Buffalo, NY-based band At The Helm has been making music together for years. Now, they’re teaming up with Fret Zealot to teach their music to you. Jake Hassler, who plays electric guitar for the band, sat down with Fret Zealot to talk about the band, their upcoming new album, and all things guitar.
Q.) Tell me about At The Helm.
A.) I don’t necessarily like a bunch of labels. It’s rock and roll that everyone can get into. We touch on a lot of genres. Nowadays, that’s the only way to do it. I feel like it’s not really an era to box yourself in anymore. We were working on a song yesterday with a dance type of vibe and then we have some dark stuff. There are a lot of punk aspects to what we do. We have an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar, bass drums, and a great vocalist. Pretty much whatever we can make with all those things is what we stick to.
Q.) Do you write your own music?
A.) Yeah, mostly. We do covers for fun, and people really love to hear something they know. We do the best we can to get our music in their heads. The goal is to write music and have people listen to it and like it, buy it, come to shows.
Q.) What are your songwriting inspirations?
A.) Our writing process is very collaborative. Gus is our other guitar player, he plays acoustic. He usually comes up with the main structure of the song, an idea and a rhythm in mind. He’s been doing this for a really long time, he knows what sounds good. Gus comes up with a structure, keeps it kind of loose at first, and then we see where it goes all together.
Rob (drums) wrote the first part of the guitar solo in Broken Words. That was his idea! I took that.
That’s how we work, someone might have an idea of what to do with the drums.
Mike is our vocalist. He has a lot of ideas for guitar harmonies. He came up with the guitar harmonies in “Broken Words”. We have ideas, mash them all together, answer trying to be in service of the song. Mike hears harmonies, he’ll suggest those things, and he has a big input on the lyrics.
Mario is an amazing bass player who has been around for a long time. He really helps everything move along and keeps everyone together. He’s definitely the glue.
Q.) How long have you been together as a band?
A.) We’ve had a bunch of incarnations of the band and lineup changes. Since Mike came into the picture, we’ve been together for three or four years. Me, Mario, Gus and Rob have been together for a while longer. It took us some time to find Mike and get him in. When he’s playing with us, something happens, it all comes together
Q.) Have you been on tour as a band?
A.) We have not gone on tour. We all have jobs and families – the easiest thing to do right now with everyone’s situation is to play regionally.
Q.) And you’ve been live streaming some of the tracking for your new album on Twitch?
A.) Gus has been streaming the live tracking of what will be our next album. Gus has all the equipment, the experience, he knows what he’s looking to hear so we’re ready to try it ourselves.
Q.) When is the new album coming out?
A.) There’s no estimated release date for the album. We have most of them pretty much down, there’s a lot of recording/mastering left to be done so we can’t say an actual date. Hopefully by the end of the year.
Q.) What is the feel of the new album?
A.) It’s different, not the same as we did before. There are a lot of new genres of music we touch on this time around that we didn’t so much on the last album. The sounds will be more consistent. We had a bunch of types of music happening on the first album, and now it’s just going to open up wider. Another step into the journey of what we’re doing here.
Q.) How long have you been playing guitar?
A.) I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13. I’m 35 now, so 22 years.
Q.) What got you into it?
A.) When I was younger I was always into it when I saw someone playing. I remember when I was six years old, my dad bought me this jazz acoustic guitar. My brother got mad at me and smashed it. Then he got into guitar when he was 16 and I was 12, and it got me back into it. I really think I always knew I liked it, but at that time it was about being like my brother. I was into metal – Metallica and System of Down, rock and roll. That was the initial thing – metal guitar solos and stuff like that. I had an acoustic for the longest time and my dad bought me an electric like a year later and it’s stuck with me ever since.
Q,) Did you take any guitar lessons?
A.) I took lessons in the back of guitar magazines, looked up tabs online, some online guitar lessons but not interactive – like Truefire stuff – to kind of learn about theory. That’s what I’m working on now. I never touched on theory my whole life and now I’m learning how valuable it is and what a good tool it can be.
I did take lessons from a guy here in Buffalo but I just wanted to learn to sweep pick, so I had like ten lessons with him and he showed me each chord throughout the whole scale.
You think (learning theory) is going to make guitar seem like work, so I totally understand not wanting to do it, but once you learn enough about it, music theory is just an invaluable thing to know. It’s a great tool.
Q.) What do you think of the Fret Zealot system?
A.) It looks really cool! It’s kind of impressive that it doesn’t hinder your playing at all.
Q.) What made you want to stick with music?
A.) I didn’t really have much else I was good at when I was a kid and this was something I could be good at. I figured out I could be good at it. And that gave me confidence. It also looks really cool.
It’s really satisfying learning anything and getting good at it. I think that’s a huge part of being happy in life. I always wanted it to be my thing, and I was like “I’m going to work at this until it is”. Luckily, here we are. It’s a great thing if you’re a shy kid like I was – kind of socially awkward, didn’t really play sports. Then you get good at it and someone sees you play and is like “whoa”, and you’re just thinking “it’s really not that hard, man”. It’s something that happened very early. It’s always been around.
I have a real issue with buying gear and guitars. I always tell my wife, some guys are into cars, I’m into guitars. I like gear. I just kind of fell into it but it’s super reading for anyone who gets into it and has the discipline to stick with it. It’s a really rewarding thing to be involved with. Hard work pays off and this is a perfect example. If you practice practice practice you can do whatever you want with the guitar.
Q.) What advice do you have for someone who wants to learn guitar?
A.) Take a song you really like and learn it – or don’t. You need to be really into the music to stick with it. I wouldn’t pick anything difficult. I think one of the reasons I stuck with it was I thought System of a Down was the coolest thing. The songs are hard enough that they challenge you, but they’re easy enough that it’s not an insurmountable difficulty. When you learn the song and you do it, and you play along – that’s what I used to do, crank up the music and guitar and see if I could get it to lock in – whenever that would happen, I would keep playing it until it happened, and when it did, it’s super rewarding. You’ll stick with it then.
Check out “Broken Words (Won’t Heal the World)” on Fret Zealot here!