319 Creates: The Quarantine Sessions with Dave Helmer

On today’s episode of Quarantine Sessions, we check in with Dave Helmer of Iowa City band, Crystal City. We reached Dave at his home by phone. 

You can listen below or find 319 Creates on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher. You can also follow on Facebook and Instagram.

Podcast Transcription

Mike Weber: Welcome back to 319 Creates, I’m your host Mike Weber. On today’s episode of Quarantine Sessions, we check in with Dave Helmer of Iowa City band, Crystal City. We reached Dave at his home by phone. 

Dave Helmer, welcome to 319 Creates. 

Dave Helmer: Hi. Thanks for having me. 

Mike Weber: So how are you hanging in there with the quarantine?

Dave Helmer: Oh, I’m doing alright. Practicing a lot of guitar and spending more time kind of cooking than I have been. 

Mike Weber: So how has this affected, I mean, obviously you haven’t been able to play live shows anymore. Have you guys tried doing anything else to fill in the gaps? 

Dave Helmer: Well, we did do a concert, maybe a couple of weeks ago. We did an online concert and that was alright. That was a lot of fun. And that helped. Definitely. Put a little bit of scratch in our pocket. But other than that, not really. Just been laying low. You know, you can save a lot of money by just not going nowhere. 

Mike Weber: That’s very true. 

Dave Helmer: And, I repair guitars. So I still got a few repairs going, but that’s kind of dried up too. 

Mike Weber: So you were mentioning that you’ve been working more on cooking, are you trying to actually learn more stuff or just that’s how you’re spending your time?  

Dave Helmer: You know, we’ve been making veggie tacos, chicken tacos, some soups, you know. Kinda constantly using onions and garlic, the kind of mainstays. But yeah, just getting the time to cook is nice actually.

Mike Weber: So is that not something that you normally did? 

Dave Helmer: Not really, no. I usually work until, you know, go to work at 10 in the morning, come home anywhere from 7 to 10 at night. 

Mike Weber: Oh geez. 

Dave Helmer: Every night, pretty much. You know.

Mike Weber: So then you have a lot more time on your hand. 

Dave Helmer: Yeah. The guitar workshop and playing shows really takes up a lot of your time.

Mike Weber: Wow. 

Dave Helmer: I mean, maintaining tools. It’s been kind of nice, you know, trying to find the silver linings in things. It’s been real nice just to be able to practice guitar. That’s the one thing that I’ve really been enjoying a lot of. 

Mike Weber: Are you writing any new music?

Dave Helmer: Yep. We have a new record we’re working on, of a bunch of old tunes. But, new ideas are always kind of flowing. I record little snippets on my phone. Or if I’m sitting at my recording desk, plug in and try to get a good fidelity document of something, you know? But, yeah. There’s new ideas flowing. 

Mike Weber: So, is there anything else that you’ve started doing in this time period that you didn’t really see yourself doing before? 

Dave Helmer: Oh, we’re working on putting a garden together out in the yard. We live here in West Branch. We’ve got enough yard to have a garden, and that’s something that I can’t imagine we would have time for. But now that we do, we’re gonna go for it. We’d never done a garden or anything. Or I haven’t, but Sam has.

Mike Weber: Yeah, gardening is pretty cool. Nicole and I do that here in Cedar Rapids. What type of vegetables are you thinking about planting out there? 

Dave Helmer: We already got some garlic going and some carrots and some potatoes and some lettuce, onions. I think zucchini and cucumbers too. I kind of imagine I have a lot of back pain in my future. 

Mike Weber: It’s not that bad. 

Dave Helmer: Yeah, it’ll be okay. 

Mike Weber: So what would you say that you’re most looking forward to once this whole thing starts to blow over? 

Dave Helmer: A couple of things I’m looking forward to is, just getting to crank up a tube amp with a band, and playing a show. That’s going to be a lot of fun when we get to do that. And, just being able to get together with people, play music. I mean, with other guitar players and drummers and stuff like that. And, having people come though my workshop is kind of nice. You know, right now, no one’s coming by at all. I like that too. Having people come in and hang out while we talk about their instrument, their guitar. I kind of miss that. 

Mike Weber: Yeah. I feel like everyone’s kind of feeling a certain amount of social isolation right now. 

Dave Helmer: Absolutely.

Mike Weber: A lot of us are used to going out and playing shows or just going to shows. And for a lot of us in the music scene especially, that was the way that we interacted with everyone around us. And now that has been completely removed. I think that’s been a period of adjustment for most of us. 

Dave Helmer: Yeah. Are you missing it too? 

Mike Weber: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I think we’re at a point here that we’re definitely close to, if not over, the longest that I’ve gone without shooting a live show in five plus years. So. 

Dave Helmer: Yeah, I bet.

Mike Weber: So yeah, it’s a bit of a struggle for me. That’s one of the reasons I started this project. Just trying to keep myself busy and engaged with the community when my normal path of doing that has been removed. And as awesome as the Facebook live concerts are, and as much as I’ve been enjoying watching all the bands do them, my engagement with the music scene has always been behind a camera. Trying to figure out a way that somehow I can do that with a live feed doesn’t exactly work. And I’m not sure if there’s a way to make it work. So yeah, for me personally, I can’t wait for things to calm down and us to all be able to get back together. And actually see you guys play again. See anybody play and be able to get back behind a camera. Because I mean, almost everything that I do in my craft as photographer does kind of revolve being in close proximity to people, and I can’t do that right now. So it has been a period of adjustment for sure. 

