So wide-eyed yet cautious and practical, grounded and unaffected or untainted by “the business”, such good souls pouring it all into their art…. In a town like this it’s absolutely rare to meet people, much less artists, with such an attitude. The saying “it’s all about the music” has become so cliché but it is so true in this case. You could feel something about this week and this band, among the members and everyone around them who supported them (Geoff, Brian, and yes even us by the end of it). The potential for greatness, for so much to come, meant this time in their history was crucial and we were lucky to be a part of it before it blew them out of obscurity and into the whole of the universe. I was even drafted into selling merch but hell it was so good to believe in everything behind those t-shirts and CDs and posters (even if guys did sidle up to me and ask which of the band members I was dating).
After only five days of knowing Helen Stellar the torrents of thought began. I started scribbling notes fast and furious during the Spaceland gig. Brian was watching me; he asked with a goofy grin, “Are you writing me a love letter or what?” Yes, Spo, I am – a love letter to you and Jim and Steve and Clif. I present your story, out of the love and respect you cultivated within me during the time I was privileged to spend with you.
So here we go: In the middle of their whirlwind week, Helen Stellar sat down to tell their tale in their own words.
Before we all sit down and get serious, Jim asks bashfully, “Do we have anymore wine? Is that ok?” Hell, it’s de rigueur in rock ‘n’ roll.
“So, here we are,” I begin. “To start it off, I’m curious. How old are you guys?”
Clif answers, “I’m twenty-six,” followed by Jim and Steve almost in unison, “Twenty-eight.”
“And how long have you been at the music thing,” I ask them each individually, because although the band is one hell of a tight entity, one thing that’s clearly behind the scenes is that it’s made up of three very distinct personalities with their own unique histories.
Jim says, “I’ve been playing guitar since early ‘99 and started singing right after that. And then I was with Helen Stellar immediately after – that’s what got me playing a lot”.
With Steve’s answer things get interesting. “I’ve played off and on in bands as a bass player since I was fourteen. But it was off-and-on, though…. I didn’t think I was going to play my instrument again until I met Jim.”
“What happened to spark that? Did it just work – you guys got in the room and it was like Led Zeppelin power going?”
Jim laughs before saying, “Steve doesn’t really like Led Zeppelin,” to which Steve offers a mumbled apology.
When the giggling around the table has subsided, Steve continues. “Quite simply, I’d played with a lot of different guitarists. But when Jim played –” the singer/comedian quips again, “I sucked. I was terrible!” and everybody laughs. Steve tries again. “But there was a spirit that I recognized right away. And honestly, I hadn’t played my instrument for about three years before I met Jim.”
Then it’s drummer Clif’s turn. “I’m self-taught. I learned in college. A friend of mine taught me the basic beats; he had a set where I could just run over and play whenever I wanted. So I just kind of taught myself about five years ago. Talking about playing in bands off and on, I played my drum set so sporadically because there were more times than not when I couldn’t live with them, you know? So it’s pretty early on in the whole thing, but I feel like I’ve caught on quite well.”