EMPLOYEE SPOTLIGHT: helios
h e l i o s a.k.a. Alex
Meet the person behind the h e l i o s voice.
We’re super excited to feature you in the Employee Spotlight this month!
Yes, feels good to be on this end of things. I must admit I felt a little hesitant to do this out of shyness and partly not wanting to disappoint those who feel drawn to the mystery of the h e l i o s voice with a big reveal.
First, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do at Vapor95.com. What does your day to day look like?
I like to consider my role at Vapor95 as “storyteller of the retro, nostalgic, vaporwave, and aesthetic movements”. My primary specialty is the written word. Most of what I do is some form of communication to our customers and fanatics: emails, blog posts, marketing copy, product descriptions, stuff like that. I package the voice of the brand neatly into a box for safe consumption. At least, I try.
Every day is different and the same. We all work spread out over different parts of the world so our schedules are pretty random. I like to consider my day’s schedule to be that of an artist’s. That’s code for “I’m undisciplined and don’t stick to a structure.” Some days, I do nothing. Other days, I put in eight to ten hours of focused creativity, writing, execution, planning, and all that.
There’s work time, sure. But, there’s also life. That’s where a lot of the ideas come from at Vapor95. At least in my area. I’m pretty sure the rest of the team works like this as well. The idea of h e l i o s was probably birthed on a bike ride or something. I can’t remember now.
How did you find yourself working for the company?
I touched on this in one of the ask h e l i o s episodes before. I’d been a fan of the aesthetic and I was interested in creating something of my own. I wanted to create a limited edition vaporwave print store where we would launch weekly limited releases by upcoming artists. I started building a vaporwave Instagram as a way to validate whether or not people liked the aesthetic. Then, I found Vapor95 and thought I was way too late to the game. I walked away from that idea. A few failed businesses later (peanut butter, an app) and I found myself getting very deep in the marketing world. I started consulting with businesses to help their marketing. I reached out to River, the Vapor95 CEO, and after a few relentless emails back and forth trying to get him to hop on a call with me, we spoke. I wrote a few emails in the voice of h e l i o s. I blinked my eyes a few times and suddenly, it’s been two years and we’ve had a pretty crazy ride.
What did you do before Vapor95?
What haven’t I done? I think I’ve had more than 25 jobs at this point.
Immediately before and during the time I started working with Vapor95, I was working for a massive tech company in Taipei, Taiwan. I moved there to be an English teacher and certain things just fell into my lap.
I’ve certainly pinballed my way toward being with a brand I really want to work with and being close enough to the foundational team where my ideas could be heard and implemented. It took a while though. There were a lot of jobs I hated.
I found the little sweet spot in the Venn diagram of:
- My interest in the visual aesthetic of Vapor95
- Having a skill set where I’d be of service to Vapor95
What is your favorite part about working for Vapor95? What are you working on now?
I enjoy the F.I.L.D.I. attitude immensely.
(For the parents out there reading this blog to see if Vapor95 is right for their teenager, F.I.L.D.I. stands for “Freak it! Let’s do it!)
We’re all risk takers on the team. We’re (mostly) unapologetically us and while this might sound too cavalier for some, it’s the perfect kind of team for me. We’re all not afraid to be who we really are, say what we feel, and share the vision for what we want to see at Vapor95.
When you’re on a team where there’s no fear of criticism or judgement, it creates something awesome. I know this because I have experienced the exact opposite living abroad for several years. Without throwing certain work cultures under the bus too much, I’ll just say the Vapor95 work culture is amazing.
If we have an idea, we just go for it and do it.
My genuine favorite moment was when I first traveled to the offices in Los Angeles to meet everyone and work out of the offices for a week or so. I’d been remote for months.
I met everyone on the day of 100% ElectroniCON in October of 2019. That first day meeting everyone, working the event together, being at a vaporwave festival, and meeting our fans was one of my favorite days ever. How’s that for a workday?
As far as what I’m working on now, we've changed a lot. Personally, I also have to adapt to an evolving brand. Even the voice of h e l i o s (and my own role) has to change to survive...like so many people in business and life right now.
You are essentially the ‘voice’ of h e l i o s, what about h e l i o s resonates with you? What has been your favorite h e l i o s moment?
There have been times in my life where I felt like a cold statue. There were times when I would read books like American Psycho and Glamorama (my personal favorite) and I would idolize these characters whose only values were superficiality, status, materialism, and being cool.
