Black Helium interview
Black Helium are a four piece psychedelic rock group based in London. Never afraid to stray from the beaten path, Stuart Gray, Beck Harvey, Diogo Gomes and Davey Mulka fearlessly traverse aural hallucinatory soundscapes; from detuned Neanderthal rock to deep oceans of introspective blissed out psych.
Who’s in Black Helium and what do you all play? Have you all made any changes to the lineup since you started or is this the original lineup?
Stuart: I play guitar and sing. We’ve had a strange, disjointed history. Personally, I like to think of this band starting in 2016, but there were a few versions of Helium doing the odd toilet gig since 2005. As for line-up changes; well we’ve had more drummers than Spinal Tap, so we’re super happy that Diogo has been with us since around 2017. He’s the best drummer I’ve ever played with.
Beck: Ello, I’m Beck and I play bass and sing! Ah no, we are not the original lineup… since the beginning we’ve had a lot of drummers! This line-up, Stuart Gray , Beck Harvey, Davey Mulka and Diogo Gomes has settled in to itself… feels good and we’ve been doing this since 2017…
When and how did you all originally meet?
Stuart: Well I’d know Beck for a few years before we did Helium, so when my old band fell apart, she came straight to mind. This was back in 2005, I was in a band called Badge and she was in Brain Washington. We both come from the London garage/psych scene, although I was in a few metal bands earlier on. I guess that DNA is still prevalent in our sound.
Beck: I met Stu in some dingy bar in Soho in a drunken haze… think our addled brains made some connection over chatting about Dennis Wilson – ‘Carry Me Home’ track…
Stuart: Wow! forgot about that track. That’s a dark one.
Davey: I used to play with Beck many moons ago playing fast scuzzy bubblegum trash and it was so much fucking fun. My tenure in that band was temporary but I always wanted to pick that up again with her. Stu and I had talk about doing stuff for a long time too. When they decided to put BH together I made sure I was gonna be part of that.
Diogo: I got in thanks to Sammy Clark, who runs the excellent record shop/venue Elsewhere in Margate and who knew Davey and got me in touch with him and the rest of the band after Ben left.
What does the name “Black Helium” refer to?
Beck: It, errr, was a misheard misunderstanding… my friend told me there was an element in the periodic table that only exists for a micro second and then decays to zilch… It was called ‘Black Helium’… I was like ‘WOW… Black Helium…’ but it wasn’t called Black Helium… its was called Berkelium… totally misheard… I am a berk…
Stuart: Yes, you are a berk(elium). In some ways I kinda like having a bit of a crappy name. It makes you try harder.
“A cross between Electric Wizard’s ‘Dopethrone’ and ‘Playing with Fire’ by Spacemen 3”
Can you share some further details how your latest album ‘The Wholly Other’ was recorded and released?
Beck: It was recorded at Bear Bites Horse studio with the amazing Wayne Adams of Pet Brick… It was tracked in 2 days , live and sweaty and Wayne captured that. He just seemed to capture that hot energy and power that you get when playing live at high volumes! Just seemed to be such an effortless procedure with dynamic results…
Stuart: I’d heard Wayne’s recordings a while before we worked with him and thought he would be ideal for our music. My weird mental template for the album was for it to sound like a cross between Electric Wizard’s ‘Dopethrone’ and ‘Playing with Fire’ by Spacemen 3. But then me and Beck did some shrooms and watched ‘Live in Pompeii’ and decided it had to sound like that. But in reality, I don’t think it sounds like any of it. But what Wayne did was amazing. There seems to be a method to his madness because he got such a huge, textural sound from basically just us playing the whole album live in one room over two days.
How pleased were you with the sound of the album?
Stuart: When I first heard it, I thought he fucking nailed it. I was blown away.
Beck: So super pleased!!!
Davey: It definitely feels like the perfect representation of where we are right now. We recorded it live more or less as that primal energy was sort of missing from the first album. Wayne Adams did a stellar job working us to get that vibe down.
How would you compare it to your debut release?
