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Progressive Rock Interviews

Heliopolis

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Heliopolis from 2014
MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

Matt Brown: I've done tons of projects leading up to this: various original bands in many styles, ten years in the tribute band scene, my own solo record, etcetera.

 

Kerry Chicoine: I have been playing – or attempting to play – guitar, drums, keyboards and tambourine since I was about eight years old. I started writing songs when I was 18 and I’ve never looked back.

 

I spent a couple decades being a bedroom studio guy -- only a few close friends heard any of that music – then in 1998 the internet came to me and I joined by first real band, a powerpop thing called “Receiver” (our first and only album was produced by none other than Robbie Rist).

I got bored with the limitations inherent in powerpop – you can only go so far before it’s not powerpop anymore – and, on a lucky fluke, got asked to join Ryo Okumoto’s (Spock’s Beard) band in 2005. That’s where I met (Heliopolis drummer) Jerry Beller, my significant drummer, my life drummer.

 

Ryo decided to end the band so Jerry and I went on to do an ELP tribute (“Endless Enigma”) and eventually formed Mars Hollow; we both left Mars Hollow in the spring of 2012 and shortly thereafter Heliopolis was born.

Jerry Beller: I started playing drums at the age of six; my dad was a Hollywood session violinist for Television and Film. Before that he was with Ben Polack’s big  band until ‘39 after that Tommy Dorsey from 40-45 they with Nelson Riddle in the 50s and early 60s. I started listening to big band and pop music of the time from my parents and started playing in bands at the age of ten (a band called “the Liverpool Tri Plane” was my first band).  Then I got serious at the age of 16 with some high school guys and called it “Shiva,” then played in an LA band in the 80s called Multiview  which was a hard rock band then played in a prog band that sounded a lot like rust called Pieces of Eight …..after that played in a Metal band called Graven Image which got voted the best metal band in LA back in 93’ …..I answered an Ad in an L A paper for a Prog drummer back in 2005 which was Ryo Okumoto’s solo band, Kerry was part of that band and that was the start of a great rhythm section. When that band folded I started putting the band members together that would form Mars Hollow, and then after that was over Kerry and Matt asked me to jam with them and that was the start of Heliopolis.

Scott Jones: I started singing at age eleven. I left home at 18 and formed a band in Florida, traveled and played up and down the East Coast,  settled in NYC – management nightmare – then back to Florida to play out contracts. Moved to Los Angeles – played in various bands – and got a day gig at Bernie Grundman Mastering where I’m in charge of proofing / quality control. I met the boys in Heliopolis in 2012 – I guess I passed the audition?

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

Kerry Chicoine: Drugs.

Matt Brown: I'd probably want to be a marine biologist or something like that!

Jerry Beller: I think I would still be teaching Tennis. I was really good at it, but also working in the work force in some shape or form. I would always be a drummer even if it was for fun.

Scott Jones: I don’t know, maybe race car driver.

MSJ: How did the name of the group originate?
Kerry Chicoine: Our close friend Ron Fuchs (www.prognaut.com) was following our early development and suggested the band name, which means “city of the sun” in Greek, which ties-in not only with Los Angeles, but the late Kevin Gilbert, as well. It seemed like a bombastic progressive-rock band name and we all liked it.

As a bonus, if anyone hates the name we can point the finger at Ron.

MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Kerry Chicoine: It all starts with Beatles, and from there, Keith Emerson (a fantastic, iconoclastic composer and a ridiculous technical player), Andy Partridge (a brilliant songwriter and a bitchin’ guitarist in his own right), Mike Keneally (another guy who plays so, so amazingly), Jellyfish, Transatlantic, Yes, Tom Waits, Pat Metheny, George Gershwin, Ramones and The Beach Boys all factor in at any given moment.

Matt Brown: As a player, my greatest keyboard influences are the jazz legends - Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Lyle Mays, people like that. In the rock or prog realm, Genesis has been a huge influence. Oddly enough it's mostly guitar players that are my influences when it comes to rock…people like Eric Johnson, David Gilmour, Alex Lifeson, the alternate-tuning styles of people like Joni Mitchell and Jonatha Brooke. The Dead are also a huge influence in that they meshed tons of styles together to create something uniquely their own, and with a large dose of improv thrown in. The list is endless, re: influences!

Jerry Beller: Well the bite of the music bug for me was the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show; after that pop rock radio which was then on the AM dial. Then FM came into the world  I started listening to Hendrix, Cream , Iron Butterfly and so on ……..then the prog bands came along and I was really hooked on Yes, ELP , Genesis, Gentle Giant; the list could go on forever but as drummer go Ringo was the first  but when I really started getting into drumming it was Buddy Rich, Carl Palmer, Alan White, Neal Peart, Billy Cobham, the list could go on forever.

Scott Jones: Paul Rodgers by far, but I also listened to a lot of Traffic / Ambrosia / Eric Clapton / Foreigner / Journey / Rush / Marillion / The Eagles / Triumph / It Bites / Kansas / Tony Bennett /John Denver / Dan Fogelberg / Elton John / etcetera.