I resonated with these characters with cold, hard shells...for a brief couple of years. I pretty much copied these characters into my own stories. I wrote in the voice of various characters for a long time who were out of touch with reality, completely self-absorbed, petty, superficial, and so on.
To me, there are parts of h e l i o s (in my embodiment) who could come right out of a Bret Easton Ellis book. The coldness, the marble exterior, the emotional bleakness.
Just as I eventually grew out of that place of narcissism, I think h e l i o s has another side of him. He’s gentle. He’s caring. He’s more tender and emotional than he is narcissistic. At the end of the day, he’s a statue trying to figure out who he is. His sadness is endearing.
Meeting people IRL and being introduced as h e l i o s was pretty surreal. I met a guy at 100% ElectroniCON who said he read all my emails and I brushed him off because I thought he was just trying to navigate an awkward social situation but he was serious. That meant so much to me. Because at the end of the day, I know what I do is only partly creative art and partly commerce. The ratio of those parts depends on who you ask.
Some of our subscribers might hate the h e l i o s voice. Others may read a description of a design h e l i o s wrote and be blown away by how profound five lines of what is essentially “marketing copy” could be. My favorite part of all this are the fans who get it and don’t take it all so seriously.
Do you see h e l i o s as a fictional character/personality entirely, or rather an extension of yourself and your own experiences?
I still don’t know if I truly capture the voice of h e l i o s all the time. Then I’m like “dude, you are h e l i o s.”
Of course, h e l i o s is under employ and needs to stick to certain guidelines. He can’t just shave all his hair off and have a Britney Spears meltdown. If I had complete creative control, I’d make h e l i o s entirely me and vice versa. Muahaha! But, I’m certain 80% of our readers including the Vapor95 staff would be like, “what the hell am I reading?” It’d get pretty crazy pretty quickly if I had no reigns.
I do see him as an extension of myself but I also know a lot of our customers identify with him. h e l i o s probably feels like an extension of anyone who reads his writing. If I say the words “nostalgic bliss, numbed emptiness, or hollow boredom”, most of our readers are going to say “yes, I know those feelings intimately.”
That’s not me trying to trigger reactions. That’s honest. That’s authentic.
I know what it’s like to engage in what used to be something you used to be crazy about and feel absolutely nothing, numb. I know what it’s like to be in absolute bliss and joy, with a grin ear to ear. I also know what heavy, inescapable emotional pain feels like.
I’m not being artsy and pretentious when I say “h e l i o s is having the most common human condition and that’s why people vibe with him and our brand.”
h e l i o s is just a statue who pretends he’s not so human. Which is, ironically, how I would describe most people in today’s world.
h e l i o s shares a lot of great advice for navigating the ups and downs of life, and recently received some advice from readers in Ask h e l i o s Episode 5. What would you say is the best advice you’ve ever received, and what do you hope readers take to heart from the advice you’ve given?
I’m pretty terrible at picking superlatives. In fact, I’m pretty sure subscribers have asked me to pick favorite things as h e l i o s and a couple thousand words ensued while I picked a dozen favorites.
I will tell you the advice I’ve ignored the longest to my own peril:
That little nugget gets ignored more than it gets implemented. Being unapologetically, one hundred percent positively, absolutely YOU is the most important thing you could ever do. A lot of people are good at hiding from their real selves but eventually it catches up to them.
I’m still learning how to be more and more me every day.
If I could push one thing on my readers and get all soap-boxey, I’d just want you to know you are not alone. Connection is everything. I was having this epiphany last year...that a lot of my unhappiness was coming from just not connecting with people enough, not being face to face with a real live human being. Then, lock downs happened and I’ve had a lot of time to really think about what it feels like to be disconnected.
It’s not a good feeling. But, you are not alone.
What advice would h e l i o s give for surviving the state of the world right now? How have you been managing it personally?
I have good days. I have bad days. I’m also in an extremely strange place to be enduring the event. Currently, I’m delivering these answers in a little apartment on the 17th floor of an empty building in Bangkok, Thailand. The adventurer in me is happy I got to see the pandemic from a pseudo-developing country.
But, I do find myself becoming a quarantine meme from time to time.
