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Twee jaar geleden spraken we met zanger Ross Jennings over het album ‘Affinity’. Britse progmeesters Haken hebben een drukke planing gehad sindsdien en de release van de verse plaat ‘Vector’ was voor ons reden genoeg om de band nog eens aan de tand te voelen. Gitarist en main songwriter Richard Henshall had de tijd voor ons!

Door: Job | Archiveer onder prog / sympho metal

Hi! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions! It’s been two years since we last spoke. How have you been?
All has been good in the Haken camp. We’ve had a very busy couple of years on the road on the touring the Affinity album. We also finally got round to releasing our first live DVD to celebrate our 10–year anniversary, which has been on our “to do” list for years! On top of that, we’ve also been intensely working on Vector for the most part of this year, so there’s definitely no rest for the wicked!

Congratulations on releasing ‘Vector’ – quite the different album compared to ‘Affinity’. Are you happy with how it’s been received so far?
Yeah we’ve definitely taken our sound in a new direction on Vector. The response so far has been positive, which is always great to see after being stuck in the recording bubble for months! In the past we’ve dipped our toes into the heavier side of our sound, but I really feel that we’ve dived headfirst into it this time round, which has been extremely exciting! In my youth I listened to a lot Fear Factory, Soulfly and Meshuggah, and the music these bands created were extremely instrumental in my growth as a musician. It’s great to be able to release an album where we can celebrate these early influences along with some more modern influences. I’m really excited about playing these songs live as I think they’ll translate well to a live setting!

’Vector’ was probably one of the most anticipated prog releases for many this year. Do you feel pressure at all, knowing that there’s now an entire genre worth of people awaiting your next move?
We try not to let these kinds of things affect us when we’re writing. It’s important to us that we focus all of our energies into writing music that appeals to us rather than worrying about whether it will be received well by our fans. I feel that this is the best way to make music that is an honest reflection of our collective tastes and influences within the band. Don’t get me wrong, it’s of course flattering to know there are people out there who are anticipating new releases from us and we can only hope that they receive our new stuff warmly.

The album’s considerably shorter than any of your previous records. What made you go hard-hitting and concise over another prog epic this time around?
The shorter length of ‘Vector’ might initially put some of our die-hard fans off, but it’s simply a case of us streamlining our ideas and cutting out the excess fat within each composition. We’ve tried to focus on the key parts of the songs and get rid of the meandering sections that don’t really add anything to the overall composition. I don’t feel like we’ve compromised the quality in any way, but have instead tried to create an album that flows and retains a sense of drama and energy throughout.

’The Good Doctor’ is probably one of the best openers you guys could’ve chosen with all its energy and it’s a great impression for the intensity found on the rest of the album. What are you willing to talk about regarding the lyrical concept on ‘Vector’? I can imagine you want some of it left to the imagination, haha!
We felt that ‘The Good Doctor’ was the perfect opener of the album as it essentially sets the scene for what’s to come. The lyrics tell the story of a patience that is undergoing electric shock treatment from a sinister, sadistic doctor, and during this process he unearths some dark memories and disturbing realizations that he ultimately has to deal with. The album is largely seen through the patience’s eyes, but there is also a general theme of psychotherapy that is often referenced in the lyrics. There is of course still a lot left open for the listener to interpret in his or her own way, so I don’t want to go into too much depth and ruin things for them.

Some zealous fans were also quick to point out ties and “easter eggs” to older songs, specifically to ‘Cockroach King’ online. Were you expecting the little secrets to be found so quickly? I mean, the hint to ‘Cockroach King’ in the keyboards of ‘Nil to Mouth’ is very on the nose and I love it!
I personally love it when authors, directors and musicians tie their work together with these kinds of interlinking ideas. It really helps to create a bigger universe in which fans can immerse themselves. Stephen King and Steven Spielberg are two masters of this kind of thing. To be honest, we expected the majority of fans to pick up on the more obvious Easter eggs we put on ‘Vector’, but I’m sure there are a few sneakier ones that still remain hidden.

Speaking of ‘Nil To Mouth’ – probably the most djenty you’ve guys been and it’s an instrumental as well. What made you decide to keep this one instrumental?
It’s been a long while since we’ve done an instrumental, if I remember rightly ‘Portals’ on ‘Visions’ was the last one. When we started to pen down ideas for ‘Nil By Mouth’ it quickly became apparently that the music didn’t really lend itself to vocals, so we decided to go a little crazy with the arrangement and explore some interesting new musical ideas. The opening 2 minutes or so is arguably the heaviest Haken moment yet. It’s been fun melting faces with this track on the current tour we’re on in North America with Bent Knee and Leprous.

