During their 2007 European tour, Asheville’s own Wayne Robbins & the Hellsayers had their first, and admittedly awkward, rock-star moment.
“We pulled up to a show on that European tour, somewhere in the Netherlands, and we were in a van behind Band of Horses’ big giant tour bus,” recalls guitarist/keyboardist Jonas Cole. “There are three kids standing on the sidewalk with our CD, saying ‘We love the Hellsayers.’ We wondered which member of Band of Horses put them up to it.”
But it wasn’t a prank. Thanks to the canny promotion of London-based Dell’Orso Records—which released the group’s 2004 debut album, The Lonesome Sea, on the European market last year—it turns out that Robbins and the Hellsayers have a devoted European following. But Robbins isn’t letting it go to his head.
“I don’t think any of us care about that rock-star thing,” he says. “We’re not 22.”
Since its rerelease, The Lonesome Sea has been steadily garnering praise-filled reviews from the indie-music press abroad, but it has yet to achieve a significant commercial release here in the States. Some four years after the album’s initial release—and in the process of finalizing the group’s sophomore album—Robbins has mixed feelings about their first recording.
“It felt a little bit more classic rock-y than I wanted it to be,” Robbins says. “So this time around I was a little more conscious of that, and tried to avoid the conservativeness of the last album.”
And if there is one thing their soon-to-be-released album All You Need To Sleep isn’t, it’s conservative. While keeping the group’s haunting, dreamy and dark sound, the new album reveals a depth and attention to detail that was either absent or greatly muddied in their earlier work. What’s more, the songs greatly expand on the Hellsayers’ previous experimentation with dramatic shifts in melody and mood.
“It’s way more dynamic,” Cole says. “It’s not as flat-lined as the first record.”
But it might not have worked out that way. The album’s early mixes were, as Robbins says, “really boring.” Thankfully, the Hellsayers were able to call in a few high-profile friends to put an edge back on the recording. In essence, the band split the album between two producers: Wales-based indie stars Super Furry Animals and Mitch Easter, who is perhaps best known for his work with REM. While the remixed versions may surprise some longtime listeners, for a self-admitted “control freak,” Robbins seems surprisingly happy to relax expectations for what the band should sound like.
“It’s kind of nice to turn something into someone else’s hands, but it’s kind of scary, too,” he admits. “When I got the Super Furry Animals mixes, there were things that bothered me about them at first; they were so left field from what I’ve done. By the end of one of our songs it sounds like Madonna circa 1985. But one night I was listening to them and I thought, ‘You know, it’s just kind of fate.’ You’re able to separate yourself from it. It’s kind of grown on me.”
Although a release date for All You Need To Sleep hasn’t been announced yet, expect to hear a few choice selections from the album at their show at the Rocket Club this week.
[Jason Bugg is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
who: Wayne Robbins & the Hellsayers with Sophisticated Chimps
what: Space-age country rock
where: Rocket Club (401 Haywood Road)
when: Saturday, May 31. (10 p.m. www.therocketclub.net 505-2494)