The Hellblinki Sextet
Arcata Northern Lights

The three-piece sextet
Monica Topping
For the Times-Standard

It can generally be assumed that the word “sextet” as part of a band's name can be attributed to the number of members of the band.

Not so with the Hellblinki Sextet.

While each of the current members of the band play enough instruments to make six members' worth of noise, there are only three solid players right now, plus or minus a few, when old band members and friends call and ask to play an upcoming show.

The so-called sextet has been through a rotating cast of characters over the last 10 years, when the band, started by Andrew Benjamin in Augusta, Ga., took root. Benjamin named the band and wanted to call it a sextet, in order to give it that jazz feel. The actual number of band members was secondary, and thus the name stuck, even after the group expanded and contracted, ending up at the current line-up, featuring Benjamin on guitar, vocals, and drums, simultaneously, Valerie Neiss on vocals, accordion, toy piano, and melodica, and Bradley Lunsford on bass.

The Hellblinki Sextet is on their first cross-country tour, following the release of their new album, “Oratory.” The album was put together over a long period of time, while Benjamin moved from Augusta, the home of James Brown, to Asheville, N.C. The recording features 23 folks from both cities and beyond, including a “crazy guy” the band calls Ferndando, who used to call into the Augusta N.P.R. station and leave messages on the answering machine, and a tuba player from Canada.

”I put a message up on Asheville's Craigslist looking for a tuba player to record these tracks,” says Benjamin. “And happened to get a response from a guy in Canada who e-mailed me the tracks, and there it was -- we had tuba!”

Then there are the fiddle parts.
”There's a guy, Ian Moore, who's an amazing fiddle player, and he's an amazing musician,” says Benjamin. “He's a street corner busker with very happy feet, and just an amazing personality.”

And Moore's personality, along with Fernando, the Canadian tuba player, and all of the contributors to “Oratory,” shines through. The album is very high energy--a mix of vaudeville, Eastern European influence, and the punk music that Benjamin grew up on, in the '80s.

”We're just a really loud punk-folk band, I think,” says Benjamin.

”Really loud” is the key phrase, whether discussing the layers upon layers of sound on “Oratory,” or the band's live show, constructed with those three multi-instrumentalists.

“I like the analogy that the song is kind of like a coat hanger which you can keep piling stuff onto, until it completely falls apart,” says Benjamin.

But how does that sound translate in a live show?

”I feel that the live show and recording are two completely different media, and they really should not sound alike,” says Benjamin. “What we do live is very different. The songs are there and recognizable, and someone who has listened to the record will not feel out of place or like it's a different thing entirely, but it's a different experience.”

The Hellblinki Sextet can be experienced with Fresno's James Brittain Gore, this coming Monday, Aug. 11, at the Jambalaya in Arcata. The show starts at 10 p.m.