Power of Metal.dk Interview

Interview with Haken, November 2013

Jason Spencer: First of all, I'm extremely excited to speak with a member of one of the hottest progressive bands in recent years. Haken has skyrocketed into my list of favorite bands almost overnight, and I know I'm not the only one that feels this way. To what do you attribute this success?

Charlie Griffiths: Thanks, it's a pleasure to speak to you too. Hopefully it's because people simply like our songs and are finding some personal connection with them. Our mission when we write a song is to take the listener on an emotional journey, so hopefully that's working.

Jason: From personal experience, I can assure you that it is working. But, was the idea behind Haken simply pulled from a pool of ideas? Or did you sit down and try to come up with the perfect elements that could be put together? In other words, was your original plan to try to create the most perfect prog band?

Charlie: We didn't really discuss it, what you hear is a result of the 6 of us getting together and writing the music that we love and the music we want to hear. Among us we have different tastes including prog, classical, jazz, classic rock and metal, so we just mix it all together in our own way. If others like it too then that's a nice bonus.

Jason: I love that attitude, and I love the mix of all those ideas, too. What about the pressure? Your first two albums are simply incredible. How do you handle the pressure of trying to compete with yourself?

Charlie: Thanks man! I'm starting to feel really special here ; ) There's always room for improvement and we're learning the art of songwriting all the time and as you get more experienced, you naturally have more skills to draw from. I would say that we're not necessarily trying to 'better' our past albums, rather we want to try new ideas and sounds that we haven't explored before.

Jason: Believe me, I will confess that I am quite the fanboy. Your description makes sense, though, as "The Mountain" is very different from your previous two albums; but, at the same time, it isn't. What I personally noted was the presence of a Gentle Giant influence that I hadn't specifically heard since your original demo. Was this a conscious decision? Was this something you guys had always wanted?

Charlie: That stemmed from the Visions title track. There's a section that starts 'I bet you don't remember...' Which has these multi-layered vocals. When we played it live we started playing that section a Capella, which was always our favourite part of the gig, so we decided to do more of that, which led us in a more Gentle Giant direction. They're one if my all time favourite bands, so I was thrilled that Gary Green watched our set when we played with Three Friends in Italy. He was very supportive of what we were doing, so that's good enough for me!

Jason: Wow! A dream come true, I bet! As a result of the a capella, Ross' voice also seems to have more of role in your new album. Is this something for which he had to campaign, or did it just seem natural?

Charlie: I think we generally wanted to streamline the songs a bit more and threw out anything that didn't feel absolutely necessary and it's often the instrumental sections that bite the dust first. The vocals and lyrics have to be the most important element as that's where the message and connection with the listener is strongest.

Jason: You don't know how much I love that answer! Lyrics are very important to me personally. Now, Ross usually writes the lyrics, but everyone seems to have put pen to paper this time. Was it significantly more difficult to harmonize all these different accounts and experiences?

Charlie: That's right, each one of us wrote lyrics and I think we unearthed some hidden talent within the band. Each song is really a standalone piece, so it was a lot easier than the concept albums we've done in the past. It was only when we put the songs together in demo form we realized that there was a kind of emotional arc. It was a completely fluid and natural process.

Jason: Very organic, then. That is definitely how it sounds, too. The tone of the album rides a fine line between the quirkiness available on your other efforts and a more serious, more profound lyrical approach. Was it important to you to tackle a more raw, more personal concept this time? Why?

Charlie: Rather than repeat the concept album format that we'd done twice before, we wanted to try something we hadn't done before. The narrative story approach can be a bit constraining so it was great to be able to write about whatever we felt and really put ourselves into the songs.

Jason: So, you put extremely personal touches and emotions into the music, as well as new ideas. I love that! I think the perfect example of this balance is "Cockroach King". What does this track me to you? Who/what is the Cockroach King?

Charlie: Richard wrote those lyrics and I really love them. There's a real English eccentricity to that song that reminds me of Killer Queen or something. The song sounds fun on the surface, but the message is quite dark and Kafkaesque. For me the Cockroach King represents that the natural instinct of greed inside us that's always there, but we have to conquer everyday and remember to be a good person - but that's just my interpretation though.


Jason: It seems that personal interpretation is an important thing for you guys. What would you say the overall message of the album is?

