Silent Uproar: How did you go about picking the new guys for the band?
Page: Johnny was the first one I met. We basically formed this band and we just wanted to play together, we had met through a mutual friend and I didn’t know he would be the right guy because it wasn’t obvious to me. We started jamming and it felt really good. Then we started jamming with Rob Nicholson from Zombie because we were all out one night and he’s a really good guy. He had an opportunity to play with Ozzy and wanted to do both and we said no, so we decided to move on.
Then we recorded and it sounded great. When Jimmy Iovine called, it was obvious that we should give Chris Trainer a call because he’s been bugging us for years to do Helmet shows. He had actually approached Henry our former bass player and our former drummer a couple of years ago. I was never satisfied with the way things kind of ended with Helmet. I thought we needed a year off and then we could do another three or four albums. They weren’t interested, they have their thing, they’re happy doing their thing, and I’m happy doing mine.
SU: What is the overall idea or feeling you were trying to convey lyrically with the new album?
Page: I never have a set plan when I’m writing. I let the music dictate the direction and there are days, I think for anyone writing, where you chisel away doing the work. Then as a result of that, some things come to you more easily. So some of the songs on the album are the results of a couple of years of arranging and re-arranging; pages jotted in notebooks. You sit down and it kind of comes to you. “Sea of Dead” was one of those songs that came out like that. There wasn’t any specific theme that I was trying to communicate. The one thing I’ve always tried to do, which sometimes has success and sometimes not, is have a sense of humor and deliver with intensity. I like music that feels committed. I don’t like half-hearted stuff.
SU: Helmet has a place in the music history books as one of the great bands of the nineties. Do you think this legacy is aided by the fact that the band went down in its prime rather than fading away over the years with unimpressive records?
Page: That didn’t hurt, and it was good in a way. We did need a break because we had been together since ’89 and we’d been on the road for the better part of 8 or 9 years. We were burned out, not on music, but on each other. It takes its toll. It wasn’t my decision to break the band up. I knew Henry had enough and didn’t want to play heavy music anymore. There’s not much I can do. I’m sorry I wrote these albums, you auditioned, and you were the guy. Now you don’t want to be the guy. I didn’t have any control over that and then Jon decided that he didn’t want to play anymore.
What’s more important is that we always cared about what we did. We didn’t set our eyes on the pop charts. I can’t write what people want to hear. People don’t know what they want to hear until they hear it. You can spoon feed listeners and a lot of people will buy a lot of crap, but I’m not interested in that. I just want to do music that I dig first and assume that if I dig, and because I don’t live in a bubble, that others will dig it. The band never really got into that sell out mentality.
SU: It sounds like, from listening to you talk, that you’ve always viewed Helmet as your project. The guys were there and of course, it was a band, but it doesn’t end because you’ll carry on as long as you want to carry it.
Page: Yeah and it’s not to disparage their talents, but Henry would acknowledge it as well. “It’s Page’s band.” People understood that and I started the band with an ad in the Village Voice in NY. I was writing and started writing to put a band together. Those happened to be the best people around that were interested in playing. I auditioned different people that were drummers and bass players. Those guys are great, they were perfect, but I still had to deliver the goods everyday. I had to come in with material everyday.
SU: Was there a conscious decision when writing to update the Helmet sound to 2004?
Page: I never calculated anything. I don’t have a plan. Bowie talked about writing a character and then writing from that character’s perspective. I can’t do that for some reason. I play pretty much everyday of my life. I’m at the computer listening to stuff, it’s a constant process. Music for me is a life process, its makes me happy and it’s what I work on all the time. You naturally try to improve upon or regress, but I didn’t want to abandon what I had either.
For that first year, I was fucking around with samples. I was thinking, “I don’t want to do this guitar shit anymore.” There are too many bands that have adopted this whole style and I didn’t like what I was hearing. A friend of mine said, “That’s ridiculous, you have this great thing that you own.” This is a guy I admire; his name is Danny Korchmar and he’s a guitar player himself. When I got back to it with that year away which I spent messing around with keyboard sounds, all it did was give me a creative spark. It got me going. So I still love playing drop tuning, and am not comfortable playing without drop tuning. I love this style of playing. I love the feel, the heaviness of drop tuning.
SU: You have also worked with many bands over the years, but I have to ask, what was the Limp Bizkit thing all about? Do you think those guys still have something going on that people should care about?
