In the midst of doing a lot of interviews recently, one that stood out was one that came about after watching progressive metal wizards Haken at UK Tech Metal Festival 2015. The review can be found here, which has already made the rounds online.
Haken are notoriously well-regarded in the UK tech metal scene, and in fact in the scenes abroad as well. With personnel like Between the Buried and Me and former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy (all opinions about the man himself still dividing many metal fans to this day) praising the band at all corners, you know they are breaking huge ground and doing things that not many bands are capable of doing. Nonetheless, Haken themselves are insanely gifted in the songwriting fields enough that they secured a high profile slot supporting Devin Townsend and the aforementioned Dream Theater. Talk about an insane year.
The above and more formed a conversation with guitarist Richard Henshall, who formulates the band’s ideas and concepts, as well as a fundamental core of music that they write coherently together. Richard was kind enough to share with me some thoughts of the band’s activities both past and present.
Danuel: Well done on your set at Tech-Fest, how do you feel it went?
Rich: Thanks a lot! It was our last show of short stint of dates in Europe, so we were really able to let loose and have fun on stage. We arrived fairly late on Sunday evening, so we were a little worried the crowd wouldn’t be up for it, but thankfully they were still full of energy! It went really well.
Danuel: So this was your first time at UK Tech-Fest, what do you think of the festival as a whole?
Rich: We were only there for a few hours, so we couldn’t really fully soak up the vibe of the festival. However, the short time we did spend there was great fun. There seemed to be a really strong community feeling around the place. I hope it continues to get bigger as the years go on.
Danuel: You released the EP Restoration last year, as the follow-up to full-length The Mountain. Why did you decide to release an EP and not another album?
Rich: We thought the EP would be a good way to ease our new bass player Conner into the writing process. Also, sometimes there can be lengthy periods between albums, so we thought it would be a good idea to give the fans something to chew on till album four came along.
Danuel: Restoration is also digital only, and was released in vinyl only. Why did you decide not to release physical CDs for that album?
Rich: This was actually a choice of our record label. They were of the mindset that vinyls and digital downloads are on the rise, so they wanted to see how this kind of release would work out. There’s actually a physical cd inside the vinyl sleeve, so fans get the best of both worlds. However, we are planning on releasing it in a cd only format in the near future.
Danuel: It also features appearances by Pete Rinaldi (Headspace) and Mike Portnoy – what was it like working with them?
Rich: Pete has been a friend of the band for a while now and even stood in on the bass for a short time before Conner joined us, so it was great to finally have him lay some guitar on one of our tracks. It’s worth checking out his mind-melting guitar playing on the Headspace releases. Mike has supported the band a great deal over the past couple of years, which we’re massively grateful for, so having him record on Crystallised was the icing on a huge cake for us. We’re immensely thankful that he took the time out of his busy schedule to help us out.
Danuel: Would you say Restoration, even though a shorter release, has posed more of a challenge to you as musicians?
Rich: For the EP, we reworked tracks from our 2007/8 demo, so we already had a fairly strong foundation to work from, which meant the workload wasn’t as great as creating a whole album from scratch. We wanted the new versions of the tracks to reflect where we’re at now as a band, so most of the work was spent on modernizing certain sections and the structures as a whole. We’re always trying to better ourselves as musicians and improve on our recording skills with each release, so there are always new challenges that come with that, but that’s part of the fun of creating music!
Danuel: Online, many compare The Mountain to albums among some of the best work from Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree and King Crimson. What was your mindset going into creating Restoration following such an important album in Haken’s chronology?
Rich: All of those bands have played a huge part in crafting who we are as a band, so it’s a massive honour that people even mention our music in the same breath as them. We couldn’t be happier with how people received ‘The Mountain’, and never expected it to get such critical acclaim. However, we try not to let any expectation from our previous work influence what we’re currently working on. We treat each project as its own beast and always write what comes naturally. If people like what we create then that is always a huge bonus for us, but that isn’t always the ultimate goal. We approached Restoration with this same mindset.
Danuel: Do you look on your old albums with fondness?
Rich: Each album represents a stage in our evolution as a band. Tastes and influences change with time so our music naturally changes with it. Aquarius and Visions have their fair share of quirky moments, so it’s always great fun to revisit them.
Danuel: I recently did an interview with Dan Briggs from Between the Buried and Me – who you’ll be touring with later this year. What are your thoughts going into that tour?
Rich: It’s going to be incredible. We’re all huge Between the Buried and Me fans, so it’s going to be so much fun watching them do their thing on a nightly basis. It’ll also be a great chance for us to reach out to a huge amount of new potential fans.
Danuel: Dan mentioned that he and you are starting a group project together. He didn’t give much information unfortunately. What kind of stuff will you be tackling there?
Rich: I can’t give too much information at the moment, but I will tell you that Dan and I have been bouncing ideas back and forth for a year or so and the music is pretty much written now. We have a similar taste in music, so it’s been great fun collaborating with him. I’m really excited about sharing what we’ve written with everyone.
Danuel: You also recently supported Dream Theater and The Devin Townsend Project at Classic Rocknacht – how did that go?
Rich: Offers to play with the two biggest heavyweights on the prog scene don’t come round every day for us! Being a punter at a Dream Theater and Devin Townsend show would be a dream gig for us, so to actually be part of the line-up was pretty surreal. Understandably, we had a fairly short set, so we tried to cram as much in as possible and even managed to get our twenty minute epic, ‘Crystallised’, in there. It was an amazing feeling to wind down after our set and watch two of our favourite bands own the stage!
Danuel: Do you think you’ll come back to Tech-Fest if it continues to grow every year like it seems to?
Rich: We’d love to! It’s great to see a UK-based festival promoting this kind of music.