There’s another sound associated with rock band Helen Kelter Skelter besides persistent percussion, shimmering keyboards and jangling guitars. It’s the guttural engine of a 1977 Volkswagen bus they arrived in for their interview. It’s a wholly appropriate vehicle for these five 20-something men who are playing a kind of music pioneered well before they were born. Likewise the yellow and white bus was assembled when they were just gleams in their mother’s eyes. It’s a good vibrations kind of ride. Helen Kelter Skelter will be bringing their attractively modern interpretation of psychedelic rock 'n' roll to The Deli Saturday. evening. Vocalist/guitarist Eli Wimmer and guitarist Tim Gregory were representing band mates Nathan Harwell on drums, bassist Cody Clifton and keyboardist Jay Jamison talking about their sound.
First and possibly foremost, Helen Kelter Skelter is a Norman outfit. They are steeped in the musical history of this place, have listened closely to its heroes and benefited from the virtuosity here. They understand the sound and fury of those who came before them such as the Chainsaw Kittens and the Starlight Mints.
“Norman is a big pool of talent,” Wimmer said. “And this is where we grew up.”
Helen Kelter Skelter have been playing out together a little over a year now and 2014 will be their Norman Music Festival debut on the Dreamer Concepts stage. Wimmer, Gregory and Harwell were art classmates at Norman North High School and music was one of their hot topics back then. Making music together has been something they’ve wanted to do since those Timberwolves days.
Helen Kelter Skelter play heavy rock that brings to mind the Doors and Steppenwolf of the past and the Foo Fighters and White Denim of today. The quintet would pair well on a local venue bill with like-minded Horse Thief and the Feel Spectres. Helen Kelter Skelter utilize an unusual method of collaborative songwriting. Because of jobs, social demands and a small work space the personnel create in shifts.
“Eli might do some work and then I’ll come in afterwards and add to it in the time I have,” Gregory said.
The result is often songs with a rich collage effect that manage to be both lyrically poetic and musically compelling.
“They’re about disappointments and triumphs,” Wimmer said. “Some are about freaky scenes and weird things that you only see one time and want to remember it in your tune.”
Creating a mood and chronicling life events are the aim in compositions with titles including “Wish List,” “Some Tight Rope” and “You’ll Get Your Money Back.”
Helen Kelter Skelter wisely chose Norman’s Bell Labs presided over by CEO Trent Bell for mixing their first self-titled and recorded EP.
“Trent Bell is awesome,” Wimmer said. “He’s encouraging and opinionated but honest. He helped a lot by being someone who really cares about what the record will sound like at the end.”
Norman’s Ben Lindesmith of Zanzibar! Media mastered the disc and Hawaii resident Grubz aka Tyler Crook had his hand in some remixing.
“The whole concept was quite a bit of teamwork, including the cover artist Shelby Strong who lives in L.A. and is my former band mate from Robots in the Sky,” Gregory said.
Helen Kelter Skelter will be playing from their original songbook at their next performance. They don’t have a repertoire of covers but are considering reworking an obscure Fleetwood Mac tune to include in their set. Expect a psychedelic light show along with the music. The band recently filmed a couple of music videos at the Flaming Lips’ art gallery called Womb in Oklahoma City. From that experience special effects have been on their minds.
“One video is a story and the other is us playing live,” Gregory said.
Helen Kelter Skelter worked with videographer Spencer Sakurai, known for being the director of photography on The Pixies’ “Bagboy” music video.
Because of Helen Kelter Skelter’s close relationships in the Norman music scene it was no surprise to learn they consider one of its pillars their mentor.
“When it comes to writing original music it would have to be Gregg Standridge,” Wimmer said. “Gregg inspired us because he writes his own music. He taught me about chord structure, to write my own songs and is a great guy to learn from.”
Standridge is long-time Norman guitar teacher and working musician who has had a positive impact on many up and coming guitar slingers. Helen Kelter Skelter will be putting those good vibrations front and center at The Deli Saturday night.
If You Go
What: Helen Kelter Skelter in concert
Where: The Deli, 309 White St.
When: 10 p.m. March 29
Helen Kelter Skelter's Tim Gregory and Eli Wimmer contemplating the mysteries of the universe.