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20 Questions With Helfreya

The Winnipeg rockers talk Shieldmaiden, secret identities, spicy food and more.

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Helfreya first appeared on my radar back in August, when the Winnipeg prog-metal outfit showcased their ambitious and unique album Shieldmaiden HERE. Today, vocalist Violet Vopni wades into battle with my pointless questions. Let’s see if she emerges unscathed:

 


 

Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base, other details you’d like to share (height, weight, identifying marks, astrology sign, your choice).
Violet Vopni, 36, Winnipeg, MB. Mezzo-soprano, Leo, birthmark in the shape of a music note on my left forearm.

What is your musical origin story?
Helfreya is a four-piece band from Winnipeg with Keith on guitar, Russ on bass, Trav on drums and Violet on lead vocals. Our music is an amalgamation of love and death in the form of progressive rock and alternative metal. All of us started our musical journeys over 20 years ago, participating in high school jazz bands and vocal jazz groups, or through garage bands.

What do we need to know about your latest project?
Our album Shieldmaiden is a true improvised collaboration. Keith, Russ and Trav lost their previous vocalist in 2015, but they continued jamming. Their method was very unique: They’d meet every Wednesday, say nothing to each other, pick up their instruments and play music for two hours. They recorded every jam session, and listened back, pulling out what they felt had substance, and could be turned into song. When Violet joined in 2019, they had a number of fleshed-out instrumental pieces ready for lyrics and melodies. Violet listened, wrote, and then brought her ideas to the band. The result of that collaboration and improvisation is Shieldmaiden.

What truly sets you apart from other artists?
My bandmates are very secretive people who have very high-profile day jobs in finance and municipal administration. I think that sets us apart because we’re very solid in our careers and our lifestyles. We’re not chasing what we think will be the next big hit, we’re not interested in world tours. We’re hobbyists that are interested in the craft of music, creating something truly original, and producing that music front to back ourselves.

What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
All music is meant to evoke emotion and thought. Maybe a lyric will help you through grief or sorrow, maybe a riff will remind you of an exhilarating time in your life, maybe one of our songs will help you understand your life purpose on a deeper level. We’re not here to judge; we create music and lyrics that speak to us and we present them to others in the hopes that our songs resonate with you.

Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played and what you got paid.
The first song we wrote as a band was Shieldmaiden, which tells the story of a Viking warrior who left his Shieldmaiden to die on the battlefield. He was a coward, a traitor, and now he feels immense guilt that he didn’t go back to save her, or do everything he could to help her. The first show we had was at Winnipeg’s Recovery Day, an event created to support people recovering from addictions. It was a charity event so we didn’t get paid, but we did get to play at the historical bandshell at The Forks in Winnipeg.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you gave?
My most memorable performance had to be my most recent one at The Park Theatre in Winnipeg. After months of dealing with the pandemic, we were given the go-ahead to keep the date we had booked in January. We had bands Ronnie Ladobruk and the Electric, Eternal Now and Black Optic playing the show with us, we were allowed to sell 100 tickets, and even though it meant fewer fans came to see us, it also meant that fanatic fans came to see us. We sold so much merch, we had so many people screaming in the audience, and after the show one of the girls who bought a tank top asked me to sign her boobs! It was truly one of those nights where I felt 100% like a rock star in my own right!

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
We go to a lot of local shows and my fiancee Stephen Chubaty, lead singer of Dark Messiah, is a world-class headbanger; he gets right up there at the front, and really gets moving when he’s on stage. On one occasion while performing with Dark Messiah, he split the crotch of his pants on stage, completed the set, but he had some air conditioning to say the least, lol. On another occasion he was in the front row at a Cell concert and they poured a bucket of fake blood on him and he kept headbanging, swinging his long hair around and splashing everyone with the sticky substance. It’s sad to think that we won’t be able to have rowdy shows like that anymore with circle pits and blood on the audience, but we’ll always have these memories!

What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
The same things we’re doing now. We’ve already been musicians for the better parts of our lives, over 25 years, and so in 10 years we still want to be jamming, creating music, putting out albums, touring within Canada, and enjoying life with our families.

What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
I would love to collaborate with Maria Brink of In This Moment, but unfortunately my bandmates are very careful about who they work with, and they’ve said they won’t play covers, so I doubt they would be interested in a collaboration unless it was with a giant inspiration for them. Maybe Roger Waters — I could probably talk them into that, otherwise, they wouldn’t be interested.

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
Eminem. I’ve sometimes pulled up an Eminem song at karaoke, and after singing Shinedown, Halestorm, Queen, Pretty Reckless and Adele, I’ve gotten some very interesting reactions to Eminem.

What are your favourite songs / albums / artists right now?
Coheed & Cambria, In This Moment, Halestorm, Slash with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, Avenged Sevenfold, Billy Talent, Godsfear, Dizzy Mystics, Black Optic and many others, this list could be endless.

Who would you be starstruck to meet?
Maria Brink, Lizzy Hale, Maynard James Keenan, Roger Waters, Amy Lee — another list that could go on forever!

What’s your favourite joke?
I love Cards Against Humanity for the variety of different jokes that can come out of the game. One of the best combinations that comes to mind is “In M. Night Shymalan’s new movie, we discover that Robocop was concealing a boner the entire time.”

What do you drive and why?
Dodge Grand Caravan, because it’s affordable and it can fit all the gear and people for road trips to Saskatchewan.

What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
I’d like to be able to teleport. I love traveling the world, and it would cut down on the time it takes to fly places, plus could greatly reduce the costs involved.

What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
Trav knows when the river will flood or not. Keith knows quantum financing, whatever that is, Russ can grow peppers and make the spiciest food on the planet, and Violet is a world-renowned psychic therapist.

What do you collect?
Violet collects crystals and gemstones, Trav collects instruments, Keith collects wine, Russ collects gear.

If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
Violet would bring salad, Trav would bring cannabis, Keith would bring meatballs, Russ would bring the spiciest chili you’ve ever tasted, or incredibly spicy wings. Never eat what Russ brings.

What current trend or popular thing do you not understand at all?
TikTok. What is it? Why did it become a thing? Why is there so much controversy surrounding it?

Tell us about your current and/or former pets.
Keith has a dog named Marshall who is very forgetful. Violet has a dog named King Koopa who makes friends in seconds and a cat named Floki who likes belly rubs.

If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
We all do have jobs besides music, music isn’t our full-time job, and I don’t think any of us want it to be, which kind of beautiful. We’ve all got stable careers that make us happy in other ways, but music is not an option, we have to create music because for us that’s a huge part of who we are.

What’s the best advice and/or worst advice you were ever given?
I wrote my first song when I was 11 and my mom told me not to count my chickens before they hatched because there’s no way I’d ever make it as a musician. I beg to differ. Also, one of the songs I wrote when I was 11 is on this album, it’s called Dreaming and it’s become a fan favorite.

Listen to Shieldmaiden above, and keep up with Helfreya via their website, Facebook and Instagram.