Charlie: To do your best to conquer the obstacles life puts in your way. To be determined and never give up, but do it with humility.

Jason: Ah, I definitely get the humility part from “Falling Back to Earth”, as it alludes to Icarus. That is one of my favorites on the album. What is your favorite track? While you're at it, what is your favorite Haken album?

Charlie: I really love Somebody. It's got a really nice atmosphere and the music and lyrics really work well together. I'd have to say The Mountain is my favourite as it feels like the most heartfelt and honest work we've done.

Jason: It seems to me much to you, and that really gives me even more respect for you. Have you ever had any instances of fans that have been profoundly influenced by Haken's music?

Charlie: We see it all the time at gigs; when the audience is totally there with us on the emotional journey and we feel it too.

Jason: I would have to say that “Aquarius” and “The Mountain” have both influenced me from a lyrical perspective. And, also, my daughter Gloria just loves your music. Haken is just about the only band she will dance to, and she can't get enough of the “Cockroach King” video! Now, some people have noted the absence of an “epic” on the new album. Did you purposefully move away from the standard "epic" that is found at the ends of "Aquarius" and "Visions"? Why?

Charlie: We certainly didn't want to repeat ourselves and none of the songs on The Mountain required that 'epic length' treatment. The emotional form of the album is 'mountain shaped'. The first few songs are more hopeful and optimistic. Falling Back To Earth is like the mountain top and I see the middle point of that song as the mountain peak and after that the songs are a bit sadder; dealing with death and dissolution so it would've been wrong to end with the uplifting finale that long epics tend to need. The Somebody ending is still positive and huge sounding, but it's bittersweet.

Jason: Wow, you guys have put a lot of thought into every aspect of this! Though, some have noted a flatter feeling to the overall mix of the album. Indeed, they say the album is "loud". Do you feel this is true? Was this the band's doing? (Personally, I think only audiophiles will notice a difference).

Charlie: It sounds awesome to me. Jens Bogren mixed and mastered the album so I completely trust his ears and superior studio monitors. If he's happy, I'm happy.

Jason: Very true! And I agree that it sounds not only awesome, but very rich, too. Now, Progressive Nation at Sea has Haken on the roster. How do you feel about playing with some of the "greats" that will be present? Anyone you particularly want to meet? Will you guys be doing anything special to stand out even more?

Charlie: It's a dream lineup and we can't really believe we're going to be there - we really can't thank Mike Portnoy enough for the invite. I'm particularly excited about seeing Jon Anderson, Transatlantic, Bumblefoot and Tony MacAlpine. We're simply going to play our music and look forward to hanging out with all the fans and other bands and enjoying the scenery!

Jason: I know it will be a blast! I'd heard that Portnoy loved “The Mountain”, so I'm really glad that he invited you. The bill is basically a dream line-up for me, and you don't know how badly I wish I could be there. But, that event will bring you to the shores of the U.S. Is there any plan for a U.S. tour? (please say yes!) What about a DVD?

Charlie: We're planning to try to come over to the states in late 2014, but it's really more dependent on finding promoters willing to put us on. There aren't any plans for a DVD at the moment, but someday for sure.

Jason: I wish you the best in finding promoters, for your sake and mine! Out of a very personal interest, have you guys ever thought about remastering/remixing Haken's original demo for release? I would buy a copy immediately...

Charlie: We no longer have the stems for those tracks, but Diego has been working on cleaning up and remastering the demo. We've been a bit busy with The Mountain lately, but hopefully we'll get back to that and release that soon.

Jason: Understandable, and I will definitely look forward to that! Anything else you would like to add before I let you go?

Charlie: Thank you for the interview. The response to The Mountain has been far beyond our expectations, so thank you to everybody who's checked it out. Hopefully see you at one of our shows some day!

Jason: Yes, hopefully indeed. Best of luck to you guys, and keep on making the music you want to hear!

Haken - The Mountain

Label: InsideOut Music.

Link: www.hakenmusic.com.

"The Mountain" review

- Ross Jennings / vocals
- Charles Griffiths / guitars
- Raymond Hearne / drums
- Richard Henshall / keyboard and guitar
- Thomas MacLean / bass
- Diego Tejeida / keyboards

- The Mountain (2013)
- Visions (2011)
- Aquarius (2010)


Interviewed by Jason Spencer