Interview: Helpless

Helpless will always be centred around grindcore, but we’re not a grindcore band. Musical freedom is vital in order to avoid becoming stale.

Helpless are one of UK underground metal’s best up and coming bands and their heady mix of grind, hardcore and metal is as enjoyable as it is intense. They are about to release their new album Caged In Gold on Church Road Records and Gavin Brown had a chat with Dan Couch (vocals/guitar) and Sam Trenchard (drums/vocals) from the band to talk about the album, how their music has got more expansive with this record and their recent and upcoming live shows.

E&D: Your new album Caged In Gold is out very soon. How did the creation and recording of the album go?

Dan: We began recording in October 2020, November saw another lockdown in the UK so it halted the process somewhat. But luckily we had done the majority of the work by that point and only had to record some vocal parts ourselves some time later.

Sam: It was a little strange having the first lockdown implemented mid way through the album writing. I was concerned it might take a little bit of the momentum out of putting the new songs together, but was pleasantly surprised when we finally got back to it and carried on as if we hadn’t just been sat around in our pants playing video games for several months.

E&D: What has the reaction been for your new material so far?

Dan: It’s been great. I’m pretty stoked that people still remember and have any interest in the band, despite this being our first release in nearly 5 years.

E&D: Does the albums title refer to anything in particular?

Dan: The title is supposed to be open to interpretation, though it has its own meaning to me personally. Generally speaking, the album deals with illusions; the ones we are forced to endure and the illusions we conjure for ourselves, that serve only to manipulate us, distort our world view and further lose touch with reality and our humanity.

E&D: The grind elements of your sound are still prevalent on Caged In Gold, but there are more elements to your music this time around. Did you want to make a more diverse album with this one?

Dan: I can’t think of anything more dull than being in a band that just sticks to one genre. We all like a lot of different music and it’s always been my aim to mash together elements of my favourite bands into something that is (hopefully) coherent. Helpless will always be centred around grindcore, but we’re not a grindcore band. Musical freedom is vital in order to avoid becoming stale.

Sam: Helpless has always been experimental with sound since their beginning (before Simon and myself joined) so it was cool to get involved in that writing process and add our own little touches and ideas without completely changing the sound of the band. As fans of the band before we joined I think that was quite important to us.

E&D: Did you want to create the most intense album you could with record?

Dan: I certainly wanted the record to hit harder than Debt. I’m still very proud of what we did with that album, but having Sam and Simon join the band pushed us in a certain direction by default. The music came very organically.

Sam: We all became friends through playing intense and noisy music in this part of the country, so creating what we have didn’t take that much effort as such.

E&D: Can you tell us a bit about the cover artwork for the album?

Dan: The cover art is a painting by Chris Nicholls, who also painted the cover for Debt. It was a no brainer having them create the artwork for this album. I actually had a very different idea for the cover, but I’m glad Chris asked to do their own thing because I couldn’t be happier with the result. I hadn’t intended to have such a recurring theme across the album covers, but Chris’ interpretation of Caged In Gold has made me rethink that. Great artist and an absolute dream to work with.

E&D: This is your first release on Church Road Records. How is life on the label?

Dan: It’s been awesome. They’re signing bands from all over the world and they’re doing an excellent job. I’ve known Sammy and Justine respectively for around 10 years now, so it’s great to work with friends in this way and I’m forever grateful for the time and effort they’ve put into releasing our nonsense.

Sam: Their enthusiasm and passion for this type of music, and the “scene” in general, is fantastic and an absolute pleasure to work with.

E&D: How would you say Helpless have revolved as a band since your debut album Debt?

Dan: Having 2/3 of the band change has sort of forced an evolution. I wanted to top Debt as best we can, I believe a band should always try to outdo themselves. Sam comes from a death metal/grindcore background and Simon has been in countless bands from thrashy hardcore to doom/black metal. I’ve known both guys for a long time and recorded their bands so I was already quite familiar with their playing styles. We’ve merged together naturally and I think Caged In Gold is a huge step up from Debt.

Sam: New musicians within a band will always change the sound of the band to some extent. We wanted to keep the “feel” of the band as coherent as possible based on such a large percentage of the line-up being different, but of course we all have our own styles of playing, our own backgrounds and influences so it’s a case of applying those within an already fairly well defined format.

E&D: Have you got any plans for live shows once Caged In Gold comes out?

Dan: We’re looking to book a UK tour sometime in October, we already have a great UK band interested as tour support. We’re also doing a release show on April 1st in Plymouth, which will be announced very soon. We would love to tour outside of the UK sometime.

