Chuck Schuldiner Project

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Interview with Richard Henshall of Haken

So recently I had the huge honor to interview up and coming prog lords Haken. The interview is pretty long, I hope you enjoy it!

Two Guys Metal Reviews: So Whats going on in the world of Haken?

Richard Henshall: Well actually its pronounced Haken. A lot of people get that wrong, so just think of “Bacon” then you get the pronunciation. Its going well actually, we're just working on the third album which we're hoping to release early next year. I'm working on a lot of the songs already. So we should hopefully take the songs to the rehearsal rooms very soon. Also we're preparing for some upcoming festivals, one is Night of the Prog and also Devil Stone festival in Lithuania. Apart from that there's not much else happening at the moment.

Can you tell us about the Haken “Art Attack” project going on Facebook?

Basically it was the idea of Charlie, he designs our T-Shirts. He basically draws these designs on paper first then puts them through the computer and sets them up with Photoshop, I think. So basically you've got the original sketching of one of the T Shirts. And he decided it would be a good idea if we did an offer for the fans, to give it away for free. If they could, input their own artwork to Facebook. We received quite a lot of interest and a lot of interest for Facebook. Have you actually checked the images for Facebook?

I have, there are some My Little Pony ones.

(Laughs) Theres some really ones. There's “Haken Dazs” which is one of my favorites. Also its a good way to keep in touch with our fans, and build a relationship with them via internet.

Obviously we have the festival dates, but are we going to see more touring in the fall?

Well hopefully with the third album we're going to do a European tour maybe even go over to the States. With Aquarius we were a relatively new band, so we weren't really in a position to go off and tour. Also with Visions we all still work so it's hard for us to find the time to make that actually work. But we're gradually making our way towards making that a reality. I really want to be able to tour a few weeks with the third album. We'll have to wait and see. We're actually in discussion with new management, hopefully when this has happened these kind of things will be a lot easier for us.

Basically Haken, has some amazing musicians yet you're still fairly obscure, how do you feel about that dichotomy?

Well, I feel extremely blessed to play with such great musicians. We just play music that comes naturally to us. We don't go out of our way to be obscure, we just write what comes naturally, and what we enjoy to play. I feel blessed playing with such great musicians.

When listening to Haken, I always have difficulty describing your sound, what kind of genre would you put yourself as?

There's an ongoing debate as to what genre we should be pigeon holed into. On Prog Archives there's quite a silly thread about should we be Italian prog or Neoclassical prog or I don't know Cyber Metal prog. There's so many different subgenres its hard to tell whats going on. Sometimes its better to just call a band a band that plays music, or a progressive band. So I'll just keep the label as a progressive band, to let us explore various genres. But it's hard to pigeon hole us in one specific genre.

If you can't be pigeonholed, is there an image of Haken for you?

I don't think we're super cool type guys, we don't neccesarily look good, people aren't neccesarily going to be taking fashion tips from us. I think the fans just see us as a group of musicians that are primarily focused on making music. And playing music that speaks to the soul, instead of flashy guitars and sunglasses or whatever.

Being a prog band, what are your favorite modern prog acts, not djent, but the Haken kind of clean vocalled prog.

The obvious influence for all of us is Dream Theater. We all grew up listening to them. We all like Pain of Salvation, which I'm sure a lot of the readers of your website and your listeners would also love. Another obvious one would be Opeth, they're a really cool band, interesting harmonies their. They're a classic band, really got their own sound which we really like. A lot of the guys in Haken like they're called Porcupine Tree, they have a band that has a really good atmosphere in their music. Some other lesser known bands are maybe Leprous, which are a quite cool up and coming band from Norway, they've got 2 albums out at the moment, they're a really good band. Also I'm a fan of the Shaolin Death Squad, they're probably not as well known as the others. They've got two albums out as well, they're latest is particularly good.

I've noticed on Petrucciforum and Sevenstring too, people say that Haken is pretty much one of the worlds biggest up and coming groups. I heard one guy call you the “New Dream Theater”, how do you feel about that?

It's kind of mindblowing to be considered in the same league really. Because as I said before we all grew up as huge fans of that band. So to even be considered in the same sentence as them is surreal.
Last year we played at Night of the Prog festival with them, and that was like a dream come true. Brilliant for me. It's a lot of pressure, expecting us to be the new big thing. I just want to keep doing what we're doing, keep writing music and hopefully people will follow us along the way.

How did you guys get so good at music and prog?

