A post-punk band based in Mesa, Arizona, Audra have recently released their fourth album, ‘Dear Tired Friends’, a strong, varied and well-played collection that marks their first release in a decade. Pennyblackmusic spoke to singer and bass player Brett Helm about the band’s career to date, some of the feelings behind the new album, his love of British bands and his many other musical involvements.


PB: Please tell me a bit about the origins of the band. Was it a natural thing to form it with your brother? Where did the name come from?

Bret Helm: My brother Bart and I grew up in in a place called Stone Park in Chicago. When we were teenagers we moved across the country to Arizona. A year or so later, he started playing guitar. This would’ve been around 1987/1988. We shared a room, so he kept me up all night with his riffing. I would hear phrases of Steve Vai’s ‘Eugene’s Trick Bag’ played over and over again until the sun came up.

Shortly after he bought me a Fender bass so that we could start playing together, with the goal of starting a band. I’d sit on the bedroom floor all day with a little cassette player and my tape collection, learning U2 and Jane’s Addiction bass lines by ear. By the time I graduated high school in 1991, we already had the first lineup of Audra solidified and started writing songs. We played our first official show in 1993 at a karate school where Bart and I were instructors. We put posters up at the nearby high school and when we opened the doors that night we had a good crowd - and a mosh pit, believe it or not! From that point on we started playing all over the Phoenix area and the rest is history as they say. So yeah, definitely a natural thing to form the band with him. I was always such a private kid, so it would’ve been difficult for me to have pursued music back then in any other way.

We wanted a name that was unique and didn’t indicate in any way what the band sounded like. It has a lot of personal meaning attached to it for me and I’m so glad that we chose to call ourselves by it. Over the years I’ve been contacted by many Audras excited that there is a band named after them. Perhaps we’ve brought the name into vogue now!

PB: The new album is your first in ten years. Why has it taken so long?

BH: Yeah, that’s a very fair question. What happened? Well we still played some shows throughout that time, but ultimately each one of us went through some personal turmoil and it crippled our forward progress. Some days it was just too difficult for everyone to be present. But even if we didn’t get together for a rehearsal in 6 months, the second we did and plugged in and began playing - goosebumps and magic. Always.

PB: After such a gap, do you think of your new album as a fresh start or does it still follow on from the albums you made before?

BH: I think it’s both. It’s the same band, but it’s like when you meet up with a friend that you haven’t seen in years. While it’s still the same person, they’ve matured and strengthened because of what they’ve experienced since you last saw them. Ten years is a long time and I’ve grown both as a songwriter/musician and as a person. I think that’s reflected in the new record.

The first single, ‘Wish No Harm’, was actually written back in 1993. Bart and I had recorded it as an instrumental on an old Fostex 4-track machine. It sat in the vaults for 25 years until we rediscovered it and I wrote words and melody to it and now it’s out there in the world. Although it pre-dates the songs on even the first Audra album, it still sounds like it moves us forward into the future and it was the launching point for the creation of ‘Dear Tired Friends.’ So something from our very early beginnings was the gateway for this whole album’s existence and the band’s future.

PB: Although some of the tracks, like ‘Wish No Harm’, are quite high energy, there seems to be a melancholy at the heart of the album. Do you feel that’s fair comment?

BH: I knew going into it that it was set up to be an emotionally intense album. But it wasn’t until we performed it in its entirety a few weeks back that it really hit me. Playing the songs live gives them a certain breathing vulnerability, and when you’re faced with an audience, suddenly you feel the weight of the songs all stacked together. I remember standing there on stage after playing ‘Drinking Yourself to Sleep’ thinking: what have I done to myself here! (Laughs).

PB: Apart from developing the songs for ‘Dear Tired Friends’, have you been recording or playing with anyone else during the past decade?

BH: Most recently I’ve done a new record with our longtime friends and old Projekt Records labelmates, Unto Ashes. I sang and played some guitar for 2019’s ‘Pretty Haunted Things’. There’s a really cool cover of a Gary Numan song called ‘My Dying Machine’ on it that I sang. We played in New York City earlier in the year and then a headline spot at the Wave-Gotik Treffen festival in Leipzig, Germany back in June. I imagine we’ll be doing more music together in the near future. In 2012 I co-wrote a track called ‘We’ve Got To Learn’ with the German collective MATO. The accompanying album featured singers from various bands around the world, including Carl McCoy from Fields of the Nephilim. Around the same time I released two singles under my own name. And for a good chunk of the 00s, I was simultaneously doing Audra and collaborating with Black Tape for a Blue Girl, appearing on the albums ‘The Scavenger Bride’ and ‘Halo Star.’ There were many live shows back then as well. I’ve also taught music for the last fifteen years and am in a recording studio at least two days every week. I’ve kept busy!

PB: I first came across you some years ago because of an enthusiastic video you did about The Sound and Adrian Borland for your blog. In fact you’ve done plenty of pieces about British bands. Are there particular qualities you find in them which distinguish them from American artists?

BH: Ah yes, The Sound is a favourite of mine. It was great to get in touch with you back then. Mike Dudley (Sound drummer) had sent me a message as well shortly after I made that video. Apart from a couple of American bands, all of my favourite artists growing up were British: David Bowie, The Cure, Joy Division - to name a few. I’m not sure if it was any particular quality other than the fact that the UK had such a huge explosion of phenomenal bands that emerged in the late 70s / early 80s that I was discovering around seven-ten years later.

PB: Do you feel comfortable with the label ‘post-punk’ that’s been applied to Audra, or do you find such categories a restriction?

BH: Music sub-genres can be so subjective. We’ve never really fit into one category since the band’s beginning, but I think that post-punk is a broad enough descriptor to not feel too restricted. I understand that for press releases and such, things have to sometimes be compartmentalised so that music can be described a little easier, but at the end of the day, we’re a rock band.

PB: Over the years the band has played gigs with an array of big names, like The Mission UK, Peter Murphy, Nitzer Ebb and Gene Loves Jezebel. Do you have any plans to tour the new album? Any chance we’ll see you in the UK?

BH: I sure hope we can make it to the UK. The times that I’ve performed overseas have always been as a guest member of someone else’s band, so it’s high time we get Audra over there! I’m in the early stages of planning some shows on the West Coast of the States, but I’m also itching to start working on songs for the follow up to ‘Dear Tired Friends’. Right now I’m taking things day by day and seeing what opportunities come our way.

PB: Thank you.













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