On their full-length debut, Helpless unleashes a vicious amalgam of mathcore, hardcore and grind that rips the throat of those who listen. This new album, titled Debt, delivers 22 unyielding minutes of dissonant, frenetic riffs, pummeling grooves and oppressive sonic weight. It’s mission is to destroy, and destroy it does.
Svbterranean recently caught up with vocalist and guitarist Dan Couch to discuss the new album, dissonance and future plans.
Could you please introduce yourself and your role in Helpless?
I’m Dan and I play guitar and shout into microphones.
How did Helpless come into being?
Me and Steve[Waldron, bass] were in a band before Helpless a few years ago, but our drummer had to split. So I got in touch with Rusty[Cleave, drums] (who I knew as a guitarist) asking if he knew any drummers that could play our type of music, as he knew what our other band was all about. He sent me a video of Ben Koller (Converge) playing drums and said he could play that and was keen to join. We met up for a rehearsal shortly after that and it just clicked.
How do you feel Helpless has evolved from its inception to now?
Originally we set out to just be a Gaza rip-off band, adding in our influences from other heavy bands like Converge and The Secret, but not limited to those. I suppose we’ve embraced our noise rock influences somewhat on the new record more so than before. I hope the band constantly evolves and we don’t get stuck making the same records over and over.
How has performing and writing for Helpless challenged you as a musician?
I write a lot of the songs, at least in their first forms, then we bastardise them at rehearsal and make something that makes sense. I always try to push myself on the guitar, if a song isn’t hard to play at the beginning then I tend to think it might be shit. So I try to make every song a challenge from the start, which forces me to get better. We all think like that. At the same time it’s about finding a balance between complexity and simplicity and how best to marry the two for maximum effect.
Helpless’ music is often unpredictable and complex. What is it about more technical and
complex forms of metal and hardcore that drew you to them?
I suppose it comes from my interest in hearing music that I don’t understand. It makes me want to figure it out. A lot of songs in metal and punk are a couple of chords or whatever and if you can play an instrument, you can figure out what’s happening pretty quickly and even predict what’s going to happen next. When I first heard bands like Converge I had no idea what was going on. But I liked it. So I absorbed it. I hold that same mentality today and try my best to write music that is unpredictable, but not a mess.
The music of Helpless and similar acts utilizes a lot of dissonance. What do you feel this
musical characteristic adds to this type of sound?
It’s pretty much integral to our sound. I get bored of hearing the same kind of riffs or chord patterns in metal and punk music. Dissonance liberates you from the constraints of standard music writing. I try not to get weighed down by music theory (though it helps) and just write what sounds good to me. There’s a pretty uncomfortable feeling you get when you listen to dissonant music, which is a feeling we want to convey in our music. You don’t have the anchor of a typical musical key, a lot of it ends up being chromatic; that lets the music go where it wants to some degree. But I always want to control the chaos so that it doesn’t become intelligible. It’s a fine line for us.
What can you tell us about the new record, Debt? Writing, recording, etc?
We had been writing for about a year or so before recording, still tweaking vocal parts when we got to the studio in February. We spent 4 days at Titan Studios in Watford, recording with Steve Sears, who did a great job of capturing our sound. He understood our intentions straight away. Recording went really smoothly. I recorded the last EP, so it was a pleasure to just get in there and play and not think about microphone position or phase issues or anything.
What were some of the challenges to working on this full-length as opposed to the writing and recording process of the previous EP?
I suppose for me, not being sound guy and musician at the same time for this recording, made the whole process less challenging than the previous EP. But we did take more care to get recorded takes just right. We were much better rehearsed for this recording than the last EP too. I suppose the challenge was to fit everything into 4 days, there’s some vocal parts I think we could have done better if we had another day to listen back and have another go. But I would probably pick holes in it even if we did have that extra day.
How do you feel it compares sonically to your 2015 self-titled EP?
It’s considerably better, probably because I didn’t record and mix it haha. Steve Sears is very talented, has years of experience with heavy music and got where we were coming from, so that helped a lot. The EP was originally meant to be a demo, with the intention of writing an EP or album a while later. But we got picked up by Holy Roar and they released it on CD/digital, so I guess it was good enough for that!
What are some of the lyrical themes explored on this record?
All the songs have different themes, I’ve never gone for the concept record thing. I prefer the freedom of writing about what comes to mind or what’s relevant to me at the time. Obviously they’re all full of hatred. ‘Ceremony Of Innocence’ is mainly about the habits and rituals we reluctantly perform on a daily basis to get through work and social situations. ‘Sertraline’ is about antidepressants. ‘Moral Bankruptcy’ is about the struggle of questioning your own moral ideas and the morals of others, how we make it up as we go along and conform to the ideas of other for fear of blacklist or argument – both left and right, religious and atheist. Humanity is a massive grey area. I was reading Nietzsche’s ‘Genealogy Of Morals’ around the time of writing that song, as well as Jon Ronson’s ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’, which really hit home the mob mentality that comes with social media on moral issues. Lapidation has made a comeback.
How do you feel the music of Debt compliments its themes?
The dissonance we use I guess ties in to the ambiguity of some of the lyrics; that grey area again. It’s violent and unhinged, but a controlled chaos.
How does the artwork tie into the themes of the record, if at all?
I guess it doesn’t specifically. I prefer to keep things abstract. I’m a big Francis Bacon fan. Steve showed me the artwork of a guy called Chris Nicholls (Soft Geometry) whilst we were gathering ideas for the cover art. I could see the Bacon influence so I was hooked immediately. We let Chris do his thing and got a great piece of work from him, super talented dude. I see it as a faceless, hooded figure but we’ve had people say it’s allsorts. I think it has a kind of vortex quality to it.
What exactly is the “debt” the record’s title references?
I like short and simple titles, like The Jesus Lizard album titles. I thought ‘Debt’ was striking and vague enough to encompass the majority of the songs themes. But it doesn’t reference any specific debt in itself.
What is next for Helpless in the near future?
We have a few shows coming up, a weekender booked with Wren and Watchcries around the release date of the record and a few shows we can’t mention just yet. Other than that, hopefully arrange a few tours and get writing for the next release.
Debt is available now via Holy Roar Records. Order here.