort of set the show up around their touring schedule, since they were coming from farthest away. 
Above all else Prize Country were a touring machine.  They toured heavily.  They went everywhere and never seemed to stop.  But in their willingness to play absolutely anywhere that would have them it often led to playing crappy dive bars, middle-of-nowhere empty rooms, and dead-end spots just so they could fill a weeknight without taking a day off.  It was a strong work ethic, but frequently led to poorly attended gigs.  As a band they never dug too deep into the DIY scene for spaces to play for whatever reason.  Maybe as older adults they left it behind, or lost touch with people who still did that.  It could have served them better, who knows.  But that tireless ethic to just play all the time, no matter where, led to burnout and after a couple months of touring on “With Love” it seemed as if some of the band had had enough and decided to step away.  It was difficult to recover from that as each member of the band was indispensible.  They were all such strong players.  Prize Country quietly called it quits after some attempts to keep it going and that’s the end of their story.
I lost touch with Aaron not too long after that and was really unsure of what he ended up doing with himself.  That is until I also moved to Portland, and I had no idea if he was still in town.  A whole year went by of living out here and I randomly ended up seeing him at a show.  Yeah, it took a whole year of living here before I caught up with him.  The dude just stays off social media.  I don’t blame him.  But now that we had each others phone numbers it was high time to give him a call, meet up in our shared city, and catch up on the last ten years or so.

So it’s been 10 years…  what have you been up to?

(laughs) Hmmm, what do I tell people I haven’t seen in 10 years?

Feel free to summarize.

Workin’, playin’, ya know, I’m in some bands.  I think since Prize Country fell apart I have been in around a dozen bands locally.  I’ve played drums, guitar, bass.  So, staying in music I came to the realization that it’s OK for me to not be in a touring band.  I don’t need to be going bananas and throwing my whole life at it.
The short answer is that I have been finding a nice balance of music and stability.  At the time (of Prize Country) I didn’t have that balance, or that stability.  I didn’t have that mechanism that makes you say, ‘in order to do this I need to have X,Y or Z first’.  No, it was just that.  That’s the only thing.  Which is really why the band fell apart.

You mentioned you were born out here, but spent a lot of your life in Reno before coming back here.  What kind of music were you doing there and then what led you to move to Portland?

I had an argument with my wife about this.  I say I am an Oregon native, but I was raised in Nevada.  I was born in Oregon, but I’d always been going to Nevada, specifically Northern Nevada, or the Tahoe Basin.  I’ve been going out there since I was zero because my grandparents lived out there.  Reno wasn’t too far away, so when I was in high school that was sort of the big town to go see some of the larger punk and hardcore shows.  And the Tahoe area isn’t too far from the san Francisco Bay area so I’d travel out there a bunch to see the big, big shows.  The stuff that wouldn’t stop through Reno.  The punk rock stuff always did, but not the big shows like Soundgarden.

Well, Reno had 7 Seconds, so there’s your punk foundation.

Yeah, they definitely established a scene there.  I was actually just listening to an interview with Ian MacKaye and he mentions Reno as he’s haphazardly going through a list of cities that used to have great scenes and a relative regional sound.  7 Seconds had a very specific sound.  Who else would have done that?
 pretty nice review, right?

When there’s nothing else around you, you have to make it up as you go along.

Yeah!  So, in high school I started playing in bands too.  But it wasn’t until I was about 17 that I picked up a guitar.  I bought a bass.  I had no idea what I was intending to do.  I just bought a bass.  I think my thought was, ‘this will be easy, it’s only got four strings!’  And it just so happened that me and a couple buddies from high school had that sort of pots and pans origin where you just kind of pick up anything and see what sort of noise it will make.  And I remember a dude who actually knew how to play guitar came down and was like, ‘Hey, do you guys know how to tune?  If you tune that to G, and that to A, it will sound better.’  And then it was all like the symphony getting ready to play and it all sort of made sense to me, and that was a big awakening for me.
Then I moved to Eugene for awhile and did some school for about two and a half years.  I had all my gear with me and I had actually come across a number of people who knew how to play, but no one wanted to be in a band.  I was there around ’95 and ’96, and all this great stuff had been coming around like Quicksand, Jawbox, Jawbreaker, Chavez, and Sunny Day.  All those bands were blowing my mind.  And then you had Northwest bands like Engine Kid and stuff like that going bananas.  I was checking out shows from those bands here and there and in the meantime I’m just dying to do what those bands were doing.
I think a lot of the cats I knew were sort of neo-hippies.  We would all just get high and have Rocky Raccoon on the guitar, and some guy playing bongos and I just could not hang with that.
Cut to later in ’96 I moved back to Nevada and caught up with a friend of mine who was this metalhead guy.  He mentioned he and his friend were starting a band and I asked him to keep in touch because I would be happy to join up.  But he thought I was full of shit.  He thought I was kidding.  But they eventually gave me a call and I came over and in one afternoon I learned what they had and they saw I was serious.  That was my first band that actually played shows.
There were a lot of punk rock bands going through Reno at that time, and when I was still out there, like between ’96 and 2000 there were so many good bands in town!  Reno was exploding with cool bands for awhile.  So I was playing out in bands and playing with all these great bands out there.
I went back to Eugene for love.  An old high school sweeteart had moved out there and I was sort of a mess, and everyone could see it.  Even my parents knew.  They just said to me, ‘why don’t you go out to Eugene?’, and that’s really all I needed.  So I packed up and left.  I was gone.  I dropped whatever classes I was in.  So I moved out there and was there for a few years, and then me and her moved up to Portland.  I’ve been in Portland since 2003.

