New Faces NJ: HelenaMaria

Identical twins Helena and Maria Mehalis of Flemington have merged their singing and songwriting talents into the free-spirited pop-rock duo HelenaMaria. Can’t tell them apart? Here’s a clue: Maria plays guitar left-handed.

Photo by Adam Raia.

The 22-year-old twins say it’s easy to mix them up. “We are very similar without even trying, but there are subtle differences in our personalities. Helena tends to be silly and outgoing, and I guess I’m a little more reserved and laid back,” says Maria, the (slightly) younger of the two. “But we definitely share the same sense of humor,” adds Helena.

They even know what the other is thinking just by a look, which comes in handy for a musical duo. “We can tap into each other’s minds and know that we want to start playing a certain way,” says Helena.

The similarity of their voices also can work to musical advantage—as on their first album Serene—but they also have differences  “I have a slightly lower tone, and Helena hits the higher notes,” says Maria. “I think the fact that we are sisters makes the harmonies work well together and also defines our sound.”

The pair was born in New Brunswick and grew up in a “free-spirited” environment. “Our parents are awesome and always had music playing throughout the house,” says Helena. “From rearranging the living room to make a dance floor, to singing karaoke in the middle of movies, they were always supportive.”

At age four, the twins began taking piano lessons and soon started singing at the Bayard Street Presbyterian Church in New Brunswick. Homeschooled by their mother until middle school, Helena and Maria stayed busy exploring their imaginations. “We did our work everyday, but also had equal time to do other things like play outside or explore art and other creative avenues. It never felt like school to us,” says Maria.

The family moved to Flemington when the girls started seventh grade at Reading-Fleming Middle School (where they would sometimes play tricks on their teachers by switching classes). Helena and Maria continued to take private music lessons (adding guitar at age 16), but never really let their new friends in on their secret musical talents.

Their cover was blown when they performed their first show, an Amnesty International benefit concert for a crowd of almost 400 during their senior year at Hunterdon Central Regional High School. Though they say it was pretty intimidating, the show “made us realize this wasn’t just a one time thing. It became something we really wanted to pursue,” says Helena. “The harmonizing, guitar, piano, and songwriting sort of came together at this time for us,” Maria adds.

As HelenaMaria, they began to play as many open mic nights as possible, and became serious about writing music. Living under the same roof was helpful for some late-night writing sessions. “Each song we write is always some kind of collaboration,” says Helena. “Our music is melodic pop/rock that is pretty, yet meaningful.”

The pretty sounds came together on Serene in 2006. The two began appearing at festivals, colleges, restaurants, and clubs—including performances at the annual twin festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, and a spot on the mtvU Campus Invasion Tour in 2007. Meanwhile, the HelenaMaria song “Let Me Breathe” was featured on MTV’s reality hit The Hills. Another track, “Our Secret Place,” will be in the upcoming film In My Sleep.

When they aren’t working on their music or pursuing acting and modeling, the twins are seen waitressing at Copper Hill Country Club, browsing the Liberty Village Premium Outlets in Flemington (“who can resist the outlets?” exclaims Helena), or enjoying a beach day at Point Pleasant. But what really comes closest to music for Helena and Maria, is their passion for cat rescue, which started when they were young. “As we got older we started to help out a couple rescue groups by trapping stray or unwanted cats, getting them spayed/neutered, and adopting them to new homes,” says Helena, who notes their involvement with Hunterdon County organizations Catnip Friends Rescue and Karing for Katz.

This month, HelenaMaria are busy with a shows around the state including the Streetlife Festival in Red Bank (August 8)—an event the band has played for the past few years—and the Skylands Music and Arts Festival in the town of Delaware (August 14).

It’s no surprise that the twins agree about their future. “We can’t wait to get new music recorded, and hope that our music can gain even more exposure. We like to take life day by day, goal by goal, and only time will tell where we’ll be,” say Helena and Maria, filling in and finishing each other sentences as only identical twins can.

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