Learn to do it yourself. Eventually I got fed-up of playing in bands. I wanted more creative freedom, I was bored with the politics and with other band members dragging their feet, never getting stuff done. I always wanted to learn to sing and learn how to produce my own music but I never got around to it until I was well into my twenties because my situation left me with little choice at that point. If I had started much earlier I would have far more to show for it now. If I had not learned to sing I would have had to pay a singer to sing my songs or worse, I would have had to rely on favors (see point 1 about favors). The same applies with the production. It is cheaper, and you have complete control if you do it yourself.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Danny Helm.
Danny Helm is an independent musician, songwriter and producer based in the North West of England. From 2009 to 2012 Danny played lead guitar in the Metalcore band Reckless Revolution which performed a mixture of cover songs and original music with regular slots in rock bars and clubs around Lancashire.
From 2012 to 2018 Danny shifted focus to acoustic and instrumental music. He played and sang in pubs and clubs around the North West on a weekly basis and in 2018 he released an experimental instrumental album entitled Veil of Years which fused aspects of Ambient and Neoclassical genres.
Danny Helm’s latest project represents a partial return to his roots in Rock and Metal whilst synthesizing his accumulated knowledge of Folk, Classical, Blues and Jazz music. This is an eclectic thirteen track album entitled …and darkness follows.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Sure. I was an only child. Mum was a nurse, Dad was an engineer. they were at work most of the time so I was partially raised by my grandparents. We lived in a small town called Nelson until I was six, then we moved to neighboring Colne where we have lived ever since. School was tough. My strong distaste for math and sport combined with my introversion and disregard for authority made my early life away from home pretty miserable. I liked art though. I never had any real friends until I took up guitar when I was twelve. All of a sudden I had something in common with all the other metal heads and misfits. I was actually good at something for the first time and they respected me for it. I’m still close with those same people now.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was raised on old rock bands: Queen, Dire Straits, Thin Lizzy… I heard the electric guitar on their recordings and I loved the sound of it, although I don’t think I realized at the time that what I was hearing was a guitar. Mum had an acoustic guitar and it didn’t sound like that so I couldn’t understand what the sound was. One day I was walking past the rehearsal room at school when I was about eleven, I heard one of the older kids playing the intro to Sweet Child O’ Mine, I think that’s when I realized for sure that it was an electric guitar. It sounded incredible. If my soul had a sound that would be what it would sound like. Around the same time my cousin came round with a CD: Garage Inc. by Metallica and she played their version of Whisky In The Jar. I was already familiar with the song but Metallica took it up a notch (or two) and from then on I was hooked. I NEEDED to get an electric guitar and learn to play it more than I needed to eat or sleep. I never wanted to do anything else.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I think the most interesting thing is that I quit drinking entirely at twenty-three. I started drinking far too much when I was about fourteen. I used to hide bottles round the house. I would sneak out and get drunk with friends in the park like most kids do but then I would go home and carry on. I still functioned and I hid it pretty well until I was nineteen or twenty, by which point I was a full-blown alcoholic. I could not function so well then. If I had been on a bender, I couldn’t get out of bed the next day without drinking a quarter bottle of whisky and then I couldn’t stop. I would find myself in a different town at one or two in the afternoon and I would have no idea how I got there or why I went there. I managed to quit eventually. Since then my family and everyone who knew me have admitted that they never thought I would be able to stop. They all thought I was going to die and so did I, but here I am!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There was one particular instance, which raised a few eyebrows. I was playing a rock bar with my old band when I was a teenager. The song was in a different tuning but I forgot to detune the guitar for the song. I played the entire thing in the wrong tuning. The whole time I was thinking ‘this sounds wrong, why does it sound wrong?’ When we finished the song, instead of the usual applause the audience just looked at us, then the rest of the band looked at me. It was awkward and it took me a few minutes to realize that I had basically just played all of the wrong notes throughout the entire song! I have not made that mistake since!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I recently finished my project entitled ‘…and darkness follows’ which was just released on Spotify. That is the culmination of everything I have done so far as it includes songs I wrote over a span of time from when I first started playing right up to about three months before the release in November 2020. I have a lot of plans for the future. I have been studying baroque compositional techniques from composers like Vivaldi and Bach with a view to incorporating some of that stuff into a kind of symphonic metal album. I always loved bands which contrasted heaviness and dissonance with melodic consonance: In Flames, Dark Tranquility, Bullet for my Valentine, Funeral for a Friend… but I feel like there is a danger of it becoming repetitive because stuff that is really nice to listen to is often quite simple. On my next project I hope to fuse those melodic aspects with more Prog/ Djent type riffs like Katatonia, Periphery, Jinjer and Tesseract and overlay them with the baroque style string arrangements. I hope that what will emerge will be a different kind of gothic/ symphonic thing with Metalcore style breakdowns and weird bits. It should be quite interesting.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Firstly I think that it is important for the same reason that it is important in any workplace. I think an employer should be looking for the best person for the job/ roll regardless of ethnic background/ genter/ sexual orientation etc…There should be no preference based on any of these things, only ability.