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Personally, I love ‘Host’ and its mellow progression into intense, brooding, atmospheric goodness. It also features some great flugelhorn in the intro. Why isn’t there more of it on the rest of the album?!
Good question! We also asked the amazing Miguel Gorodi to do a Flugelhorn solo on ‘Host’, which turned out far better than we could have hoped for. He really added a haunting, ethereal quality to the song. Adding guest musicians to our albums certainly adds another dimension to our music, so I’m sure it’s a trend we’ll continue in the future

It’s clear that Diego’s keyboards were given more headspace and room on the album. Was that a conscious decision during the writing process, or did it just happen to come out that way?
Diego definitely has some crazy stuff on this album. He’s really gone to town with his sound design on Vector, which is really coming across well live. As far as I’m aware, he used the Arturia Matrixbrute for the bulk of the album. He also ran most of his parts through a tape machine to create an effective retro sound that ties in nicely with the concept of the album. We definitely made a conscious effort to make the mixes balanced in terms of the instrumentation, which certainly gave each instrument enough room to shine. Nolly really nailed it!

’Veil’s intro REALLY reminded me of ‘The Point of No Return’ for some reason… it’s the longest song on the album and also has one of the most infectious grooves on the album and a stellar chorus! Do you feel writing those longer songs gets harder over time at all or do they start coming more naturally instead?
I’m glad you like ‘Veil’. It’s one of my favourites from the album and is great fun to play live. Ironically, sometimes it’s the shorter songs that are the trickiest to write. Those kinds of songs often require the most editing, which can be a tricky a business. When you get attached to certain sections it can be hard to let go of them. When there’s six of us calling the shots it definitely makes these kinds of decisions easier!

The production value of your records has always been stellar but you guys stepped it up this time with Adam Getgood (Nolly) taking the reins of the mix and drum production. What was it like working with him?
Nolly super chilled guy and was so easy to work with. We’re huge fans of his production work with Periphery, Sikth and Devin Townsend, so he seemed like the perfect choice due to the heavier direction of ‘Vector’. He oversaw the first day of the drum recording and tuned the heads in a specific way that really brought out the natural resonance of the kit. We’ve never had the drums sounding so huge! He lives fairly close to Charlie and I, so we were able to travel to his studio and re-amp our heavy guitar tones through a bunch of his amps, which definitely added some low end chunk! It was so much fun to get an insight and some input into this side of the mixing process, which is something we’ve rarely had a chance to experience in the past.

What can you tell me about the gear used on the album?
I used my Strandberg guitar to record the bulk of my parts. It’s an extremely versatile guitar that can pretty much achieve any sound I want. We ended up running our heavy rhythm parts through a Peavey 5150 amp in Nolly studio, which really helped give a beefy, solid foundation to the album. It’s basically the holy grail of high gain amp! I used Positive Grid Bias Amp 2 and my Fractal Audio units for most of the additional guitar parts on the album. We always use logic audio to track all of our parts down in our individual studios, which allows for easy file sharing.

Do you have any personal favourites off of ‘Vector?’ Songs you specifically look forward to playing live every night while you’re out with Leprous in the US at the moment?
‘Nil by Mouth’ has been particularly fun to play live due to the relentless onslaught of riffage. The build up at the end of that one seems to be particularly effective in a live context. Puzzle Box has also been massively enjoyable too. It has an energetic, hard hitting and frenetic nature to it that seems to be getting the crowd pretty pumped.

I remember you playing different sets during previous tours (which was what Leprous was doing last time I saw them), but hear you’ve been playing more set-in-stone sets this time around. Aren’t you afraid that ‘The Good Doctor’ might get stale for you after having played it for an entire tour’s worth of shows?
Deciding on a setlist is always a tricky business. Since we’re playing a bunch of new songs, we felt it’d be best to largely stick with one bunch of songs for this tour in order to get it as tight sounding as possible. The new music on Vector is arguably most complex stuff we’ve written to date, so it’s definitely keeping us on our toes! We’ve also programmed a slick light show for the first time on this tour, which essentially limits the amount of songs we can choose from when it comes to deciding on a set. I’m sure in the future when we have more songs programmed with lights we’ll be able to mix things up again.

You guys are hitting up Zoetermeer next year as well, on March 15th to be precise. What can the fans expect from you this time around?
We love coming back to that venue. It’ll be the penultimate show of our European tour, so it promises to be a special night. By that point on the tour the music should be fully engrained in us so when have no excuse but to deliver a killer show. I have my fingers crossed for a sell out show on that night! We’re hoping to include some visuals to enhance our stage show in the near future, so hopefully that will be ready by then.

Thank you so much for taking the time! I love ‘Vector’ and hope to catch you guys in March. Is there anything you want to say in closing?
Congratulations on getting to the end of the interview! I hope to see you guys at a show soon.

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