HELION PRIME – A Talk With HEATHER MICHELE (Vocals)

Posted on June 06th. 2016

Questionnaire by C. on behalf of METAL TO INFINITY WEBZINE BELGIUM


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Sacramento’s Helion Prime are taking power metal to another level with their songs about science, outer space, and planetary exploration. For a band that writes about such interesting topics, it goes without saying that the bandmembers themselves are interesting people too. Back in early May I got a chance to chat with Helion Prime’s frontwoman Heather Michele, who told me a little about the band’s debut album, her other musical projects, and just how Helion Prime began in the first place.

HELIONPRIMEintie_heatherOneC.: So, what is the metal scene like in Sacramento? What kind of other bands are in your local metal scene? Are there similar bands to yourselves?
Heather: The Sacramento music scene is pretty cool; I feel it’s a very eclectic group of a bunch of different types of musicians and bands. It’s always really fun to play shows in the Sacramento area, because usually you’ll have a thrash metal group, a symphonic metal group, and a hardcore group all in the same show. The shows are really interesting and fun because you’ll get a different bunch of different artists that are very cool.

C.: You’re in another band besides Helion Prime. What is that band like and how are they different?
Heather: I’m in a band called Graveshadow, which is a symphonic metal band. We have a lot of heavy keyboard work, the themes are a lot darker, and it’s more storytelling-oriented: vampires, werewolves…[while] Helion Prime is definitely more power metal; we have the big, epic choruses with the multiple vocal layers. The subject matter centers more around scientific fact and fiction. We talk about dinosaurs, theories, and whatnot. Being a part of these different bands isn’t something that I did intentionally. Each band is their own animal; they’re both so different, and my vocal style is so different within each project.

HELIONPRIMEintie_jasonandheatherC.: Both you and Jason Ashcraft [Helion Prime guitarist] have your own separate bands; you with Graveshadow and he with his band, Dire Peril. How did the two of you get together to form this band?
Heather: Helion Prime was something that we toyed around with for several years. I met Jason in 2011, and we became fast friends. He threw around the idea of putting a band together: “we’ll sing about science and scientific theories, it’ll be awesome!” Nothing really came about at first; then a couple of years later, we started dating. So about a year after that, he said, “hey, let’s actually try to do this”. I thought, “why not?”; it was something fun that we could do together, and we both loved the idea. We recorded our first EP, and the rest is history!

C.: The band’s name is actually a nod to sci-fi, right?
Heather: Yes, we are definitely sci-fi fans. We got our name from The Chronicles of Riddick; it’s the name of one of the [fictional] planets in the movie. We’re both huge fans of that particular franchise, and a bunch of other science-fiction movies.

C.: How did people react to the music? Did you get a lot of a built-in audience because of your other two bands, or has it attracted a new audience altogether?
Heather: The reaction we’ve gotten has always been extremely positive, which is cool. It’s possible that we have gotten some fans from our other projects, but I feel like a lot of our fans have just been through friends or our friends sharing the music with their friends. Jason is also part of a [social network] group called The U.S. Power Metal Connection, so the word kind of got out that way. It’s a group of people who all just love power metal, and Jason has a lot of connections there. All around, it’s been really positive, and we’ve gotten a lot of awesome support from many people. As far as a lot of people knowing that Jason and I each have other bands outside of Helion Prime, I think most people find it as a surprise.

HELIONPRIMEintieBandpicC.: Because you guys worked on putting Helion Prime together for so long, did you have a set idea of how you wanted it to be from the beginning, or is it something that built up as you went along?
Heather: Well, I think that Jason pretty much had a clear idea of what he’s wanted for this band. Jason is definitely the visionary and he’s the one who has gotten the artwork put together, the image…he definitely has a clear picture in his head. I’m not sure if the old-school sci-fi theme [album cover] was always there, but it was definitely his idea, and he came up with it sometime after the EP was released last year. He asked, “how would you feel about doing an old-school sci-fi theme for all of our posters and artwork?” As far as the power metal music with the science stuff, that’s always been there; they’re all ideas that we’ve had for quite some time, and they’re just now coming to fruition.

C.: The album cover really invokes the imagery of sci-fi movies from the ‘50s, and televisions shows like “Lost in Space”. Would you ever consider making a music video in that style? Your music seems to fit so well for a soundtrack to a movie of that kind.
Heather: Thank you; that look is exactly what we were going for! Honestly, as far as the next video goes, I’m not sure if we’ve come up with any plans, but that is a great idea! I’m going to bring it up with Jason next time I see him.

