After releasing its fifth full-length album, Negotiations, in 2012, The Helio Sequence was ready to try something new. The Portland alternative pop/rock duo had been kicking around the idea of recording another band in the full professional studio they'd built for themselves, so they jumped at the chance to record and produce a new album by Brazilian band Quarto Negro.
What they learned from this experience ended up impacting their own material more than they'd ever thought.
"Time was very limited," says lead singer Brandon Summers. "We had to have everything recorded within the short amount of time they were in the States, so we were forced to quickly come up with ideas and run with them. We came out of that really amazed with how some of the stuff came serendipitously by working so fast. So we decided we really wanted to do that for our next record, and work more quickly."
Summers and multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Weikel had spent the majority of their career laboring over every little detail of their dramatic version of alt-rock that swirls reverberating guitars/synths together with intricate percussion and commanding lead vocals. Naturally, the thought of loosening up a little was an exciting concept. Forcing themselves to work quickly cut out time to overthink anything, allowing a spontaneous, stream-of-consciousness, creative experience that breathed new life into a band that had been writing songs together since the mid-90s. The shift in mentality was sealed when they heard about a game some of their musician friends (including Menomena, Datr, and Nick Jaina) were playing, dubbed "the 20 song game."
"Everyone would meet up in the morning and decide on a time to get in their own studio and write 20 songs as fast as they could throughout the day," Summers explains. "No matter how good or how bad, you'd have to finish it. Then everyone would get back together in the evening to show each other their records, laugh at the stuff that's horrible, and pat each other on the back for stuff that turned out well."
What began as a fun little exercise turned into the blueprint for their next album.
"We spent the whole day working on demos and came up with some really cool material," Summer continues. "So instead of doing the 20 song game, we decided to do an elongated version of it and take 30 days to finish the whole record." He adds, "So we did everything, start to finish, in 30 days. The whole goal was to go into it without any preconceived notions or any planning to see what we could come up with. We just tried to surprise ourselves, really."
When the 30 days were over, they listened to the new material and were greeted with a distinctly upbeat and lively tone.
"It has a sunny day kind of a vibe because it was so in the moment," Summers reveals. "We came in every morning during a string of amazing 70 to 90 degree days in Portland and were in a really good headspace, so the album feels like that. It has a momentum to it that we're both really happy with."
The Helio Sequence hopes to keep that momentum rolling as they bring these new songs to life on stage. One of their very first chances to do so will be during the Aprés Ski Party at Crow's Feet Commons before the release of the album and an accompanying tour later in the year.
The Helio Sequence
6 pm, Friday, Feb. 20
Crow's Feet Commons, 875 NW Brooks St.