Page: We toured with Korn and Limp Bizkit when they had not yet released their first album. They were the opening band on that tour and we got along pretty well. Particularly Wes and Jon I spent a lot of time together and I would jam with Jon during sound check. They were really good musicians.
As far as what they were doing, I’m not a huge fan of the rap/rock world. I don’t know why. We did that Judgement Night thing, teaming rap with rock. They were saying this could be the next big thing. I said, “Nah this ain’t going anywhere.” Little did I know…
When they called me originally, I just finished a deal with Virgin for a record for myself. A couple people called me, Ministry, Tommy Lee, etc and they wanted me to play with them. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do my own thing with them because I didn’t have complete creative control. The others had already been established, Bizkit, Ministry, Tommy Lee, all established bands. I sing, I write, I play, and I’m more comfortable doing music that I perform in front of people.
When they called me a year later, I said sure. We had fun for a couple days, but to tell you the truth I didn’t see the musical commitment that I had in my life. This is a band that sold, I’m going to guess, 20 million records and they have all the money in the world. In the studio, they were there the first day and into it and then the next day they weren’t into it. I was left on my own with an engineer. That’s not why I do music, I’m really into it, and I’m not doing it to be a pop star. I think that’s the problem Wes had. I think he wanted to do his own thing and he’s a dedicated musician. I mean they have always been great to me and I get along with Fred, Jon, and Sam too. There are no weird feelings at all, but I didn’t participate in that album past that couple of days.
SU: With all the people that approached you, how do you decide who to work with?
Page: A lot of it is timing; it depends on what I’m working on at that time. When David Bowie called, I was staying up all night partying in NY and separated from my wife. So I wasn’t doing anything, I was being an idiot and then David Bowie called and asked me to play guitar with them. I still had to sit and think long and hard about it, even though it was a no-brainer. I knew that musically it would be challenging, that I have great admiration for him and that I was going to learn a lot. The timing was perfect, I really needed to kick me in the ass and get me out of the social, downward spiral that I’d fallen into.
Once the fuse was relit, I started working really hard and not much was appealing. With all those bands, I knew that I was going to be making an album, several months in the studio and being on the road for at least a year. That’s a big time commitment to give to someone else instead of working on my own stuff and I’d be unhappy. With Bowie, it’d be 3 to 4 months, you can go in and do the work, and it’s challenging. I don’t think playing other people’s rock music has been on my highest list of priorities. I play and write my own rock music and have established myself in that, so people are pushing me to make my own record. So I’d rather make my own record than make someone else’s record better.
SU: A question about that Bowie tour? I’m sure there were a lot of great things on that tour but what was the worst thing about touring with Bowie?
Page: A lot of time off. We’d play one gig a week and that was hard. We’d be sitting around thinking who is paying me this money and then I’d sit in a hotel in Paris for a week spending my money. The one thing that I wasn’t used to was that it wasn’t a band in the sense that everyone had their own aspirations. Great musicians, great people, but they all looked at it as a job. They would play with people from Brian Ferry to Duran Duran. My hats off to them that they are accomplished enough to do that. The downside is that when you play with someone it tends to be from gig to gig rather than everyone being passionate about that and that only. I like that in a band, I like my guys to be my guys.
SU: What led to your decision to stop working with Gandhi, and to end that band?
Page: Commitment. Thst was a band of some of my best friends in NY, guys I’ve had a lot of fun with. (laughs) A lot of fun, yeah. We laughed our asses off and I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun on tour. We were drinking three cases of beer a night and smoking a carton of cigarettes. We were rehearsing about a tenth as much as we need to rehearse, while trying to make a living in NYC, which is tough. I understand that and I also understand what it takes to have a band succeed. That wasn’t the right band for me to execute those songs. They are great and I love them, but they don’t have any metal background. I need that sort of metal background, that hardness to each song. It works better. Guys that understand metal tend to groove together. So with Matt, Christian, and Jon, I plan to do another type of record because we have so much fun.
SU: If there was one thing that Helmet will go down in the history books for, what would you want it to be?
Page: Never selling out. Always making good records and always being believable. We’re not a performance art band, we’re a rock band. I would for love for people to respect us for that. We get up and do what we do; it’s not about anything other than playing music we enjoy. I think most people understand that we enjoy it and love to do it. Not because we think we’re going to be able to hang out at the Playboy Mansion.
SU: I think that’s pretty respectable especially in today’s music world, where everyone has a gimmick.
Page: I know.