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Helicopter, Helicopter
first boston, now the world

 
by tim mcmahan


 

 

May 16
Helicopter, Helicopter
The Movies
Dazy Maze
13th and Jackson
8 p.m.
18 and over
$5

 

Lazy-i: May 8, 2001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listening to By Starlight, the new CD by Boston four-piece Helicopter, Helicopter, immediately conjures up memories of mid-'90s melody-rich indie-pop by bands like The dBs, Madder Rose, The Reivers, Veruca Salt, Eleventh Dream Day and even Elvis Costello.

The flashback is no accident.

"We set out to make a pop record after listening to a lot of melodic stuff by bands like Madder Rose," said H2 guitarist/vocalist Chris Zerby from his home in Summerville, Mass., an urban enclave to Boston. "We brought the vocals and melodies to the forefront and trimmed the fat on the songs. We wanted to make a record that we could put in the car and sing along to."

The recipe worked. By Starlight, the CD that brings H2 back to Omaha for a gig at Dazy Maze May 16, is a half-hour of simple, indie pop-rock ditties that features Zerby sharing vocals with fellow guitarist Julie Chadwick. Recorded by producer/engineer Mathew Ellard, who's worked with such '90s-era college-rock staples as Tanya Donelly and Juliana Hatfield, By Starlight works because Zerby and company want nothing more than to create hooks and melodies that you can't get out of your head. Ultimately, it's the male/female vocals and harmonies that set H2 apart from the run-of-the-mill pop-indie fodder.

"We get a lot of comparisons to Black Francis and Kim Deal or the Blake Babies," Zerby said. "I can see where they're coming from, but that music is mostly a lead singer with back-up. We really work hard to integrate both voices into the mix."

 

 

 

In most cases, however, one singer carries the lead while the other harmonizes on the chorus. Zerby holds the reins on eight of the 10 tracks, but it's Chadwick who gets the honors on the CD's highwater mark, a snarling little power ballad called "Trembling God" that has "single" written all over it.

"Our roles in the band have evolved," Zerby said. "In the beginning, we'd do my songs and then her songs and wound up with sort of a split personality. It's more seamless now and we're comfortable making room for each other. I do most of the writing and she does more of the business end. When I wrote 'Trembling God,' I had Chadwick in mind for the lead, and it worked out."

By Starlight already is charting in the College Music Journal (CMJ) top-100, thanks, in part, to steady appearances in the band's hometown, where they've developed a fan following playing to packed shows in and around the ivy-decked walls of Cambridge. "Where we play, there's more liquor stores than book stores," Zerby said. "The music scene is centered around the seedy underbelly of Cambridge that you don't see."

But there's more to the multi-faceted and legendary Boston music world than Cambridge.

"Boston has a very passionate music scene. People there are very into their rock music," said Zerby, referring to the home of such stadium fillers as Aerosmith, Boston and Godsmack, as well as indie faves such as The Pixies and Letters to Cleo. "The city is big enough to support a lot of good national bands, but still not as huge as New York, where you can get lost in the shuffle. The Boston rock scene is funny because it has a very vibrant underground with bands that aren't getting commercial radio airplay. For every Letters to Cleo there's a hundred bands slugging it out in the clubs.

"We feel lucky to have gotten to the point where we can headline on a Saturday night and sell out a club, but it's taken us three years to get there."

Other bands might be satisfied with that achievement in one of the country's largest music markets, but, Zerby said, success on the road playing remote places like Omaha is the only way H2 will ever make it to the next level. "We play Boston about every two months. The rest of the gigs are all on the road," he said. "We do a lot of weekends along the East Coast, in Washington, D.C., New York, Buffalo, Philly, and then go out on the road for two or three weeks at a time. You've got to. You can play your home town until you die, but we want to reach beyond that."

 

 


"Our roles in the band have evolved. In the beginning, we'd do my songs and then her songs and wound up with sort of a split personality. "


 


"We want to be a full-time band, which we pretty much are right now. But it would be nice to be able to go home from a tour and not have to go to work the next morning."


 

In an article in Boston alternative paper The Phoenix, the band pointed to last summer's gig at The 49'r as cause for venturing out of their comfort zone. Omaha was a city that they thought "was about the last place we expected to sign autographs."

"We showed up in Omaha on a Saturday night not really knowing if anyone even heard of us," Zerby said. "But when we walked into the club, there was about a half-dozen people there who had the CD and were waiting for us to play. You never know. A similar thing happened in Santa Cruz. We showed up and were shocked at the turnout, and that's what makes touring worth it."

Although their CD was well distributed in Omaha, when the band played in Chicago last summer, nary a copy could be found. "We're on a small label (tiny Lunch Records out of Cambridge) and distribution is rather hit or miss," Zerby said. "What makes the difference is when some kid working in a record store hears the CD and orders it. It's sort of random."

The band hopes to see even more people carrying copies of their CD as they return to the Midwest and West Coast this spring and summer. Among the cities on this tour are Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City and Nashville. Then it's back home to Boston and their day jobs. Chadwick is a bartender while Zerby drives an ambulance in Cambridge, a job he hopes is only temporary.

He points to indie-rock heavyweights Yo La Tengo as an example of what the band hopes to achieve. "They have a really good career, a solid fan base and are constantly putting out records and touring," Zerby said. "We don't want to be rock stars. We do this because it's what we like to do. We want to be a full-time band, which we pretty much are right now. But it would be nice to be able to go home from a tour and not have to go to work the next morning."


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Published in The Omaha Weekly May 9, 2001. Copyright 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.