It’s been five years since friendly Athens, Ga., songsmith, Elephant 6 Collective veteran, and on-stage spazzo Bryan Poole (a.k.a. “Bryan Helium”) officially and amicably split off from popular Athens indie-rock band Elf Power to form his very own rock band thing, The Late B.P. Helium — a moniker surely referring to his habitual tardiness, not his physical or mental state.
Since then, Poole has made a joyful career of writing, performing, and experimenting with melody and energy alongside some of Athens’ most creative musical figures. No matter who’s involved with Poole in the Late B.P. Helium, the results are usually bright, rambunctious rock and pop stuff, sometimes quiet and sometimes loud.
Lately, between his solo activities, he’s been jamming on the side with a 20-piece ensemble called Dark Meat and playing guitar and bass with longtime E6 band Of Montreal, a group with whom he’s recorded and toured off and on for more than a decade.
The B.P. hit Village Tavern on their way back from the last week’s big CMJ Conference in N.Y.C. The East Coast tour features a few new players in the Late B.P. Helium gallery of collaborators. Poole’s usual “core band” of Athens musicians — Jason NeSmith (of Casper Fandango), Pete Erchick (of Olivia Tremor Control) and Aaron Wegelin (also formerly of Elf Power) — sit out this time around.
“The lineup for this one is totally new almost,” says Poole. “My regulars couldn’t do the tour for work and money reasons, so I’ve roped guitarist Marcus Thompson, drummer Mikey Dwyer, and keyboardist/guitarist Neil Golden from Lona [Golden also played bass in Elf Power for a spell]. I got a guy from Dark Meat named Charlie Estes. He plays trumpet with them and bass with me. Mikey and Marcus are great on stage with Lona and have a unique character to their playing. Trying to train them and putting them in that zone will be interesting. Hopefully they’ll breathe fire by the time we get to Charleston.”
Although Poole and the crew haven’t released an album this year, they still have plenty of steam behind last fall’s full-length, Amok, released on the Athens-based Orange Twin label in Oct. 2005. The disc followed Poole’s 2003 solo debut, an EP titled Kumquat Mae (Orange Twin).
“The EP is a lot more McCartney-esque,” says Poole. “Amok is different and touches a lot of other bases — from The Clash to Brazilian or ambient-sounding. While some bands try to stick with a certain sound or approach, I try to make all of it work together.
“When I played in Elf Power, it seems like people who hear the tunes on the record come to see us live, they’re usually surprised at how thrashy and loud it gets on stage,” he adds. “No matter who’s in the B.P. band, it gets amped up a bit — more psychotic. Lately, I’ve been calling it ‘hard psyche.’ It can get pretty heavy and somewhat frightening [laughs]!”
With the B.P.’s, it’s not as if they’re constantly playing neatly-arranged pop tunes with beginnings, middles, and endings; on stage, they occasionally throw themselves out into uncharted territory with no game plan, other than raw exploration, expression, and sonic experimentation.
“I try to have it so we’re not knowing what’s next,” Poole says. “Stepping put on the edge of the plank where it’s bouncing or teetering … it’s the excitement of being there. I want the audience to not really have an idea of what’s happening, too. Hopefully, if you can step outside of your skin for a little while, that’s when you can absorb some things which are life-giving — that energy of feeling alive. That’s why I go out there.”