David Helpling is a man with a magical hall of mirrors that he can unlock using his electric guitar, with no fancy special technology, just the loop effect and his otherworldly ambient guitar. He has a new album, RUNE, coming out on November 22, 2019, on the Spotted Peccary Music label.
Helpling is also a composer for film, and has provided several themes, scores, and ambient beds for numerous television, corporate, and interactive projects. His production company is named DHM Music Design. Plus he has an amazing repertoire, both as a solo artist and working with his friend and collaborator Jon Jenkins.
I had the opportunity to interview David via email, to discuss his new album, his recording practices, his musical background, and his relationship with the ocean.
What is the story of RUNE...is there a Viking connection?
The connection isn’t “Viking” as much as it is Norse. In that, the meaning and concept of the Norse Ocean Rune is core to this record. I am fascinated by cultural mythologies, but Norse is the most wondrous to me. It is powerfully fantastical and just plain impressive. Without going crazy-deep here, Laguz is the “Ocean Rune” which first appeared in Denmark and Norway around 160 CE (160 years before Year 1). In simple form it means both Ocean & Collective Memory, which under the Rune are the same thing. To the Norse, water is the symbol of unconscious and invisible life forces. It represents the Universal Ocean, the supreme unity of all life: past, present and future and of the unconscious context of becoming or the evolutionary process. It also represented the wild forces of the ocean, which if not respected could lead to destruction and death. This is epic and heavy stuff that I resonate with directly…it inspires me to no end.
I saw some postings of yours on YouTube, the Sunday Loops, how did Sunday Loops start? How is that project going? Does this type of content cut through the clutter to reach your fans?
I’ve been chasing down a sort of magical guitar sound since I first picked up the instrument. It’s difficult to explain, but there is a specific color, modulation and space that I am absolutely in love with. This sound has evolved a bit, but has always been a part of my records going back to my first - Between Green and Blue. In the midst of a hiatus from guitar work, I was called back to it strongly. So I got all geeky and built a new hardware-based rig just for Ambient Guitar work that I love playing with. So I decided to promise myself to create a new piece of guitar music every Sunday and post it to my YouTube channel - forcing me to record and keep creating. The visuals were water-themed and from both my own ocean travels and the incredible cinematography of my friend Shawn Malone - she is amazing.
I did that for about a year and created 47 videos and almost 5 hours of music. I never intended to do anything other than share the music, but the response was incredible. The messages and emails from these deep listeners made it easy to create something new each week. There is a ton of music happening on my end right now, but I’d love to get back to the Sunday Loops after a few of these releases come to fruition.
What is your favorite technology for making your music?
Oh wow, that’s a big question. Chasing the Ambient Guitar dream is a big one, but I also absolutely love working with synthesizers and samplers. I create a lot of my own tones and patches on analog and digital synthesizers, and have a lot of fun with some of my favorite virtual synths “in the box” I love recording things here in the studio and creating my own sampled instruments. I sample quite a bit of my own guitar textures and have a rather serious library of all that stuff too. I like “playing” things…I’m not a sequencer guy or a button pusher. So the real magic happens in creating my own instruments that are super expressive and playable. When I’m a bit burnt from on working on music, I’ll spend a day or two just going deep in production on some new sounds that really get me inspired. Having new personal and special virtual instruments to express with is often where the wonder and excitement comes from in my new stuff..
I am curious about how you would compare live performances to studio sessions, do you prefer one over the other? How do you see the differences?
I really am mostly a recording artist and not a performer. I absolutely love being in the studio. The process of recording and geeking out on everything is still just as enthralling as it ever was. I have a studio space designed around all of the things I love and I change things around often enough to keep it feeling fresh. I also deal with some stage fright issues that make performing tough sometimes. That doesn’t mean I won’t perform in the future. With the right crew and friends I have had some great live gig experiences. Jon Jenkins and I had a few shows that were just magical…I’d love to do that again.
I see that you are active in composing Television scores and Film scores, how did that come about? Is there a difference between your approach to television and film? Any pieces we may have heard?
I’ve been composing and producing music for media since I started my own production company back in 2000. Being self employed really is amazing and I’m constantly aware of what a gift that is. I am actually a completely different person when I’m working…like the opposite of the deep artistic mode. Composing for orchestra, producing rock tracks, deadlines, air dates, clients - it's all sharp focus, high energy modes. Working on my music is just super chill. I’m just taking my time to explore space and ideas, lots of listening, imagining and plenty of time getting lost in the music. I dress differently, I speak differently and I move differently. It feels necessary to separate the two as much as possible so that making records doesn’t feel like work and I’m not going so deep when I’m supposed to be working.
