Haken have been making serious waves in the Progressive community for many years, constantly releasing amazing intricate music, epic songs and having amazing performances. Recently releasing the savage album Vector and now coming back down under to rock our stages once again in June!
Metal-Roos: Thank you so much for speaking to me and thank you for coming back to Australia!
Ross and Rich: It is our pleasure! I’m really looking forward to coming back. Last time I came it was some of the most fun shows we’ve done in a long time. It’s going to be really good to come back.
M-R: How does Haken prepare for a tour, given that the members live quite a way from each other nowadays?
Rich: I think especially when we are starting a whole touring schedule and we’ve got a whole bunch of new music to learn it’s quite tricky and the parts are quite intricate. So, we all individually work on the hardest parts then learn the whole song. This is for months leading up to the tour and it gets to a point where it’s fully ingrained in our fingers and our muscle memory just takes over. We can’t really rehearse that much. We typically book a place for 2 days leading up to the tour, run through the equipment, make sure the production side of things is working, all the lights and the sound is working. Then we would run through the set a whole bunch of times and hopefully by that point we’re good to go.
Ross: It normally takes a couple of shows to get into it, but those 2 days help for sure. By the time we get to your country we’ve already done a couple of months of touring this stuff. A lot of the songs are well ingrained in us. It’s just re-lighting the fire again, getting things going. It’s a bit different for fly shows. We can’t really book in a rehearsal space because we’ll be meeting up in New Zealand and the first day we go straight onto the stage.
M-R: This is your first time to New Zealand?
Rich: This is the first time Haken have been to New Zealand, yeah. We came there with Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress run of shows and that was the first time that any of us had even been to New Zealand let alone played there. It’s going to be really cool; we’ve got no clue whether we got any fans there but I guess we’ll see next month.
M-R: Do you guys have the time still practice every day?
Ross: Off tour I’m always trying to keep things working. I don’t want to dry up my throat and lungs, even if it’s just singing along to the songs in the car just or really simple stuff like that. We’re always working in some way or another even if its writing new material. It’s a constant process.
Rich: For me, most of the practicing comes when preparing for a tour. Nowadays my main focus is writing music, more so then when I was younger, but that’s a type of practice as well in a way. I’ll sit down and I’ll have an idea to practice something and I get distracted by something else. I do a bit of teaching as well, but I still feel like there’s a lot to learn in terms of my playing just in general in music. I still have the ambition to do it, it’s just finding the time.
M-R: Congratulations on your ten-year anniversary as a band! How did it feel to reach such a milestone? Has it felt like ten years or has the time flown?
Ross: It’s kind of weird, it does make you feel a bit old! It was really the 10-year anniversary of when we recorded our first demo, but Haken goes way back before that with me and Rich.
Rich: We grew up together, we had another friend called Matthew Marshall and we just used to jam out in our teens. We came up with the idea of Haken around then and it just slowly grew. Then we made a demo, which is about 12 years ago now. To celebrate the 10-year anniversary was incredible! We didn’t know we were going to be doing it for that long and we still have ambitions to take a lot further. It’s amazing to do that and look back but so far. We’re just really honoured and privileged to have anyone that comes to our shows.
M-R: We all know It is quite difficult to exist as a band in today’s music industry, especially playing such challenging music as Haken do, and I’ve read that Haken works around the members day jobs. Is it a massive effort to bring you guys out here? How much does offering VIP packages help Haken on tours like this?
Ross: Financially speaking offering those VIP packages really does help. A lot of people take it for granted but sometimes we wouldn’t be able to get to certain places or even afford the bus to get to certain places without having these little bit of extra income. We really appreciate each and every one of these people that come and spend the extra money to visit us. We try and return that favour to make it a warm welcome and a good experience for the fans. It’s not lost on us; we really do appreciate it. For Australia it’s such a long expensive flight to make it over to your shores but, it’s an honour to be able to do so and that little extra helps so much.
M-R: When writing such intricate and connected music, is it difficult to consider a song or an album finished? How does the band know when a project is complete?
Rich: It’s definitely a tricky one to know when to finish. In the past we’ve been working on stuff and it’s taken years to fully realise an idea, but with Vector we were quite strict about it. We set out 5 or 6 months, we had a deadline, we said if we get ready by this date it would be ideal. So, we were working towards that deadline. When the 6 of us are working together, I personally found it easier to know when to stop. I know that might sound a bit weird for 6 people have to agree on it, but when you’re working on your own on something you can keep chiselling away at it and not know when to stop. When there’s 6 of you working together, I found it much more efficient. Working to the deadline really helped, I feel like we were the most efficient we’ve ever been. With Vector we wrote it in the shortest time and I still feel that it’s the best quality album we’ve ever written.
Ross: George Lucas famously said, ‘A film is never finished, only abandoned’ and I kind of agree with that in a way. I’ve remember actually being in the studio on the last day of recording vocals we reached the wire, we thought we’d finished. Then Ray was sending me ideas on how to change things. I had to put my foot down and say “No, it’s done, we’re happy with it” and you need to.
Rich: At some point you have to do it. It’s a scary thing to think, when you’re writing an idea it can go in any direction. It can be overwhelming to think like that and sometimes you just have to have an idea, you lock it down and move on to the next idea.
