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Brandon Summers of The Helio Sequence

Music is in their DNA

After a quiet start in 2009, Portland-based duo The Helio Sequence are back on tour supporting Keane and trying to survive on the road amid rumors of a swine flu pandemic. The band stops at Oaklandís Fox Theater on May 8th. Brandon Summers (guitar/vocals) spoke with SF Station during a phone interview from Portland.

SFS: Are you concerned about swine flu as you prepare to go on tour for two months?

Brandon Summers (BS): Iíve been really thinking about it because we were just in Mexico City about two months ago and it makes me realize how close it really is.

Iím not going to be wearing a mask, but itís a weird time to be going out because we are going to be in front of huge crowds. At the same time, I think the accounts that are out there are typical of the American media; they are trying to scare people because they continue readership and viewership by causing fear. It could be serious, but I donít know. When you read certain accounts it seems like they are just using fear.

SFS: Are you going to do anything different?

BS: I will be more aware when we are in more international cities like New York or D.C., where people travel in and out of the country all of the time. We are not going to be out in the crowds, in general, because we are going to be in large venues where other people are handling merchandise and all of that kind of stuff.

SFS: The venues will be larger because you are opening for Keane. Whatís the most unusual experience you have had opening for other bands?

BS: The most unusual slot we did was our first tour. We got a call out of the blue to open for Echobrain, which is what became the main project for Jason Newsted when he left Metallica. It turns out their singer was a big fan.

We went on tour and it was a total mismatch of fans and music taste because their fans were mostly ex-Metallica fans. The fans were really heavy guys that were wearing leather and mostly wanted to hear people solo and rock out, and we were the kind of spacey, artsy, weird opening band. It was a toss up between totally alienating fans and piquing peoplesí interest. We did 35 shows around the U.S. like that and every night was completely different.

SFS: Hopefully you didnít have to dodge any projectiles.

BS: No, not really, but there were some pretty angry people. Some people liked us and said we reminded them of the Scorpions or some other reference that, to me, was totally off.

SFS: You get random comparisons to other bands a lot, right?

BS: Yeah, itís kind of all over the place for Helio Sequence. People call our band all sorts of genres too, like indie-electronica and other really hilarious tags. A lot people call us a mix between King Crimson and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark -- just really strange labels.

SFS: How do you describe yourself when people ask?

BS: I donít try because itís really just too messy.

SFS: I read an article from about a year ago that said you are waking up early, jogging and keeping a tight practice schedule. How is that regiment holding up?

BS: Really well in terms of workflow and being really focused. Iíve been jogging a lot less lately because about eight months ago my wife and I had a daughter. Things have changed quite a bit, but Iím super busy and really focused on Helio Sequence.

SFS: For the band, itís been pretty quiet this year. What else have you been up to?

BS: We are working on new music now and we are really trying to be conscious about getting a new record out by early next year. We are really trying to put our heads down. Our goal is to write a double albumís worth of songs and pair it down to a single album.

SFS: Some Bob Dylan references crept into the last album. Whatís inspiring you now?

BS: Iíve been listening to a lot of old, off-the-beaten path British folk and a lot of ambient music. Itís kind of all over the place, really. Itís hard to say what is reflecting into the music we are writing right now. We are trying not to be conscious of it.

SFS: Some people said Keep Your Eyes Ahead was the most conventional and refined album you have released. Do you think you will continue on that path?

BS: I donít know if I would describe what we are doing as conventional, but I would say we are very focused on songs and songwriting, rather than just creating atmospheres, or pieces or jams.

SFS: You have a pretty big live sound for just two guys onstage. Whatís the secret?

BS: We are both really picky about our instruments and everything that we do. The other part is the sequences that Benjamin does. He is really particular about the loops that we play with and the sound. In general, we have always done our own engineering and producing. The sound that we do is as equally as important as the songs that we write.

The Helio Sequence open for Keane at Fox Theater on May 8th. Tickets are $38.50 and the show starts at 8pm.