Helen Money is the performing alias of Alison Chesley, a Los Angeles-based cellist and composer who has appeared on recordings by Bob Mould, Broken Social Scene, Japanese band Mono, and dozens of other artists. Her aggressive, highly inventive cello playing utilizes a plethora of transformative effects, and is heavily influenced by punk and metal, embracing copious amounts of distorted feedback. Her compositions are brash and cathartic, yet strikingly beautiful, reflecting on a life full of devastating experiences. She typically performs in a rock environment rather than with classical or new music ensembles, and has opened for bands such as Shellac, Earth, and Neurosis.
Chesley was born in Los Angeles in 1960, and she attended Northwestern University in Chicago, where she received a master's degree in cello performance. While a student, she formed the acoustic rock duo Jason & Alison with Jason Narducy. After releasing Woodshed in 1994, the duo expanded into a full electric band and eventually took the name Verbow. The group signed to Epic and released two acclaimed albums in 1997 and 2000, and opened for Liz Phair, Frank Black, Morrissey, and several other popular alternative rock acts. After Verbow broke up in 2001, Chesley became a prolific session musician, primarily recording at Soma Studios and Steve Albini's Electrical Audio, both located in Chicago. She appeared on recordings by Poi Dog Pondering, Archer Prewitt, Disturbed, and many others.
Her eponymous debut album as Helen Money was released on her own Cellobird Records in 2007. The album included a cover of Neil Young's "Birds" as well as songs dedicated to Iggy Pop and Jimi Hendrix. After appearing on recordings by Strings of Consciousness and Scout Niblett, Chesley released her second Helen Money album, In Tune, in 2009. Initially self-released, it was given a wider release with updated artwork by Table of the Elements. The album included her cover of "Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing" by the Minutemen. During this year, Chesley moved back to Los Angeles and began focusing on her Helen Money project rather than studio session work. In 2013, her third full-length, Arriving Angels, was released by metal label Profound Lore. Recorded and mixed by Albini at Electrical Audio, the album included contributions from Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder. She then collaborated with former Swans chanteuse Jarboe, and their eponymous album was released by Aurora Borealis in 2015. Helen Money's next album, Become Zero, was issued by Thrill Jockey in 2016. The album featured contributions from Roeder, pianist Rachel Grimes, and producer Will Thomas. ~ Paul Simpson