The intertwined impressions of night and space that hover about The Helio Sequence's latest album are no accident.
Recording for the first time in their much larger studio -- and on a totally different schedule -- the Portland, Oregon, duo channeled their isolation into Negotiations, both in words and music.
"To me, Negotiations is a night album. It's much more introspective and something that you would listen to in the evening and give it attention," says singer-guitarist Brandon Summers. "Creating it, that's very much what I felt about the record."
A 2009 studio flood forced Summers and drummer-keyboardist Benjamin Weikel to make some drastic changes from the way they approached 2008's Keep Your Eyes Ahead. But, on tour at the time, they didn't lose any of their best gear and took the opportunity to remake their recording set-up to reflect a new direction.
"We both happened to be listening to a bunch of old vinyl, just collecting. I listen to a bunch of old jazz, '50s vocal music, just that vintage, super warm stuff. Ben was listening to early electronic music a lot," Summers says. "We went out and found all these crazy early analog delays and reverbs and tape delays and all this stuff and really went for that darker, organic sound."
Instead of hiring out studio time with a producer, they focused on getting the right equipment and building out their own space to get the sound they wanted.
"It's totally different than Keep Your Eyes Ahead. We were working during the days for that record. We had a space that was a big shared building and about 3 or 4 each day it would get really loud in the building, so we'd start early morning and work 'til the afternoon," Summers says. "For this record, we had our own space completely. It's secluded and we switched it around and wouldn't start until maybe 6 or 7. It was just a very introspective atmosphere being in the studio."
The songs themselves came together differently as well. Some started as sketches Summers brought in based on acoustic guitar and vocal melody. Others started with the duo improvising over Weikel's keyboard loops, then setting aside the recorded jams for months. The album's sound arrived naturally as the band was settling into the new 1,500-square foot space, double the size of their last studio. They even added room microphones in the hallway and bathroom.
"That became a huge part of the space on the record, these two mics that were stuck in opposite ends of the room. You could bring it up lightly in a track and it's a much more realistic space than some digital plug in," Summers says.
Lyrically, Summers worked to capture moments of introspection, singing take after take with words off the top of his head until he hit on what he liked.
"The vocals were very improvised. I didn't have a diary or anything to cull lyrics from. I really went into stuff not knowing what things were going to be," he says. "I just threw the mic on and started recording and would record 40 or 50 tracks until I felt like I had something."
A lot of the introspectiveness in Negotiations lyrics comes from Summers reflections on fatherhood.
"Between last and this record, I had two daughters, who are now 4 and 18 months. I was spending days at home with them and then head over to the studio to work for the rest of the night. It's a marked difference in energy. You have to constantly be on the ball with your kids and then in the studio there's just so much space for my own thoughts. I was going back through a lot of memories, things that have happened over the years," he says.
"It's like writing letters to somebody, you have a person in mind. It wasn't a conscious thing, it's something you understand in retrospect. Once I realized that was going on, for the last three songs, it just really shaped the vibe of the record."
The Helio Sequence is scheduled to perform Sunday, October 7, at Crescent Ballroom.
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