Right at this moment, Ben Verellen is doing what he’s done since he was just a kid: he’s going to a hardcore show.
In the middle of the afternoon, the 33-year-old musician — a towering red-headed Viking of a man — is talking on the phone as fills his gas tank, readying himself for a trip to Olympia where he’ll catch a reunion show by ’90s hardcore band Behead the Prophet No Lord Shall Live. He’s excited as he talks, like a kid going to his first concert.
By day, he’s an engineer by trade, hand-building custom amplifiers — some of the loudest in the business — for bands like Minus the Bear, Against Me and Sick of It All.
And with the rest of his time, he plays in a band called Helms Alee: a confounding, skin-tingling heavy rock band which has wooed critics with their angular, out-of-nowhere tracks. They’ve toured with giants like Torche and Big Business, and were named Best Metal Band by Seattle Weekly in 2011.
At this point in time, Verellen is quite literally living a life of music.
“I love my life, and I’m really happy I get to play in a bunch of bands and that the work I do is immersed in the music scene I grew up around,” he says cheerily. “When I was a kid I remember thinking, ‘I’m gonna have a warehouse with a skatepark and a record store and a stage for bands to play when I grow up.’ When I think about how it all turned out, it’s sort of a naive little kiddish kind of dream of how a grown-up can be.”
But by believing in it and never letting up on his devotion to music, he’s made it work.
Verellen has long been associated with Northwest rock. As a kid in Tacoma (Seattle’s “dirty little brother,” he laughs), Verellen watched his big brother Dave scream in beloved mathcore outfit Botch. Soon Ben would go on to form Harkonen — a band that was equally revered nationwide for their brand of hardcore. He dabbled in other projects — alt-country band Roy, post-hardcore band These Arms Are Snakes — before stumbling across something completely different.
In Dana James (of L.A. band Your Enemies Friends) and Hozoji Matheson-Margullis (of Tacoma two-piece Lozen), Verellen arguably found his biggest challenge: insanely skilled musicians from prolific bands of their own and with histories as long as his.
And, well, girls.
Women in bands: that’s not a novelty. But it would be missing the point to say that the presence of females isn’t part of what makes Helms Alee so interesting. On tracks like “8/16,” James is heavy-lidded and seductive as she sings before being joined by the brash, warrior-woman vocals of Matheson-Margullis. Around them drums are clattering, bass thundering, a guitar sounds like it’s about to rocket off into space — the band is firing on all cylinders. And still, in the middle of the madness, Verellen screams through the fog: a roaring lion in the middle of a riot. It’s impossible to ignore — a storm of sound that no other band can hold a candle to.
But Helms Alee is hardly all melted faces. The band dabbles in beautiful harmonies and bafflingly complex guitar solos. Together, they’re hardly single-minded in their sound. Helms Alee is loud, quiet, off-kilter, danceable … Helms Alee is, just, everything.
“It’s almost like the three of us don’t speak the same language at all, but then we just keep at it,” Verellen says, laughing at the question of how exactly the band’s patchwork songs come to be. “You have three people in the room that really know music. But we’re like ‘play the mushy thing and then that crunchy part.’ You can stumble onto some weird things that way.”
And if you’re Verellen, it might mean you’ve stumbled on your best band yet.
Helms Alee with Aranya, Hooves and Mercy Brown • Fri, March 29, at 8 pm • Mootsy’s • 406 W. Sprague Ave. • $5 • 21+ • 838-1570