“Page [Hamilton, vocals and guitar] writes the basic structures of the songs and puts them on his four-track for everybody to hear,” Stanier continues. “If Page suggests something, I’ll just take it from there. For Aftertaste, we wrote a few of the songs as a band, but as far as the arrangements go, no one tells me what to play. I have complete freedom. I pretty much can do whatever I want, and luckily, everyone seems to like it. Of course we all toss around ideas.”
On occasion, either to relieve the boredom of the road or just to straighten out clumsy sections, Stanier plays his parts differently live than on the studio versions. “A little differently,” he clarifies. “In the studio, the pressure’s on and you’re really concentrating because you can’t mess up. Live, it’s a lot more open and obviously less demanding in some ways. As far as how hard I hit, it’s pretty much the same for live and the studio. But live, when it’s a year after the record’s out and you’re playing your 300th show, you can go off a bit on the song that you’ve played 300 times before.”
Still, Helmet are road dogs who tirelessly tour, and love it. “After being in a band for seven, eight years that tours as much as we do, you meet a lot of people,” Stanier says. “I really like playing the big festivals in Europe because you get to meet musicians from really different types of music that you’d never meet if you’re out on tour on your own. I love those kinds of strange bills where there’s a bunch of different types of bands, all thrown together.”
When Helmet isn’t on the road, Stanier either retreats to his loft apartment in New York or satisfies his addiction. No, it has nothing to do with sex or drugs. Remember, he’s not from Seattle. John Stanier is a snowboard junkie. “I basically try to snowboard as much as I can. I’m spending way too much money doing it,” he laughs. “I have a lot of friends who ride, so now I do that every chance I get. It’s also a social thing.”
See, it really doesn’t matter if Helmet isn’t one of the biggest bands in the world. Stanier has a good life regardless, and he doesn’t have to make many compromises (besides the occasional bathroom thing, of course). He’s a good guy, and especially thanks his parents, who nurtured early musical aspirations and tolerated Concorde-like noise levels in their garage all those years ago. Turns out the folks have even become a pair of Helmetheads. “They follow us around on tour,” he says. “They come to the majority of the Florida gigs. I’m really lucky. If it weren’t for my parents, I’d never have become a musician.”
Hey John, if it weren’t for your parents, you wouldn’t be here, period!
During the recording of Aftertaste, John Stanier syncopated a killer solo on “Harmless” (Ex. 1) but had the most trouble tracking the bridge to “Birth Defect” (Ex. 2).