I recently got the chance to submit some questions to Ross Jennings of Haken via email, and I was really pleased (in a devious way) with his answers. Take a look.
The Prog Mind: The new album is stunning! What is the Haken recipe for consistently making such tasty music?
Ross Jennings: Pre-heat the oven for about 7 months at 2112 degrees. Form a solid base and then start to add your ingredients. You have 6 main ingredients at your disposal. Taste the pre-cooked mixture and if you feel it needs more flavor then add the required spice (Don’t be afraid to borrow some sweetener from your elders). Place in the oven for a further 3 -4 months at 90125 degrees. The shape should be fully formed at this point but the icing and toppings will need to be added. Let Jens Bogren take care of that part.
TPM: It seems like “Affinity” has the most energy out of all your albums—to what do you attribute that?
RJ: I would attribute modesty to that. None of us feel like we’ve made our best work yet, let alone ‘made it’. So that urge to produce something better than last time will always be there. It’s no secret that we all make HAKEN work around our day jobs but that just makes us down to earth as people and thriving musicians.
TPM: How is it working with Conner Green as opposed to Thomas MacLean? His bass seems much more focused on groove and technicality as opposed to funk and quirk. Does that change anything for the band?
RJ: Conner is great to work with, as was Tom, but they are indeed very different players. My take on it really is that Tom was always a guitarist trapped in a bassist’s body, whereas Conner lives and breathes for the bass guitar.
TPM: Obviously, the album has an 80’s vibe. What do love most about the 80’s?
RJ: I learned all my life lessons from Back to the Future, I got my hair and fashion tips from Bon Jovi and no computer game has ever come close to Pac Man or Tetris (with the exception of Doom – but we’re saving the 90’s for album 5).
TPM: The 80’s get such a bad rap from the progressive crowd, almost as if it was a decade of sell outs. Do you see “Affinity” as a chance to change that?
RJ: This was one of the statements we’ve tried to make here. Although it’s somewhat true in the commercial sense, I don’t always agree with the comment ‘Prog died in the 80s’. I guess it’s all subjective in the end, but my favorite Rush and Genesis albums were the 80s ones. 90125 by Yes and the 80s King Crimson records (Discipline, Beat & Three of a perfect Pair) were also a reference point for us. Bands such as Marillion and IQ were born from the 80s and Toto I consider to have progressive elements too. But beyond that, in movie soundtracks and even in some pop music, musical prowess and leftfield composition was evident albeit amidst a wash of synthetic sound design and instrumentation. So, in answer to the question… No, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to change that attitude but hopefully the somewhat pastiche of sound we’ve created in a few tracks will hopefully leave people not with a cold feeling but with a reminder that actually some of the sounds from that era were necessary in our evolution.
TPM: Since the album has a certain vibe, is it also a concept album? Could you give me the short version of the story?
RJ: I would say “Affinity” is more like a soundtrack to a series of recurring themes than an actual concept album. The 80s gives you the chronological platform as a starting point. We touch on the evolution of computing and we draw parallels to human evolution, too. In ‘The Architect’ we explore the relationship between man and machine and, as the album develops, we ask if artificial intelligence will ever surpass the human capacity to create/recreate life. This of course raises questions about our beginnings as well as our future.
TPM: Haken albums always have so much depth to them lyrically. How important is meaningful lyrical content to you? Is that the same for the rest of the band, too?
RJ: I’m still not sure if the rest of the band fully understood what I was trying to achieve lyrically with Aquarius and Visions, which I think left them quite cold and therefore they couldn’t relate to those albums so well. If you ask them today, I still don’t think they could explain the stories or the themes. So when it came to writing the Mountain, everyone wanted to get involved with that part of the process and I had to swallow my pride, bin a load of already written material, and let them express themselves through words as well as music. The great thing about our band is there is never a shortage of ideas, and I think having everyone contribute has been a positive thing in expanding our range of themes and vocabulary. It also, however, invites a degree of chaos when everyone wants THEIR version on the final cut, but that just reinforces that everyone really cares about the content. A fair amount of compromise is required from all parties, but in the end whatever sounds best coming from my pipes usually prevails.
TPM: I’ve seen “Affinity” compared to Leprous thus far (though that is mainly from most speculators only hearing “Initiate”). Would you agree with that comparison? Has your relationship with them influenced the band in any way?
RJ: I’d agree with anyone who can hear similarities to Leprous in that particular track, but that’s not a negative thing in my mind. We love their catalogue and they are great musicians and people. It’s the guitar tones and stabbing rhythms that bear most resemblance here although it certainly wasn’t conscious thing to sound like them. Nothing can be 100% original these days unless you’re burping a chromatic melody in 13/9 with 7 cats meowing randomly into didgeridoo and reverse bagpipes playing in the background with traffic noises running through a loop pedal… and that’s probably been done. And it sounds shite.
TPM: I disagree with the Leprous comparisons personally because I feel “Affinity” has more personality than any Haken album since “Aquarius”. I especially hoped to hear your harsh vox again. Was that something you really wanted (no matter how brief), or do you prefer not to perform those?
RJ: The harsh vocals in Aquarius turned out very disappointing. They were heavily edited and doctored in the mixing stage and in the end they didn’t sound human. I perform these much better in a live context but if we were to revisit that album, that’s one thing I would change. I actually wanted to do the growls on The Architect initially but it was decided that we could use this as an opportunity to invite a guest vocalist on the album – someone who is known for this vocal style and has mastered the craft. It just so happened that we decided to approach Einar Solberg….of Leprous.
TPM: I heard that Haken is planning to come back to the USA in the autumn (awesome!). I had the pleasure of seeing you in Detroit and “Drowning in the Flood” was such a high point for the night. Do you foresee older material being included next time, too?
RJ: Put it this way: We’ve had countless threatening comments from people willing to boycott the band if we come all the way out to the states and not play Celestial Elixir again…
TPM: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions!
RJ: Thanks for all your support!
Haken’s new album “Affinity” releases on April 29th.