In an attempt to shine light on local music, The Lantern’s “Columbus’ Own” is a weekly series that will profile a new Columbus band each week.
Inspiration for the title of The Helionauts’ January debut album, “El Rancho Notorious,” came from a 1952 western with the same title.
“The western is kind of like a laid-back almost whimsical story, but the underlying themes are more dark. That correlates with our songs because they might not sound too dark on the outside but if you listen to the lyrics more … there’s deeper meaning than you’d notice on the first listen,” said frontman Adam Brandt.
Brandt formed his Columbus band in 2011 with drummer Jeff Earl and bassist Chris “Woody” Moebius. Lead guitarist Eli Zimmerman completed the band in April 2012 when he responded to their Craigslist ad looking for a guitarist.
Since the band was created, the members have been writing and producing songs that would end up on the album.
“It was a long process being able to put everything together. We would record two or three songs here and there, and last summer we were able to get in and knock it all out, and it’s a big weight off of our chests,” Moebius said.
The Helionauts were also inspired by the Greek mythological story of Icarus, who flies too close to the sun with homemade wings, causing his downfall. In Greek, “Helio” means “sun” and “naut” means “explorer.”
“The whole story of Icarus was made to explain over-ambition. That ties in with the band because in a sense we’re like that. We’re very ambitious and we spend a lot of time doing this and it might not be for anything and we’ve accepted that from the beginning,” Brandt said.
“It’s kind of more about embracing that idea of Icarus and shooting for more,” Zimmerman added.
The title track, “El Rancho Notorious,” and “Riff Raff,” which is Brandt’s favorite track, feature unexpected instruments including wind chimes from Zimmerman’s mother’s porch and a spring drum, which makes stormlike sounds.
“I like those touches to the album because then it doesn’t feel so bland,” Zimmerman said.
Before “El Rancho Notorious,” came “From Meadow Road,” an EP named for the house in Grandview that Brandt and Earl lived in from 2012 to 2014.
“We had a spare bedroom in that house and a couple of microphones that we didn’t know how to use, so we just set them up and experimented. That’s where the band really took its shape was in that house because that’s where we held all of our practices. Adam and I lived there for two years and those were the most formative two years of the band,” Earl said.
The EP was released in February 2014, around the time that Brandt and Earl moved to Cincinnati. With two members in Columbus and two in Cincinnati, the band said they appreciate both cities.
“I think Columbus is more progressive and laid-back, more of an ‘anything goes’ type of mentality. Cincinnati has got that busy city feel,” Brandt said.
“It’s a little less personable down there,” Earl said of Cincinnati.
Brandt writes all of the harmonies and lyrics for the songs, with each band member adding their own flair to the tracks which blend blues, rock and funk influences.
“If you listen to this album, there’s a big range in some of the sounds that we have and I think that’s the three of us bringing our style to the songs. But if you listen underneath each song you kind of hear that ‘Adam essence,’” Zimmerman said.
“All in all, the songs are about being your own person and growing from life’s challenges. They are about being a kid cowboy in a world full of hipsters and Kardashians,” according to the band’s website.
“It just seems like people are trying to fit a mold. It happens to be today’s molds are you’re either on the hipster side or on the flashy, preppy, Kim Kardashian side. I always thought that stuff was stupid and I hated it,” Brandt said.
The album cover features real-life kid cowboy, Eli Morgan, whom Brandt discovered and was inspired by while at his nephew’s birthday party.
“Seeing that kid in the cowboy costume really brightened up my whole outlook. I want to be like this kid who just doesn’t give a f— and goes to school dressed up as a cowboy,” Brandt said.
They set up a photo shoot for 5-year-old Morgan, and the winning shot landed on the cover of “El Rancho Notorious.”
“He is a really quiet kid and it was a confidence booster for him. His mom says he still talks about it. If we take anything from this album, for me, that’s enough,” Brandt said.
The band’s next show is set to be May 21 at the Spacebar at 2590 N. High St.