Helion Prime – Cybernetic PowerMonday, 20th August 2018
No one thing determines a successful trajectory for an artist in today’s music scene. Circumstances, hard work, and preparation come into play to make something appeal to the public and build that buzz so to speak. In the case of guitarist Jason Ashcraft, his side ventures with Helion Prime a few years ago quickly turned into a serious venture, to the point where AFM Records came knocking to re-release their debut album. Combining science-related lyrical themes, stunning sci-fi artwork, and a sound that puts them at the forefront of understanding the power metal genre, it’s little wonder they’ve made headway quickly for such a new band.
Their latest album Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster expands on the work of their debut, while also throwing some obvious left-hand turns into the mix. Biggest case in point – securing a male vocalist from Cyprus with Sozos Michael, where the band had been previously known for female vocals. But one listen to songs such as “A King Is Born” or “Atlas Obscura” and you’ll discover the man has serious pipes and careful attention to detail through his melody choices. Helion Prime know how to keep things diverse while still delivering the rich, thick riffs and harmony aspects that are essential to power metal.
Reaching out to Jason for another interview, you’ll find he has plenty to say regarding the changes within the band, the growth through this record, and how the band chooses to build their following while being smart about the behind the scenes decisions that have to be made. Plus you’ll learn a little bit about his other work in Dire Peril and the European trip he made last year to see Edguy and Ayreon among others.
Dead Rhetoric: You mention in the background information the bumpy past two years for Helion Prime following the release of your debut album, which included gaining a record deal with AFM Records, losing two singers, and finally securing newest singer Sozos Michael. Tell us about this journey and where do you assess the band’s development considering the circumstances?
Jason Ashcraft: Yeah, that’s a great question man! A good way to start this. What I meant by the bumpy road is, first off – we didn’t expect things to take off as quickly as they did. We had been trying for a long time to get my other project (Dire Peril) going, and nothing was happening. I wanted to step away for a little bit – at the time we had Heather (Michele) as a singer, and I wanted to see if she wanted to do a couple of songs together for fun. Next thing you know we had a full album’s worth of songs, we put it out, and it blew up on us. We did not expect the reaction that it got, and before we knew it this became a full-fledged project. And this is where I would say the quote ‘the problems began’, because Heather is already committed elsewhere with her band Graveshadow. Helion Prime was not expected to take off as it did, so when things started to pick up, she had to step away- she couldn’t do two full-time things. Heather stepped down, and we all remained friends today.
Shortly after that, AFM hits us up and wants to sign us for a record deal. But crap- the first thing I have to tell them is, we literally just lost our singer. At the time I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but I didn’t want to pass on the label. At first, they were like ‘alright, if you secure a new singer, hit us back up and we can maybe talk.’ A week later they said they will sign us even though we don’t have a singer, they would even help us find somebody and work something out. We found Kayla Dixon from Oregon, who is known for Witch Mountain. We did the single “Remnants of Stars”, and we did a short tour. Unfortunately it was pretty clear that maybe as far as what we were looking for musically, it wasn’t going to work out. The vision for what everybody wanted just wasn’t there. I had to make the hard decision of moving forward with an album that we know that may not be very long term. I felt it was better that it wasn’t going to work – at that point, we were singer-less again.
Then we found Sozos- and we were all pretty much floored with his performance. Immediately we felt that he was the right fit- not only was he a great singer, he loved the same style of music that we did and it showed in the writing. This guy gets the vision we are going for. Here we are with the sophomore release.
Dead Rhetoric: Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster is the second Helion Prime album – another strong power metal offering with emphasis on diversity considering the work within songs like “Atlas Obscura” and the seventeen-minute plus closing title cut. How do you feel the songwriting and performances have developed from the debut – and what did you hope to establish this time to maybe help Helion Prime establish more of their own take/style?
Ashcraft: You know, it’s hard to say. It’s funny when I went in writing this album, I wanted the same vibe of the first one. We had done really well, but not that I wanted to repeat myself but I wanted to maintain what we had done on the first album just to sort of solidify ourselves. Now, looking at the second album, I feel that we did the completely opposite. The songs are different, it’s the writing that evolved on its own. There was no real plan behind it. For me, I knew I needed to be big, I wanted to step things up. We switched from a female singer to a male singer- so already that has some heads turning. We had to prove that we know what we are doing here. I feel like there’s the Helion Prime elements, but we went in a little more progressive way, longer songs, more going on, especially with the 17-minute closer. It wasn’t purposely planned to go in this direction, it just sort of happened.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you decide which guest vocalists would fit best for the title track – as you include Britney Slayes from Unleash the Archers, David Brown, and Haydee Irizarry among the many voices on this epic arrangement? Is it another situation where you give these singers free reign or guidance as to what you are looking for in these parts?
