Daiana Feuer on
From 2008 to 2015, Heidi Alexander formed one-third of San Francisco garage-folk band The Sandwitches. During that time, she also developed a side-project based around an alter-ego, Earth Girl Helen Brown, a mysterious girl, born in Canada, raised in a Georgia-based religious cult, who went blind in one eye as a child playing baseball. After leaving the cult, Brown became a nomadic psychedelic folk singer, lived in the Alaskan mountaintops, befriended a (fake) shaman and led a drug-fueled musical career that involved cutting herself on stage, before vanishing into obscurity. Well, it seems Helen Brown is back, and has found a healthier lifestyle, dedicating herself to raise awareness for environmental issues with her music. On April 14, Empty Cellar Records will release “Mercury,” the first in a planetary-themed series, with proceeds going to charities that promote “popular planetary intelligence, energy management, communicative freedom and love.”
Now based in Los Angeles, Alexander enlisted some talented friends to perform on “Mercury,” and gave them each special names. Cameos include The Boogeyman (Emmett Kelly/The Cairo Gang), Sunshine Lady (Sonny Smith/Sonny & the Sunsets), Loro Valiente (Tahlia Harbor/The Dry Spells), Ziggy Spec (Ty Segall), José Deseo (John Dwyer/Thee Oh Sees), L.F.F. (Tim Cohen/The Fresh & Onlys /Magic Trick), Jim Win (James Finch Jr.), the Former Future (Sean Smith) and Jasmine Ivanov (Jamin Barton).
Buzz Bands LA is pleased to premiere a stream of “Mercury” in all its glory, alongside a Q&A with the artist.
Why did “Mercury” get to be the first planet in this planetary-series of albums and what does Mercury represent to you?
E.G.H.B: Mercury reminds me of us. The nearest solar satellite it is whipping around the sun at a very high speed and very close proximity to that raging burning mass. One might imagine it as “playing with fire”. Unlike us, however, Mercury has the physical and constitutional makeup to take the heat. Of course, responsible fire management implies not only reflection on our own combustive impulses and habits but also communion with our one and only burning sun ball. We often take for granted our extremely comfortable and productive proximity to the sun. I thought Mercury might have something to teach us as he is a man with a message.
What are some of the themes that unite the songs on the record?
Mercury is concerned with fire, both literal and figurative. Obsession, compulsion, addiction, desire, danger, wonder, awe. It is a reflection our many hundreds of thousands year long struggle to balance the creative potential of fire with the very high cost of combustion. Our singular and incredible capacity to willfully set things on fire has arguably produced more or less everything with which we are now familiar, from religion and language to computers and pasteurized milk, to nuclear warfare, saxophones and, of course, our impending self-destruction. Mercury strives to ask the question: Are there not other more sophisticated, basic, and elegant ways to engender productive heat?
Where did you record it?
Where didn’t we record it? In the spirit of Sunshine’s 100 records project we took a distributed approach and recorded anywhere that was possible and convenient. “Earth Elevator” and “Fox Trott” were tracked in Boogeyman’s living room in L.A. over black tea; “Set the Woods on Fire” we recorded in Sunny’s basement hallway and over-dubbed back at Boogie’s; “Starlight” we did in L.F.F.’s attic studio/storage unit (which was long ago my painting studio), added Loro’s vox at Boogie’s and Deseo’s vox in our basement; “The Other Man” we did in Loro’s home office; “Space Travel” we did at Sunny’s Dad’s place in Marin approximately one thousand years ago then spruced up a bit at Lori’s in L.A. After that, everything was sent back and forth from here to there for this and that before being shipped off to Mikey Young in Australia for mastering.
What are some of the qualities, alien or earthly, that brought together this band you have playing on the record?
Friendship, coincidence, love, trust. Everyone on this record has been moving in and out of each other’s lives either directly or otherwise for a really long time. So many changes have rolled out since the first round it’s difficult to qualify all the forces at play but I would certainly include inertia, gravity, magnetism, parody, parity, dark matter, surface tension, wave-particle duality, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and of course the traveling hands of time.
Why is it important to you to bring attention to environmental issues?
If we are to survive and thrive as a species we are going to need to consider seriously our most basic processes. It would be my observation that the capacity for such collective self reflection has been somewhat eroded by the excesses of the Information Age. Certainly information and technology offer new opportunities for computational reflection and action, but we are at a juncture where we must decide how such information and technology will be applied to our forthcoming physical future not only through analytics and data but through feeling, seeing, touching, breathing, envisioning, etc. I wanted to take time to reflect on our most basic and troubled technology and socio-technical processes in a way that allowed not only for thought but also feeling.
||| Stream: “Mercury”
||| Live: Earth Girl Helen Brown performs April 14 at The Alchemy Castle. RSVP Required