Greenlander: Flash in the Pan?by: Nancy Glass – EDN
The bonds of friendship made in high school typically serve their immediate emotional purpose and generally tend to fade after graduation. Sometimes those bonds never fade. Such was the case in 2004, four sophomore friends in a band class at Cottage Grove High School started jamming one day and slowly began to sow the seeds of longevity into their future.
I had a chance to chat with Trevor Helt, lead guitarist from the Eugene band Greenlander, and picked his brain about his life, the band and music. An Oregon native, Helt grew up in Creswell and moved to Eugene where he attended the U of O majoring in Business Marketing and Music.
“We were all in the same jazz band and shared a lot of musical similarities. We started playing outside of school and picking up gigs and it slowly became official.” explained Helt.
Greenlander is: Wilson Parks on lead vocals and guitar, Thomas Heritage on bass, Merlin Showalter on drums and Trevor Helt on lead guitar; Showalter is a classical percussion major, Heritage is a Jazz Studies major, Helt a guitar performance major, and Parks a Music Tech major; all at the U of O.
Not to be confused with the band out of Ohio with the same name, this Greenlander is a power-pop alt-rock band. Helt said “Some of us were fans of a band called Pavement and they wrote a song called “Greenlander.” We needed a band name. So we took it.”
The best thing this band has got going for them is their creativity and talent. Showing a higher level of musicianship than most up and coming bands, their sound, largely influenced by 90’s alternative rock, features strong melodies with catchy musical and lyrical hooks. The song Where’d the Music Go is an example of the band’s collective, if under produced, abilities. Seemingly an attempt to be this generation’s answer to Don McLean’s “American Pie”, the song has some very good lead and bass work, with interesting Vetter like vocals. Their song, Eugene (The Weather Man) has some very nice piano hooks along with some well placed trumpet solos and is catchy. I could hear this song in the background of some Portland filmed TV show. Their strongest song, Wasted Moment, epitomizes the band skill and inherent talent as musicians. Offering heavy guitars, good vocals with harmonies and strong song dynamics; this song illuminates the true talent of this quartet.
Initially listening to legends such as Stevie Ray Vaughan as well as a lot of 90’s alternative, such as Porcupine Tree, Dream Theatre, Mutemath and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Helt has found his musical flavor of late to swing more towards Chet Atkins style country and Folk music. Expanding on both his technical and stylistic talents, this has proven helpful when collaborating on new songs with his band mates.
Collaborating can be an art in and of itself, especially among friends, and particularly when writing songs. Like most bands there is a process to getting a song created. “We all collaborate on the songwriting process, but Wilson carries a lot of the weight. He has a lot of talent when it comes to that” explains Helt. “Most of the time we’ll start with a jam session, and sometimes it turns into a potential song. In some cases someone will come to rehearsal with a riff that we’ll build upon. The song Eugene(The Weatherman) was written in high school in the band room. I had a guitar part that Wilson added a sweet keyboard part to, than Thomas and Merlin laid down the rhythm parts. Nothing sounded great by itself, but together it grooved.”
“As a band the most challenging aspect is making it work amongst ourselves in regards to schedules, compromising with songwriting, and sharing the same goals. But there are always rough patches here and there.” Helt said.
One such rough patch happened when the band played a gig on the UO campus. The sprinklers turned on during their second song of the set. But then on the other end of the spectrum, one of the band’s best live experience was headlining the 4th of July show at Dexter Lake and performing in front of 3000 people. As an artist or a band, you have to learn to deal with such good and band times and hope that there are more good than bad moments. It’s during those times, Helt tells me when his stage fright kicks in. “I don’t get stage fright unless we’re unprepared or if there are technical issues with gear or the PA.”
“Some of the band’s most proud moments were playing with the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and then for The Marshal Tucker Band. Those shows were all a blast” Helt says. Specifically he goes on to say “the most fun element for us, is sharing our finished product with other people and watching them enjoy it. That makes all of us very happy.”
Artistically, writing songs from personal experiences typically resonate with the listener, usually resulting in a connection between the band and the audience. With that in mind, the band wrote a song about a close friend who recently had passed away entitled, Live Without Dreaming. Helt says “It’s my favorite because it has the most meaning compared to our other songs.”
When asked what Helt finds the most challenging about being a musician, he answers candidly “as a musician the most difficult thing for me to overcome is lack of motivation. When I look at other musicians who have “made it,” they have all worked hard and are constantly on the go. Maintaining my motivation and keeping it fun is the most challenging aspect for me.”
Balancing school, life and a band can be difficult at best. Thankfully there are those in Helt’s life who have helped fuel his motivation. “I have had a pretty cushion life. I have nothing to complain about.” Helt said. In addition to his parents, there was his high school music director, James Phillips. “He was a huge influence” Helt says. Now that the band is in Eugene, James Book, of Ninkasi Brewery has also been supportive of the band and has proven helpful with booking as well as production.
When we aren’t performing Helt confesses “we’re all pretty busy with school, practicing and… you know, girlfriends!” Four very different people each with their various lives can get in the way of a band’s life, but overcoming distraction is often what helps to define a band. Not to draw a musical comparison, but what would our worlds be like if Plant and Page were more focused on anything other than their music in their time?
Another element that is difficult to overcome for this band is that they aren’t all together creating their music. Parks is in Portland with his barista day job, Showalter just returned from his day job as drummer on Royal Caribbean Cruise line, Heritage is in Eugene along with Helt. Merlin Showalter is the original drummer, but due to his day job schedule, stand in’s Dustin Riddle and Harrison Moser have also sat in with the band. Again, think of Led Zeppelin having a stand-in drummer for Bonham.
Much like one’s bucket list, it could seem this band was merely something for these four people to experience together, but now has run its course. They have established they can create good quality music together when they get together; which was how they originally started out. But it’s actually getting everyone together that seems to be the most challenging element for this band’s future success.
Thankfully, Helt tells me, right now our main goal is to finish our CD and we’re gonna wait to see what happens after that. It should be released by the end of this year. We feel good about it.”