Well, we've all been very dedicated to our instruments we put in the hours still each day, of practicing. Personally I started playing the piano at the age of 6, and I picked up guitar at the age of 10. So I've been playing for a very long time. I guess its really just to keep practicing. Same with the other guys they've all been playing since a young age, so I guess it was just bound to happen really.

So speaking of putting in the hours, how many hours a day did you do in High School?

Over the weekends, it would be a good 10 hours a day on the guitar. When I was at school it would be 6 hours in the evening. As much as I could really, it was quite hard to sit and practice with piano
and guitar and dividing my time equally on guitar, thats the key. It's also about practicing the right things, I think that's really important as well. It can greatly increase the amount of time practiced if it's on the right techniques.

Having learned piano first, how do you feel that affected your guitar playing?

I really think it opened new doors really, it allowed me to see the fretboard and the guitar generally in a different way. And you can play piano licks on the guitar, which are naturally a lot harder given the fingering and layout of the fretboard. I'd suggest that people transcribe licks from other instruments, like violin and fiddle licks and saxophone licks, that really allow guitarists to really push the envelope. And also the tone of the piano is really quite smooth and if you're trying to emulate that tone you can really get some good ideas out of the guitar.

What is your biggest advice to young and unsigned musicians?

First of all its important to put the time into your instrument, to be dedicated, but don't practice too much, to the point that you don'r enjoy playing anymore. You've got to find that balance between enjoying it and having that dedicated time to practice. Also in regards to forming a band, be patient and keep persevering in finding the right members. Don't settle for second best. If you've got a vision of where you want the band to be keep going. If you persevere, your dreams will come true.

Lets, talk a little bit about the very beginning of Haken, what did it feel like when you first played together?

Well basically, Ross, an old school friend, Matt and Marshall and myself we used to meet regularly and jam in my bedroom. This was about 12 years ago now. It wasn't really serious back then. So we used to meet up and jam through ideas. But it was more just friends jamming. Then we got around to the idea of forming a band, and it was about the time we started getting into bands like Opeth and Dream Theater. So we came up with this idea that we'd form this progressive band. Then we decided to break off for our studies and then come back and really form it. So it was about 6 years ago that we actually properly formed a band. But around that time it was extremely exciting because we were creating new music. It was an exciting time for us.

Looking back, how do you feel about Aquarius?

I particularly like that album, I think it receives a lot of praise but also receives a lot of criticism. Some people weren't entirely happy with the way it chopped and change between different musical styles. I enjoyed exploring different musical genres. Like we've got the ragtime in their. We've got some time of fusion inspired music ad we've also got some film inspired music. For me I really enjoy playing that kind of music.

Speaking of film inspired music, if I said that there where vocals in Haken songs, would that make sense to you?

(Laughter) I guess Ross is the guy you need to speak to for that one! But I guess so. The actual concept of Aquarius is in its most basic form about a mermaid. There's obviously parallels between the Little Mermaid and the Haken concept. But if you look into it a bit more deeply it's a bit darker a bit more brooding. But I guess I would agree. Personally I'm a huge fan of Disney, and Disney Music. The key element to our music is that it's not always dark and broody, theres also happy uplifting bits to offset that.

Ok, so I'm not insane! (Laughter) How do you feel looking back about Visions that came out about 6 months ago now?

Yeah, it was in October last year, so 6 months. We basically wanted to build upon foundations that we laid with Aquarius. We wanted to make a heavier album that was a bit more guitar focused. In that respect, and I think it was heavier. But also we have really thick string arrangements on this album which we added to the texture. But as a whole I'm happy with how the album flows, and how the concept flowed with the music. I think it's a good progression from Aquarius.

Can we talk more about that progression between the two? There was a one year gap between the two albums. How do you feel you progressed as musicians in that time?

We actually recorded Visions in late 2010, but the album wasn't released for another 8 months. There was almost about 18 months or so between the debut and when Visions was released. I guess we went back to our instruments and trained a bit harder. I think we developed a bit. But a year is a long time, and you can listen to new artists and gather inspiration frim different bands.

Where there new influences on Visions, could you name a particular influence that was on Visions that didn't really affect Aquarius?

I listened to quite a bit of Gentle Giant in there as well. For example at the end of visions, where there's a lot of different vocal parts. A bombastic kind of vocal piece. Actually live we do that section slightly differently and we have just the vocals kind of acapella. Which is a classic Gentle Giant kind of maneuver. And also Yes, but I've always listened to a lot of Yes. SO I guess it was back to the 70's prog stuff.

I've actually been listening to a lot of 70s prog lately. Whose your favorite 70s prog band if you can pick one?

