"I love that we do this thing that other musicians relate to": Page Hamilton on Helmet's rock royalty fans and advisors

Helmet standing in a street
(Image credit: Raz Azraai)

New York-based alt.rockers Helmet released their seventh album, Left, last month. And now they've got just two dates left on their current European tour, in Manchester tonight and in London tomorrow. 

Below, Page Hamilton – band frontman, guitarist and leader – discusses the album, hanging out with Ozzy Osbourne, and getting song tips from David Bowie.


Maybe the best description of Helmet’s style comes from the record company bio: “deceptively simple, reductionist hard rock”. 

The guy that wrote the bio is a friend and he once said to me: “I love your band, but if you ever turn into Night Ranger, I won’t hold back [with my criticism]”. He doesn’t have to worry about that. 

Would you be offended if somebody considered Helmet to be a ‘classic rock’ band?

No, I really wouldn’t. It probably wasn’t what Helmet aspired to. Right. We fuse elements of noise with metal, but to me, it’s just rock. AC/DC and Black Sabbath are what I listened to as a kid. I still love it. Put us in between those bands and I’m fucking thrilled. 

What caused Helmet to break up in 1998 and reunite in 2004? 

The band worked too hard and the grind caused the dynamic to change. Because I wrote the songs the atmosphere became toxic. I wanted to take a year off but the others wouldn’t do that, so that was it. I had songs for a solo album but Jimmy Iovine [of Interscope Records] wanted me to release them as Helmet, so that’s what started it all again. 

Post-Helmet, you were a touring guitarist for David Bowie. 

I met David in catering at a festival in Germany in 1997 and I used to carry around a CD of Hunky Dory in my back pocket. When I asked him to sign it he said [in a brilliant impersonation]: “Helmet? I love Helmet!” Two years later Helmet had broken up and I was sleeping on my manager’s couch when he called. “Hello Page, it’s David Bowie”. He was such a beautiful human being. I was destroyed when David passed away. He used to call me his Quiet One.

What was it like to have Ozzy make a cameo as the band’s manager in the movie The Jerky Boys? 

That was fucking hilarious. I met him on the sidewalk out front and he agreed to do it. He smelled really good. He was wearing a nice cologne [laughs]. Ozzy was down to earth… yet not on earth – exactly as you’d imagine him. 

Faith No More, Deftones and Mastodon have all cited Helmet as an influence on their music. Can you see those links? 

Sometimes I hear it. I heard a Helmet riff in Evanescence. I attribute that to the fact I had a style that was yet to be unveiled. I was walking down the street and it just hit me. I love that we do this thing that other musicians relate to – Gene Simmons and David Bowie and Billy Idol, Neil Young and Billy Gibbons. Elton John. Dimebag. They all said they were fans. 

In offering online guitar tuition, are you passing on the flame? 

I guess so. Fifteen years ago one of my great heroes, a jazz guitarist from Oregon called John Stowell, told me it was time for me to do exactly that – pass on the torch. I really love it. Tuition allows me to come at the guitar from a variety of different angles. The beauty is seeing the results in my students. 

What’s the best career advice you’ve been offered? 

In rehearsals one day Bowie once turned to me and said: “Advice for budding young songwriters: I nicked half of my tunes from Danny Kaye’s Inchworm.” I guess that’s pretty hard to beat.

Helmet play Manchester Club Academy this evening (December 12) and the Dome in London tomorrow. London is sold out, but tickets for Manchester are still available

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.