Helen Money
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Helen Money

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In his 1997 interview with Jason and Alison, Timothy White claimed that their debut album of "overcast vocals and gutsy string-based acoustic gales always seems to end too soon." - Billboard Magazine


In reviewing Mordine & Company Dance Theater’s “Time Stilled” Lucia Mauro of the Chicago Tribune
said “it gains force through a live cello score composed and performed by Alison Chesley...(whose) composition resonates on a provocative level."
- Chicago Tribune


July 18, 2007
By Rachel Swan

In recent interviews, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and saxophonist David Murray contended that the cello ranks among the sexiest of instruments - second only to the saxophone. Chicago cellist Alison Chesley perfectly illustrates their point in her new rock-influenced solo album, Helen Money (slated for September release on her label Cellbird). Recorded live, Helen Money reveals everything a person can say by playing cello through a guitar amp: Chesley is by turns tetchy, shifty, pensive, and melancholy. She's both a bruiser and an uncompromising romantic, capable of hacksawing and puncturing each note (as illustrated on one of her hardest tunes, "Hendrix"), or oozing seductively around it. Though you can hear Bach mingling uneasily with Jimi Hendrix and Sonic Youth on many of her compositions, Chesley is neither self-consciously hip nor beholden to the rigorousness of her classical background. Rather, she sounds mercurial and sometimes ruthless, capable of changing the mood on a dime. Chesley performs Thursday at San Francisco's Luggage Store Gallery, with Lisa Mezzacappa and Ross Hammond opening. 8 p.m., $5. LuggageStoreGallery.com - San Francisco/East Bay Express


By Joshua Sindell
July 19, 2007

HELEN MONEY is the name of a solo project from cellist Alison Chesley (Verbow, Poi Dog Pondering). Chesley, who feeds her instrument through several effects-pedals and an amp, conjures up truly majestic music from her bow: It's the sound of wounded forests, of trees harboring centuries of resentment. Lovers of modern minimalists, of folk music, and of doom metal should all find something to thrill here (Sun. at Tangier Lounge; Tue. at Silverlake Lounge; Wed. at Bordello). - LA City Beat


August 8, 2007
By Brian Baker

Alison Chesley has lent her considerable cello skills to a vast array of musical endeavors, most prominently as a member of the late, lamented Verbow. In addition, Chesley's input has provided a magnificent atmosphere to a disparate group of artists, including Poi Dog Pondering, Bob Mould, Disturbed, Archer Prewitt and Japanese noisemongers Mono. Beyond that, Chesley has collaborated with poets and choreographers to compose scores to accompany spoken-word and dance performances in and around her Chicago home base.

Last year, Chesley was honored with a full scholarship to study composition with the legendary Fred Frith at San Francisco's renowned Mills College, but she declined the opportunity in order to complete work on what she felt was the most important project in her canon to date: her first solo album. Under her nom du rock, Helen Money, Chesley has finally completed and released her eponymous debut, an evocative and mesmerizing set of self-composed songs (other than a lovely reworking of Neil Young's "Birds" and "...In Love with the Whole Wide World," a co-write with her co-producer, David Suycott), performed by Chesley alone on cello and occasional guitar.

"I was always into rock even when I wasn't playing it," says Chesley with a laugh as she speaks via phone from her Chicago home.

Chesley was born and raised in Los Angeles, moving to Chicago in the late '80s to attend Northwestern University where she earned her master's degree in cello performance in 1994. At nearly the same time, she met Jason Narducy who was performing in the Chicago area and had a specific sonic need that he felt Chesley could fulfill.

"When I met Jason, he wanted me to play shows he was doing acoustic," recalls Chesley. "He'd really been into Bob Mould's Workbook album, and really liked the way the cello was used on there. I played a couple of songs with him and we really bloomed together."

That led the pair to form the duo Jason and Alison, which eventually expanded with the addition of a rhythm section into the critically acclaimed Verbow. As it happened, Mould proved to be more than a mere inspiration for Narducy; the band opened for him in 1996, leading the former Husker Du/Sugar frontman to offer his production services and to help them secure a contract with Epic Records. Mould produced Verbow's 1997 debut, Chronicles, and utilized Chesley's cello for his 1998 album, The Last Dog and Pony Show.

After Verbow's sophomore album, 2000's White Out, and subsequent tour, Chesley felt dissatisfied with the band's progress and opted out. It wasn't necessarily a hard decision for her to make.

"We weren't getting a lot of support from the label," she says. "I think Jason was kind of tired of being around me because I was struggling. It was so hard to be away from home and we didn't have a lot of money, so I stopped doing that."

In the wake of Verbow, Chesley hooked up with poet Krista Franklin (with whom she recently composed and recorded Aural Anarchy, a words-and-music exploration of the life, work and lasting influence of Jimi Hendrix, which will hopefully be released later this year) and choreographer Shirley Modine and began composing pieces for their stage performances. That in turn led Chesley to consider the possibility of writing music strictly for her own use. Even though she could no longer justify staying with Verbow, Chesley is quick to credit Narducy - with whom she has remained good friends - with helping her realize her eventual solo direction.

"Jason and I always wanted a sound that wasn't a typical string sound," says Chesley. "He got me into playing with effects and pedals, so that pushed me into how I'm playing. I kind of feel like I have this sensibility of a guitar player, but I'm playing a cello."

