Haken

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“That goes both ways I guess because we don’t know what to expect either, to be honest,” Haken vocalist, Ross Jennings admitted. “The fans, the venues, it’s all unknown for us, and it’s the first time for us just visiting even. I’m going to go with an open mind, and hopefully, it exceeds all expectations.”

Jennings is referring to the fact that the upcoming September tour will be Haken’s first to our shores since their inception in 2007, but he promises fans it will be worth the wait and patience.

“Yes, it’s our first time,” he acknowledged, “but we’re really stoked about it. I guess there are a few people who have been waiting a long time, so we’re hoping to give them a show that covers all our material and just give them the show that they’ve been missing, basically. We’ve done a lot in Europe and the U.S, and I feel bad because you’ve been missing out and it’s time to redeem that.”

Haken has become synonymous with the intricacies of their music and playing. Their song structures and guitar pieces are both powerful and eclectic, with Jennings joking that, as vocalist, he has a far easier job when it comes to replicating the music in the live arena.

“I’ve probably got the easiest job, to be honest,” he smirked. “The live show involves a lot of rehearsal for some of the other guys, but when we’ve got it all together, it sounds great. It’s just good fun to do, but particularly for the guitar solos and keyboard solos, it is a tricky job.”

Coming up with lyrics to go with the haphazard music is something that Jennings admits can be tricky but is also something that he is getting better at with each release.

“It can be,” he confided. “Lately, we’ve been working in a way where the music comes first, and then I’ll fit the words into the rhythms, and that’s tricky because you’ve got to get the right amount of syllables and make the melodies work as well as also give it meaning. It’s a puzzle, that’s for sure. With the first album, Aquarius, there was a lot of lyrics ready to go because we worked more together musically and lyrically. I appreciate that it can be a challenge, but performing it live; it’s all set and ready to go, so it’s more about the delivery after that.”

Public expectation for the finer parts of the music is always high with each release, but Jennings says the band doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to outdo previous albums when it comes to the trickier parts of their music, preferring instead to treat each album on its own merits.

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“Everything is approached in a different way,” he offered. “We do wanna put all the intricate stuff in, but it has to come naturally. It’s never a formulative plan at the beginning. Things just develop over time by listening back and trying new ideas and basically keeping it true and close to what we love to hear.”

Haken is also known for their lengthier songs, coming in much longer than the conventional four to five-minute mark. When it comes to selecting the set list for each show, Jennings says trying to find the balance between songs of a sustainable length and their longer efforts just comes down to what feels right. While it can be an effort to fit more songs in with the longer ones prominent, he says the band doesn’t necessarily shy away from the lengthier material.

“It can be difficult,” he agreed. “I think the true fans of prog appreciate the longer stuff. Personally, I like to get a few more tracks in there just to mix it up, so we always try to balance the set list with long and short. There’s so much detail and chopping and changing in the long songs to keep people entertained, so it’s never an issue.”

Haken released their fourth studio album, Affinity towards the middle of last year and Jennings is delighted at the response it has received.

“We couldn’t be happier, for sure,” he gushed. “I think a lot of people were expecting The Mountain part two, but we took a different approach, and I think it paid off. It has got us travelling to new territories and playing new countries, so it only goes to show that it’s taken us to the next level.”

In the lead up to its release, Jenning was quoted as saying the band were the most collaborative they had ever been on an album, a statement he now stands firmly behind.

“On the first couple of records, Richard Henshall (guitars, keyboards) was writing the majority of the material,” he explained. “We would obviously as a band kind of finalize everything and maybe change some things, but generally all the original stuff came from him. When we approached Affinity we all had our own ideas and different song ideas. Our drummer, Ray Hearne and guitarist Charlie Griffiths got more involved with coming up with more of the riffs and drum patterns and I think the end result is a little bit more eclectic. You can hear all of our personal tastes in music coming through, and I think we all kind of agreed in the end that’s the way we wanna work going forward.”

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Starting out in 2007, Jennings says Haken never entertained the thought of emulating their idols such as Dream Theater and were merely content to join the growing legion of bands flying the prog metal flag.

“We looked up to bands like Dream Theater, and other prog metal bands that were making it big and playing in arenas,” he recalled. “It was a dream to get there, but we didn’t kid ourselves. This is kind of a one in a million thing, and we just wanted to go out there and have fun and see where it led. We’re quite blessed actually that we’ve been able to continue doing this for ten years. It’s crazy.”

While ten years isn’t a great deal of time to be in the music industry, Jennings believes the band has taken big steps to their potential since debut album Aquarius in 2010.

“There’s been quite a big leap actually from the way we approach songwriting for example. We never wanted to make the same record twice so I can’t say we ever went back to writing the circus style music we had on Aquarius,” he laughed. “Things evolve naturally over time, and your skills get better, and your tastes change, and you realise when you play live some things work well, and some things don’t, and that’s how you evolve. We still have love for those early records – I mean, they are not that early. It was only eight years ago – but things change, and I’m sure they will continue to.”

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Earlier this year, Haken was invited to join Mike Portnoy and Neal Morse Band guitarist Eric Gillette to perform Portnoy’s long-awaited, 12 Step Suite live as part of the Shattered Fortress tour, and Jennings admits he and the rest of the band are still in disbelief at the invite.

“Man, it was a dream come true,” he enthused, “pun intended! Seriously but, we grew up listening to those guys and looking up to them and respecting them and always wanting to be them, and to be in the position where we are asked to perform those songs was kind of a pinch-me moment. It was a no brainer. Of course, we said yes (laughs).”

As part of that tour, Haken will be returning to our shores for the second time in their career in November.

“Yes we are coming back with that,” Jennings laughed. “Australia has been a bucket list country to visit, and now we’re coming twice this year. It’s amazing.”

Written by Kris Peters

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Written by Carl Neumann

Carl is the owner and the director of HEAVY Magazine. Carl is a music journalist and photographer for HEAVY, Rolling Stone, scenestr, Planet Rock and Kerrang!

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