The Helmsmen Earn Top Marks for Their Sunny, Island-Indie Sound

Lush sound, lush surroundings.
Lush sound, lush surroundings.
Photography by Jack Bates

Judging from the tinge of academia coloring everything the Helmsmen do — including their name, borrowed from their high-school mascot, and the titles of their debut EP, Homework, and forthcoming followup, MidTerm (out June 18) — you might assume the Jupiter five-piece is a bunch of geeks.

You'd be right. The self-described "island-indie" group consists of music nerds and dedicated students of songwriting. With their noses pressed to the books for the past year and a half, the bandmates are beginning to see the payoff for their diligence and talent.

Schoolmates at Jupiter Christian School, Helmsmen lead vocalist and ukulele player Jesse Glendinning and acoustic guitarist/saxophonist Derek Campbell met in kindergarten and grew up together at the private academy. But they weren't just memorizing Bible passages. Together, they studied bands from every genre of music, including the Beach Boys, Billy Joel, Dream Theater, and the Zac Brown Band.

"I've been pretty much playing forever, since band in fourth grade," Campbell says. "I was really into the saxophone until I got into guitar when I was 13, and I got serious about that." He went on to study classical guitar and worked toward a degree in recording arts at Full Sail University. "That's been my whole life."

Glendinning played alongside Campbell in the middle-school band, though he didn't pick up the uke until college, where he taught himself to play in his free time. He describes himself as "late to the game," watching Campbell dive into various musical projects through their friendship. But it's the inclusion of his Hawaiian lute that lends the Helmsmen their signature tropical flair.

That's not all that's driving the band's breezy, energizing folk-pop and easygoing surf sound. The Helmsmen combine the best elements of Jack Johnson's radiant, positive lyrical bent and Death Cab for Cutie's delicate, hook-laden songwriting with the rich instrumental harmonies of Kings of Convenience. Campbell's jangly acoustic guitar overlaid with the searing work done by his electric counterpart, Jacob Constantakos, results in some truly sparkling sounds.

A couple of years younger than his bandmates, Constantakos also came up at JCS, bouncing among a handful of local bands before settling in with the Helmsmen. When he found himself out of a project, his mind went to Glendinning and Campbell. The trio immediately clicked.

Rounding out the remainder of the band are bassist Micko Paparo and drummer Samuel King, both of whom joined later on but who are no less essential. Whether they're kicking up a ska ditty or kicking back on a slow jam, their sound is altogether lush. And for a band fairly new to the game, its tight performances and feel-good aura have already earned the group a solid following in and around the bandmates' native Jupiter.

Armed with new music set for release this summer, the Helmsmen are aiming higher. "Rollercoaster" is the lead single and music video from MidTerm, which they filmed over three days in January at the South Florida Fair. It's a bouncy number evoking the thrill of carnival rides and the uncomplicated joy of a night spent playing games and eating funnel cake.

Following a CD-release party in June, the Helmsmen will embark on a two-to-three-month tour, stopping in several Florida cities and maybe a few other Southern states. After that, the possibilities are endless. Campbell, Constantakos, and Glendinning are clear that despite the fact they're prepping for the unveiling of MidTerm, they're still in the midst of penning new material.

Will an eventual full-length be the Final Exam?

"That's why it's called MidTerm," Glendinning says, "because we want people to know there's more to come. This won't be the end."

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"Unless we go on a Field Trip," Campbell quips.

"The tour might be called Summer Camp," Constantakos can't help but add.

The guys are quirky, clever, and, yes, nerdy. But their talent is serious, their work ethic can't be beat, and their good-natured, forthcoming attitudes help keep the Helmsmen at the top of their class.

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