As Chesley was exploring the potential of doing scorework for stage pieces, she also began playing occasional gigs with Chicago musical institution Poi Dog Pondering. Violinist Susan Voelz had seen Verbow and invited Chesley to perform with Poi Dog when Verbow began to wane. That in turn resulted in Chesley receiving a number of offers to do recording sessions with artists who wanted her unique take on the cello.
"It's always interesting to hear how people want strings, and also to hear what people are writing," Chesley says. "It's fascinating to me. I actually just played a couple of parts for this local band called Plaguebringer. They're this metal band and so I was playing metal licks on my cello to go underneath the guitar parts and it was the coolest thing because the cello didn't sound like a cello and I was also hearing the parts they were hearing. It's really interesting to hear what other people are hearing on my instrument especially if it's not your typical nice string part."

One of Chesley's more challenging assignments was working with Mono; she contributed cello to their last two albums, 2004's Walking Cloud and 2006's You Are There. - Cleveland Free Times


It takes a lot to withdraw from a full-paid fellowship to work with Fred Frith, but this eye on the prize recording is hopefully what Ms. Money hoped to gain by turning towards her own work. Like Rasputina and Polly Panic, Helen has re-invented, partly, the world of cello-rock (this ain't no Electric Light Orchestra!), though unlike with her former band mates Verbow, on this outing she has eloped to a future without drums, or much of anything outside a guitar, to hoist her into the city of the ear. In some ways, it's much more exotic this way, for even the first song "Dreaming" becomes a dark piece of celluloid musique, partly feeling like the heft of Peter Gabriel's "Passion" soundtrack. It is ominous, moving, and all encompassing, even in the small burst of a few minutes, whereas "Hum" is punctuated by stops, gaps, silence, and bareboned rhythmic underpinning. The first song coats you, but this one simply tantalizes, withdrawing strategically, then pressing forward, darting in and out, weaving, while a counter line signals that there is two presences; hence, this is a dance of sorts. "Jackson" goes electro-modulated, not unlike Moby meets Kronos Quartet in a Michael Mann mood. It is soaring, neon blue tubed, and shimmering in stealthy grace, akin to a futuristic tone poem of skyscrapers weeping. Then there are moments of impressionistic repose, like "Birds," a tiny web of interlocking gestures that feels similar to tiny sparrows flitting at your feet in dried brush or shifting piles of autumn leaves. It's the kind of music that you understand would work well with Bob Mould, as she did, to color and finesse a narrative.

The opus here is "I'll See You in Hell," a long-necked, eight-minute, repetitious, mantra-like outing, with different movements and variations, each seeming to reference a kind of numbness or barely contained labyrinth of pain. With an almost dazed and questioning ponderous nature, it moves forward, opening door after paint-chipped door, as light recedes into the distant and air turns to ether. Footsteps grow more frantic towards the middle, until a dizzying vortex of anguish/dislocation sets in and Greek furies swirl in the consciousness - whole stone heaps burst into molten fragments in the mind. Arteries and capillaries feel flush with the larvae of dead time and immortal longing. Then it ends. "Song for You My Sister" feels, in comparison, as if a Buddhist monk is tapping soft stones or someone from Young God records is just strumming chords to find the perfect tone of consolation and memory foam.

I would love to imagine "Iggy" as an allusion to Iggy Pop, a fragmented, industrial buzz ode to ghost drilled Detroit, echoey like the long empty corridors of factories. It's dynamic and darting too, like ping-ponging embers floating furiously away from drill bits and soldered steel. It's a poem of furnace heaps. "Mondo" is skittish and Oriental, organic and noodling, until the angry-god voice of guitar clouds the whole thing with ash and aggro, like a moment in Noh theatre when the frail, trembling-hand peasant woman becomes a seething, vociferous demon. "Hendrix" just drops from the clouds in Velvet Underground/John Cale style shot through teenage Fender fucking, like a kid touching the rubric of avant-garde music for the first time. If you like to peer into a cavern of post-punk modernity to find it haunted by the old wooden deities of classical music, lift this lid now. - Left of the Dial Online Music Magazine


By Michael Gallucci
August 8, 2007

On her MySpace page, Chicago instrumentalist Alison Chesley declares, "Aggravate the cello." That pretty much seems the ethos behind Helen Money, her debut solo album. The 11 cello-powered songs range from unnerving to downright menacing (titles like "I'll See You in Hell" and "Iggy" should give listeners an indication of what's in store). Chesley was a founding member of Verbow, an alt-pop group that released a pair of albums at the end of the '90s and toured with Morrissey, Liz Phair, and Counting Crows. Those gigs led to session work with artists as diverse as post-punk legend Bob Mould and mook-rockers Disturbed. On her own, the classically trained Chesley takes a more snaky approach to songs, filling spaces with foreboding string hums and finger-blistering virtuosity. - Cleveland Scene


Discography

Helen Money "Helen Money" 2007 Cellobird Records
Krista Franklin and Alison Chesley "Aural Anarchy" Naivete Records 2006
Poi Dog Pondering "In Seed Comes Fruit" 2004 Premonition Records
Poi Dog Pondering "Soul Sonic Orchestra" 2003 Platetectonic Records
Verbow "White Out" 1997 Epic/Sony 550
Verbow "Chronicles" 2000 Epic/Sony 550
Jason and Alison "Woodshed" 1994 Whitehouse Records

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Bio

Helen Money is Alison Chesley, a Chicago based cellist who has become known for her unique sound and compelling stage performance. Using the tools of a lead guitarist to compose and perform what are essentially pop-songs without words, she channels her sensibilities and experience as a rock musician through a classical instrument. A founding member of Epic Records recording artist Verbow, Alison has also worked and recorded with musicians such as Bob Mould, Disturbed, Archer Prewitt, Frank Orrall and the Sea and Cake, among others.