Posted | Comments Off
Try Wait: Johnny Helm sings from the heart
BY GARY CHUN / email@example.com
All props to the work done by local singer-songwriter Johnny Helm.
The 39-year-old Connecticut-born and former radio personality has been a steady presence on the Hawaii music scene for more than 25 years. On Monday, Jan. 28, at 7 p.m., Helm will celebrate the release of his most recent recording, the EP “Banyan Tree,” at bambuTwo Cafe+Martini Lounge on Bethel St. (Nathan Emmans of Art of Whimsy will be the opener.)
This will be a rare opportunity for Helm to showcase his original music. He’s been a multiple Na Hoku Hanohano Award nominee in the Rock Album of the Year category in previous years: In 2003 for his second album “At Random” and 2007 for “Divide.”
Songs from “Banyan Tree” have been available on Helm’s website since mid-September. (CD copies of the EP will be available at the Jan. 28 concert.)
Former Pulse blogger Sabrina Velazquez described the tunes from her fellow singer-songwriter back then as “some of his best yet — introspective, haunting, beautiful and memorable.”
» 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays at Lulu’s Waikiki Surf Club, 2586 Kalakaua Ave.
Looking back over his long career in music, Helm said, “I’ve become a better songwriter. The biggest evolution has been my lyric writing. I’m a better musician by listening more carefully.
“When I first started, I just didn’t care about lyrics. I think you can hear that on ‘At Random.’ There’s more emphasis on melody and chord progression, and the lyrics came more as random thoughts. Sometimes the songs had a theme and sometimes not. Now I fine tune my work and concentrate on stronger storylines, trying to use a lot of metaphors in the music.”
In an overview description of the seven songs on “Banyan Tree,” Helm said of the album: “Some of it is about love, some about God, but in more spiritual than Christian terms. A couple of the songs are about moving on to the next spiritual realm.
“Overall, they’re more character driven, not all about me in particular, but living out experiences from my life.”
One of the songs is a re-cut version of “Willie,” his tribute to the late Wili Moku, that first appeared on “Divide.” Helm is still a fan of the first version, recorded the night after he heard of his friend’s death.
“The mics were put up and I basically went for it. But this newer version, I think, is still pretty raw in emotion.”
What feedback he’s gotten from the new songs, “a favorite seems to be ‘Light,’ that was produced with Matt Honda,” who was also a co-winner of a Hoku Award last year as an engineer on Hot Rain’s album.
“It’s more upbeat, more fully produced and a radio-friendly song,” he said. “But my favorite is ‘You Better Give In.’ I worked on that song with Jesse Siebenberg, who I first met when I was John Cruz’s tour manager. He basically produced the song from his studio in Ventura, Calif., working with a track with just my guitar and vocal harmonies. I loved what he built on it. It was a cool song to begin with, but now after what he did, it’s that much better.”
Johnny Helm will be joined at his release party by guitarist Jason Nobriga (who was responsible for the EP’s striking cover illustration) and Salaam Tillman, percussionist from the Mana‘o Company.
It’s understandable that Helm is looking forward to the Jan. 28 gig, but he doesn’t want to discount his usual line of jobs along Kalakaua Avenue.
“I want people to understand that, as a musician, what I do in Waikiki is something I really enjoy, which is entertaining tourists. I may throw in a couple of my originals during any given set, but it’s not often that I get to show my true artistry like I will next Monday.”
Gary Chun is a features reporter at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter.