HELKER – Upcoming Argentina Power Force
Some nations have the good fortune to develop musically faster than others: be it based on education or general economic stability. In the case of traditional power metal act Helker, calling Argentina their homeland has meant a steady, under the radar ascension up the ranks- recording three previous Spanish-only albums. Thanks to Mat Sinner though, Helker are now ready to take a serious plunge into the international metal marketplace with their fourth album (and first foray into English) "Somewhere in the Circle".
This record is necessary for those of you who like twin guitar riffing, steady double bass drumming, and a leather lunged vocalist who can rival Bruce Dickinson and Ronnie James Dio. I felt it was necessary to learn more about this band, so answering my questions is vocalist Diego Valdez and his enthusiasm shines through in his answers. Read up, be ready to learn, and investigate more of Helker’s discography.
Can you tell the readers about your personal background growing up- what was your childhood and family life like, special memories surrounding music and how you moved into appreciating/ liking heavy metal? Who were some of your favorite bands and albums in those early days?
"Hello and thanks a lot for this interview! Ok, I grow up surrounded by music and art, my father was an amazing multi-talented artist, he sang, played guitar, painted, wrote poetry, sculpted and was great in everything! My mother is an artist too, my sister has a lot of talent, and my grandmother was an opera singer! So I think that could be a little bit strange if I was…I don’t know, an engineer! Hahaha, regarding music, I spent my childhood amongst great music, bands like The Beatles, Queen, Jethro Tull, Paul Williams and many more. I can tell you that the Beatles and Queen was my very first influence if we talk about singing, but someday, I was around11 and I will NEVER forget that day, I was watching television and suddenly I saw these hairy guys with ALL THE POWER in their music and my life was changed forever, was Iron Maiden and the song "Run to the Hills" and there was no turning back. Then I started to get involved in metal music, searching for new bands and then Dio came to my life and it was changed again! But my first albums, those that changed my life for the very first time were "The Number of the Beast" and "Metalmorfosis" by Baron Rojo, a legendary band from Spain."
You have an extensive history performing with a number of metal bands before joining Helker. What can you tell us about some of your favorite early memories with those acts- and where do you think you developed your vocal talents the most- through studio sessions or rehearsal/ live performances?
"Well, yes, I have an extensive career here in Argentina I started at 14 years old and now I am 42!! Long time! And I did many concerts through all those years, but I think that my highlights are from 2000 to the present, but I remember when some guy asked me for an autograph for the first time! I remember that I almost punched the guy in his face because I thought that the guy was fooling me! But no, the guy was serious! Another great memory was when I opened for a big band for the first time, was in 2000 or 2001 I think, and the band was Nightwish, in their first show here in Argentina and I will never forget when I opened for the guy who I consider my "musical father" the great Ronnie James Dio, and I had the great pleasure to meet him and say to him "thank you for your music and your voice, I am here because of you" the most humble and charming legend that I have ever known! Helker opened for Primal Fear in 2008 I think (sorry but my memory it’s garbage) and I think that that day had to do with the present day, I remember when I was singing I looked at the side of the stage and I saw all the guys of Primal Fear viewing our show! And later Ralf came to say hello and congratulate the band for the show! I also have a great memory from the people of Brazil I was on tour with an ex-band of mine and with the guys of Korpiklaani .And I must mention when I sung "The Phantom of the Opera" with my dear Tarja…that was a magical moment and my first serious exposure to the audiences around the world Oh! I have one more! I sung for Mr. Timo Tolkki when he did his seminar here in Buenos Aires, a nice guy! And regarding your question about studio or live shows, I think that is alive when you can hear the full power not just me, but Helker too!"
At what point did you get the chance to join Helker- as you didn’t perform on their debut album 2002’s "Legado Secreto"? Were you familiar with their output through the years?
"The guys contacted me for a job, but not for a singer job, but for a vocal producer/coach for their former singer, they were recording the album "Resistir" and all the job was done but suddenly the singer left the band so the guys told me if I want to sing the album, it was a practical decision, as I already knew all the songs! We had already developed a friendship by then, so I said yes because of our friendship and also because I loved the songs, then I was confirmed as an official singer of the band. About if I already heard something of Helker in that time, well, not really, I heard about them but not the album "Legado Secreto" and I heard that the guys opened for a couple of international bands, and also heard that they were good but nothing more, of course I have listened to that album now…not too much but some, but was a very different band in that album, more "happy power metal "with a lot of fast double kickJ."