Secondly It is important on TV because some people are prejudiced and it is important for them to see that the rest of the world accepts diversity.
Thirdly when people who have been oppressed or feel like they don’t have the same opportunities as others see someone (for example) like Avery Brooks; an extremely talented and successful actor playing Benjamin Sisko; a lead roll in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine they may realize that not only is it possible for a black actor to play a lead roll, but it would be difficult to imagine anyone other than Avery Brooks playing that roll and therefore dreams are worth pursuing. It doesn’t matter who you are.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Don’t accept favors. Some people like to hear themselves saying that they will do nice things but they don’t like to put in the effort required to follow through with it.
This has happened to me a few times. One example was when I was playing a few original songs in a pub. Someone offered to build me a website. I could not believe my luck. He started it immediately but then he never finished it. I waited six months and then I ended up paying for it anyway. It would have saved me six months if I had just got it done professionally in the first place.
Stake out venues before playing them
When I was at college, I used to drink at a pub adjacent to the campus. It was great, all the music students used to drink there. I thought it would be a fantastic place to book a gig for my band. The problem was that I had never been there at night. It turned out that the crowd there at night was very different to the crowd during the day and I suddenly understood why it had a reputation as the roughest pub in Blackburn. Some of you guys in the USA may not be aware of this but there are a lot of people in the UK who listen to a ‘genre of music’ (if you could call it that) called ‘Donk’. It is like EDM but terrible. It is basically a monotonous drum beat with a bold man in a necklace talking really quickly over the top of it. He is usually wearing a tracksuit and waving his arms about making strange gestures. Most of the people who listen to this sub genre of House music seem to adhere to a similar aesthetic profile, and usually they are not big fans of Killswitch Engage, as we discovered when we played the gig. As soon as we stopped playing, the regulars put the Donk on over the speakers and they all started bouncing up and down with all their little bold heads reflecting the disco lights. We had to cut the gig short but at least they helped us back to the car with our gear… and told us never to come back.
Don’t rely on event organizers to know what they are booking
This kind of ties in with my previous point but it is important. Someone once asked me to come and play a solo set of Neo Classical instrumental music on a nylon strung guitar at a fashion show. The whole time leading up to the event I was thinking ‘what kind of fashion show is this? Instrumental guitar music? At a catwalk? I thought these sorts of events just used EDM?’ It turned out that my doubts were well founded. The organizers had not given a second thought to what they were booking. They didn’t seem to have a clue about much of anything to be honest. They kept me waiting for five hours then the show started started: the dance music played over the speakers for the duration of the first walk, then the models went to get changed. While they were doing that, I stood on the catwalk and played a rendition of Estudio en Mi de Rubira on classical guitar. Then the EDM came back on. The models did another turn, then they went to get changed I came out and played Greensleeves… as you can imagine the contrast was cringe inducing. The organizers had not put a second thought into what their vibe was before they booked me.
Learn to do it yourself
Eventually I got fed-up of playing in bands. I wanted more creative freedom, I was bored with the politics and with other band members dragging their feet, never getting stuff done. I always wanted to learn to sing and learn how to produce my own music but I never got around to it until I was well into my twenties because my situation left me with little choice at that point. If I had started much earlier I would have far more to show for it now. If I had not learned to sing I would have had to pay a singer to sing my songs or worse, I would have had to rely on favors (see point 1 about favors). The same applies with the production. It is cheaper, and you have complete control if you do it yourself.