As for things you may have heard, not likely very many. I spend a lot of time on commercial and infomercial music, as well as corporate and live event productions. Lately I’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful gaming music opportunities - which is very freeing creatively. I’ve scored a decent amount of films over the years, but mostly Indies and Shorts. Though I did work on a feature for Lions Gate called Cold Storage that you can stream on Netflix or Amazon. I put that score up on my Bandcamp page for download…those into thrillers might find it a fun listen.
All this composing...lots of time indoors...how do you find life/wellness balance?
This is an important question. My studio is amazing, but has no windows and is actually sealed for sound. I actually like that it is kind of a Bio Dome. It’s not a huge space, but beyond the gear and instruments I’ve got a coffee station, places to sit and chill and a meditation area. That said, I deeply yearn to be outdoors…especially the last couple of years. I live in a beautiful part of San Diego and it is super tempting to just bail and go to the beach, for a walk or just chill out back in the sun. This is why it takes me several years to make a record!
Would you live right on the beach if you could?
OMG yes! This is actually a life goal. My wife and I travel quite a bit…mostly to the Hawaiian Islands. I need to be by the ocean and I spend a lot of time in the water. I was born and raised a few blocks from the ocean and spent most of my time there. It really is like you are at the edge of the world...staring at the most vast ocean. When you are in the water you are physically and electrically connected to everything…it is the ultimate grounding.
What do you listen to? (for recreation)
My recreational listening is minimal compared to most, I think. I don’t really listen to Ambient or New Age music. As a ’70s child and an ’80s teen I am still enamored with those gorgeously recorded synth and rock masterpieces. I’m all about U2, Simple Minds, Tears For Fears, Icehouse, Depeche Mode etc. I am also drawn to the epicness and theatricality of modern Symphonic Metal (Within Temptation, Kamelot, Nightwish, Delain etc.) One listening anomaly for me is BT (Brian Transeau). He is the only EDM artist I listen to, but he is much more than that. His ambient work is jaw-droppingly stunning. He is a major overachiever which constantly inspires me to push future-forward, but to stay steeped in the music I grew up with.
What musical discoveries changed your life when you were growing up?
As a guitarist and lover of special and uncommon sounds, U2 was a big smack in the face that has never left me. Those first five records (before Joshua Tree) are the reason I picked up a guitar in the first place. I’m sure you can hear how blatantly I often help myself to the sounds of that time.
How would you describe your approach to composing music? (just a quick idea)
Hmmm. “Making your own music and producing your own records is like being in your own fantasy film where you are both the creator of the space and an inspired viewer of what unfolds. If you approach every idea this way, the music will be stunning, original and you will feel fulfilled by the process…even before you share the creation with your listeners.”
What is next for your creative future?
There is so much happening right now it is crazy. So much music. RUNE is one of two big projects that have been in the works. The other is coming next year and is a big synth epic. I’ve also got a couple of collaborations planned, but my main goal is to get Jon Jenkins over here and start where we left off with FOUND. If that happens, it takes priority over everything else :^)
David Helpling Discography
1996 Solo album: Between Green and Blue
1999 Solo album: Sleeping On The Edge Of The World
(Both on Spotted Peccary)
2007 Treasure album on Spotted Peccary with Jon Jenkins
2009 Beyond Words album on Deep Exile with Jon Jenkins
2010 The Crossing album on Spotted Peccary with Jon Jenkins
2013 Found album on Spotted Peccary with Jon Jenkins
2017 Solo album: A Sea Without Memory on Spotted Peccary
Beginning on November 22, 2019, Rune will be available for physical purchase in CD format and in 24-BIT AUDIOPHILE, CD QUALITY LOSSLESS, MP3 and streaming formats. For more about his work on the Spotted Peccary label, visit the website:
Spotted Peccary https://spottedpeccary.com/
Shawn Malone https://vimeo.com/108469683
Official David Helpling YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/davidhelplingofficial
Sunday Loops https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_UjzcWvZYw&list=PLewCuOt3Eh-eEmhrIYsdd_8xgNJuFQy0R&index=2&t=0s
Deep Exile http://deepexile.com/