Joined: February 11 2009
Location: Vancouver, CA
Posted: November 20 2011 at 21:40
If you have been keeping a close enough eye on the modern scene in prog rock, you have no doubt heard of Haken, a virtuosic group of musicians who took prog by storm in 2010 with their opus 'Aquarius.' Now only a year later, these talented artists are back with another excellent record. Richard Henshall and Ross Jennings from the band were kind enough to take some time out of their schedules and give us some insight into the band, their music, and their 'Visions.'
How are all of you doing?
Richard Henshall: All is good in the Haken camp. It has been an exciting and
eventful year for us, so our spirits are high. We've had the opportunity to
play at Night of the Prog festival along with likes of DT and Anathema, and
we were also lucky enough to perform at Prog Power USA, along with many
other great acts. They were huge gigs for us and were a step up from anything
we had done in the past.
On top of all the gigging, we've been working hard on our second
album, 'Visions', which has just been released. Individually and as a band
we have tried to push our boundaries with this album by expanding upon the
ideas laid down on our debut album, 'Aquarius’. We've poured our hearts
and souls into this album!
How would you describe your music to someone who has not heard it before?
Richard : I have always thought of Haken as a celebration of music, and
feel that our sound is too broad to be pigeon holed into one specific genre.
We have songs that juxtapose zappa-like quirkiness with extreme metal
riffage, as well as Dixie land jazz sections with sweeping solo classical piano. Our music travels through various soundscapes and different emotions,
taking the listener on a journey. There is also a strong cinematic vibe to our
sound, which acts like a harmonic thread that binds our music together and
compliments the conceptual lyrics.
How did you get started with music? How were you led to join/form the band?
Richard: My Mum's a piano teacher and my Dad's a music enthusiast so
I was introduced to music from a young age. Being in this environment
sparked my ambition and led me to start playing the piano at the age of 7.
I also experimented with playing the drums and clarinet for a while until I
discovered the guitar when I was about 11 and haven't stopped playing since.
About ten years ago, Matthew Marshall (ex guitarist), Ross and I used to
meet on a regular basis to have casual jams in our bedrooms; this is when the
idea of Haken was born. Over time we began to take our chosen instruments
more seriously and formed a pact that we would each go and complete our
studies before persuing the band any further. So three year later, we returned from our universities and have gradually built the band into what it is today.
What is the creative process of Haken? How do you first get ideas for a song, and how are they then fleshed out into larger compositions?
Richard: I'll usually get an idea for a melody, riff or chord progression whilst
practising, which I'll then play around with for while to allow it to grow
naturally. When I feel it's ready to be developed further, I'll program it into
Logic and begin constructing a song around it. This is the part that takes the
most time; for example, the title track on 'Visions' took me about a year to
Besides strong melodies and emotive progressions, one of the most important
things to me, whilst writing, is the overall flow of the piece. I feel it’s crucial
to have a healthy balance of light and shade within each song and also the
album as a whole. Therefore I dedicate a lot of time in creating smooth
transition between the contrasting sections.
Once the framework for a song is complete, I send it to the rest of the guys
who provide feedback. We then take the songs to the rehearsal room and
begin adding flesh to the structures. This is when everyone adds their
personality to the tracks which brings them to life. I feel blessed to be
working with such a talented group of musicians.
There were also a couple tracks on 'Visions' that were more of a collaborative
effort. For instance, Diego and I wrote 'Premonition' together. We met
regularly over the space of a few months, bouncing ideas of each other until
the piece was complete. A lot of the ideas from this track were built around
the main themes that appear throughout the album. 'Insomnia' was pretty
much a song we wrote in the rehearsal room as a band. It’s a great
representation of all our eclectic tastes.
Highly conceptual lyrics are a trademark of Haken. What is Ross' inspiration and
process for putting these stories together? Do lyrics come first, or the music?
Ross Jennings: Conceptually, the process for both Aquarius and Visions were
similar. Richard would have some musical ideas and share them with the
band. At the same time I would be mapping out some themes and narrative
ideas and discuss them with Richard so that the music and lyrics would be coherent. As the arrangements come together, the lyrics will be written with
more attention to detail and edited to lock in with the music. On occasion, the
vocal melody ideas that I come up with will influence the direction various
sections take, that's all part of the team-work that shapes the final piece.
On Visions, the verses and choruses on the first half of the title track were
among the first lyrics written for the album and the story evolved from there
as the music was written, whereas Aquarius was pretty much mapped out
before any music was written.
Aquarius is purely fantasy. That was the sole intention, to be all-out prog
cliche, but at the same time, you can find deeper meanings and themes within
the songs such as love, death, and sacrifice.
Last year, you released your debut album 'Aquarius', which met some wide
acclaim and excitement from the prog community. What are your reflections,
looking back on the album? Is there anything you may have wanted to do
Richard: We we're completely blown away by all the positive feedback
we received for 'Aquarius', it was beyond our wildest dreams to get such
great critical acclaim for essentially something we love to do, we couldn't
have hoped for a better start to our career. When looking back at any work
you’ve done in the past, I guess it’s natural to find points which you’d like to
improve, as tastes change with time. However, I feel ‘Aquarius’ has a certain
charm that represents where we were at that time, and successfully built the
foundations for where we are now.
Haken's follow-up album 'Visions' is now upon us in 2011. What is different for Haken this time around?
Richard: I came up with a lot of the initial ideas for 'Visions' on the guitar, whereas the majority of 'Aquarius' was written on the piano, so naturally each album has its own vibe. Generally, 'Visions' feels heavier than our previous work and leans towards the metal side of the prog spectrum.
