Tuesday, August 20, 2013

8 Questions with................singer/guitarist Ken Helwig of The Empty's

Its 7:38 pm

   Welcome to an another edition of my ongoing interview series,"8 Questions with.....". I started this waaaay back when on another social media site and have re-started it here. The series features people from all over who in one or another have perked my interest. So I ask them to do a interview where they answer the questions themselves,in their own words. 

  Back when I booked my first club,Marsugi's,in San Jose,the one thing that Marsugi's had over the much larger F/X and the 18+ over Cactus was its reputation for finding the next big thing first but for giving local bands a stage to showcase their new music and line-ups. As a new booking agent and following a complete disaster that the previous talent buyer had left me,I knew I had to hit the ground running. To me the quickest way was to see which bands were ready to take off.
   I had first met Ken Helwig when he attended some of the more hardcore punk shows we had. But he was different in the fact that while he enjoyed his beer and punk rock,he carried himself like a gentleman. Loud but never pushy and he is a great guy to talk music with. It was while hanging at Marsugi's that I learned a lot about the local scene from guys like Ken. 
  As a friendship started to grow..I got word that a new band called Slip was forming with Ken,Sean Gregonis,Kenhead and a dude named Lars. Soon enough,Ken approached me about a show but I wasn't convinced because a of a nasty incident that happened with Lar's old band,IMRU that had included a racial incident. I was not going to have that kind of band or band member while I was booking it. I mentioned to Ken about the incident...he personally assured me Lars was a good guy and said he would prove it by having Lars come have a talk with me...which happened in the next week.
  Lars remembered the moment but insisted he had nothing to do with it and talking with both Ken and Lars,I knew it to be true.

   Plus,I had learned Lar's own personal history and really wanted to see him sing and thus Slip played its first show with me and just completed shredded. Ken was right in the fact his new band was kick ass.
  Pretty soon Slip grew too big for me and they started to really soar. I saw Ken more and more at Marsugi's,supporting other bands. One night we started talking about women singers and I started to talk about Barbara Manning,Ken's eyes got big and he said he loved her music as well...I knew then I had made a friend for life...

  But sometimes life plays a cruel joke and it did it here. Just as Slip was poised to go large,Sean injured his shoulder and his dad got cancer and he had to quit the band to take care of his ill father. So while Slip was idle,a gentleman named Tim Armstrong,approached Lars about joining HIS new band. Lars agreed and while Slip was spinning its wheels,a group called Rancid just exploded on the national stage.
  And while Slip faded away,Ken helped create The Forgotten. The band recorded, toured and put some mighty good music out,after 6 years(4 with Slip and 2 years with The Forgotten),Ken decided to take a step back from playing and left to take a break.

2013. Rumblings from San Jose are being heard that Ken Helwig is coming back with a new band. Soon enough,the rumors are proved true...The Empty's are the new blood in town but with a battle-hardened veteran leading the way. Ken is back in a live band,back on the stage he was destined to be on and is ready to make you start a one man mosh pit as The Empty's start to play out live.
  I asked Ken if he would agree to do a "8 Questions with..." and tell us a little about himself and his new band. 

This interview will also feature a little giveaway.....the first 3 readers to leave a comment will win a 3 song EP from The Empty's. How fun is that?

And now.....its "8 Questions with.........Ken Helwig of The Empty's"

Tell us a little bit about yourself,where you grew up and what was it like in your home as a youngster.

About myself? Well I grew up in a single family home on the Campbell/West SJ border. I have a couple of younger siblings and a mother that is still living in the South Bay.
I have always like music and grew up a huge Beatles fan as well as other types of music. Music was a big part of our household as my dad, before he split, was always playing music at night. The other big influence from him was my love for the outdoors.
I tend to do a lot of backpacking during the summer but this summer was a health sabbatical. I am a Type 2 Diabetic and I have been trying to figure out how to do both. Pretty much I grew up a bad kid so to speak. I had a lot of growing up to do and I got into trouble quite a bit and learned some lessons by being dumb. I guess it all evens out as I ended up going to college, getting married, etc. Now I live near Santa Cruz and work in the South Bay each day. I am in the wine business.....now how punk rock is that!!!

