Helmet mainman Page Hamilton spoke at the Rock Hall last month. For two hours, he chatted about music theory, postgraduate education at New York's Manhattan School of Music, the German language, and an apprenticeship with avant-garde composer Glenn Branca.
The 47-year-old singer and guitarist barely touched on the band that put him on the map. Betting Helmet would be the next Soundgarden, Interscope Records won a bidding war in 1992 for Meantime, the band's sophomore effort. The album, now platinum, has aged well, but it contains the seeds of nü metal and a thousand lesser bands that dumbed down the quartet's staccato riffs and gigantor choruses.
Hamilton disbanded Helmet in 1998, then put together a new lineup in 2003. The group has since recorded two LPs: Monochrome and Size Matters. The discs weren't particularly well received. The music went over many heads: Helmet Mk. II is less Dimebag, more Charlie Parker.
"Somebody said that my solos have nothing to do with my chord changes," says Hamilton. "Like, there are no chord changes."
Crammed with riff-based key changes and a barrage of uninterrupted eighth-note triplets, the songs don't exactly rock in a repetitious 1-2-3-4 manner. And it's little wonder: Hamilton spends days studying orchestration, taking notes on Ravel scores, and practicing jazz.
"Helmet is deceptive in its simplicity," says Hamilton. "People are like, 'Why do you have your master's degree in jazz and you play this?' Because I fucking want to."