E&D: I saw Helpless supporting Conan in Nottingham late last year. How did that gig go for the band?

Dan: That was a cool show. I love playing mixed bills. It was the first time I’d seen Underdark as well, though I couldn’t see them very well as it was packed in there. They were great. Being asked to play a show like that, despite being fairly inactive due to writing and recording is always nice and The Taipan Commune guys were great hosts. We made a few new fans at that show and we’ll definitely be in Nottingham again when we come to tour the album.

E&D: You also supported Employed To Serve, how did that go?

Dan: Yeah that was in my hometown of Plymouth. Really well attended gig. We don’t play a lot of local shows, I think it’s important not to overplay so that when you do, it’s a bit more of an event. ETS are such a professional band, their sound, stage lighting, stage presence and all that. It was great just to hang out too, I hadn’t seen those guys in years before that show.

E&D: Who would you love to tour with in the future?

Dan: If I was to go for dream tours then definitely Yautja, Great Falls, Full Of Hell, Cult Leader, Converge….the list could go on forever.

E&D: Did you want to capture your live ferocity on the new record?

Dan: Yes definitely. We tracked the drums as a live band with guitar and bass scratch tracks. Minimal use of click tracks. Overdubbed guitar, bass and vocals. There’s an energy to playing live that is essential to this type of music so we wanted to capture that as best we can. I think the record could have sounded very lifeless if we were to record guide tracks to a metronome.

Sam: We’ve all been so active in playing live shows with other bands over the years, it’s just the normal way we play. I see each recording as a snap-shot in time for those particular songs.

E&D: What have been some of the most memorable shows that Helpless have played so far?

Dan: With the previous line up, it would definitely be playing Download festival, supporting Full Of Hell and the couple of shows we did with Nails. I was surprised that anyone came to watch us at Download, that was my first time attending that festival too.

Sam: For me, the first show after lockdown was the most profound. Having such a long time away from playing in front of people and hanging with friends at gigs, getting back on it was fantastic, if a little strange at first. After a while you get used to not doing it, and forget a little just why you do.

Dan: Yeah that show was weird…in a good way. Great to be back playing. Felt strange being around so many people in an enclosed space, but it very quickly felt like old times again.

E&D: What is the best show that you have ever witnessed?

Dan: That would be either The Melvins at Hellfest or Converge, Kylesa, Trap Them and Gaza at The White Rabbit in Plymouth. Seeing that line up in my hometown was a dream come true.

Sam: A very difficult question to answer, as i’d likely think of something else after I’ve answered it. Insect Warfare at Obscene Extreme in 2016, The Melvins at The Croft (which wasn’t a big venue) in Bristol in 2012 are perhaps highlights.

E&D: What is the heavy music scene like at the moment in your hometown of Plymouth and what bands would you recommend for us to check out?

Dan: While I can’t speak for the other guys (who don’t live in Plymouth), Carcinoma is a particularly awesome band. They’re all friends of mine and Steve Waldron is the bassist for them (former Helpless bassist) so I’m biased haha. Regardless, there’s no one doing what they do in this area or in this country really – and they are criminally underrated. There’s a healthy metal/rock/punk scene here and having worked at the local rehearsal/recording studio, I know too many bands to mention but here’s a selection that comes to mind: Warcrab, Patrons, Piss Midget, Hellwigs, The Dweebs.

E&D: How did you get into extreme music in the first place?

Sam: I grew up listening to classic heavy metal thanks to my Dad. This definitely lead me down a path in my early teenage years to find things of increasing heaviness and extremity. Death metal, grindcore and others at the most extreme end of the musical scale have been a passion ever since.

Dan: Similarly, my dad had records and CDs of Black Sabbath, Motörhead and the like, so that was the catalyst for sure. I actually went off metal (nu-metal to be precise) when I discovered Nirvana around the age of 13, metal seemed incredibly stupid to me then. I got heavily into grunge for about 2 years, but then things changed when I was introduced to 3 bands: Converge, Norma Jean, Curl Up And Die. I had no idea what they were doing but I had to try to figure it out. It was also at that time I was introduced to Myspace, which allowed me to discover more bands than I could ever hope to remember and my interest in extreme music grew from there.

E&D: What have been some of the highlights in your time with Helpless so far?

Sam: Honestly, all of it. The pandemic might have slowed down our output and ability to play gigs so far, but making this racket with these people, and being able to play it in front of others where we have been able has been an absolute pleasure. I hope we can do much more of it in the very near future.

Dan: Hanging out with my friends and making music is all I’ve ever wanted to do, everything that comes after that is a bonus. So there’s been a lot of bonuses, haha!

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