I always appreciate it when a publicist goes out of his or her way to mention the Portland angle on a national story. So when ol' Frank Nieto pointed out Portland-based artists playing Seattle's City Arts Fest 2011 (October 20-22 at various Emerald City venues), I paid special attention. That's when I saw this:

- Helio Sequence @ The Seattle Laser Dome - an evening with performance, set to a full laser light show. They are one of three artists performing in this venue at the festival - the others are Seattle School of Rock and Man Man.
Wait, what? Yes. It's true. According to Nieto, the dome has hosted live shows from bands like Grizzly Bear and Jennifer Gentle in the past. But Helio Sequence + Lasers? That's just so right. (The show is October 21 at the awesomely-named Laser Dome. Tickets are $15 here, or you can also purchase a full-fest wristband for $69) So naturally, I wrote to Helio to find out what goes into making a laser show. They didn't really know. But still, this little Q&A is still well-worth reading, as Helio's Benjamin Weikel drops some knowledge about the band's forthcoming LP and what the duo has been listening to as of late. Here's Benjamin:

WW: How's your summer going?
BW: Busy busy busy. Brandon and I are working 12 hours a day (on the weekdays) on our new record.

What's inspiring you these days? 
Well... we're both inspired by very different things at this point.

From Benjamin:
I've been digging deep into the history of ambient and electronic music (from Pierre Henry, Columbia-Princeton, BBC and Raymond Scott up until the late 80's or so). Loving so many things... but I feel like these are some of my favorites and most influential... Terry Riley, Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co., Peter Michael Hamel, Tomita, Roedelius (Cluster, Harmonia), Manuel Göttsching (Ashra), Eno (of course), J.D. Emmanuel, early Michael Stearns, early Steve Roach and Harold Budd. Also... although I can't say there are any influential or favorite bands... I really like the idea and concept behind the 'Chill Wave' movement (the lo-fi memories of cassettes, VHS, etc.) and how in some ways there are connections to the above classic artists because of the technology and style involved with the earlier electronic recordings.

The one thing that has been a common inspiration for both of us is vinyl and our Rega turntables. It has been incredible to hear all of this music in it's original intended medium (and often cut from the fresh original analog masters)... the CDs, Remasters, MP3's and often even the vinyl reissues just don't compare to the originals!

From Brandon:
I've found myself being influenced by a lot of things outside of the "rock" world for this record.  I went through a period of deep fascination with Frank Sinatra and his concept albums on Capitol in the 1950's...particularly the darker albums dealing with loneliness and lost love that he described as his "Suicide Albums".  The two that really hit me were Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely and Where Are You?  I'm really drawn to the minimalism and starkness of Sinatra's vocal delivery and amazed at how much he could add to a lyric with inflection and phrasing.  It's inspiring hearing someone go that deep into both themselves and a song in those performances.  The way that Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins wrote the arrangements to compliment and augment the vocal meaning has also been a big influence in the way that we've thought about our arrangement and production during this record....trying to keep in mind what enhances and supports meaning and working towards a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

I've also delved deep into a lot of Jazz...from the West Coast and Cool Jazz of the 1950's to more "out there" stuff...guys like Lee Konitz, Bill Evans Jimmy Giuffre, Mingus' The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady album, lots of Coltrane, Duke Ellington's Anatomy of a Murder Soundtrack and Black Brown and Beige Suite and more.  I've also been on an ECM records kick lately...mostly the more esoteric/ ambient stuff from Ralph Towner, David Darling, Paul Bley, etc.  The Paul Motian record It Should've Happened A Long Time Ago is mind blowing...guitarist Bill Frisell is just amazing!!  Again, it's the the lyrical and minimal quality in a lot of Jazz that has been really inspiring, and these are the ideas that I see informing both what Benjamin and I have been listening to and creating together on our newest record.

Is there a new record in the works?
We are about 3/4 finished with our 5th full length. There is a shift with the newest recording towards something warmer and more organic (yet perhaps more spacey and detailed than KYEA). At the studio we have moved towards more vintage inspired mic preamps (warm and colorful!), more vintage dynamic and ribbon microphones... moved away from newer digital delays and FX towards vintage analog delays, tape echoes and spring reverbs. With our instruments we aren't using anything that we have ever used before (and we've been using a lot of the same gear since we began playing together back in '96). I gave up my newer (25 year old) drum set for an older (44 year old) one. Brandon changed out his guitar amps, guitars and FX. I gave up all of my newer digital synths for vintage ones. It has been really fun starting from scratch with different tones and slowly finding our direction with this new equipment.

Please tell me what goes into making a Helio Sequence laser show!!!!
We actually don't even know yet. Supposedly, we will send them the songs we will be playing and then they are going to 'orchestrate' the laser show. We're not sure about sending/leaking the new tracks just yet and don't have recordings of some of the alternate versions of other tracks we will be performing... Hmmm, can one improvise a laser show?

How did the Helio laser show come about?
Well... we had a choice. We could have done another Neumos show (which is always fun), but we have played there 4 of 5 times since KYEA has come out. We could have done one or two nights of a more mellow set at the Triple Door (which is a really nice/fancy sit down venue). Or we could do a show at the Laser Dome with a laser light show. Well, I guess it wasn't much of a choice. Of course we're going to do a laser show at the Laser Dome!

Is a Helio Sequence laser show a longtime dream of yours?
Well... I didn't think it was possible. When I think of laser shows and music I think of Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Doors and Radiohead in the 90's at OMSI. I don't know how we could possibly live up to this memory!?

Can you tell that I am seriously stoked on a Helio Sequence laser show?
I think I'm more excited now, thanks for your enthusiasm!