Ross: I think the risk is if you take too long and you keep developing those ideas you know you might lose the essence of it, but it’s a hard thing to do, to draw the line.
M-R: With so many skilled songwriters in the band having input in all the aspects of the songs, including lyrics, how do you go about express your personal message within Haken?
Rich: I think with The Mountain, we decided we would all get involved in the writing of lyrics. Each of us would listen to the music and say “okay this one resonates really well with me; I’m going to write about something on this one” so we each pick a topic and just work on it. We just followed that ever since. A lot of the time we will go off on our own write about a certain topic, some of us might pair up with someone else in the band and work on something together, which leaves space for everyone to express themselves fully.
Ross: At the same time, at the back of our minds we’re working towards a unified goal, you know, an overriding concept or a set of themes. We always have that in mind, so it’s not always random. It’s good that we’re able to give each other that space to be able to express.
M-R: The film clip for Puzzle Box is quite interesting, are the ink blots you see the leftovers from the album art? Can I ask what you see when you look at the cover?
Rich: I don’t think the others were used in the video at all. No, it was just library footage, but now you mention that it would have been a great idea. We didn’t have a lot of control over that aspect. That was a funny video to do, we were thrown on that actual puzzle box, that was genuine. We were trying to work it out and none of us actually had a clue what was going on, it was good fun process.
Rich: In terms of the album cover, you know the overall theme of the album is about the psychology aspect and the Rorschach experiment being one of those tests that were done on people to understand the human brain and personality traits and things like that. For me, what it means is, music can be interpreted in various ways and even though we have an idea of what it is I think the lyrics are open to interpretation and that Rorschach just expresses that.
M-R: Also, did you ever get the box open?
Rich: I think Charlie was the closest, there was something rattling inside. I ended up just kicking it around the room…we figured it out after the time was up and we didn’t catch it on film.
M-R: The instrumental Nil by Mouth is quite a masterpiece. Was it always going to be an instrumental track? Were there ever any vocal ideas for it?
Rich: Initially, with all our ideas, we just start writing them and will usually put the lyrics on after. Sometimes it’s just a case of bouncing and idea back and forth, moving certain riffs around and morphing the idea so the lyrics work. But none of the ideas that we were penning down for the lyrics were working basically. We just decided to go to town with it and making it instrumental track. When we started writing it wasn’t the initial plan, it just turned out that way, but it’s good fun to play live. It’s probably the heaviest track we’ve ever written as a band and it comes across pretty well live. I think, especially with the new programmed light show, its good fun.
M-R: Is it true that you guys consider the heavier side of Haken’s music more enjoyable to play live? If so, why?
Ross: It’s really rewarding to see the energy that comes back to us when we perform the heavier stuff. We don’t want anyone to get hurt, but we do like to see mosh pits and circle pits, people jumping around and having a great time. Plus, it helps us perform better bizarrely. I’m not sure the science behind that but, when we do the seated theatre shows, people look bored and people look sleepy, even when they’re probably enjoying it, it’s just not the same. It’s something about the energy in the room when we play the heavy side of things.
The hypocritical think of that is when I go to shows I like to listen and study, I don’t really move around that much during shows. Having said that I went to Guns and Roses recently and acted like a teenage boy, so that was cool.
M-R: During your research for the themes of psychology and psychotherapy for Vector, what were some of the more horrific experiments you found out about that made it on the album?
Rich: The electro-shock therapy is shocking enough really. To think the people were willing to go to the point of executing someone. Essentially, you’re going to give some someone a shock strong enough to effectively kill them, and they’re willing to do it because an authority figure was telling them to. It’s just amazing to think that happens. I guess it harkens back to the Nazi era, were out of fear the people will do whatever they told. It’s really interesting to see what the mind can do.
M-R: The Shattered Fortress tour must have been one hell of an experience! What was it like?
Ross: Indeed, like you said, Mike has been our favourite drummer in the business, and to actually be on stage with him playing those songs was like nothing else. Every night was a pinch me moment, just great experience. We learned a lot about how things are done business wise, it was just overall a great experience.
Rich: It was just incredible I think overall it was celebration of that music and we were fans. At the beginning of each show he would do a little talk about Dream Theater, his time in Dream Theater and we were just watching him and relating to the crowd. Ross and I used to go and see Dream Theater back in the day at Hammersmith Apollo, we saw a bunch of their tours with Mike. He’s such an incredible performer and person as well. It was a great time for us and we’ll have to do it again someday.
M-R: What would you consider an ultimate goal of Haken? What would happen for you to feel like you’ve ‘made it’?
Ross: I think for me it’s always been about being able to make a living off of doing it. I’m not necessarily chasing superstardom or anything like that but, to sustain a family and a lifestyle where I can just go on tour to support my family that’s really the goal. I have a few bucket list things I’d like to achieve, certain venues in the world that I’d like to play like Glastonbury but that’s never going to happen. The Royal Albert Hall and Wembley would be amazing… Opeth have been able to achieve that stuff and I’d love to see if we can do that in years to come.
Rich: I just want money so I can buy a hot tub! That’s all I want! No, like Ross, I just want to be in a position where Haken is our full-time job. We’re very nearly there to be honest. We are working our way up, gradually getting there. That’s the goal to make music with friends and enjoy the whole thing.our
Interview Date: 2019-04-18
Interviewer: Jonathan Hurley