Punk roots thrasher Scott Helland (Deep Wound, Outpatients), is gearing up to release his new spy-themed, surf/noir LP, The Spy Detective Collective (due out March 26). Helland’s prolific songwriting has yielded him over 30 records since the ‘80s, ever since that fateful flyer fell into the hands of lo-fi heroes, J Mascis and Lou Barlow. No stranger to DIY venues and seedy dive-bars, Helland once had a gun pulled on him and his brother Vis, who went to settle up with the owner at the venerable punk rock club Electric Banana in Pittsburgh, ca. 1984. At the time, he was in Outpatients, opening up for Battalion of Saints. The hard-luck dues paid off later for Helland, who has since opened for many great rock bands, including Hüsker Dü, Black Flag w/ Henry Rollins, Cro-Mags, COC, 7 Seconds and more.
On his forthcoming LP, The Spy Detective Collective, Guitarmy of One looks to the crime and intrigue of shows of the ‘60s and ‘70s for inspiration as well as for dashes of melodic and cultural source material. In a bit of coded intrigue, Guitarmy of One’s song titles all contain the word ‘one’ buried in them. Some songs are dedicated to singular heroes of the genre: the ominous riffage of “Perry Mason Exoneration” and the moody, Eastern-Euro tinged spy rock of “Emma Bella Citronella,” an homage to Emma Peel of The Avengers. Other songs conflate multiple titles and characters, leaving a referential riddle for the listener: the shimmering, tuneful “Overtones of Hercule and Holmes,” the brash and driving album opener, “I Spy the Prisoner.”
Hi Scott, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Great, glad to be here. I’m hanging in there and keeping busy during this insane time in the world.
Can you tell us more about your latest single “Perry Mason Exoneration?”
The song is inspired by the TV show from the late 50s/early 60s called Perry Mason. I wrote this instrumental with the main character in mind. Perry Mason was a tough attorney who had great detective qualities when trying to get his clients acquitted. The song has a very driving, heavy, dark guitar riff and beat and there’s definitely a noir mood to the track as well. It’s the second single off my forthcoming record, The Spy Detective Collective, that will be out on March 26.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
It was more of an extension of the overall concept for the record. I watched a lot of Spy and Detective shows growing up and that was the inspiration for this whole album. The first single, I Spy The Prisoner, was a mash up of two shows I watched. Oddly enough, I didn’t watch Perry Mason; it wasn’t on my radar, but I read about the show and really wanted to add the character to this record. I grew up playing in the hardcore punk and metal scenes in the 80s and 90s, so that looms large in my brain and soul and I felt like his character needed a heavy riff, so the main riff to this song is kind of a tipping of the hat to the heavy music I played when I was younger.
How was the filming process and experience behind the video?
Exhilarating and exhausting! Exhilarating might be a bit strong, but it was just so much fun to film and act out my version or my take on the spy detective genre. I must have run around several dozen different locations while sweating in a suit on some of the hottest days of last summer. Exhausting, because I ran around all day for weeks compiling the video footage.
The single comes off your new album The Spy Detective Collective – what’s the story behind the title?
The whole record is inspired by the spy and detective shows from the 60s and 70s like The Prisoner, The Avengers, The Rockford Files, The Man from Uncle, Barnaby Jones. It’s my homage to them. I loved the theme songs on a lot of the shows too, maybe that’s where my interest in writing instrumental music started. I took my perception of the characters’ personalities and fed that through the filter of my writing style. Each song is named after characters from shows from that time period, and all the songs contain the word ‘one’ as each of the songs are born from one riff, the characters were often ‘go it alone’ types and of course this project is called Guitarmy of One.
How was the recording and writing process?
I wrote and recorded this record during the summer of 2020 as I wasn’t able to tour. The whole spy theme came to fruition during the pandemic. Having to get used to not playing live shows, which is my livelihood, has been a huge adjustment for sure, but it actually gave me time to develop this album. I couldn’t go into the studio I usually record at, so I tracked the songs at home and emailed the songs to my engineer and went back and forth like that for 3 months.
What role does New York play in your music?
New York has a very important role in my musical evolution. I had been playing in the Western Massachusetts Hardcore scene since the age of 13 in Deep Wound and Outpatients and it was at age 20 that I moved to NYC which cemented my commitment to playing music and a creative life. I immersed myself in the NYC Hardcore Punk scene as the bass player of School of Violence and later with the continuation of my band Outpatients. Also, one of my very first musical influences, and the spark for me to actually want to be a musician, was the Ramones, who are synonymous with New York in my book. I love the energy of the city, there’s nothing like it. After those bands dissolved, NYC became the catalyst for my solo music.
In what aspect did you get to explore the 60s and 70s on this record?
The cheekiness and levity of the 60s and 70s shows I referenced, and their theme songs, always appealed to me and tends to come out in my writing even though my songs are more inspired by punk and metal type guitar riffs and dub style or hip hop style drum sounds. Also, I loved the look and style of those shows and I get to play around with that in my videos like my campy Get-Smart-comically-serious-spy-guy character and also in the colorizing of the video. I used a 70’s saturation type of hue when choosing the tint and color.
Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs?
I started out as a bassist which has really shaped my guitar playing. I’m not a typical guitar player by any means. I don’t do the usual guitar blues-based leads, I have a very particular sound and my playing style and melodic lines are probably closer to Spanish guitar with some Surf style and some Eastern European motifs mixed with punk or metallic type riffs.
What else is happening next in Scott Helland’s world?
I’ll be gearing up for the release of another single in early March (Overtones of Hercule and Holmes) and the release of the album on March 26th as well as more videos for this record. My hardcore punk band from the 80s, Outpatients, has a retrospective release coming out on the Painkiller Record label sometime this spring/summer. It’s the definitive collection of our early recordings, including those ranked back then in the ‘Top 20 Releases’ list of the Maximum RNR Magazine (the ultimate Hardcore punk fanzine/magazine). Then, I’ll be working on a new record with my post punk cabaret duo Frenchy and the Punk, a project I have with my partner and singer Samantha Stephenson, and hopefully we’ll be able to re-book our European Tour dates by the end of the year. Of course, I hope to be able to do some touring for this Guitarmy of One record as well at some point. I’ll at least do more virtual concerts. We’ve been live streaming from our studio since last March via YouTube.
Thanks for the chat. Cheers!