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NYC artist Guitarmy of One (aka guitarist Scott Helland, has released his adventurous crowdfunded album The Wave Files mixing dark, ominous guitar riffing with surf guitar swells and foreboding reverb-drenched melodies. His first band Deep Wound, was formed with alt-rock trailblazers J Mascis and Lou Barlow (Dinosaur Jr). He later played with Outpatients, School of Violence and Darkside NYC before forming the post-punk duo Frenchy and the Punk in 2005.
Guitarmy of One has a unique sound. Can you talk about the elements that go into the mix, musical and otherwise?
There are a number that are key to my sound. I approach the guitar differently as I started out as a bass player, so I write bass parts on the guitar first, and because of that, my melodic ideas tend to be single note runs and less chord based. I also use hybrid acoustic-electric guitars, and I write and perform all my songs utilizing live looping and an array of effects pedals. I build my own custom pedalboards, and I’ve been experimenting with sounds and pedals for almost two decades. Another element to the mix is my musical background and experiences with different bands, and styles from bands to solo to duo configurations. Those different projects had me playing in places like the subways of NYC, thrash metal in Argentina, Americana music in Texas, post-punk in England, hardcore punk shows at CBGBs, singer-songwriter folk-styled songs in Massachusetts, etc. All those different experiences shape the music that I write today. I also played clarinet in the school band, though all that taught me was that I had no interest in playing the clarinet.
As a solo project, what do you get out of Guitarmy of One that isn’t perhaps fulfilled by your other duo, Frenchy and the Punk?
The big difference is that GO1 is all instrumental, and FnP is not. Writing music for this project is all about the melody lines that go over the bass lines; they take the place of the vocal line, so there is a lot more fretwork involved, and I love that. Arrangements are important to every musical composition, but with instrumental music, I really want those melodies to guide you like visuals in a movie.
Can you tell us about your background as a musician, including your involvement with Deep Wound and Outpatients?
My parents were heavily into Jazz, and they often took me to see different Jazz musicians perform, but that never made me want to be a musician. It was really only after spinning the radio dial and hearing the Ramones for the first time as a kid that I got hooked, and that was all I needed to hear and see to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I will say probably the first song that I really got into before that was the theme to Hawaii 5-0. The Ventures version and the TV version. That was my first interest in instrumental music.
After the Ramones, I dove headfirst into punk rock, hardcore, and thrash metal, and out of the aggressive music realm, I also liked Kraftwerk, The Cure, and Michael Hedges. I consumed a lot of different genres. After buying Rocket To Russia in 1980, I went out and got a cheap bass guitar. I met Lou Barlow in High School, and we started a band. It became Deep Wound once J Mascis answered our flyer looking for a drummer in 1982. I formed Outpatients with my brother soon after and played in both bands for several years. We played with a lot of the great hardcore bands like Black Flag, Husker Du, GBH, etc. Lou and J wanted to go in a different direction and started Dinosaur Jr and I continued with Outpatients as I needed the aggression of that music and scene to deal with the death of my father, who passed away in 1983. I went solo in 1995 and started writing instrumental music and exploring different guitar-based styles. I formed Frenchy and the Punk in 2005 with my partner Samantha Stephenson. We have been releasing records and touring since then.
Without direct lyrical communication with the listener, how do you ensure the mood and the message are delivered through the music alone?
It’s all in the melody, riffs, and sound. The music needs to conjure visuals and tell the story.
You say that the new album, The Wave Files, is a continuation of The Spy Detective Collective, but what would you say are the elements on the new album that help keep your musical momentum moving forward and exploring new pastures?
On the new record, the guitar sounds are different and have more of that reverbed surfy vibe, also, the drums are acoustic drums. On the Spy Detective Collective album I wanted it to have electro beats and a bit of a dance beat kind of vibe. I also switched guitars for the Wave Files album from a Godin Multiac to a Fender Acoustasonic Jazzmaster and that was a different sound as well. Those elements pushed the record to a new level. Continual experimentation with sounds from pedals keeps me excited and fuels new ideas for new music.
What are the challenges of working alone, and what are some of the benefits? Do you have a team working with you for such things as booking, publicity, or management?
I would say travel is easier as a solo artist, though I do tend to bring around a lot of gear, which can be tricky since I have to lug it all around by myself. As a solo act, I play shows with bands mostly, so you do often get placed in the opening slot, and that can be a bit of a hurdle sometimes. However, I have a big sound for a solo act as I loop guitars and drums live, creating that wall of sound so that helps provide something different to a lineup at an event. I don’t have a team per se, though I need one, but Samantha helps with booking, and I usually use a PR agent to help get the word out. Shauna at Shameless PR has been great.
Are there plans to tour as Guitarmy of One, or do you see it purely as a studio project?
Absolutely, I’ve already done a bunch of one-off shows around the East Coast of the U.S. and a few in England. My tour schedule with Frenchy and the Punk has been heavy, but I manage to fit in GO1 shows anywhere I can. And when FnP finishes up a string of dates, I go back out as Guitarmy of One.
What does the future hold for you both musically and personally?
Musically, I have a lot of ideas compiled for new songs. I record melodies and riffs on my phone daily. I film and edit all my videos, so that’s a lot of work that happens after the album is released. I cycle back and forth from doing a Frenchy and the Punk record and then doing a Guitarmy of One record. I also draw designs for FnP for merch’ and Samantha and I collaborate on visuals as well. Music takes up most of my waking hours, which I’m grateful for, so that will keep me busy for the foreseeable future.
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