C.: Helion Prime started out with just yourself and Jason, but you have added new bandmembers since then. How did they come in to the band?
Heather: As of right now, Helion Prime doesn’t have an official drummer. The drummer who was in the promo photos and played on the album is a good friend of ours and has been filling in as a session drummer. He plays in a band called Axiom and his name is Justin Herzer. He filled in for a lot of our stuff initially. We also have another session drummer named Justin; we have two Justins! [Laughs] We’re still looking for a full-time drummer. Our bassist, Jeremy [Steinhouse], he came in soon after we recorded our EP. He and Jason have been longtime friends, so Jason asked him if he wanted to play bass. He came out to audition, we loved him, so right now the three official bandmembers are myself, Jason, and Jeremy. We’re still on the lookout for a lead guitarist and drummer.

C.: So for those of you out there reading this, if you’re a guitarist or a drummer, give Helion Prime a call!
Heather: There you go! [Laughs] That’s great!

C.: Tell us a little about the making of the album.
Heather: Differences between the EP and the album were pretty huge. Both of them were mostly recorded at home. For the EP, I used an FM-58 microphone, Jason did his guitar tracks, and it was mixed by one of our friends. Then, for the album, I bought a fancier microphone, and we ended up going to Carlos Alvarez of Dirty Viking Productions. He’s the one who took all the tracks that we sent him, mixed them, and then they were sent to Tower Studios for mastering. I believe we recorded all the drums at Alien Productions here in Sacramento, and Jeremy did his parts at his house in South Lake Tahoe.

HELIONPRIMEintiecdcoverC.: You also had a few guests on the album too, like Josh Schwartz from A Sound of Thunder and Niklas Isfeldt from Dream Evil.
Heather: A lot of the solos were done by a bunch of different musicians that Jason knew from the U.S. Power Metal Connection. Of course, we got Niklas to do guest vocals on the final track, “Live and Die on This Day”, and Brian Edwards of Soulmass did the harsh vocals on “Keep What You Kill”.

C.: How did you connect with Niklas from Dream Evil?
Heather: Facebook! Jason found him on Facebook, sent him a message asking him if he’d be open to doing guest vocals. He was extremely cool with it, we sent him the finished song, he recorded his vocals over it, and it sounded great!

C.: Any chance that you might invite Niklas onstage with you at a future concert?
Heather: Well, he lives in Sweden, so we’d have to get over there first. But that would be extremely awesome, and I would probably have a bit of a fangirl moment if that happened. Maybe someday!

C.: So, what are your touring plans? Are you guys hitting the road anytime soon? You’ve been doing some local shows, but do you have any plans to venture out further; maybe to other countries?
Heather: As far as touring goes, we have discussed it. This year, we’re not really sure if we’ll be doing anything, but next year, we do have plans to do something. We want to probably do something like we did last summer, but expand on it. We went to Oregon and down to Los Angeles last August and September. We’d like to make a lot more stops, and maybe go out a little further; visit the Midwest. Anyway, it’s nothing set in stone; it’s something that we’ve talked about, and we definitely want to do that next year.

C.: I really loved the video for “Life Finds a Way”; how you guys had all these scientific images interspersed with the band playing. How did you come up with the idea for the video? Any stories about the making of the video?
Heather: Let’s see…once again, Jason had a vision. The song is about evolution, and we chose that one because it’s a great song, and we thought a video could do it justice. The concept behind the video is just us playing, along with images of life. As you’re listening to the lyrics, the images tell a story about evolution; the way that life and the earth have progressed.

C.: Also, congratulations on your recent signing to Divebomb Records!
Heather: Thank you! As of right now, you can still order the album on our own website or through our Bandcamp page; but I think once everything is settled with Divebomb, that you can also order copies through their website as well.

C.: Because you and Jason both come from different types of bands, and because your fanbase has come from so many different places, what kind of audience do you recommend this album to? The metal scene has so many sub-genres and no two fans are alike, so what type of metal fans do you think would most be interested in your kind of music?
Heather: I suppose I could just name some bands and say, “if you like this band, you’ll like us”, but I’m not great at that. It’s very interesting, because people will ask, “who do you sound like?”, and we will say that we’re influenced by these artists, and maybe to other people we might sound like those bands, but it’s not like we’re trying to emulate a particular artist during the creative process. I can say that my vocal style, all the layers that I did, were totally influenced by Hansi from Blind Guardian. If you like the thick vocal layers of Blind Guardian, then check us out. I know Jason is a big fan of Arjen Lucassen, and we’re both really big fans of Devin Townsend. Honestly, I would also probably say Trivium, because as we were writing and recording this [album], we were really into Trivium. So I’d say for fans of Trivium, they should check us out too.