Prize Country (from l to r): Josh Nurthcutt, Jabob Depollite, Jon Hausler, Aaron Blanchard

How did Prize Country start?

I had a band here called Shamelady.  We toured a bunch.  At one point we were on tour and played in Salt Lake City and we played with Jacob Depollite’s (Prize Country guitarist) band.  He was in a band called Union Of the Snake, which we jokingly called Union Of the Jake.  They were really, really good.  They were one of the best bands we saw on tour.  Jake is also a really good guitar player, so it stands out.  Plus, he’s like 8 feet tall, so he really stands out.  So we vibed pretty hard.
I got back from that tour and I quit playing in Shamelady.  The band dissolved.  Jake and I had spoken and he worked for a label called The End Records.  That label was about to move to New York City and he was saying he didn’t want to move to NYC.  So I jokingly said, ‘why don’t you move to Portland?’ and he said, ‘OK’.  I think within two months he was moved out here.
He asked if he cold sleep on my couch for a little bit until he got settled and I said sure.  I think within a week he found a job and a place to live.  I was getting ready to have this slumber party thing ready to go, and he’s got it together right away.  He does not fuck around.
At this point there was a guy I worked with I was playing drums with, and a guy I met off of Craigslist playing bass.  I would kind of just fire out ads saying asking if anyone knows about all these bands to kind of weed out people who wouldn’t be a good fit.  Not to be too much of a snob, but if you know some of the bands I’m listing than it’s going to automatically cut through a bunch of bullshit real quick.  So that guy turned out to be great.  He had great gear, a great tone, and we were on the same page.
The drummer, Brian, he was fine.  But he didn’t really want to do anything.  He kind of just wanted to get together once a week and hang out.
And when Jake moved out he ended up meeting Josh (Northcutt, Prize Country drummer) at a show and mentioned he was starting a band with me and Josh stated he wanted to be a part of it.  So then I had to figure out how to get rid of the drummer we had who didn’t really want to be a part of the band, but still be cool with him.  So I just let him know that we wanted write, record, and go on tour.  And he was fine with it, so that was pretty easy.
So that’s the origin of me, Jake, Josh, and our first bassist.
Once we got moving we recorded an EP, did a short little tour to test things out, and after that run our bassist said that he didn’t want to do this and he wanted to go back to school.  So we got our friend Jon (Hausler, bassist), who was a bartender friend who played in a couple great bands, and he was always around the Prize Country shows taking pictures.  He said he really liked our band and I asked him if he wanted to learn the bass parts and go on tour with us because our first bassist couldn’t do it.  Jon was down with it, everything went great, and while we were on that tour our first bassist actually called us to tell us he wouldn’t have time to do the band at all and he was fine if Jon wanted to take his place.  It was about as seamless and amicable as you could imagine.

Were you always a touring type?  Prize Country toured very heavily and I imagine not all the members were accustomed to that lifestyle.

I was in a band in Reno that toured a lot and that was sort of the litmus test.  That’s where I learned that you write songs, you record them, and then you go on tour.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  So that was my early onset tour syndrome.

Was that Fall Silent?

Yeah.  So I did a two month U.S. tour with them in 1999, and then a 7 week European tour with them in 2000, and a 10 day Japanese tour around that same time.
The first time I went out with them it was explained to me that I could continue to tour with them, but there was a lot of touring up ahead and I thought, ‘this sounds like a dream to me!’  I even dropped out of school to practice with them more.
And if you were to ask those guys they would tell you that we weren’t really friends.  We weren’t buds.  They had already done the touring thing and they were not going to wait around for me.  They were more seasoned.  The lesson I learned was indelible.  It was valuable.  I didn’t need to be their buddies, or feel like I was loved.  It was ‘do your job’.  I don’t want to make them sound mean.  They’re actually very nice people.  But in this case it was more like boot camp.

 Aaron playing with Fall Silent in Syracuse 1999 (he's the dude in white in the back)

So that put in your mind that you wanted to tour a lot?

Oh yeah.  No doubt.  I had no reservations about doing that.  That’s what I wanted to do.  I don’t know why exactly because it’s not always a pleasant experience.  I would say I definitely learned a lot about myself, and what I could put up with because I see playing out as important.
I love those Fall Silent guys and what they taught me was more valuable than anything I could take away from school, aside from maybe just traveling in general.  Once I did it I knew I could do this.  It doesn’t always need to be daisies and rainbows.  It’s fun on it’s own merits.  I wasn’t going to give up.  I also had nothing else going on, so why not?
And that attitude carried on into Shamelady.  I thought, ‘this is what you do.’  You start a band, write a record, and then go on tour.  This is how it works.  We need to get a van, there’s some real costs involved in this.  Everyone needs to be on board.  And in Shamelady I was sort of the guy who took care of everything.  But I also wasn’t asking anything of my bandmates.  They worked hard too.  I was just the guy that took care of the van and booked the shows, and did the business end.
So when Prize Country started Jake had had a similar experience.  So I was like, ‘oh, you do that too?’  He was the guy in his band who did all the booking, and all the driving, and taking care of the van and whatever.