You recorded two albums to date with Helker, "Resistir" in 2008 and "A.D.N." in 2010, through Blackstar Crosses Productions, delivering the lyrics in Spanish. How do you feel about these albums at this point, what are the highlights in your mind and how do you feel about the promotion Blackstar Crosses Productions provided through the years for Helker?
"Those albums are very dear to me I love both and still like songs, I’m not tired of it, from "Resistir" I really love the songs "Por Mano Propia" "Traicion" "Donde Estaras" "Resistir" well, I love the whole album! And from "AND" I love "El Cielo Sangrara" "En Mis Sueños" "Despertar" "Sin Ley, Sin Dios" and "Angel". With Blackstar was just in ADN so we didn’t spend much time with this label, and label did…what he could, we have a very poor music industry, the labels are very underground and don’t have a big influence, it’s very hard work to be a metal musician here."
At what point did Mat Sinner come into the picture to not only help you gain an international record deal with AFM Records but also sign to his production and booking companies Level 10 Music/ ITM Agency? Was this due to your previous time opening for Primal Fear in your home country of Argentina?
"We felt that we were ready for a big challenge and Helker is a band who likes to take risks and always go for more! So we decided to reach the next level, and for that we needed a professional producer who lead the way, teach us and also give us a different and professional point of view so we decided to call Mat because he is a renowned producer, musician and also plays in Primal Fear which is one of our biggest influences as a band so he was our first and only choice. I think that some things were involved in our encounter, we have a mutual friend and maybe our previous gig together has something to do with it too, in fact when our mutual friend told him about Helker, he remembered the band, then we sent to Mat the pre-production material and I remember when he listened to the songs for the first time! I was chatting with him in that moment and he started saying "I like this song!" And then he started to get excited! "wow I really like this one" and then "WILL BE A KILLER ALBUM!!!" hahaha a nice moment."
During 2011 and 2012 you recruited two new members: guitarist Leo Arists and drummer Hernan Coronel. What caused the last set of lineup changes for Helker and how do you think Leo and Hernan contribute to the current Helker sound and outlook- what strengths and skills do they bring to the table?
"I think that we have now, the "ideal" line up, if you ask me I will tell you that in my experience, it’s easier to get an amazing musician than a musician with the right attitude. I see Helker as an entity and we’re serving that entity, we have a very defined part in this team I like to say that we are "five fingers of the fist". We are five guys with a very clear objective and there is no ego involved, now we have the people who have the right "wave" that Helker needs to do what we are doing now. Usually, in the previous albums Mariano Rios(original member) brought the guitar riffs, I did the vocal parts and Christian Abarca (another original member) did the lyrics. This time the things were a little bit different, we had the collaboration of Mat of course, but Leo brought his song (Flying) Hernan brought some lyrics- Mariano, Christian and I did the vocal parts and also brought some guitar riffs, true team effort! I was in some bands where some guys have an ego so big that they rejected a good idea or song just because no matter what, they wanted to have all the credit or even worse, they took the idea and then take the credit too! Hahaha we don’t think in terms of who will have more or less credit, if you have a good idea, and we think that idea could help the band to be better you are in! So we are VERY lucky to have five guys who only think in the context of the band, of course we have our differences but are always looking at things in a positive way."
The new album "Somewhere In The Circle" is the fourth Helker album and first with English lyrics. Tell us about the recording sessions for the album- was it difficult to sing and develop material in English for the first time in the band’s career? Is this where Mat’s songwriting skills and familiarity with the language aided the band?
"For me this time the recording sessions were a little bit "tense" I think that was the same for the guys, we have a GREAT respect for Mat so maybe we felt a little bit "intimidated" at the beginning hahaha! Then, we had the distance issues; I really hope that we can all be together in the same place for the next album! THAT will be fantastic, and then we had to learn how to understand each other because we live in a very different world, but finally we could pass through everything! Mat is a great, wise and nice guy who knew how to get the best out of us. Regarding the language, it’s not the first time that I’m singing in English so there was no real difficulty doing it, the real pain in the ass was the translation! All the lyrics were conceived in Spanish and then we translate it to English (yes, Mat read and checked all the stuff) maybe for the next album we will write under one concept but different lyrics I don’t know, we will see."
Your voice has a lot of Ronnie James Dio nuances to it- especially the ability to rise up in octaves and sustain notes with such power and conviction. Has he always been one of your mentors, and what are some of your favorite singers through the years? Did you ever get the chance to see Dio live before he left this Earth- I’d love to know your memories surrounding this… ?
"Yes! He is one of my biggest influences! But not the only one!! As I said before much of the music that I listened to in my childhood was an influence for me, Lennon and McCartney, the mighty Freddie Mercury, and also I have more "current" influences, I really LOVE Jorn, Russell Allen, Tony Martin (Tony, not Ricky J ) some Phil Anselmo("Cowboys From Hell" era) James Hetfield, Tim Owens, Ralf Scheepers, Bruce Dickinson, Seal and many more!"
"Begging For Forgiveness" contains guest appearances from Ralf Scheepers and Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens on vocals with yourself. How did it come to pass that both would appear on this particular track- and how do you feel about their performances?
"We talked with Mat about the guests, and asked him to choose the right song for Ralf, Tim and myself , he choose "Begging for Forgiveness" he liked the ‘epic’ aura that the song has, then we talked with Tim and Ralf, we got Tim through the same mutual friend that we have with Mat! She is our guardian angel! (Our friend, not Mat) and through Mat, we talked with Ralf, there was no complications, the guys listened to the songs, and sent the vocal tracks! (Tim liked the song so much that he said this was one of the best songs that he recorded for another band!) I think that the work that they did was AMAZING!"
On the limited edition digi-pack version of the record you included "Dreams" as a bonus track- how did that come to pass as to me it’s just as catchy and strong as the rest of the material? Does it frustrate you that you have to offer up bonus material to get people to buy physical product these days versus digital downloads?
"Thanks! I think that "Dreams" is a great song too! But my personal view is that the collector will remain a collector, if you know what I mean. I love books, and nothing is better than having everything in my library full of real books, I think that is the same with the people that collect CD’s. Yes, you can hear the songs on YouTube, yes you can listen to the songs on your phone or even you can download the songs from a pirate site, but if you like the album, I’m sure that you will buy the real thing."
What are the touring plans for Helker? I would imagine you’ll be able to broaden your horizons with some quality European touring and festival appearances? Out of all your work in Argentina, what have been some of your favorite show memories in Helker? Can you also describe how you think Helker is live in comparison to the studio?
"We hope that someday we can cross the ocean and rock the whole world! We didn’t have a date or something yet, but I know that is a very real possibility, Mat is working on that! I remember one show in particular, I had a problem with my leg, not long ago and I was unable to walk, so I was in the hospital for a couple of months! The thing was, that a gig came in the biggest metal festival here in Argentina, a festival where we never played before, so our first choice for the benefit of the band was to talk with a friend to replace me at the show, but I talked with the doctor and he said that if I don’t step I can do it! So I did the show…on crutches! And it was a kick ass show! The people loved the crutches! J If you think that the album has power…well, multiply that for a hundred in a show!"
Describe to the readers the metal scene in general within Argentina. Is there a decent support system in place for bands to play in clubs and work their way up the scene? What are some of the best metal magazines and bands for people to look out for in your opinion?
"Argentina is a hard and strange place to do music, the music itself is not taken as a serious business by the common people. If you say "I’m a musician" the people will ask you "ok, but what is your real work?" imagine if you are a metal musician!! So we have a lot of talent around here, but wasted, we learn from our icons and try to do the best work possible. It’s about real love for this kind of music, we have some places where you can do a good show, but there is another problem, we have a very few "middle" places. If you gather 10.000 people there is no problem, if you gather 50, no problem either but if you gather between 400 to 1.000 people…well, you are in big trouble, a tragedy happened some years ago in one of these "middle" places, an idiot turned on a flare in a closed place and burn it all (very stupid and popular behavior here) and many people died because of that, so the government decided to closed all the places with the same characteristics of this one, and we lost all those kind of places. Regarding magazines we have some good ones, but doing a magazine it’s very expensive here, so one of the best that we have, now it’s an online magazine, but there are a few. Requiem (this is the online one) you have Metalica zine , Jedbangers and Efecto Metal among others, and if I have to name any bands there are many, but now I can remember Wotan(hard rock) Triddana (folk metal, I sing in this one too!) Arraigo (folk metal, but with Argentineans roots, not Irish or Scottish) I like After Dreams and Cinnamum Beloved."
What has been some of the best advice you’ve received from Mat Sinner since he’s taken on managing the band? What are some of the goals you foresee Helker working on and accomplishing in the next 1 to 3 years?
"Mat is a wise guy, so we have received many good pieces of advice from him, I can remember when he said to me ‘We don’t want a chameleon you must keep your own style’ or something like that, and that was because I like to mix voices and styles (you can check on YouTube for this: Anublar Cetro "Honor Thy Father" for an example, yes, a Dream Theater cover!) but Mat wanted to have a very strong and defined style for Helker. And about the goals, well, we always dreamed about touring around the world making new friends and fans, making records, you know, and live the musicians’ life!"
What concerns you about the world that we live in in 2013? Where do you think the leaders of the world (or the general public) need to put more time and energy into to make this world a better place for future generations to cherish?
"I think that we need, not they, the governments are a reflection of what we are I think that, by act or omission we are responsible for everything too! We are in a world made by marketing people, ruled by bureaucrats and banks, they put a new car and a new phone in front of us and we buy. People die every day and the resources are devastated for someone to consume more and more … things that they do not really need! The only hope remains in the future generations if we can raise them with consciousness."
You are also a teacher (is this your full time job away from Helker?)- can you tell us a little bit about who you teach and your approach- do you also find that you are able to learn so much from your students that you can apply some of your work to what you do in Helker?
"Yes, it’s my full time job away from Helker, I’m also a session musician, and yes, they don’t know …but I learn a lot from them! Hahaha, I learn from them, but maybe not in that way, they make me realize some things that I forgot, when I’m teaching I like to show them what is the proper way to do I don’t know, some thing , and then I realize that the things that I do or must do. I think that every student is in a world by itself I must see the cases one by one, and most are different but based in a "column" a foundation which is the cost diaphragm breathing."
Your sound has been compared to Primal Fear, Dio, and Judas Priest through the years. Name your favorite album from each artist as well as your favorite songs. Also, what were three of your favorite albums of 2012?
"Ok, Primal Fear "New Religion" song "Fighting the Darkness"
Judas Priest "Defenders of the Faith" song "Rock Hard Ride Free"
Dio "The Last in Line" song "The Last in Line" in fact I love the entire album!!
Well regarding the albums of 2012, sorry for disappointing you but…I don’t know! I didn’t listen so much to music this past year except for a couple of songs….sorry!"
What other interests do you have outside of music when you have the free time to pursue them? Can you let us know a little bit more about how daily life is in Argentina- what do you enjoy most about living in this country?
"I love gaming!!(ps3) and now I’m lost in the wonderful world of Skyrim! I love to watch mixed martial arts and box (I don’t practice, just watch) and I really love books! (fantasy, horror, sci-fi) and I love to swim . My day it’s a very "normal" day, raise the kid (the younger one, Joan 2 years old, the other one ( Demian, the oldest, is 22 and is a very promising singer- check out his band, Incuria), is already raised! Ok, back to my day, I go to buy the day supplies, and then the day job starts, I give the day lessons and then if we don’t have rehearsals or gigs or photos or recordings I answer interviews!!"
Are there any plans to re-record the early Helker material in English in the future- or possibly a DVD documentary release chronicling the band in concert with historical footage through the years?
"Not really, we must focus on this album first, the company must know how the album works first I guess, and then we will see, the documentary it’s something that I would like to do!! Thanks a lot for your interest in the band my friend. Cheers and all the best!"