What bands did you like growing up and which one influenced you the most into becoming a musician?

What bands did I like growing up etc.??
Well as I stated earlier I was a big Beatles fan, as I got older during the mid 70's (boy I am old!) I listened to a lot of stuff on AM radio when it was good. People will laugh, but I listened to bands like Jefferson Airplane/Starship, The Steve Miller Band, CCR,Doobie Brothers. Pretty much bands like that ilk.
THEN, one day I was listening to the radio and I heard this song called Train In Vain by this new and exotic group from The UK called The Clash....I was hooked! That band, THAT person (Joe Strummer) changed my outlook on what I would listen to and eventually want to play.
From there on it was listening to The Modern Human show on KSJO on Sunday nights, KFJC and other college radio stations to soak in as much new music as possible. From Elvis Costello, to The Ramones, Talking Heads, The Jam,Sham 69, Wire, Buzzcocks, Damned, SLF, Angelic Upstarts, Dead Boys, Skids, to bands that were more modern to me around 1981 like The Business, Blitz, Peter and The Test Tube Babies, GBH, Anti Nowhere League and including US bands like CH3, Social Distortion, X, Avengers, DK's.
Probably the biggest influence on me to be a musician would be Paul Weller of The Jam. I am a massive fan. Just the respect that he gave his audience each night was amazing. He'd que up kids after each show so that they could meet the band. The Jam were all about a youth movement. That is why they will never reform, even though I would love to see them once again.

You have been involved in the live music scene in San Jose for over 20 years. What has changed the most during this time both good and bad?
For being involved in the local scene....well I have to say that I have not been much of a participant since around 2000 or so. After doing Slip for 4 years and then Gordy and I started a new band, The Forgotten and that lasting for a period for me, I was burnt and needed to refocus my energy for awhile.   With that said, I am grateful for my time in Slip as I started that band with Lars of Rancid and eventually played with 3 very talented individuals, and then obviously playing in The Forgotten where we raised our expectations and went on to become more of a non local band per se and take it to a much higher level.
I went back and finished my BS in Poli Sci, bought a few homes, got a job other than bartending and moved on. The thing that I have noticed since my return is the resilience of the music scene in the South Bay. Of course there is no Marsugi's anymore, nor the beloved Cactus Club, or heck ...damn what was the place in Palo Alto(That would be The EDGE,Ken)....I cannot believe I have forgotten the name.
Oh well....I see others trying to fill the void. Booking shows at The Caravan, Blank Club, Johnny V's....there is a ebb and flow with that nature. I really cannot make too much observations of how bands interact as it has been so long for me.
I can say this though, back in the day (damn I sound like a crotchety old man) there seemed to be more of a community? Dunno, but then again, I live near Santa Cruz so I am somewhat removed from the local scene there. What has changed good or bad....I would have to say that it seems local bands don't get out and try to get shows out of the area much? There are exceptions obviously and I feel silly saying that, but it just seems that SJ bands hardly ever play in Santa Cruz or SF. Not sure why that is.

What was the single best performance in your career and how did it happen?

Single best performance.....Hmmmm.....I have played so many great shows, but that is/was a band situation. I never really looked at how I played, but more of how we played. I would say touring with Peter and The Test Tube Babies for 3 months was a high, as I was a huge fan and I got to see them play each night. Opening for bands like The Business, Dropkick Murphys, Anti Nowhere League, Fear,Swingin Utters, Rancid, DI etc. playing SOFA Streetfair or just about any night really.
I really enjoyed some of our Slip shows as I always felt that there was something special playing live in that band. Maybe in The Forgotten playing CBGB's or The Whiskey in LA....Yep that would be special. I got to meet the band Mad Parade and became friends with them. I listened to them in the 80's and was very happy to share the stage with them a bunch of times.

