Snake Rattle Rattle Snake: A Chat with the Venomous Band's Frontwoman Hayley Helmericks

By: Deana Morton

The band with a bite: Denver's Snake Rattle Rattle Snake.

There’s something venomous about Snake Rattle Rattle Snake. The band name alone describes a sound that is alluring, hypnotizing and mesmerizing, all of which the group manages to deliver effortlessly. As someone who leans toward bands like The Cure, Joy Division and Depeche Mode, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake fits right into my wheelhouse. Their latest release Totem is textured with synthesizers, guitars and drums. Lead singer Hayley Helmericks' psychedelic crooning voice is reminiscent of great singers like Siouxsie Sioux or Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen. SRRS have a unique sound with a progressive modern edge.

Hayley recently chatted with me to discuss the evolution of her vocals, the Denver music scene and how Snake Rattle Rattle Snake is a family affair.

Do you remember your first exposure to music?

My brother Wilson (guitar/keyboard) and I grew up in a household where there was always music on. My folks were taking us to music festivals from the time we were born!

Was there a particular album or singer that inspired you to start singing?

I was always drawn to Joni Mitchell and Fleetwood Mac when I was young. Then of course there was a brief Top 40 radio phase, then a singer-songwriter phase and by the time I could drive myself to the record store and buy my own music it was all PJ Harvey, Fugazi, Radiohead and Sleater-Kinney.

Snake Rattle Rattle Snake.  

Snake Rattle Rattle Snake.
 

You have such a beautiful, distinct voice with so much confidence and a command over your lyrics when you sing. I’m guessing it’s been a journey to develop your vocals. Can you talk a little bit about that process?

First of all, thank you! I've always been a singer but I definitely wasn't always confident about it. I was the little kid who would sing and show off for my family but if put on the spot, I would shut down and get super shy. That said, I've always been outspoken and confident in other areas of my life, so once I started playing with other musicians and turning [things] up loud, it became easier. I have a low voice so it took me some time to figure out how to use it to my advantage. My first band Monofog was loud and raucous and I was screaming a lot. In Snake Rattle Rattle Snake it has been more about maintaining the natural power of my voice, but using it in a more precise way. I think I'm a much better singer than I was 5 years ago.

What year did Snake Rattle Rattle Snake form and how did you all come together?

We played our first show on Valentine's Day 2009, so we've been together 6 years now. My husband Doug and I were in Monofog together for many years before that and knew we wanted to start a project with my brother Wilson. The three of us had written songs and jammed in the past and it was good timing to start something new. We knew Andrew Warner (drums) from the days of playing shows with his old band Red Cloud West and he'd always expressed interest in playing too. We've had a couple of people come and go, but Jon Evans has been playing bass with us for a while now. [He is] another addition brought on from being friends through music, namely his old band Achille Lauro who practiced in the same building as us.

Scaled.  

Scaled.
 

You guys have received a lot of attention as one of the best Denver bands of the year from 303 Magazine and The Denver Post. How is the Denver indie music scene different or the same from other indie scenes around the country?

This is a tough one and the short answer is I don't know! The scene in Denver is very insular, a nod like "Band of the Year" here doesn't mean anything anywhere outside of Denver; outside of Colorado. And that's fine. We've been lucky to get local attention and it has afforded us lots of great opportunities. There has been, and continues to be, the problem of getting noticed on a national level. Things like OpenAir and various arts programs help, but there isn't the infrastructure here yet to support bands/musicians/artists because our scene is still relatively new and growing. We are lucky to have a diverse sound and a large talent pool. There is a LOT of music here- we are beginning to be known for that in Denver and people are certainly banking on it.

Hayley on OpenAir Colorado Public Radio.  

Hayley on OpenAir Colorado Public Radio.
 

You’ve shared the stage with bands like The Dead Weather, The Rapture and Devotchka. What has been your most memorable performance and how has sharing the bill with such high profile bands impacted how you approach to live performances?

Watching the Dead Weather sound check in an empty Ogden Theater while we folded freshly screened shirts will always be at the top of my musical memories list! And playing with The Rapture after spinning their music at every dance party I've ever had was amazing. Playing with those bands just makes you want to get better, write better songs and put on a better show (but I feel like that after I see any amazing band, high profile or not). It definitely does make you consider the production of it all- I want fabulous lighting and set design and outfits too! And good sound, I always want good sound.

Snake Rattle Rattle Snake recently released the video for “The Breath and Glow” by filmmaker Matthew Brown. What was the concept behind the video and how did the creative process unfold?

Matthew Brown is a friend of ours and he had always shown interest in doing some kind of film work for us. When we released Totem he singled out "The Breath and The Glow" immediately and we basically let him go wild with it. He had recently moved to LA, so he was primed to cast great actors and find cool locations. He picked up on the dark, psychedelic vibe of the song and went with it. We couldn't be happier with how it turned out.

SRRS's latest release: Totem.  

SRRS's latest release: Totem.
 

I think the chorus to “Versus” is a perfect example of the dark, enchanting lyrics that fill Snake Rattle Rattle Snake’s catalog. Is there someone in the band that takes the lead writing lyrics for each song, or is it more of a group effort?

I write all the lyrics. I've been a journal-keeper and poem-writer since I was young, and that took the form of lyrics once I started playing music in my teens. I like to create imagery without spelling it all out for the listener. I like there to be a little mystery, a little bit of obscurity.

Catch Snake Rattle Rattle Snake at their next Denver performance: at UMS!

-Deana

Follow Deana on her music blog and twitter.

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.