Promote your music/ gigs
Back when I was playing guitar in in Reckless Revolution we got a regular slot at a local rock bar from the early days. We had a good relationship with them. We were usually supporting more established local acts so people were there. All we had to do was turn up and play and everyone seemed to love us, then we got a gig away from our hometown. A small stage slot at a small festival in a small town called Barnsley, fifty miles from anywhere we had played before. We thought ‘it’s a festival there will be loads of people there’ WRONG! There were plenty of people there but unless you go out with flyers, tell people about it, establish relationships with your audience etc… nobody will come to the small stage at a festival. You will be playing to your girlfriends and a few passing drunks… which is what we did.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Be true to yourself. It sounds generic but if you don’t want to burn out you need to be doing what you love for a small (or big) following. Not trying to please the great masses with crappy acoustic covers of generic pop songs that you hate. I did that for a few years because I needed the money. It was lucrative but it was not creativity. It was just a bad day job that happened at night. There is however nothing wrong with a good day job. If you can sacrifice the time, a day job can facilitate complete creative freedom because you aren’t having to please everyone to earn money and the upshot of that is that your little group of followers becomes much more tight-knit because you are an outlier. They also prefer it when you are not desperately trying to sell them things to earn a crust. However if you are a musician with a day job, find one that takes your body but not your mind and which does not denigrate you or your craft. ‘FREEEBIRD!’
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The DWYW (do what you want) Movement. I once read something in an interview from Steve Reich where he was asked what his political views were and he responded something like ‘I am an anarchist like everyone else is when they are in their kitchen making a cup of tea’ and I don’t think I could have put it better. This is not to say that I am an anarchist in a literal sense, just that everything in the public eye is aimed at the collective by virtue of its fundamental nature. The result of this is that we are bombarded by collectivism and in this chaos of everybody worrying about what everybody else is doing and interfering with each other we have forgotten who we are as individuals. I think that laws should create freedom, not stifle it. To me it seems that the birthright of every individual is to do what he/ she wants to do with his/ her limited time, so in my view a law which stops someone from interfering with someone else would be just, but it seems that a good proportion of laws just arbitrarily inhibit individual freedoms whilst protecting no freedoms. I think that some of this collective attitude bleeds over into culture at large with manipulation, gossip and tattle tailing being the norm while privacy, reservation and honor are valued much less.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I was a kid I used to jam a lot with my mate Jake Dixon (now quite a successful musician). His dad, Billy had a classical guitar hanging on his wall, half way up the stairs. One day I was walking up the stairs and I accidentally nocked the guitar off its hook. It fell down the stairs and broke into two pieces at the bottom. I couldn’t believe what I had done, I thought he was going to go kill me but as it happened he was really quite understanding.
A few months must have passed and I was sat in the kitchen with Billy and Jake. Somehow, it came up in conversation that I planned to take up playing classical guitar but I only had steel-strung guitars. Billy said ‘I still have both parts of that guitar that fell down the stairs, if you can fix it you can have it’. I took it home. Me and Dad managed to fix it and we re-polished it and brought it up like new. I learned all the classical right hand techniques on it and it remains amongst my guitars as a testament to Billy’s generosity and my Dad’s help.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Friedrich Nietzsche — ‘No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself’
Like I said I didn’t get on too well in my early school years. I was a loner, I was either bullied or ignored but I never changed who I was. Eventually I found my crowd and the cost was worth it because I never re-shaped myself to fit in someone else’s box. If I had re-shaped myself to fit in with the ‘normal’ kids I wouldn’t have the close circle that I have now.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Amy Lee from Evanescence was always my biggest inspiration. Apart from being my crush, I could never understand how someone could go so deep and dark both musically and lyrically. A was always fascinated by dreams, the fantasies and dark enchanted woods of the human mind and to me her work seems to plumb the depths of these tragically well. To me her music seems to come from a place so deep and dark that it must be in another world; like it’s hard to imagine that the songs were even dreamt up by a human being.
If I ever had the chance to meet her I would like to think that I would ask her all about her creative process but I suspect that what I would actually do is freeze up and lose the power of speech.
How can our readers follow you online?
My latest release on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/1k5hnoqcUlupNgFryB3xf5?si=xY1oAP66RQK–3IoNcrsDQ
My Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/9dannyhelm9
My Website: https://dannyhelm.com/
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Thank you so much!