It’s a nice feeling being able to share the work.

Yeah exactly!  So Jake and I were like, ‘this is the best’.  Not only do we get to share this workload together, but we get to commiserate about the pitfalls of taking care of all this stuff.

Was that something made clear from the get-go?  Did the band come with the expectation that you were going to do it full time pretty much?

Yeah, that’s what we wanted to do.  Actually, I recall a few conversations where Jake and I said that we just wanted to be in a rock band.  We didn’t even care about touring.  We just wanted to be in a fun rock band, remember what it’s like to have fun and play shows, and just rip it up.
I think we played one or two local shows and we said, ‘we gotta fuckin’ tour!’ (laughs)
But I think it ended up being like that show Alone.  Have you ever seen that show?  It’s like that reality show where people go out into the wilderness and they build themselves a hut, or they build themselves a little boat, and go fishing in it, and they make themselves little nets and traps and all this shit.  But when it comes to mental health, and just being alone, that’s when they crack.  They just implode.
And that was sort of like touring with Prize Country.  I didn’t realize there was a mental element to doing this.  We had all the tools and the gear and the ability.  But the mental component is a crucial factor.  I think we went just a little too hard and we cracked.  Everyone started cracking apart.
 Top- the art by artist Michael Wohlberg, as well as the different vinyl covers
Below- the record that the cover art is based upon

Prize Country was definitely a heavy rock band, but the argument could be made that you fell under a wide umbrella of hardcore-punk music, or at least emerged from that scene, which can often be a bit pious.  That all being said, I’m surprised by how many of those songs were straight up about dirty sexing.  It kind of makes me blush to think about.

I don’t think that was a question that I even considered. I’m happy you mentioned that because it had never occurred to me.  It was something, as a band, we never considered.  I can tell you, speaking for myself, while we love a lot of hardcore music, and some of that scene, it did seem a little silly to be so serious.
I remember way back I had a buddy that I saw cry in the locker room during half time of a football game when I was in high school.  And I thought, ‘What the fuck?  This isn’t real life.  We’re in high school and we’re playing football.  Where are we going from here?  We’re going to go into the parking lot afterwards and get shitfaced.’  Why is this so intense?
So that sort of attitude with me, and I could probably unpack that more, is that it’s not that big of a deal.  Don’t take yourself so seriously.  So a lot of the Prize Country stuff was that we really just wanted to have fun.  We wanted this to be fun.
However, there’s real honesty in the lyrics.  There’s no other way to write.  How could I have not written what I wrote, especially if I’m trying to think of what the rules were for heavy music.  We were a rock band, we just came from a hardcore scene.

I think maybe plenty of hardcore bands sing about the same stuff, they’re just not as direct, or blunt, about it.

Yeah, sure.  Our English was a bit different.  We were more on the nose.  I didn’t really know how else to do it.  I will say, though, that when constructing lyrics I usually have batches and batches of lyrics.  I’d have a lot that I wanted to say and it would be in more of a prose, short-story kind of way.  So there were a lot of words.  But we would always write the music first, and then I would kind of just plug-and-play to see what worked.  I’d have music and find lyrics that fit the sort of emotion that the music evoked. “It was a Night Like Tonight”, or “Regular Nights”, and “What We’re Made Of” are the big sort of, filthy, sexy songs.  I think they’re romantic.  But when I whittle down the lyrics and work on my phrasing, and think about melodies, and plugging this stuff in and still think, ‘I have to play guitar while I’m doing this’.  I have to be able to do this live and do it well.  I honestly sort of dumb it down because I had to edit down a bunch and still be able to do it live.
But I never thought about it too much.  I’d never second-guessed myself about it before, but maybe now I can look back and think that was sort of ballsy.  I may be a little more subversive about how I say things now, or be a bit more guarded.  But I think back then it just came out.  That probably had to do with how much I was drinking at the time.  Liquid balls.

What did you feel were some of the big differences between your first album, “Lottery Of Recognition” and “With Love”?

It’s weird.  I think “With Love” is so much more ‘mature’.  Like, everything was aligned.  Everything was in place.  We were a fully-formed band.
But it goes back and forth.  It’s like what’s your favorite Propaghandi record, or your favorite Dillinger 4 record?  It could change week-to-week. 
“Lottery” feels a little more punk.  It was thrown together pretty fast, which is great, because it worked.  There’s some spontaneity with it.  I was a little out of my comfort zone being behind the mic.  There was a little magic that happened on that record that none of us were aware of, like ‘whoh, it worked!’  I like how quickly we put it together and how it turned out.  I even tried my hand a little at writing some political lyrics on that.
Whereas, “With Love” is way more naked.  And by that I mean it’s more gross, sweaty, and waking up on someone’s couch with your balls hanging out.  That’s really uncomfortable.

