Article by: Colton Eddy
Peter and Jeff van Helvoort have returned home to bring their branding of gritty blues through their first LP, Spoils Of Youth.
Their influences are audibly checked from the early distorted adolescent vibes of The Who to some maturity through Exile-era Rolling Stones swagger. Playing together as brothers for over a decade, Peter and Jeff recently acquired Brendan Soares, formerly of the Kingston outfit Everlea, to tighten their stage presence. It's a new form for an ever-changing lineup, in its smallest incarnation born from troubled experiences with failed relationships, abandoning band members, and some fated Los Angeles experiences during the recording process in the gazing eye of Dave Grohl's Sound City.
Peter: Yeah, there's definitely new ones. I feel like the most, not necessarily anticipation, but the most build-up has been toward this. Especially because we have had to make it a couple of times and we have lost a lot of people. I feel like a lot of people did not think that we would still be a band to see the release date, myself included I guess, at a few times. It's like a new pressure. I'm feeling a little better because the guy that is playing drums for us is really good, so I'm not worried about that portion of things right now. We've gone on a tour and I'm feeling pretty confident in us as a live band. I'm not seeing the three piece as lacking anything now, it's just a different thing as opposed to a lesser thing.
Colton: Do you feel that stripping it down, Rick Rubin-style bare-bones with less people and parts, has more so enhanced the sound?
Peter: Depends. It has made me more creative in terms of how I can make this work. It is definitely more raw. A few friends of ours have used the word "human", like our sound is more human. When we were a five piece, especially with Christian on guitar, you know Christian is so good at guitar that it... to see a band like that in small setting is offensive in a way, like offensive to the senses. We were very "stadium rock" and to go and see something like that in an intimate setting is weird. Now it is me and Jeff and this drummer and there is no space between Jeff and I any more, it is the two of us. It is more intimate and human because we make mistakes and I'm starting to let go and be okay with not being perfect and not getting bummed out on stage like I used to when I was litterally getting angry with myself for screwing up. I kind of started realizing that an audience would rather you a mistake and laugh about it than not make a mistake.
Colton: Is part of that because you don't have as many minds involved that you'd have pressure to worry on as a bandleader?
Peter: No. I wasn't hard on everyone else. Everyone was hard on themselves, everyone wanted to be better. There's never been anyone in the band that's been like "Whatever. Fuck it. I don't care." But I was definitely the hardest on myself. If there's ever been something that's not good it was definitely my fault. Jeff is still playing the same baselines that he plays and the drummer is playing the drums and I'm playing lead guitar and I'm still having to be a front man and singing all of the songs and adjusting. Now I have to do a lot of pedal board stuff. Before I was just the singer and just a rhythm guitar player. When Keegan came in, I was even more of just a rhythm guitar player because he played so many leads and we made a conscious decision to kind of keep me separate from that stuff just for the sake of being able to entertain. Now, I have to be way more proficient to make it work.
Colton: Does your approach to your songwriting also change, given those restrictions?
Colton: When was the moment that it occurred to you that it was ok to move on and it's ok to strip things down?
Peter: Well, there was definitely like - I remember coming home from, I think it was Supercrawl last year and seeing Joel Plaskett and telling Jeff, "Dude. He did it. We can do it." That was a big one. That same night, we went and saw The Dirty Nil. When Keegan quit, the first thing that I did was call Dave and Luke and said, "Can we pull it off? Do you guys think that we can do it?" because those guys are kind of the token three-piece band now that show that you don't need five people. There's a lot of bands in the past ten years that I've said that I was a fan of like Broken Social Scene or Polyphonic Spree where there is a lot of people in the band, or like Wilco or the National. It was just finding the opposite and figuring out that we could be just as good as them and with a third of the people.
Colton: When you took yourselves down to California, you were telling me a couple of months ago that there were some pretty shitty situations that you ran into during the recordings. What happened?
Peter: Well, we had an agreement that was supposed to be a certain amount of pre-production and whatnot into the songs by the producer. We got down there and we just weren't doing it. It became increasingly clear in the first week that we might not have been a priority necessarily for this guy. Or not necessarily that, because I don't want to vilify him and that's not what I intend to do. Our expectations were maybe higher than his were or maybe what he thought he was expected to do. We decided that we would kind of take control of things and I started to produce the record and didn't make any decisions about engineering, because I knew that if I wore too many hats or tried to step into too many circles of the recording realm, that it would just cause problem between myself and Al the producer. That was about it, we basically recorded the songs how I had them before we went to California. And the second time that we made the record, the only changes that we made to the songs were things that I wanted to change before we went to California, but I didn't because I thought that they would've been things that Al wanted to change. So we basically made the exact same record twice. Except one sounds good and the other one doesn't.