I feel like I’ve been talking so much about everything going on and now here’s my chance to really say something and I’m like the kid about to blow his spelling bee.
h e l i o s would probably have a one line riddle for us humans to ponder during these tragedies. I think he might not understand the plight of humanity at all right now. He might be a little too cool about it, a little too detached. Or, he might be incredibly nostalgic like we all probably are.
Recently, I find myself slipping into nostalgic daydreams about things that happened three months ago.
“Ah, I remember back in the day we used to be able to go bars and clubs and be shoulder to shoulder with strangers in enclosed spaces. Preposterous, I know!”
So, I’ve gotta give myself the advice h e l i o s would give at times.
Things will get better. I encourage you not to lose hope. Don’t get swept up in the politics and the blame game. Focus on the humanity of it. What could really connect all of us, regardless of color, sex, clothing style, etc.?
We’re all vulnerable as humans. I had this epiphany on the beach in Thailand as things were starting to rapidly escalate toward a pandemic. A bunch of tourists on the beach from all over the world, speaking different languages, and yet one thing connected us all: vulnerability to an invisible killer.
In your vulnerable state, try to remember what a good life means. Use this time to think of, plan, and start on all the awesome things you’re going to do in life when limitations are eased.
You work remotely at Vapor95, as do others on the team, if you had to plan an employee get together, what would we do? Where would we go?
It’d be so cheesy. My coworkers would probably hate me afterwards.
We’d do all those team-building things in the woods that everyone makes fun of. I’d want people to catch me when I fall. I’d want to express my feelings speaking through a hand puppet. I’d want to sit around a campfire and tell ghost stories.
It’d have to be very much like an ‘80s movie. Maybe h e l i o s falls in love with someone from another company’s employee get-together in the next cabin and there’s a big team tug-of-war and we’re wearing Vapor95 Joggers and Tank Tops and we all set aside our differences to demolish the competition.
If you had to choose, what is your favorite design at Vapor95, why?
Anything tinged with Japanese vibes catches my eye. I grew up idolizing that kind of aesthetic. I believe Mizucat is one of my favorite Vapor95 Creators. The way she captures the look and aura of a beautiful, retro woman is uncannily connected to a time and place I grew up in.
These two answers will come as a surprise but the Unmasked All Over Print Sweatshirt and the No Control All Over Print Sweatshirt are my absolutely favorites. I’m pretty simple in my wardrobe so while I might love certain designs as prints or posters, I tend to wear dark and bland clothes. Heresy, I know!
My goal is to help Vapor95 create entire houses in the aesthetic, from rugs and wallpapers to pools and desks. Then, I can still wear all black and still live an aesthetic life.
What about the '90s / growing up makes you most nostalgic today?
Simplicity. I was looking at designs of Sleepover today and felt such a longing for simplicity. A simple Sleepover would be so fun nowadays.
I wanted to cry looking at that design and remembering my childhood innocence.
But, the ‘80s and ‘90s influence my entire life today. The music. The role models. The personality. The way of living. It’s weird but something happened to me by sitting down and watching movies as a kid for an entire decade. Who would have thought?
What are your interests outside of work?
Honestly, I’m in the process of figuring that out. Most of my life is spent creating, projects, maintaining decent health, etc. It’s quite boring and it’s made me quite boring. This is my post-lockdown resolution: go play, bro!
Lastly, you’ve gotten to know a lot of the Vapor95 audience through Ask h e l i o s, what would you like to say to any of them reading this? What advice would you give to them about working in digital marketing /creatively for a start-up?
First off, gratitude. Thank you for being here. Thank you for reading my words. Thank you for enjoying what we create at Vapor95.
There are certain milestones everyone comes to in life that personally mean a lot to them. Graduating high school, first job, first customer, a child, whatever. One that stands out to me was receiving feedback from strangers about what we do at Vapor95, especially my writing. That was a huge moment in my life.
My advice to you would be to find that thing that would be a milestone. For me, it was external verification that something I created was of value and enjoyment for others. Find what you’d want that to be and go do it in someone else’s arena. Maybe it's design. Maybe it’s writing. Maybe it’s the numbers side of things. Maybe it’s people.
Someone else’s company is the perfect “sandbox” to play in while you grow your own skills. I’ve learned so much from not taking the cookie cutter route and stability my peers chose. I’m sure you will too.
Best of luck out there!
To read more of Alex's writing, head to the DARKNET blog where you can find the ask h e l i o s series, and a couple of random blog articles here and here.