What were some of the ideas going into making that record, and what was the general status of the band during that time?

We would just have really good practices.  We were in a couple different spots.  We were practicing in this little tiny place for awhile.  And “With Love” we would come home from various tours and write two songs, go back on tour, play those two songs for a couple weeks, come back and write three more songs, go back on tour and play those five new songs, and just battle them out.
And that was a good way to test out and see what we wanted to keep, what we wanted to ditch, what would work good live, what we wanted to keep but not play it live, and so on. 
So we had this practice space downtown that we ended up moving into after having that tiny space.  A guy we knew that rented spaces told us about a place he had just bought.  It was a bar, but he wasn’t going to do anything with it for at least a year, so it just sat empty downtown.  And it was right next door to one of our favorite bars called The Tube.  So he said we could rent it for $300 a month and it was this big, empty space with a bathroom and everything.  So we got to have this enormous space all to ourselves, not sharing it with any other bands, or having to compete with bands next door to you to hear anything.  So we would just write and write and we had some great sessions there.
I remember writing “It was a Night Like Tonight” and one other song in that space while Jake was gone visiting a friend in Salt Lake.  He was a little mad that we wrote them without him, but he picked up on it and it was just fire.
And we basically wrote most of Side A of “With Love” in this one spot and then we wrote most of Side B in this other space we had in inner Southeast.  I know we wrote the last song on the record there, as well as “Cement”.
But writing that record had a lot to do with those spaces, as well as what was right next to them.  So we would go and get dinner at this one place, and then practice, or we would go get drunk and then ride our bikes to the practice spots.  We always rode our bikes around, ya know, from work to the bar, or to the practice.  An sometimes we would get a little too drunk to practice so we would skip practice.
But there was a little burnout happening around this time, we could tell.  But we knew we wanted to do this record, and we knew how heavily we were going to be hitting the road once it was out, and how hard we wanted to work the record.  We were working towards making the band sustainable.
The dream was not really money.  It was just to make the band be able to perpetuate.  To be able to just keep writing, recording, and playing out.  Can we please do that?  Is there a way to do that?  I thought non-stop touring was the way to do that.  And I don’t think I had the mechanism to stop myself, and manage the stability and mental health to make it work.  But it’s the hardest I ever worked on anything I think.  It was a ton of fun though, and there’s also embarrassing moments that make my face turn red even to this day.  Stuff like actual alcoholics telling me I needed to slow down.
We were so looking at the future without really considering the present, but I was elated to be making that record regardless.  And I think we got so focused on looking into the future that not being in the present was bd.  And it did cause us to fall apart eventually.  Of course, there was a lot of booze and drugs too that led to that.  And that’s when you met us!
One of many tours the band did

Do you have anything you would change about “With Love” given some time to reflect on it?

No.  I’ve embraced the idea of things I’ve recorded being a true reflection of what was happening at that time.  So it is what it is for when it happened.  Now if I were doing something on that record like rapping, then yeah, I would definitely want to make some changes.  But again, I’m proud to say there’s such honesty on that record, the likes of which I haven’t gotten back.  It’s not a sob story.  I’m patting myself on the back for it.  I wouldn’t change anything about any of the stuff.
Now that it was been nearly 10 years since Prize Country stopped playing I can look back and think if we would have took six months off to cool down things would have been different.  We might still be a band.  But in those last 10 years an entire life has happened- I’ve been in a bunch of other bands, I got married, so I have no regrets.  The four of us from Prize Country are all friends still and we’re all in good places, so things are good.

What was the best thing about Prize Country, and what was the worst?

Oh geez.  I think the best thing was just the work.  Just what we managed to do in five years was quite a bit.  Because that really is a short amount of time.  Five years goes by quick.  For me, the songs take a back seat to the work.  We busted our asses.  You had four dudes who didn’t know what the fuck we were doing.  We were totally untethered with careers and life.  We all agreed that we were going to crush this, this is what we want to do, and we’re going to do this the hardest we can and the best that we can.
And the worst thing was kind of failing that.  We worked that hard and the goal I was working for- to have the band sustain itself- didn’t happen even with the amount of work we were putting in, it still kind of fell apart.  But we were burnt out, and having drugs and booze in the picture didn’t help.  And at some point you just need to settle down, go to the nest, and take a break and recover and we didn’t do that enough.
I was just talking about this the other day- I stopped drinking around seven years ago.  I didn’t do the 12 steps or anything like that.  I just realized that I had to knock it off.  It wasn’t doing me any good.  So having done that I realized that I was just sort of uncomfortable, like every day.  And drinking made me comfortable.  So I would do it all the goddamn time.  So when you take the possibility that the four of us in the band were uncomfortable, and we’re uncomfortable on the road with people we don’t know, and uncomfortable at venues with shitty sound guys who are dicks to us, and all these uncomfortable things…  and I feel like we were pretty good at being outside our comfort zones.  But that would grind away at us.  And that added to things.  I know that’s certainly not unique to our band, but it was a realization to me for sure.