Colton: What was that monster like, being so close to the Sound City project?
Peter: We were always just around it since we were in Texas on the weekend that they were doing SXSW. We went to a hotel to meet up with Al and we saw Krist Novoselic and all of these people who we have grown up idolizing and that was crazy. Then when we were at studio, Al wasn't too quiet about who his friends are and I don't mean that in a bragging sense, but it's hard for him to not talk casually about these people because they are the people that he sees regularly. He’s getting text messages from Dave Grohl, showing him pictures of the Rush costumes before they played the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame inductions. I ate a chicken salad that Brody Dalle had made from when he went over to Josh Homme's house for dinner. Troy Van Leeuwen was there one night and we hung out with him and we went there one time to get some stuff to go to a beach on a Sunday and we were there a half hour from when Nick Valenci of The Strokes was there. It was just weird. And the drummer from Guns 'N Roses came over one day, we were using his stuff to record and our drum tech was Jason Bonham's drum tech. John Bonham's son. It was so weird. That was the weirdest part about it all falling apart at the end, by having to do the record again. I knew that if we had to do it again that all of those, I don't want to call them doors, because we recorded a record with Al not as an opportunity like that - that wasn't it. I loved Era Vulgaris so much that I knew I would love to make a record with this guy.
Colton: So you made a conscious effort to not get caught up in all of that? Was that hard at times?
Peter: Not really. I'm not into that kind of shit. It was cool that Dave Grohl was texting him. But it was like, what am I going to do? Like Troy from Queens was super nice and we fan-boyed a little bit and were asking him questions about what touring was like and the truth of the matter is that none of us in our band have ever been the types to go around and star fuck, for lack of a better word. I wanted to be around Troy VanLeeuwen because I wanted to hear what it was like to be on the road. I didn't care if he knew who my band was or anything like that. It was just cool. There was one thing, he had the opportunity for us to go and see Cheap Trick play the fortieth anniversary of Budokan and that was one thing that I was like, "That would be amazing!" Keegan and I really like Cheap Trick and we have even done a Cheap Trick song, live to tape while we were there. He'd just done Sound City with Rick Nielson and that was cool to see. I got excited about that. Otherwise, they're just like regular people and I think that the weirder you make it that the weirder it is for everyone. It was more like I wanted to like, if I had the opportunity for Josh to hear our band in a more organic way that would be great. Not like, "Hey Al. Could you do me a favour? Could you get us on tour with Queens?" I didn't want to do it like that. I wanted it to be like "Hey. If you get a chance and he is here and you're sitting around, play him a song." Al was like, "Absolutely." But I don't think that stuff ever happens because everyone goes there with that in mind.
Colton: This upcoming Horseshoe show with this album to present and the lineup, how do you feel about that?
Peter: Excited. I mean, I love the Horseshoe. It's still my favourite room in the city. I just feel comfortable there. When we moved up to Lee's Palace, I was just bummed that this is a bigger venue because it feels uncomfortable. It wasn't uncomfortable because it was bigger. There was something about it.
Colton: There's more of a removal from the band and the audience there.
Peter: Yeah, definitely. You're really high. That's never really bothered me though. There's something about the Horseshoe that I find comforting. Although, it is kind of at the point where it is hard to convince people I know to come, because I've played the Horseshoe so many times. I'm definitely excited and I think the songs that we have had since we became a three piece, I think it is almost six months now. So we have had six months to get the songs to a point where I think that it is definitely not two guitars like the record is, but it comes across the way it should be. It's almost like it's not the way it should be, and that's better. You can listen to the record if you want one band, and you can come see it live if you want another.
Colton: Does something scare you about things working out?
Peter: Like am I afraid of a person that won't leave? [LAUGHS] I would like that. I've always wanted to be in a band. When we first had labels talking to us, that was a thing like, "We'll just sign you!" and I've never wanted that. I've wanted to be in a band. I grew up idolizing Attack In Black but I thought that, like Cain & Abel, there were definitely other band members but I felt that it was very much my own thing. Whereas I felt that Attack In Black - I think everyone looked at that band as four guys and you could not have had that band without those four guys. I've always wanted to be in that kind of band. Every time that we lose someone, it is kind of like "Oh. Don't worry about it. You're the band." I don't like hearing that and I don't want to hear that because it is a lot of pressure and a lot of weight on my shoulders.