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The sounds of the subconscious

Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely was one of the major influences for The Helio Sequence’s 2012 album, Negotiations. EW caught up with the singer of Portland’s beloved alt-rock duo, Brandon Summers, on tour, shortly after his car broke down on the way to St. Louis. 

“Conceptually, sonically on every level it’s amazing,” Summers says of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ melancholy album. “How did they get the vocals so thick and warm?”

 After a flood hit their Portland studio in 2009, the band took the opportunity not only to find a new space but also a new approach to music, investing in vintage equipment like tape and analog delays, spring and plate reverbs and ribbon mics. They also purchased some “really nice turntables.”

“We became audiophiles,” Summers says. “It informed the kind of tone of our album.” Warm layers of color and texture can be heard on Negotiations, a quality missing from earlier albums like 2008’s Keep Your Eyes Ahead. The album also shares the late-night atmosphere of Only the Lonely.

“I found myself working at night, which I hadn’t done for a long time,” Summers says. “It influenced the whole nocturnal vibe of the album.” In the four-year gap between albums, Summers and his wife had two children; he spends his days with his family and nights in the studio, an option that was not available to the band in their old space. “It’s just perfect,” he says of the new space, an old warehouse cafeteria where they can play late without disturbing neighbors. “It’s a cool secluded spot, more introspective.”

Negotiations is nothing if not introspective; it’s practically a Freudian exercise. This time around, Summers and Benjamin Weikel (drums and keyboard) did less formal songwriting and more improvisational jamming together. “I didn’t want to go into Negotiations using the same method,” he says. In fact, the track “Harvester of Souls” is completely improvised, both lyrically and instrumentally. Summers didn’t know the meaning of some songs until months after they had been recorded. “When you’re dealing with your subconscious, you don’t have time to censor yourself,” Summers says. “For me it’s a really heavy record, addressing the dead ends of the past in my life.” 

The result is a rich, minimalist album, whose lyrics have a vulnerability and rawness to them that got, in the words of Sinatra, “under my skin.”

The Helio Sequence joins Talkdemonic 9 pm Friday, Feb. 8, at WOW Hall; $12 adv., $15 door.