However, there are still plenty of nutty keyboard breaks to keep the listener
entertained. There are two instrumental tracks on this album, which gave
us the opportunity to build some of our wackier and experimental ideas into
whole pieces. There are also a few shorter and more digestible tracks which
help the overall flow of the album, they'll hopefully give the listener a bit of
respite between the lengthier songs. I'd say our Piece de Resistance is the
closing title track, which has many of the themes that occur throughout the
album. It's a lengthy beast that combines many of the elements that make up
our sound; there's plenty of riffage, Zappa-like-quirkiness and even a west
end inspired theatrical section. If someone asked me to describe our sound to
them, I'd save my words and point them in the direction of this track.
Another important thing to mention is that we have a live string quartet in
various parts of the album, which was an effective way for us to reintroduce
certain themes in a different context. The quartet did an amazing job of
enhancing the pathos within our music; there are a few moments that really
tug at the heartstrings. In the spirit of including live orchestral instruments,
we decided to ask a friend of Ray's, Joey 'Dah Lipz' Ryan, to double all of the
brass parts with his French Horn, which turned out to be very effective and
made our grand sections even grander!
Briefly describe the concept of 'Visions'. It appears to be a little more complex than 'Aquarius'...
Ross Jennings: The concept of 'Visions' spawned from a dream I had where
I saw my own demise that felt insanely real! The idea of confronting one’s
own death fascinated me, so that was the initial inspiration. Throughout the
writing process it developed into a more complicated story exploring themes
such as the nature of consciousness, the transience of life and a couple of
the tracks on the album explore the concept of dreams within a dream. Our
narrative is told through the eyes of an innocent boy, who has a nightmare in
which he is murdered - it seems so real that he convinces himself that it was
a premonition and spends the rest of his waking life trying to track down his
killer, whilst mentally preparing to meet his death, perhaps leading to his
psychological undoing. All is revealed in the closing 22 minute title track, but
ultimately it's up to the listener to decide how much was real and how much
How did Haken record their material for 'Visions'?
Richard: We recorded 'Visions' in the same way as 'Aquarius'. Ray recorded
down his drum parts first, which were engineered by John Papas at Hardbeat
Studios in Wembley. Each of us then took the drum tracks home to our
personal studios and recorded our instruments over the space of a month or
so. We then hired a microphone and recorded the vocals, over a two week
period, within a makeshift vocal booth in my loft.
We decided to ask Chrsitian 'Moos' Moschus to mix 'Visions' as we were
extremely impressed with his work on 'Aquarius’. In my opinion, he has
surpassed himself with his work on this album. We sent him dry signals for
all the guitar and bass tracks, which he later re-amped through an Engl
Our recording schedule was incredibly tight as we wanted to make the
disc available, ahead of release, to everyone attending Prog Power USA,
so you can probably imagine that it was pretty agonising at times. To add
to the intensity, we had to prepare for our performance at Night of The
Prog festival, conveniently placed right in the middle of the whole process.
Thankfully the gig was a success!
What prog rock or metal bands have you been listening to lately?
Richard: I recently came across a great band called 'Shaolin Death Squad'.
Their latest album, 'The Five Deadly Venoms', is a superb album that was
released last year. To me this band sounds like an interesting cross between
Mr Bungle and Pain of Salvation. The album also shares its name with a
classic Shaw Brothers kung fu film, which is what initially grabbed my
I've also been listening to a lot of Gentle Giant recently. To me, they are the epitome of prog, they represent everything that is right about this vast and colourful genre. I just wish I could travel back in time to see the whole line-up in action, I'm sure it was a joy to behold!
What advice would you give to someone first starting music and trying to 'make it' in the prog world?
Richard: Back in the day, when Haken was in its embrionic stage, I used to
practise for many hours, preparing myself for when the band would actually
become a reality. I used to tell myself that practice, patience and perseverance would equal success. Practice is crucial for building your technique andmusicality, without it you're not going to progress at all. Patience is alsoan essential tool; no one will be able to play like Malmsteen in a week! And lastly, you must persevere at everything you do; it’s about having the resilience to keep pushing yourself to the next level.
I guess everyone’s musical journey will be different as each individual has
their own dreams and aspirations. One thing I’m certain of is that to achieve
anything worthwhile you need to retain a certain level of self discipline; I
guess the level of your discipline should depend on the size of your dream.
There’s nothing more satisfying than fulfilling your ambitions.
You can apply the same philosophy to running a band. It is important that
the group rehearses regularly to build chemistry and comradery. Bands
need to be patient, not only when writing songs, but also when waiting for
their break; it will eventually happen if you persevere. I think it’s important for bands to have aims, so they have a clear idea of where they’re heading. Back in the early days of Haken we set small realistic targets which over time turned into big dreams; to this day, we’re still working towards achieving them.
Any final comments?
Richard: Thanks to everyone who has already purchased the album, and
to those who haven’t… what are you waiting for? Also, a huge thanks to
everybody who has rated us highly on the Prog Archives charts, we really
appreciate your support!
And thanks to Haken for such an insightful interview!
The band's PA profile may be found here.
Edited by Conor Fynes - November 20 2011 at 21:46
Joined: February 03 2007
Great job Conor.
Joined: May 19 2005
Location: Mexico City
Yeah, wonderful interview!
Follow me on twitter @memowakeman
Joined: August 01 2007
Location: United Kingdom
Man With Hat
Joined: March 12 2005
Good interview indeed!
Dig me...But don't...Bury me
I'm running still, I shall until, one day, I hope that I'll arrive
Warning: Listening to jazz excessively can cause a laxative effect.
Joined: December 31 2011
This band is incredible ..
Joined: February 11 2009
Location: Vancouver, CA
They sure are.
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