Ashcraft: With this particular song, when I knew it was going to be a big piece, I was like what better place to tell our story of our mascot Sailbot, let’s go cheesy with it. A big, super cheesy, sci-fi story – the title itself is itself in homage to classic sci-fi monster films. When it came to picking the singers, it came naturally. Britney and I have become really good friends through the years, I’ve come to know her since back in 2011-12. Any opportunity I get to work with her, I’ll take it- she’s phenomenal. She was one of the first people I asked, she said yes. I had recently become friends with Haydee on the Helion Prime tour we did, her band did a show with us and the tours happened to cross on a date, they jumped on one of those dates. I became a fan of her voice, we chatted online from there a little bit- once again I asked if she wanted to be on this song and she said yes. And then David, I knew him through Carlos (Alvarez) – who engineered the first Helion Prime album, and helped out a bit on this album. I always thought David is a phenomenal singer, and one of the characters on this song is The Preacher- he has this big, dominant voice that fits perfectly. Some of his parts are my favorite parts on the album, he just killed it.
Dead Rhetoric: Marc Whisnant once again designed the cover art – how did the concept develop, is it a collaborative process between Marc and the band or do you give him free reign to design this? And is it important to have a consistent running theme between the band’s artwork and the topics you tackle lyrically record to record?
Ashcraft: I’ll start with the first part of that question. It’s definitely a collaboration. Here’s what I’m envisioning and kind of what I want- and I give him a paragraph or two description of the picture I want. And then I let him go for it. He’s done three pieces for us so far- the first album, he did the image for our Sailbot’s Rampage tour, and then this album. Most likely he’ll be doing the third album as well. I haven’t had to ask him to change anything.
As far as a running theme correlating with the lyrics, not necessarily- and that’s kind of on purpose. With the artwork and the imagery, I want to capture that sort of classic, sci-fi vibe. But lyrically, we do have a few songs based on science fiction, but there are songs that are based on real life, science-based facts and theories. What’s funny is, the imagery on the album inspired the closing song. I thought it would be cool to have the Sailbot destroying a moon base because why not?
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories relating to your interest in science – and how you’ve incorporated it lyrically into the Helion Prime framework?
Ashcraft: I definitely grew into it more into my late teens. I always enjoyed sci-fi films, I’ve been a giant monster buff my whole life. That plays into it with the giant dinosaur thing. But I used to be more of a fantasy buff when I was little younger. I was all about the swords and bows and arrows. When I shifted more into sci-fi, that was more in my late teens and being more into the unknown, exploration. It evolved from there- when I started writing material I started doing power metal, I tried doing the fantasy themes and it didn’t feel right. I started writing about what I like, and it’s worked out.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been pushing a Patreon campaign for the band – and also delving into the world of video podcasting. What are your thoughts on both mediums at this point in developing a bigger foothold in the industry?
Ashcraft: I think they are great. As long as you handle them the right way, I think they are a great outlet. Being a musician in this time (period) is not easy. It’s a constant struggle, we want to continue, and the fans want us to continue, so there are ways of now allowing that to happen and get the fans more involved. Usually the fans who donate to those things are stoked to do it and be a part of it. I love it- especially with Patreon, as long as you can make it very meaningful, and actually let the fans know that you truly appreciate it and welcome to the team. Not just hey- thanks for the money, cool – bye! You have to make it important.
As far as video podcasting, I just think that is really fun. I recently started getting into podcasts about six or seven months ago. I was driving home from Utah, I was asking for recommendations of what to listen to as it was a nine-hour drive back to California. My buddy John Yelland told me he listened to podcasts. I listened to a couple of Joe Rogan podcasts on the way home, and it was really cool. I can’t really explain it, I really got into it, and I wanted to do something like this. The idea of the podcast was there before we did the Patreon, and we integrated the two ideas together.
Dead Rhetoric: I definitely agree on the value of podcasts. And this is in all different types of subject matter – Joe Rogan is a great one, I listen to Tim Ferriss as well. The information that you hear during these interviews can often be applied to the music industry, even if it’s not about that particular subject matter…
Ashcraft: Absolutely. And one thing I loved about this… an example is I listened to the James Hetfield interview on the Joe Rogan podcast. I learned about so much about him, I grew a new appreciation for the man. You never really hear about him as a person. That’s what I connected with him more- we’ve all heard about how Metallica started, the guitars he plays – but I never knew he had a bee farm, right? (laughs). They talked almost an hour about bees, and finding out who these people are, these are the kinds of things you never get to see. And that’s what I’m hoping to do a little bit with ours- yes, we’ll do the interview questions, but aside from that I want to get to know the people.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the state of power metal today? It seems like it goes through waves, and that things appear to be strong on the US side given recent releases from Judicator and Riot V among others when in the past Europe would have the strongest acts and studio albums…
Ashcraft: If I’m being completely honest, that’s hard for me to answer because I never really follow up on how well things are doing. But with that said, it definitely seems like in the last few years that there has been an uprising in power metal within America. I don’t know if I want to use the word underground, but as you’ve said bands like Judicator, Seven Kingdoms from Florida, I definitely think it’s on the uprising. I still don’t think it does as well here in America as it does in Europe- because our sales are at least 80% better in Europe than they are here in America. There seems to be more bands doing power metal in America- we have Lord of the Trident, they are phenomenal and really nice guys. They’ve been helping me out, giving me advice with the Patreon campaign. Of course we go up north to Canada and we have bands like Unleash the Archers kicking ass right now.
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