Dave Helmer: Yeah, it’s crazy. I agree with everything you said. 

Mike Weber: Yeah. And it’s nice to be able to do this, at least. Working out ways that I can still communicate with musicians and get musicians’ stories out to people. Because I view my photography as I’m telling the story of the music scene. Right. And, by doing stuff like this with 319 Creates, I’m still able to do that to a certain extent. But it’s different. And I think that it’s good for the music scene to hear these stories and get these interviews – as far as how they’re dealing with this crisis right now, but it’s not the same.

Dave Helmer: Sure there’s so many people. But from between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, there’s so many players and musicians that all their money has just disappeared, you know?

Mike Weber: Yeah. And it’s crazy too, because a lot of the musicians I know, while they do make money from playing music, a lot of them have day jobs that are something in the service sector. And that whole industry, with very few exceptions, is just not there anymore.

So you have a lot of these musicians who not only are they losing their income from playing live shows, but they’ve also been furloughed or laid off. They’re just left kind of holding their hands and going, “What do we do now?”

Dave Helmer: Well, hopefully people have documentation and everything’s in line to show they’ve been working, you know?

Mike Weber: Yeah, I hope so too. But from my understanding, they’re being a lot more flexible as far as the onus of proof that you have to provide to the state to get some help.

Dave Helmer: I hope so. Yeah, I just hope it stays that way. 

Mike Weber: I hope so too. And at the end of the day, my hope – and at this point I feel like maybe I’m just being a bit too optimistic – is that this is going to resolve itself relatively quickly. I know deep down inside that we should probably be prepared for another month, two, maybe even three of this.

(Dave laughing)

Mike Weber: But, there’s definitely part of me that’s being really hopeful that we are towards the peak of that curve and that things are going to start getting better. They’ll figure out a vaccine or something and everything will return to normal by summer. But you know, with every day that goes on. Everyday brings another postponement or cancellation. The other day, I saw that 80/35 was canceled for this year, and that was a big shocker to me. 

Dave Helmer: I mean, that’s big. That’s summer in Des Moines, you know? 

Mike Weber: Yeah. It’s crazy to me. It sounds like Luke over at Flat Black is still like, “I’m preparing for Gray Area, but at this point I’m not holding my breath that it’s still gonna happen.” So. Yeah. I mean, I’m really looking forward to when things get back to normal, but it’s an interesting time right now. 

Dave Helmer: Yeah. I wonder if there’s – it might be till September, October. Or even further than that. It may be a long time, so we get to play and wait and see. I hope not. I hope that it gets resolved soon, but mother nature is going to do what she’s going to do, so we’ll just keep rolling with it, you know? 

Mike Weber: Yeah. Like I said, my hope right now is just that the doctors out there will figure out a solid treatment – or even better, a vaccine for it – and we’ll get that out into the wild and everything will go back to normal. But for right now, yeah, we’re just kinda stuck with this. I also look at it from the standpoint of, the longer that we’re kind of cooped up, I wonder how much pent up creative energy, we’re just kind of bottling up. And once things do return to normal, the explosion that we’re going to see of bands getting back together, new bands forming and just this deluge of new creative content.

I’m really hoping that once everything blows over, we’re going to see this renewed energy in people to do stuff like go out to shows. Because we’ve had conversations in the past – you and I – about attendance at local shows. And I’m really hoping that this situation will make more people appreciate what they have. Especially, in Cedar Rapids, which is not a known for its music scene. I feel like it is always pulling teeth for me to get some of my Cedar Rapids friends to go to Iowa City for a show. And I’m really hoping that – 

Dave Helmer: That’s a long trip though, to be fair. That’s like your whole day driving from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City. 

Mike Weber: I mean, I guess. I’m just used to it. It really doesn’t feel like it’s that big a deal to hop in my car and drive 28 minutes down the road. 

Dave Helmer: I’m just joking. Yeah, I agree. 

Mike Weber: I’m really hoping that this will kind of get people to realize that they can’t take this stuff for granted. You know, we’re sitting here in a time where two months ago, any Friday you could have gone to Iowa City and there was probably at least three different places you could have gone to see live music. And now that’s not an option anymore. I’m hoping that this’ll just remind people that the arts and the music is something that they shouldn’t be taking for granted and they need to get out and experience it while they can.

Dave Helmer: I think it will. I think there’s so  much talent between the two communities, you know. And then you think of the two communities as one. There’s so much in the corridor. There’s so much there. There’s great singers, there’s great songwriters, there’s great bands. I bet there’s going to be a huge creative output. I bet there’s a lot of people practicing their guitars and writing songs. And I think there’s going to be a big boom of quarantine songs after all this is over. 

Mike Weber: I really hope so. 

Well, Dave, thanks for taking some time and talking with us here today and we’ll catch you later.

Dave Helmer: Totally. Thanks for having me. Have a good day. 

Mike Weber: Dave Helmer is the songwriter of Iowa City band, Crystal City. Their new album, Three Dimensionality, is available on vinyl. You can find them online, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast on most platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Play. Thanks for listening and we will catch you next time on 319 Creates.