Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel were working at a music store in Beaverton, Ore., in the mid-'90s when they began what would eventually become the Helio Sequence. After the store closed for the day, the boss would let Summers and Weikel do whatever they wanted with the space; they'd move all the instruments out of the way and set up their own gear and begin writing, practicing and recording.
"I think at that point, we were really fascinated by texture and more of a sonic quality to music," said Weikel, who plays drums and keyboards. "Being from Portland, similar to Seattle, (there was) just a lot of kind of dirty, grungy rock coming out of the late '80s and early '90s, and we just wanted to do this totally different thing with keyboards and reverb and delays and guitar textures and effects."
Weikel and Summers, who sings and plays guitar, wrote three songs for the Summers' family reunion as their first project. "We even have it recorded; it's super out-there and crazy and all that," said Weikel. "I think his family, they all kind of listen to, you know, a lot of music from the '60s, so to them, it was just like, 'Yeah, man, this reminds me of, like, you know, gettin' high and listening to music from back in the day.'"
After those three songs, the idea began to grow. "Then the next year, we did the same thing. We did maybe five songs; we still had no vocals," said Weikel. "I was playing really quiet at first, and then we started having bigger drum beats and bigger sound. And from there, Brandon started singing, and we started writing songs, and we always had tons of influences, so it was just kind of, sucking in more music and diversifying what we did and now we're where we are."
Where they are is Love and Distance, their third full-length, just released on Sub Pop. Full of texture and sonic quality, and the kind of sequencing and artistic song structure that makes each Helio Sequence record different from the next, Love and Distance incorporates blues and folk elements with the keyboards and guitars.
Part of what makes Love and Distance so scenic is the fact that the Helio Sequence are in a different place, both musically and physically. The three years since Young Effectuals had both Summers and Weikel touring as the Helio Sequence, and Weikel spent a good amount of time touring and recording with Modest Mouse. When they finally found time to work on their new record, that little music store in Beaverton seemed light years away.
One of the places they ended up recording was in Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock's garage while he was away doing overdubs and mixing for Good News for People Who Love Bad News.
Explained Summers, "It was cool because it was in a place where it was kind of out--not in the country, but up in the hills, away from people, not a particularly downtowny kind of neighborhood, so we could be really loud late into the night, which is when we work best. So we just set up there, and for two straight weeks, we'd just go there at the beginning of the day and record late into the night."
Summers continued, "This album, since it came together in so many different places, there's really a diversity in the songs. Each place kind of urges you to do something different, like piecing together a puzzle."
The band's name, in a sense, gives the best description of the band's sound, especially on Love and Distance.
"The idea behind it was that we felt we were a sequence band, but we felt there was something more organic about what we did," said Weikel, and Love and Distance is the organic mixed with the electronic and cooked until all the flavors can come through and kick your palate's ass.
"Harmonica Song" is aptly named, and "Everyone Knows Everyone" throws a little more harmonica into the mix, on top of keyboards making a bubbly noise and an acoustic guitar. The songs are upbeat, and the melodies hang on catchy '60s-style guitar hooks. "So Stop" is a little more low-key, with classical guitar and Weikel lending his voice, and the chorus on "The People of the Secret" is the stick-in-your-head-for-days sort. Love and Distance is, all told, the kind of record that works in a car stereo on the highway, in a five-disc changer in a hip Brooklyn loft, or on the back porch of a suburban house.
Weikel and Summers' musical influences range all over the map, from "out-there space-rocky type music, and kind of heavily-orchestrated keyboard stuff," to "late-'60s, 1967-anything," said Weikel. Weikel mentioned that he and Summers are currently into Indonesian music, since Weikel's girlfriend lived in Indonesia, and Summers is half Indonesian.
"After a while, it's like there's so much music out there that you start digesting it faster and faster," said Weikel. "As we get more and more influences, it's more and more easy for that to come through in the music."
Said Summers, "From the songwriting standpoint ... as much as we're a band, we're songwriters, like a songwriting team. And we just kind of focused in on that a little more on this album, thinking about writing songs, and a lot of different styles ended up coming up, because we just asked ourselves what the song needed: This song has a harmonica and an acoustic guitar, or something, and that had never happened before on our other albums; it's kind of a way of branching out and looking for new places to take things, really."
The place they're in now, albeit a good one, can and will change. As Summers explained, their goal has always been to continually be "taking music at least as we knew it somewhere different than where we'd seen it go."