And there you have it.  That was a long one.  but when you don't see a dude for nearly a decade it makes some sense to catch up for awhile.  And since you made it this far here's your prize (pun intended):  Get "With Love", by Prize Country for just $5 this whole week.  That's right, one gatefold vinyl LP for $5 right HERE.  And if you want the CD it's only $4.  And if you just want them digital tracks..  you know it, $4.  Do it.  

Monday, June 17, 2019


The Helm had been getting very active by around 2008-2009.  They toured pretty frequently, put out their debut full length, “Grim Harvest” (after the 7” I had done for them), and became a staple within the Seattle/Tacoma scenes.  However, all that activity had led to some personnel changes when a member dropped out in the midst of a tour and another member faced more adult commitments they had to attend to.  So at this point new bassist Jared Shealey entered the picture, along with new drummer Jeffrey Poso.  It took some time to work them in and put them through the grinder in order to return to the musical killing machine they were.
And with this updated lineup they began writing a lot.  The band holed themselves away to work on album number two and for whatever reason they had me in mind to release it.  I remember getting a call from my good buddy Bob Swift asking if I wanted to do it and I thought it would be a good idea.  It tied in to that particular year being really busy with a lot of releases planned for the label’s 10th anniversary (hmmm…  a similar plan seems to be forming for this anniversary…  weird), extending a high five to West Coast friends while still focusing on the local/regional pride I had cultivated for much of the label’s output.  “Home” ended up becoming this big thing, with big plans.  It was an ultra dark record, with some heavy themes, and a brooding cover image.
I should also add that, personally, at this time I was unemployed, living off of basically being a scoundrel, and somehow managing to release 5 or 6 records that year.  I definitely racked up some credit card debt making records that year, that’s for sure.  Much of the time there was a lingering stress over ‘how am I going to make this happen?’ hanging over my head.  Somehow it happened.
The Helm did a West Coast tour in support of the record once it was out that went well.  A few months later, right after Christmas, the band flew out to the East Coast for a Northeast tour to further support the record.  For this run they teamed up with labelmates Oak and Bone, who supplied the gear.  I was driving a fairly spacious car at the time and I drove them to and from the shows. Yup, myself and four stinky punks riding around the Northeast at around the shittiest time of year, in one of the coldest areas of the country for over a week.  I picked the guys up in NYC where the first show was.  Oak and Bone were really late getting to the show and The Helm had to borrow gear from one of the other bands playing instead in this tiny-ass space in a warehouse that had been converted into multiple living quarters (side note: this space was lived in, and the show somewhat organized, by Ben Tate, who ended up being the primary guitarist for End Of a Year as they transitioned into being Self Defense Family).  My car got broken into that night, but thankfully there was nothing in it for anyone to steal, so no real damage done (except for the slim jim that was probably used to bend my door frame in order to open the lock).  Another show was in Burlington, VT, which may have been one of the coldest shows I had ever been at.  Both bands played the annual New Years Day show in Syracuse that I had a hand in setting up, which was filled with lots of very moshy hardcore bands whom The Helm didn’t fit in with all that well.  We all celebrated New Years Eve at a house party that got very out of control, and also played an illegal warehouse space in Boston that got shut down a few weeks after the show happened.  Lastly, there was a show in Baltimore that we all almost didn’t get to because there was a blizzard that we drove five hours through that sucked, and Oak and Bone canceled, but there was luckily gear awaiting the band once again, and I sang a Bloodlet cover with them, which made it all worthwhile.  So it was a fun time.  After that run The Helm kind of began to slow down.  Bob got married, Timm had a kid, Jared got his tattoo business up and running, and life kind of got in the way of the band.

To this day The Helm survives.  They are far less active than they used to be and are playing as a three-piece.  They have managed a few short tours, and even released a record on their own since “Home”.  But that second full length was a big moment for them and I wanted to get perspectives from guitarist Timm Trust, who was in the band from the get-go, as well as drummer Jeffrey Poso, who was the new guy at the time of that record happening.  Plus, we all live in the same region now so it makes it a little easier to keep in touch with them, which is great because I love them.  So I talked with them both, separately, and then combined the interviews into one long thing, so here it is.

T:  (discussing “Home”) It’s an acceptable 24 minutes of your life.  If you’re going to spend 24 minutes of your life doing something I don’t think you’re going to say, ‘I want my money back’, or ‘I want my time back.’  Which, at the end of the day, isn’t that the best you can do?  I don’t regret those 24 minutes!

OK, first off- The Helm:  Seattle or Tacoma band?

T:  Ooooh, loaded question.  I would say that at the heart of The Helm is the Northwest.  There are the best elements of being around Seattle for nearly two decades and the old ghosts of the city find themselves in The Helm.  And the things that make Tacoma what it is- and there are some common themes there.  People can say what they want to say about Seattle currently, but it has been the genesis of so much incredible music that spoke to a lot of people.  And the Tacoma aspect of the band- myself and Tony Wolfe (current bassist)- are heavy influences. The Pacific Northwest is where we’re from.  I’m biased because Tacoma drives me.

