Black Helium Interview

Black Helium, a band originating from London, practice in London, but live in Portsmouth to Margate. They commonly find solace once a week in rehearsal studios in a dreamlike studio where they can close the door and jam till their hearts content with extremely loud mega riffs flying around the rehearsal room and nobody would know they were there.

Black Helium - Photo by Emma Steel

In a cosy nook atmosphere laying down tracks, playing tunes, rehearsing and jamming, heavy, dirge, stodgy, thick layered spaced riffs accompanied by heavy stealth like drums. ‘Have you got ear buds?’ asks Beck & Stuart.

Comprising of two guitar players, bass player and drummer, Black Helium have been around, believe it or not, since 2005 and members were in previous incarnations like The Dirty Birds, Swanker’s and Brain Washington, all bouncing around various bands in London.

The line-up consists of:

Stuart Gray – Vocals & Guitar
Diogo Gomes – Drums
Beck Harvey – Bass & Vocals
Davey Mulka – Guitar & Vocals

2019 has been a whopper of a year for Black Helium having just come off tour with monolithic doom riffers Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, or Pigs x7, last month trucking across the land making heavy droning, psychedelic riffs, music beamed live to rather large underground audiences. ‘It was a pleasure to go on tour with them’ Says guitarist/vocalist Davey.

How did you get on Pigs x7 radar?

Beck: We played a gig with them in Margate.

Davey: There was a promoter I knew in Margate who put us on the bill, both bands played then afterwards it was just a mutual ‘We really enjoyed your set’ so we stayed in touch and we did a gig up in Newcastle called Brave Exhibitions – A three day festival at the Cluny in Newcastle.

Two of the guys that are in Pigs x7, John and Matt, were previously in a band called Blown Out, who were releasing an album on Riot Season, and also put our first album out with as well, and that was really where it properly formed. Those guys played before us at Brave Exhibitions festival and then we had a good old chat afterwards. They said they had a gig at Nottingham Rock City, that was in April and we played with them there, the tour offer came in not long after that and obviously we jumped at it

Beck: They’re great band and we kind of complement each other although we’re not exactly the same…and I was always eating their food.

[we all laugh loudly]

Davey:  They’re the most lovely human beings.

What about playing gigs in current times as opposed to playing in previous decades?

Davey: It’s like a scene without the major labels and it’s kind of a lot of Generation X generation.

Stuart: People who kind of got into Mudhoney when they first came out, and also you’ve got bands like The Utopia Strong, who’ve got the likes of Steve Davis, the snooker player, in their band, who’s in his 60s, so it’s kind of a weird mixture of different psyche, psychedelic and different versions of psychedelia so you’ve got kind of heavy and kind of kraut rocky and kind of 60s, but it kind of all works together and you can get festivals with all these different types of acts.

Beck (says jokingly): Several generations of acid people who were brought up on Mr Ben.

Black Helium 'Primitive Fuck'

What is the common thread of music for the band, what are you listening to?

Beck: I don’t know, I like all sorts of weird stuff, but I like mainly 60s psychedelia. I suppose with a bit of Miles Davis thrown in there, I’ve also been a massive Jackson 5 fan, I love the bass on there- soul bass

What about current bands?

Stuart: We went to see Sleep the other day & Bonnacons of Doom.

Diogo: Surprisingly I don’t listen to a lot of super happy music these days. When it comes to likes with this band, my influences are probably more 70’s & 60’s psych music that transition from psychedelia into metal, MC5, The Stooges, that’s kind of my main inspiration for drumming in this band.

Stuart: On the drive up we were listening to Chris Kristofferson and recently watched the Ken Burns Country Music documentary. Folk, obscure folk, acid folk, like Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Comas, Can, Krautrock, Pink Floyd/Pompeii, but yeah metal was my entry point into music. I do listen to Electric Wizard, Melvins and Hawkwind. But you can get heavy fatigue if you listen to too much of it, it stops being heavy. We probably all listen to The Stooges, The Groundhogs & 60s garage rock.

How do your influences impact on your music?

Beck: I think our songs are quite weirdly melodic, but we like to play really loud, there has to be a really good riff & a really good melody.

Davey: The be-all and end-all is The Stooges also Interpol, My Bloody Valentine’s wall of sound, that’s the loudest concert I ever went to, I’sn’t Anything & You Made Me Realise loud on loop-over and over again.

Beck: As a band we’ve been around for ages, there never has been an agenda really, it’s always been pretty organic I feel… And also you can kind of get addicted to playing, you don’t really wanna stop, a bit like bong baths every Wednesday [laughs].

Black Helium - Photo by Jo Higgs

What are your songs about, the cliché I suppose is about death?

Stuart: Yeah that’s probably it, what else is there? Optimism and cold indifference? The first song on our new album is called ‘Hippy On A Slab’ that’s due out February 2020.

Davey: I love the story behind that. We were just thinking about album covers and Becky‘s dad had some pictures of dead hippies.

Becky: That sounds a bit wrong, but my dad was in the Police during the 70s and had slides of people after heroin overdoses.

How about giving us a quote from the song Hippy On A Slab?

Stuart: ‘Loving, killing, it’s the same thing’ – I was reading the Bugliosi book about The Manson Family when one of the family members, what’s her name… in the book she was talking about killing people and she was saying; ‘it’s going to be like a trip man, it will be a beautiful thing with colours’ and that kind of weird approach to serious stuff.

Davey: I find comfort in repetition.

Do you you fit into any particular ‘scene’ as you’ve got a kind of heavy, a kind of kraut rocky and a kind of 60’s sound but it kind of all works together, so you can get on festivals with all these different types of acts?

Beck: We played Glastonbury Psychfest, which had people still making music in there 60’s and 70’s, and are still on it and still playing psychedelic music. Our songs are quite melodic, possibly poppy in places with the first album Primitive Fuck, but not radio friendly in the corporate world of current mainstream. Putting that album out really nudged us out of the rehearsal studios.

What about your new album as I’m curious to know whats cooking in the pot?

Beck: It’s a lot less sterile than the first LP Primitive Fuck – a much more freer, visceral organic live feel. Recorded in one room over 2 days live, the songs are more shapeless and psychedelic – we watched Live In Pompeii on mushrooms and thought wow yeah – thats the way. All tracks produced by the amazing Wayne Adams of Petbrick and Big Lad at Bear Bites Horse studio in Shoreditch.

Any up and coming gigs you can mention?

01/02/2020: Artrocker Club with Magic Moss & Zonama

And we’ve been announced as playing Kozfest – 24-26 July 2020 in a field in North Devon by the sea.

Thanks go to Black Helium for inviting me down to their practice room to conduct this interview. Their current release Primitive Fuck (stream below) is out now on Riot Season, and keep your eyes peeled for their new album landing in Febuary 2020.

Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Interviewed by: Asha Chandragiri
Photo Credit: Emma Steel (Promo) / Jo Higgs (Live)