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We continue our series, Day Job, where we chat with Seattle-area musicians about what work they do outside of their band to be able to sustain their music.
Scuba diving and playing drums at a metal gig are seemingly worlds apart, but when Hozoji is on stage, she finds the similarity between the two pretty quickly.
Hozoji says of performing, “It's an extremely vulnerable place to be in front of a group of strangers playing songs that you wrote of this extremely personal — It’s like standing naked in front of a group of people and having them be like, ‘Oh, your nipples are weird’ you know? Or whatever. It’s extremely extremely vulnerable and so there’s moments where I feel like extra naked when I'm up there and then those times are when I will think about being underwater because that place is so utterly different than up here. You know this weird weird everyday life stuff that just utterly disappears when I am underwater.”
Hozoji is underwater a lot, because that’s her “Day Job.” Hozoji Mathison-Margolis is the drummer and sings vocals in the band Helms Alee, but also works for the Puyallup tribe as an independently contracted shellfish biology diver. As a Puyallup tribe diver, Hozoji surveys of their geoduck tracts counting geoducks and monitoring. Oh, you’ve never heard of geoducks? Well geoducks are humongous really hilarious looking clams, because they are super phallic looking — reaching over three feet in length. They’re also delicious and valued at about $30 a pound.
Geoducks have been a craze in the Seattle foodie scene for a while, but they’ve been an important indigenous food source for a while. “Before European settlers came here it was one of the main sources of food for the people who originally lived here. So I'm a Puyallup tribal member I work directly with the people a tribe and geoduck has long been a very important food source for us,” Hozoji says.
Harvesting geoducks used to be insanely labor-intensive because they can live up to 3 feed under the sand. You would have to dive down deep and dig and dig — a huge hole — to get just one geoduck. And this was kind of okay, because they are so vital to the health of our waters. They're basically they're a little vacuum cleaners that keep our waters clean and healthy.
But Hozoji tells us it’s a lot easier these days to harvest. “Now a lot of it is done by diving where you dive underwater. You have a high pressure water hose basically that you take and you shove into the sand next to the geoduck and you just blast the sand from around the base of the gooey deck and pop it out.”
It’s a lot easier now to harvest geoducks, which puts our ecosystem in danger. So it’s Hozoji’s job it to make sure we’re taking care of the Puget Sound. She is passionate about this job for many reasons. One reason being she really cares about — and relates to — geoducks.
“Geoduck are entirely sedentary,” Hozoji tells us, “Once they have settled into their spot in the sand. They will never ever move again. And they do that within — I just learned this recently actually in school — within about a month and a half of existence. The poeticness of a geoduck staying sedentary its entire life, I mean yes of course we all know human beings—me being one of them I was born and raised in Tacoma, I don’t see myself ever leaving Tacoma, because it’s just the right spot for me, it feels good to me there.”
Hozoji loves Tacoma and the Puget Sound. But she also loves touring with Helms Alee. So finding a job that worked with her music was difficult. Before becoming a diver, Hozoji had a “long string of crappy jobs” before finding this one. If a tour came along, she would just go and quit her job. She was determined to not let a “jobby job” get in the way of her music and her travel, which is why diving works out well for Hozoji.
“You make really good money if you can't come to work if you if there is an opportunity to go and harvest geoducks and you are out of town you just don't make money. So you know that's the trade off is like the freedom but then you have to budget year to get really good at looking out for your money situation because it's definitely a feast or famine kind of industry,” she says.
After living on the water her whole life, Hozoji jumped into geoduck diving eight years ago and describes what being under the water that surrounds Seattle feels like. (Pro Tip: Listen to this next song whilst reading her description.)
“The first time that I ever went under I just it there's so much more color and life to it than what you expect and what you see from the surface. And so. And having been born and raised in Tacoma I have I think an inherent appreciation for this weird combination of industry and natural beauty. Because Tacoma is right on this port so we are surrounded by cranes and ships and you know all sorts of you know big plumes of gross smoke. But then also you know state parks and beautiful fjords of super nutrient rich bodies water being fed by Mt. Rainier. You know so it's a really weird combination of things that I just have was born to love I guess. And so that's true underwater here too. You know you'll be kicking around down there and you come across a toilet or a car or a pile of tires. So there will be a toilet just covered in these beautiful metridium sea enemies was bright orange trees you know and and purple starfish in rock crabs and stuff like that. So. Yeah, it just the first time I ever went down I was like, Oh, this is extremely beautiful and very peaceful. It's not nearly as terrifying as my brain had built it up to be as a child swimming in this dark murky water.”
That weird combination that Hozoji describes — that gritty industry paired with natural beauty — is kind of a perfect description of the music of Helms Alee. It’s rock-based, but also melodic. It’s the combination and result of the three members of Helms Alee. Helms Alee is Hozoji on drums, guitarist Ben Verellen, and bassist Dana James. And fans quickly pick up on the band’s connection to the Puget Sound.
Hozoji has been in Helms Alee for more than 12 years. Even before she started diving, the music her band played made her feel like she was under water.
“Ben's style of guitar playing and the effects that he uses to create the sound that he has for Helms Alee just sound very watery to me,” Hozoji says. “It sound … of clarity and murkiness that to me just reminds me of being underwater.”
A nautical theme shows up everywhere for Helms Alee. “Helms Alee!” is even what sailors are supposed to say when going under the sail. The three members of the band has collectively spent a lot of time on the salty seas of the Puget Sound, so the water-themed stuff they are producing is happening organically. New music. New videos. More tour dates. Helms Alee is still moving at an impressive clip.
But they all have their passions beyond the band. Ben creates custom amplifiers and owns a bar in Fremont. Dana’s in school right now for accounting and has a day job — also in Fremont. And Hozoji is diving and working on her PhD in marine biology at the University of Washington.
This is how the band likes it.
“I would just love for our band to continue on the path that we're on,” Hozoji says. “We're just getting to a point where we are able to tour and come home with a little bit of money to pay bills. You know we're 12 years deep and just getting to that point in time that feels really good to you know to know that we don't have to completely flip our lives upside down to continue pursuing music. That the music that where you work really hard on all the time is being appreciated by people other than ourselves. That feels awesome, so if we can just keep that rolling — I’m good.”
Helms Alee kicks off a tour in November. They’ll perform in Seattle on November 19.
This piece was produced by Brie Ripley, Ryan Sparks, and Rachel Stevens
Local author Ari Rosenschein reports back from Saturday's show with Melvins, Helms Alee, Holy Grove, and Wizard Rifle at McMenamins Elks Temple.
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