Are you a Tacoma native?

T:  No, my father was in the military so we moved around quite a bit.  But we got stationed at McCord before it was joined with Fort Lewis in 1994 or 1995, I think.  So I was in the 7th grade.  So being in the Northwest around 1994…  Kurt Cobain had just passed, grunge was big, “Superunknown” had just come out, Alice In Chains was big.  Being ushered into that time in the Northwest was incredibly impactful.

So you’re from Tacoma for the part of your life that matters.

T:  Yup.

So going into “Home” the new lineup with Jeffry and Jared (Shealey, bassist) entered into the band.  How was that?

T:  We like to play as many of the songs as we can, that still speak to the time, and from the 7” to the second LP, many of them still do.  Jared already had a lot of experience on bass.  He’s an incredible bass player.  And Jeffrey had seen us play with Ryan Murphy (previous drummer) at a show at the Unitarian Church of Orange (CA).  That was the first time I met him.  Before he even moved up here I met him.  I didn’t know if he had any plans of moving up to Seattle, but we really hit it off.  And then lo and behold, he moves up here, gets a hold of me, and it was a perfect fit.  His style of drumming, the songs we were writing were quite a departure from the first record, and it fit.  So both Jeffrey and Jared were already real pros and they added quite a bit to the record.

J:  Well, I’d seen The Helm, as well as Owen Hart- Timm’s other band- in Southern California.  And then I moved up (to Seattle) and saw Timm at a show.  I think it was a Planes Mistaken For Stars show.  It must have been about 12 years ago.  Him and I were just talking and he told me Murph (Ryan Murphy) was quitting, and I said, ‘oh, I just moved up here and I played drums!’  I was actually just starting to play music with Billy ( ,bassist for Post/Boredom, Jeffry’s current other band), we were just fucking around.  And Billy told Timm that he ought to try me out.  So Timm ended up giving me a call and then asked if I wanted to try out.  And it was more appealing because right from the get-go they said they wanted to do a full U.S. tour and I was into that.

Did Jared and Jeff come in at the same time?

T:  Joe (Hellsing, previous bassist) had quit the band on tour in Pensacola, Florida.  So we were in search as we came back kind of wounded.  Jeff had just started playing with the band.  So this was his first tour of the U.S.  He had just started with the band right before we went on that tour.  It was a very quick turnaround of joining the band, learning the songs, and then bam, on tour where our bass player ends up quitting.  So that was kind of a hard hit, but we came back, and Bob and I were pretty dejected from the experience.  But Jeffrey kind of took charge.  He said, ‘we’re going to do this, and do this’, and we got hooked up with Jared Shealey and I really love his influences, and he was writing really cool stuff, and a lot of that is on the record.  We co-wrote a whole bunch of really cool music, which was a departure from the first record.  That was a lot of Ben Colton (original bass player), a lot of Joe Hellsing, and so there were a lot of different influences on “Grim Harvest” (the first Helm LP) than there were on “Home”, which really colored the record.

J:  I learned those “Grim Harvest” songs and then went on tour over the summer and that’s when we first met.  That was the first tour.  It was a weirdly routed tour, but it was really fun.

I do remember seeing you play for the first time and thinking, ‘this guy needs some work’.  But I didn’t realize that you had just joined and had to learn all that back catalog right away.

J:  Playing somebody else’s songs, and a style of music I wasn’t as used to, and also fight against the amount of volume they were putting out.

Timm is rather uncompromising with his volume, no question there.

J:  That’s always sort of been the case with that band.  I’m not fighting to be heard, but if it gets so loud that you can’t even hear yourself play then it affects your performance.  I’ve told Timm that volume is cool, and melting people’s ears is cool, but there’s some people who might just hear white noise swimming through one ear and out the other and you can’t hear the song.  I’m all down for amp worship and tone worship and all that, but you gotta find a happy medium.  It gets to the point where you’re either in the business of bumming people out, and you’re enjoying that, or you’re going on stage just to make noise and not letting the parts between the notes be heard.

When you joined things moved pretty quick, but was any of “Home” written at that point, or were you involved in the entire writing process of that record?

J:  We wrote that after the tour we did.  We wrote that whole record when Jared joined, which was after that tour.  I joined and then Joe quit on our way back from that tour.  So when we got back we were looking for a bassist, found Jared, and then wrote that record.

Was The Helm the first band that you toured with?

J:  I was in another band when I was around 20 and we would play out of state in Nevada, and around Southern California.  But this is the first band I went on tour with, like a real U.S. tour.  And I had a van, so that made it easier.

That’s why they let you in. ‘This guy has a van, we need him!’

J:  ‘He’s a drummer, he’s OK at it, but he has a van that runs.’

It blows my mind to this day that you guys, with all that gear, and all that stuff, and you’re all fairly tall dudes, packed into that little, tiny van, the Silver Potato.

J:  It’s pretty great.  It’s currently sitting dead in front of Timm’s house.

That’s crazy that it’s still out there somewhere.

J:  Yup.  It’s in Pierce County, Washington.

Unincorporated Pierce County.