HELIONPRIMEintieheatherC.: Your music is described as “power metal”, but I hear so many other things going on: there’s some thrash influences, some speed metal, a little bit of prog metal…the music is so diverse. I think “power metal” is so limited when describing your music, and at least to me, your music doesn’t follow that typical “power metal” format. So many people get turned off by the “power metal” label, immediately thinking that you’re going to sound like yet another Helloween clone, and your band sounds nothing like that; not realizing that power metal ranges a broad spectrum of sounds. The way people categorize things these days, it’s oftentimes difficult to figure out where to place these labels sometimes. It sometimes feels like people make up names for sub-genres on the fly!
Heather: We label ourselves “power metal” because that was always the image for what we wanted this band to be, and that’s what we strive towards. But we don’t always necessarily sound like super-“power metal”, as far as the heroic-sounding choruses or the fast style or the lyrical content. I suppose that’s what we strive towards, even if we don’t always get there! I would personally like to call ourselves as “progressive power metal”. Then there’s a bunch of sub-genres, genres you’ve never heard of before…it’s like, stop adding words onto your genre; calm down, Heather! [Laughs]

C.: What kind of music did you grow up listening to? Who did you look up to playing music? Who were your influences? Were you always into metal, or did you get into the music later on as you started performing music?
Heather: My musical tastes have changed quite a bit over the years. I started out just liking the music that my parents did: Def Leppard, Van Halen, Garth Brooks, etc. Then I graduated to pop, like Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, and ‘N’Sync [laughs]. All throughout high school, I was pretty much a nu-metal kid: I really liked Slipknot, Korn, and Linkin Park was a huge favorite. I honestly didn’t get into power metal or symphonic metal until after high school, and I think the first of those bands I came to love was Kamelot. I’m a big Kamelot fan. They’re wonderful; I love both the singers in their own way. I’m a big fan of what they’re doing. As far as direct influences, Stu Block when he was in Into Eternity, his work completely changed my life. I loved how he was able to do the growly vocals and the singing, and he could so many different ranges. He’s probably my top vocal idol. Another big one would be Brittney Slayes from Unleash the Archers; they’re an up-and-coming Canadian power metal band. That chick can just belt out the notes. She’s amazing. Another more recent influence I have to mention is Devin Townsend. I’m such a huge fan of everything he does. Jason is definitely a big fan as well, so we’re huge Devin Townsend fans.

C.: When did you know you wanted to be a singer? How long have you been singing?
Heather: Being a singer has always been a dream of mine, ever since I was little. I remember [being a kid] and drawing pictures of Joe Elliot of Def Leppard and singing along to “Pour Some Sugar on Me”. I’ve always been interested in being a singer. I was in choir in junior high and high school, and did some choir in college; but as far as being in a band, I didn’t really get into it until I was 22 years old. I joined my first real band, which was called Cellsomatic. I’m always going to be thankful to that band; I started out as their fill-in until they could find another vocalist. They ended up liking me, and I just kinda became their singer. I started doing the harsh vocals as well as the singing, and that’s where I started building up my confidence as a singer. After that I joined Graveshadow, and then Helion Prime.

C.: When you alternate between the two bands, are you like Tommy Karevik, where you change your look or onstage appearance depending on the band you’re in?
Heather: I noticed that too, that he has one look in Seventh Wonder, and another look when he’s in Kamelot. I try to do the same thing in Graveshadow because it’s symphonic metal, we sing about monsters, and we have a darker sound; so I wear corsets and dresses, and I wear darker makeup. Helion Prime is more power metal, in-your-face; so I tone down my look and wear just jeans and a dress shirt. We do try to have some sort of a dress code to look uniform and look good onstage, but power metal is pretty much free game.

HELIONPRIMEintieHeatherTwoC.: Graveshadow just won an award in your local metal scene. Congratulations! Is that how big your metal scene is in Sacramento, that you have award ceremonies and nominations for all the different bands?
Heather: I feel that we do; we have quite a few metal bands in the area, and there was a full list of the bands that were nominated. It was a big surprise to me that we won, because there were a few bands on the list that I thought were pretty well-known. So when we won, I thought that was awesome!

C.: Any last words you’d like to say to our readers or to your fans?
Heather: To all of our fans: thank you so much for all of your support. I’m so glad you like the new album. Stay tuned, because we have a lot of awesome things coming your way!

C.: Thanks, Heather! It’s always cool talking to you.
Heather: Thank you so much for this opportunity! I appreciate it.

For more information about Helion Prime, visit their website:
http://www.helionprimemetal.com/

To purchase Helion Prime’s debut album, visit their Bandcamp page:
http://helionprime.bandcamp.com/album/helion-prime

Divebomb Records official website:
http://www.divebombrecords.com/

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