Stuart: The first album contains songs I wrote years ago, so in some ways I can’t relate to them anymore. ‘The Wholly Other’ was written over a few months, so it feels like much more of a document of that time. Also, it the first time ever we’ve had anything resembling a stable line-up, so we locked in as a band much more this time. But we definitely wanted to make a different sounding album. We’re not really into competing with ourselves. Trying to make a better album can be a daunting task, so we just though “let’s just do something different”, so you can’t really compare the two albums.
Beck: The experience of recording the first LP was completely different. It was recorded in a completely different way and we were inundated with setbacks and problems… So, the ease of recording LP 2 was such a delight! EASY!
“If it’s weird and sonically exciting, we like to follow that… I think we all have ADHD.”
How do you usually approach music making?
Stuart: For the first album it was a case of me bringing in old ideas and seeing if they still worked. But with the new album, I would come in with basic ideas and they would get ripped apart and restructured. I think being too precious about things is a good way of avoiding interesting ideas. I remember on ‘Hippie On A Slab Beck’ saying, “we need an alien alphabet section in the middle”. I’m not sure what she meant, but we still tried it and it worked.
Beck: Just always try and stay open minded… and push those boundaries… If it’s weird and sonically exciting, we like to follow that… I think we all have ADHD.
Stuart, you have a solo career as well. How about others? Are any of you involved in any other bands or do you have any active side-projects going on at this point?
Stuart: I’m doing another Black Knight Satellite album with Dan Davies from Wolf People which is so far sounding amazing. Also, I’m halfway through recording a second doomy folk album, which is basically my take on UK 70s solo artists like John Martyn, Robert Wyatt and Nick Drake. I wouldn’t call it a solo project, that makes me sound like a proper musician.
Beck: Yeah, I am recording a solo LP… space jazz funk for the medieval mind… watch this space.
“I like the idea of writing music that may never be performed live.”
What are some future plans?
Stuart: Well with no gigs on the horizon it’s a good opportunity to write and record album three. Who knows how long this is going to go on for? I like the idea of writing music that may never be performed live. The idea of really going deeper inside ourselves and creating something introspective. But saying that, by the time it’s finished it could sound like Boney M. That’s the fun thing about being in this band, we do what we want.
Beck: LP 3!
Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
Stuart: ‘Pet Sounds’ by The Beach Boys, ‘Forever Changes’ by Love, ‘Split’ by Groundhogs, any of the first five Black Sabbath albums and ‘S.F. Sorrow’ by The Pretty Things will always be top for me. As for new stuff, I really like the new Shirley Collins record. In fact, her new stuff sits easily with her best. Her voice is a real power, there’s zero affectation or vulnerability, but it still sounds very human. Another big one for me this year was Aretha Franklin’s ‘Amazing Grace’. Me and Becky were in tears when we first saw it. I became obsessed. I was randomly talking to people at work about it, telling everyone I knew to watch it. People at work probably thought I was having some form of breakdown. I think although her and Collins are completely different singers, there’s a similar otherworldliness to them. I think they’re directly channelling the big other… tuned in to the big frequency.
Beck: I don’t have the attention span to sit through a whole LP, but I do get a bit obsessed with tracks. ‘Wake Up Dead’ by Megadeth, ‘Sails Of Charon’ by Scorpions, ‘When I See Mommy I Feel Like a Mummy’ by Captain Beefheart, ‘Diana’ by Comus, ‘Cage’ by Music Emporium, ‘Love Fingers’ by Silver Apples, ‘The Iron Stone’ by Incredible String Band…
Davey: Changes from week to week. Mainstays are: ‘Fun House’ by The Stooges, ‘Daydream Nation’ by Sonic Youth, ‘Superfuzz Bigmuff’ by Mudhoney, ‘Reign In Blood’ by Slayer, ’36 Chambers’ by Wu Tang Clan… But I also been playing Sepultura’s ‘Chaos A.D.’ for the first time in years and forgot what a fucking great record that is! Coltrane is never far from my stereo either!
Thank you. Last word is yours.
Stuart: We all can’t thank everyone who supported us at this time enough. Even during the end times people are showing support and kindness. It means the world to us. Love to you all.
Davey: Go and buy our record and play it at deafening volume. Thank you