J:  That’s right.  Unincorporated Pierce.
                      The silver potato

Was the writing always collaborative, or was it someone took charge of the writing?

T:  Our first LP I had a lot of songs pre-written that I was mulling over.  I wrote a lot of stuff for the first LP, Joe Hellsing had some individual songs, one song from Ben Colton was in there.  But “Home” was the most collaborative effort from all of us to date.  We really shaped those songs together.  Maybe I brought a lot of riffs, and Jared brought a lot of riffs, but we sort of merged them with how they fit the emotion, or the lyrics, of the song.
Also, you got to remember, 2009 was insane.  It was the worst economic period I can ever remember in my life, having been working predominantly in the manufacturing world and warehousing, such a high percentage of people lost their jobs.  It was really scary just trying to make ends meet.  And the record is called “Home”!  A lot of the content on it is about that turmoil.  A year removed, thousands of people in Tacoma are being evicted from their houses, to say Tacoma changed drastically, and a lot of the people we knew, they were renting a house and the landlord was underwater and lost it to the bank, and those people had to move.  So it wasn’t just homeowners.  It was renters.  It was a really big deal.  So I think calling it “Home” was because we all really felt disjointed by what was happening.  It was the largest hit any of us had witnessed.  Jared’s in the tattoo industry, and people were getting less tattoos because they less expendable cash, manufacturing was total shit.  It was a big hassle.  So I think that really affected how we were writing, as well as the tone and tenor of the songs.  It wasn’t an upbeat time.  We were downtrodden and there was a lot of emotion swirling about.  And I thought we captured that with this record, and at that time.

So you’re obviously more comfortable playing the songs from “Home”, but was it a tough transition to playing the drum parts on “Grim Harvest”?  Was that not your drumming style?

J:  I joined the band knowing they were more of a hardcore band, but with a more dark, crusty vibe.  But that style of beats is more of an early 90’s, more traditional fast hardcore kind of playing that I didn’t want to do so much of.  But I knew this band was different enough with the way Timm writes so I felt like it was a happy medium.  So when I joined I don’t think I wanted to be in a fast hardcore band, but this band was unique enough, and had enough different sounds and flavors that I like to hear, mixed with a more traditional style because of Murph being from more of a straightforward hardcore background.

From l to r:  Jared Shealey, Bob Swift, some label dork, Jeffrey Poso, Timm Trust, 2009

What kind of stuff had you been playing before you moved to Seattle?

J:  I had been in a couple of other bands in California.  One was my friend John and I and we were really into stuff like The Swarm.  We would be that band that played fast hardcore, but in like C tuning that would be very cynical, and had a dark sense of humor about things that people didn’t really get.  And then that band broke up and then some friends and I started a band where we wanted to be a sort of noisy Deadguy style.  That was fun.  All those guys I played music with in the past were always down to meet up and play music, and write, but they weren’t really hungry to get on the road and that was frustrating.

And at the point you joined The Helm they were pretty active and touring pretty often.

J:  Yeah.  I liked that they wanted to tour a lot.  I remember getting together and mapping out how we would do that U.S. tour and within a week I had Denver booked and thought, ‘yeah, this is going to happen!’

So that point when the record comes out, and you’re touring, what are things like for you.  Were you thinking that this is what you wanted to do?  What were things like within that timeframe?

J:  I was living kind of wild at that time.  I was in my mid-20s.  I worked at a homeless shelter, I rode bikes, I was partying quite a bit, and I was also getting established in a cit that I hadn’t lived in for that long. And I think when we began to hunker down to finish writing “Home” is when I started getting involved in volunteering at Black Lodge (long running Seattle DIY venue).  I was just extremely busy all the time.

It kind of seems like you still are.  You’re like the only guy from that lineup of The Helm who is still active all the time with music, playing out, booking shows, and other stuff.  It’s not that the other guys gave up, they just have adult stuff to do.

J:  Yeah, when you take away the factors of not having a family, or a mortgage, or owning a business that definitely gives me more free time to put energy into that type of shit.

So when The Helm decided to slow down and not play out as much how did that affect you?

T:  I think that’s sort of a weird question.  I think what had happened is that we had been a band since around 2004.  We had put out a 7” and a couple full lengths and toured quite a bit.  We also had a lot of member changes.  And as much as I feel that having different members didn’t change the sound of the band that much, or who we were, somewhere in my mind I’m thinking, ‘wow, we’ve had a lot of people in the band, what’s wrong?  Why not quit and just start a new thing?  Why keep the same name, or going the same way?’ 
But in 2009 I got married and that changed things somewhat.  And around that time Jared Shealey had many hardships in his life- his house flooded, his dog passed away, he had some financial hardships as well that caused him to have to step away from the band.  So I think that was sort of the natural slow down.  I felt bad for Jared, and understood his dilemma.  I think also around this time Bob had started coaching cross-country, and honestly, I think that took up a great deal of his time around certain times of the year, and he’s super adept at that and he loves doing it so I didn’t want get in his way.  I didn’t want to put him in a position where he had to make some choices.  He didn’t want to hold back The Helm, but he also loved coaching and that’s what he loves to do.  So there were quite a few things that, simultaneously, stopped us from going on tour constantly.  It maybe stopped us from going over to Europe, which is what our next step wanted to be, and still really is.