As you have gotten older,how has that affected your musical vision both as a listener and a performer?
As I have gotten older how has that affected my vision. Funny thing really. I played bass in Slip and The Forgotten and I could not articulate myself as well as I can now because of switching to guitar and being the frontman.
I participated a great deal in those two bands when it came to writing and arraigning, but this time in The Empty's, I pretty much introduce a song that is almost completely written. I enjoy the fact that we have two guitar players in the band so there is a bit more of things going on so to speak. 
But really, for me, on the music side, I am still a freak about melody, song structure and just having a great tune. I still love the bands that I have listened to since I was a teen so I feel my songwriting is pretty similar to my time spent in Slip and The Forgotten.

In your opinion,has social media leveled the playing field for bands,are the major labels rapidly becoming dinosaurs? Is "getting a deal" still looked at the same way today then 15 years ago?

Social media affecting music. Wow has it. When I started playing again, things have changed greatly. Mp3's, Facebook pages, Reverbnation, Myspace (even though it is dying a slow death), Bandcamp, webpages...galore. I think it is fantastic.
There are so many ways to converse with fans, sell merch. and music. The days of getting a deal is not as important and it has made for more of a "grass roots" effort. Record labels, and I mean the "majors", rip you off. The amount of money you need to make is insane. I love how bands can tour without the support of a label. 
Yes you have to be organized and it does take some money, but you can be a self sustained unit and be successful at it. Funny thing happened to me the other day. On my phone I downloaded an app that has 4 tracks to record and send off to others in mp3 form. I was besides myself chuckling and thinking how cool that is. I can write something and send it to the others without leaving home and driving 25 miles to practice over Hwy 17. But i have to add, thank God that the music industry has taken the hit that they have. The majors have been ripping off bands for too long of a time.
As a performer who has toured quite a bit,how do you feel about shows like "The Voice" and "American Idol"?

American Idol and such??? Hate those shows. I look at it as the easy way to get ahead. But to be honest, those people have talent, but how many of them have really made it? Touring builds an audience. Playing out live makes you a seasoned pro. There should be no easy way to get ahead in this business.

Tell us about the new band,The Emptys...how did this come about? Who is in the band and what is in the band's future?

Band members are; Ken-Guitar, Vocals, Mike-Guitar, Vocals, Mike W.-Bass, and Steve-Drums

Tell a little about my new band The Empty's.... Well after a few failed attempts with others, Steve our drummer and myself finally found a few others to play with and we have been rehearsing all spring long. The Empty's are an extension of Slip and The Forgotten really. Since I did some of the writing and a lot of arraigning we are going to sound a bit like them. I have always been into UK punk more than US punk (don't get me wrong, I have a massive collection of music and there are tons of US stuff too) and we come out sounding like that. Many of the bands that I grew up listening to has influenced me greatly. SLF, Angelic Upstarts, Cockney Rejects, Sham 69, Cocksparrer, Blitz, Business, Infa Riot, Chron Gen, UK Subs, Clash, Ramones, etc.
The difference with The Empty's versus my old band is that we are a four piece with two guitar, bass and drums. This is the first band that in many years that I have played in that utilize two guitars. We're heading into the studio in late Sept. to record 4 songs that we will be giving away at shows.
On the merch front we will have more buttons, cozies, patches and the cdr with 4 songs to give away. This is not about money but about the love of playing. T shirts will be coming soon too. We just want to play a few times a month around The SF Bay Area as well as an occasional show down in LA or so. I am not opposed to a week on the West Coast if the possibility presented itself. Record labels that like us? Get in touch! We'd love to do something!!!

If a 18 year old musician walked up to you and asked for 3 pieces of advice,what would you tell and why?
If an 18 year old asked me 3 questions what would I say........practice! Play as much as possible. Put yourself out there. That means, take advantage of your youth and make this something of importance to you. Get merchandise, record some solid songs and play out and tour as much as you can. The more you do it the better you will get as well as your audience will develop. Have fun! This is all about having fun. have fun but don't get too serious. Serious is great, but when it becomes a make or break kinda thing, it'll ruin everything.

My thanks to Ken Helwig for this interview. To learn more about The Empty's,check out their new Facebook band page and hit "Like". Tell them you heard about the band from this interview...
The Empty's page is here

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog....if you feel you would like to be interviewed,hit me up via Twitter @Jinzo_2400

Upcoming "8 Questions with......" interviews

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