MSJ: What's ahead for you?
Kerry Chicoine: The green light, writing the next Heliopolis album, RoSFest 2015 and then Europe and the Cascade mountains.

Matt Brown: More everything!...Writing especially. This is the first time in ages that I have written with other musicians and the chemistry is wonderful.

Jerry Beller: Touring, recording, writing and hopefully having a long shelf life.

Scott Jones: World domination (and a lot more music from Heliopolis).

MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Kerry Chicoine: Long-form classic rock.

Matt Brown: To me it's all rock, be it progressive, metal, hard rock, pop, whatever.

Jerry Beller: I am influenced by ‘70s progressive rock, and I like that prog incorporates different styles of music, so to sum it up a little bit of the old and a little of the new.

Scott Jones: I guess I would lean more towards “Cinematic Rock” than “Progressive Rock” as I would like to think our music allows the listener to visualize and embark on a journey within one’s own mind and soul, hopefully leaving the listener with a more uplifting perspective and knowledge that even in the darkest of moments there is still light.

MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
Kerry Chicoine: You mean sexually? Mike Keneally, easily. Actually I think I would be incredibly intimidated to sit down with him to make music. He is such an open and kind artist to his fans but, man, when he is playing and in the moment, he is just a little bit scary; falling off a skyscraper scary. I know my limitations.

Matt Brown: Peter Gabriel. Jonatha Brooke. Neil Finn. I actually want to be Neil Finn before I die. I think he is brilliant.

Jerry Beller: Too many to count.

Scott Jones: Steve Wilson, Steve Rothery, John Wesley, Jonathan Cain, Dave Kerzner; the list goes on.

MSJ: Do you think illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Kerry Chicoine: I think it’s great for the pirates, for the artists probably not so much. I don’t give a s*** either way, music is a fun hobby I take very, very seriously -- like beekeeping or championship cribbage – but for those who rely on music to earn a living, I’d imagine things are pretty dire at the moment and I suspect a big part of the reason is piracy.

Matt Brown: It’s a mixed blessing. Without downloading a lot of stuff wouldn't get heard, thanks to the current state of radio. But in the prog universe there are people who are dedicated to featuring new music, and for that we are very grateful.

Jerry Beller: I think downloading music is bad for the artist on the financial side but it does help get the word out about the band.

Scott Jones: A bit of both actually, it helps in the way it promotes the band / music / individual artists and allowing people to play the material for friends etc.; it’s a hindrance in the fact that it’s stealing the work of the artist and making it much more difficult to sustain a career in music.

MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Kerry Chicoine: The same way Grateful Dead felt – let ‘em have it. Live music isn’t supposed to be a carbon imprint of the studio recording, it’s a chance to stretch out and be spontaneous while still keeping it all together, and if people appreciate it to the point of recording and sharing bootlegs, sanctioned or not, then I can only see it as a good thing indeed. It beats the alternative.

Matt Brown: I have no problem with it.

Jerry Beller: With Youtube it’s is happening all the time; word of mouth is a good thing just as long as you keep selling tickets to your shows.

Scott Jones: Basically the same answer as above with the exception that a live show can sometimes have many issues that are beyond the artists control and make the performance less than magical; with no control over recording, posting, social media etc. your “best” may not be represented.

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Kerry Chicoine: I’m not sure what kind of answer you are expecting, perhaps something like, “I would fight and rally against Passenger, he is a fraud who can’t play an instrument and sings like a wounded antelope and yet racks up millions of Youtube views, how incredibly unfair - ZAAAP!”

Matt Brown: Kenny G! If I have to explain...that's not jazz, man!

Jerry Beller: Flash! He is really fast that would really help out on the drumming speed. My arch nemesis would be Mr. Freeze, frozen drums are not good for anyone.

Scott Jones: Any producer / manager / executive that manufactures and creates cooking cutter bands and artists with no soul, no passion and no feeling, then shoves it down the throat of the music industry and general public to proclaim this is “the greatest thing” and you will listen to it. Thank goodness for internet radio!

MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
Kerry Chicoine: Pretty much The Aristocrats: Guthrie Govan on guitar, Bryan Beller on bass, and Marco Minnemann on drums - insane amount of talent, humor and balls.

Matt Brown: Assuming you mean still alive? Herbie Hancock-keys, Brian Blade-drums, Jimmy Haslip-bass, Eric Johnson-guitar. Not sure about vocals; maybe Noel McCalla?

Jerry Beller: Keith Emerson on keys, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Geddy Lee on bass, Steve Walsh on vocals, and Steve Vai or Steve Morse on guitar.

Scott Jones: Neal Schon / Steve Wilson / Steve Rothery / John Wesley (guitar), John Entwistle / Geddy Lee / Boz Burrell (bass), Steve Winwood / Mark Kelly / Jonathan Cain (keyboards), Gavin Harrison / Simon Phillips / Phil Ehart / Steve Smith / Ringo (drums), Paul Rodgers / Jon Anderson / Steve Perry / Peter Gabriel / Tony Bennett (vocals) .Why? Because it would be awesome!

MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?.
Kerry Chicoine: In order of appearance: Kinetic Element, JOLLY, Sound of Contact, Riverside and Porcupine Tree.

Matt Brown: It would be a mix of great legacy bands and new talent, and there would be little to no genre restrictions. If we could get on a Bonnaroo-type bill, or a Coachella-type festival, I would welcome it with open arms. If what we are doing is truly any good, then it should be heard by a larger audience to see if any of it resonates with them.

Jerry Beller: It would be all prog and metal acts as they are the styles of music that don’t get the press that they deserve.

Scott Jones: Heliopolis (of course) and perhaps, Marillion / Porcupine Tree / Bad Company (Paul Rodgers) / Traffic / Francis Dunnery.

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Kerry Chicoine: Passenger, All the Little Lights. I have been listening to Andy Tillison’s upcoming solo album Multiplex a lot lately. It’s wonderful and somewhat of a departure for him.

Matt Brown: Just bought the new one from New Pornographers Brill Bruisers. Other than that, listening to a lot of Mott the Hoople these days.

Jerry Beller: The last CD I purchased was the 40th Anniversary Brain Salad Surgery set. I love that record. As far as new CDs I got the new Spock’s Beard Brief Nocturnes… and also Transatlantic Kaleidoscope.

Scott Jones: Sounds That Can’t Be Made - Marillion

MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Kerry Chicoine: If 1998 is considered recent, Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey. The drowning scene is so, so intense.

Matt Brown: I need to read more!

Jerry Beller: Don’t have time to read much but when I do, I read Modern Drummer.

Scott Jones: I am currently re-reading Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Kerry Chicoine: I believe Flying Colors at CalProg a couple years ago (courtesy of my friend Brian; thanks, dude).

Matt Brown: The 2015 Bridge School Benefit show with Neil Young/Pearl Jam/Soundgarden/Tom Jones/Brian Wilson.

Jerry Beller: Rush Time Machine Tour; excellence, as usual.

Scott Jones: Marillion Weekend, Montreal 2013.

MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
Kerry Chicoine: Nope; as long as I don’t find a song insulting – if there is some thought and wit and intelligence and creativity on display – then I will dig it, whether it’s Courtney Barnett or Syd Barrett. Or Passenger.

Matt Brown: I don't ascribe to the idea of "guilty pleasure" any more. If I dig it, it's Okay. That said, I love early 80s AOR (Journey, Asia, Foreigner) - great songs and a lot of nostalgia for me.

Jerry Beller: Drums …..Drums…..Drums……

Scott Jones: Acoustic guitar and/or piano, with vocals with lots of harmonies.

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Kerry Chicoine: Rosfest 2011; my old keyboard player offered me chewing gum right before our performance. I had never chewed gum onstage before and about ten seconds into our set my hair went into my mouth (happens all the time, instant floss) and I chewed the spearmint-scented wad into my flowing locks. There was a guitar break about a minute into the song and at that point I ripped out the gum, along with a considerable fistful of hair. I then proceeded to unplug my bass no less than four times over the course of the performance. I blame my old keyboard player for all of it.

Matt Brown: The old collapsing keyboard bench scenario; this goes way back to my days in Cinema Show... grrr!

Jerry Beller: Heliopolis were playing the 2013 Nor Cal Prog Festival and it was our first song of the set; the bottom tripod of the drum seat was loose but I didn’t know it. By the end of the song right before this crazy part the drum seat slipped out from underneath me and I fell on the ground! I bounced right up and said “keep playing!” and picked up right where we left off. At the time it seemed like a disaster but when we heard a recording of the show a couple weeks later, it’s wasn’t even that noticeable.

Scott Jones: Numerous falls while running across the stage, not plugging in my microphone or guitar, singing lyrics to a completely different song than the band was playing - or forgetting the words all together and making them up off the top of my head while the audience sings the correct ones.

MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Kerry Chicoine: The elusive John Deacon, the late Skip Spence, and my late Grandmother on my father’s side. I would show them the meme, “Let’s eat Grandma,” and take it from there.

Matt Brown: George Harrison, Sandy Denny, and Jerry Garcia.

Jerry Beller: Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Buddy Rich and special guest star Bigfoot (question for Bigfoot: where have you been hiding all of these years?)

Scott Jones: My Dad (he would really get a kick out of what is happening with Heliopolis), Steve Hogarth and Peter Grant.

MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Kerry Chicoine: Grandma.

Matt Brown: Italian food and lots of chocolate desserts.

Jerry Beller: Thai food, and grilled elk for Bigfoot.

Scott Jones: BBQ ribs (my Dad would make them) and I’m sure more than a few pints.

MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Kerry Chicoine: Thanks to Gary Hill for the cool interview and to Music Street Journal for their tireless work in promoting the very best in music; also, be true to your school.

Matt Brown: Thank you for all the support thus far! Please continue to support new bands and live music!

Jerry Beller: Hoping to keep Heliopolis going for long time to come to give our fans our very best; thank you for the support.


Scott Jones: Thanks for all the love and support of our family, friends and of course the fans who are making all of this possible. We are really enjoying the ride and looking forward to what the future holds.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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