J:  Well, I was still in other bands.  I think for the past 10 years I’ve always functioned in at least three bands.  It’s kind of weird because we had a little lull before we put out the second record, and then we flew out to the East Coast for that short Winter tour, and then we came back and Jared quit.  I thought things were really going to slow down then because we were getting older, and then we did one more West Coast tour with Bob (Swift, vocalist) before he left because he started a family.  But then we decided to keep the band going- me and Timm- and we’ve done about four Western U.S. tours since then.  It definitely slowed down pretty drastically, but if the opportunity came up we would tour again.  It’s a little harder because Timm has a kid too, but I think we would if the opportunity was good.

                One of the best shows ever, by the way

So what’s to keep you all from starting over and doing something new?  Why continue as The Helm since you have gone through a lot of changes over the years?

T:  I think for me having been such a large driving force as the rhythm of The Helm, and the guitar parts, and having a collaborative effort with all these different people, I felt like I wanted to keep that because it still speaks my viewpoint.  I don’t want to be like, ‘I am The Helm!’  But, Jeffrey has been in the band for a decade, and Tony Wolfe filled in when Jared couldn’t play, and he also did a tour with us when Bob was still singing for us.  So he spent some time in the band while Bob was still in the group.  When Bob stepped away all the people left in the band were still writing music.  We were still creating stuff.  Basically, the one-sided LP we did after “Home”- “Symptoms Come To Light”- all those songs were written while Bob was still in the band.  He had so many pressing things keeping him away, but we were still writing music, even though he was unable to attend practices or whatever.  So we were still the band- me, Jeffrey, and Tony.  So when Bob finally said, ‘I don’t want to hold you back, I got to step away’ we just felt like we could keep going on.  Plus, we sort of changed the name a little to Das Helm.  Jeffrey thought of that- changing it just a little bit because we were still the same nucleus, but a different version of it.  I can appreciate that because we still get to keep it.  It’s ours.  It’s a new version of the same old thing.

What’s the photo on the cover of “Home” from?

T:  The cover is a photo that Jared Shealey took.  He was walking late at night in Ballard, where he lives in Seattle, out at the Ballard docks, and there was a really heavy fog rolling in.  And he was just really struck, and moved, by this thing in a place he called home, and having the fog roll in with that weird light was a powerful image.  So he took that picture and we discussed it because it really moved us and we decided that that would be the cover.  And the inside cover- the photo of the crow sitting on top of the old brick chimney- that is picture Jared also took at a time when he was living abroad for a bit.  I think he took that in Italy.  So he did all that art for that record, as well as a few other designs for shirts and stickers.
 check that fancy gatefold and vinyl of the orange and clear variety

What’s your favorite thing about being in The Helm and what’s the worst thing about being in The Helm?

J:  The thing I like the most is that we function as a group of buds.  I’ve never once butted heads with Timm and we’ve always been pretty transparent with each other from the get-go.  As of right now we just function as buds.  I wouldn’t say we use it as a vehicle to continue seeing each other, but it does seem that way as we slowly write songs.  We still play shows.  We will occasionally play out, but real life responsibilities are more important than playing in a punk band.  But that’s my favorite part- just the camaraderie.  It feels like three friends who hang out and play music together, who get along great, are very transparent with each other, and have a great cohesion.
I think the worst part…  that’s hard.  I think for a person like me, trying to disassociate myself from the hardcore scene, is not as easy when you play that sort of music.  When you’re in a part of that community there’s some people who think that they’re really bigger than they actually are, which is just people who play in bands, and that always bothered me.  That doesn’t really have anything to do with The Helm, but it’s sort of a by-product of shows we would play sometimes.  But that’s not big, I don’t have big complaints.  The camaraderie trumps my disdain for music scenes.

T:  The best thing about The Helm is the best thing about what music allows me to do personally, which is to express thoughts, emotions, feelings, perspective, and everything that is harder to explain or speak about, and I can channel it through this emotional outlet.  I get to experience that, and collaborate with, the people who I love.  My best friends in the world.  That’s what music has allowed me to do, and what The Helm continues to allow me to do.  This is very pivotal to my sanity and my life on this planet.
The worst part about The Helm is, personally, not allowing expectation, or opinions, about my creative output to affect me personally.  It’s hard not to because it’s something that’s so vulnerable and emotional to me.  I know I write music for people to digest, but it’s not necessarily for them.  It’s for me.  I love that we can have this moment where we come together- we’re playing, we’re singing, we’re dancing, it’s a communal experience.  But this is my thing.  So, yeah, I try not to get too worked up about what has been people’s general malaise about my music for the last 15 years.  That’s it.
 And now...  the sales pitch.  This is going to be wacky.  You want that LP?  It's gonna be $5 this week.  That's right.  That's it.  It's a gatefold.  That is a crazy good deal.   Right HERE. You say you want the CD instead?  $4.  Cheap.  Over HERE.  You just want those digital jams?  $4.  Take it or leave it via THIS.  I'm in a giving mood folks.