It's definitely between Gentle Giant and King Crimson. For me King Crimson are really dark and they've got some amazing riffs. And the guitar work from Robert Fripp is just astounding. And he really pioneered the way for a lot of new players. But I think Gentle Giant is amazing, how all their rhythms are very syncopated. And when all there members are brought together they create something very special.

Speaking of Virtuoso Groups, are you familiar with this new movement wit hGuthrie Govan and his Aristocrats?

Ah yeah, amazing. It's got Marco Minneman on drums hasn't it? Yeah thats the one. Guthrie Govan has got this huge influence on me personally. His album Erotic Cakes just blew my mind when I heard that for the first time. And just his technique and the sounds he explores are just superb. That band I haven't heard their album, have they released an album?

Yeah, in September

I was listening to a couple of their live videos on youtube. It completely blew me away! Just 3 guys complete virtuosos, just mastering their instruments on stage. I do want to see them at some point.

Could you actually ever see Haken doing something like that? Just going onstage and having a jam?

Yeah, I think that would be a cool thing. Funny enough, at Night of the Prog Festival, last year, Ray's snare drum broke. I think it was the first song of our set. And he had to replace his snare drum which took a good five minutes. So we just started jamming, a sort of Larry Carlson inspired fusion jam. The crowd seemed to love that! I can't see a reason why we might not do that in the future. We all love a bit of jazz and blues, so that's definitely an idea.

So what does the future of Haken look like?

Well we just need to keep the ball rolling really. We're completely blown far away by all the positive feedback we've receive for our first two albums which is more than we could have ever hoped for. We've just got to keep going and hope the fans like our next album and the album after that. I guess the ultimate the aim for us is to be able to make a living out of Haken and be able to quit our jobs and make this a full time career. I think then we'll be able to take Haken to the next level and create a lot of new music.

Do you think that's a possibility after the next album? Do you think you're on the verge of going somewhere huge?

I always said, after the first release of Aquarius, in my mind I always said 10 years that's how long it's going to take. But after receiving such great praise , I though maybe after the next two albums. It's always something we're striving for. But ultimately we need to get on some world tours and tour with some bigger bands and win a lot of new fans that way. That's one thing we've lacked the last 2 years really, that's our primary focus.

How do you feel about the modern prog scene around you?

I think there's some really cool bands, I mentioned a couple earlier, there's Leprous, we're all fans of Leprous they're a cool band as well. And there's Shaolin Death Squad which is another cool band. And theres this other Djent thing which I'm personally not heavily into but I appreciate a lot of the bands . But Tom and Ray love this style of music. There's one band that sticks out particularly among these bands, Textures. I think these guys are really cool they merge interesting harmonies, great vocals and really heavy low 8 string riffs. Which I'm quite a fan of.

Do you feel that at some point you could incorporate some Djent influences into your music?

Well we kind of had a hint of it on Aquarius, with Drowing in the Flood. I think maybe on the next album, it's going to be a bit more raw, and probably a bit reminiscent of the older prog bands out there. But the strong focus will be on harmony and general epicness.

The first 2 albums were kind of unified with certain melodic phrases. On this next album, since it's going to be more raw, will it still be kind of a concept album?

I reckon the next album I don't think will be a concept album. I think concept albums are great because they really take the listener on a journey. But I don't think it's essential for a prog band to have concept albums. So we're going to explore different ways to write the music...

Will the songs be as unified as they were on the first two albums?

So far I've got about 9 songs written, they're almost their I just need to tie them all together. I thnk the songs will be a lot more individual. I think it will be a lot more important for each song to have it's own identity. I'm sure there will be hints in certain songs to other songs. Like you might hear a chorus that is similar to that of another song.

Now you just said you had 9 song written, but that already makes it longer than the other 2 albums, or are you going to cut songs out?

I think so, basically on Aquarius and Visions, there's quite a few songs that didn' make the cut. That I didn't even send to the rest of the guys. So a lot of stuff left over. But also on that point, they're actually shorter. There's not going to be a big 22 minute epic like on Visions. Even though there's more songs it doesn't necessarily mean the album is going to be longer. We just have to wait and see.

Thats horribly sad (laughter)

Oh don't worry. With the formula for the last 2 albums, we've ended with a big long epic so I think it's time to try something new. Having said that the songs are still going to be around the 8 minute mark. So it's still going to be prog.
It's not going to be *gasp* thrash metal (Laughter)

Who knows? Album 4!

Do you feel like you'd ever go the way of Dream Theater and try to add more under 5 minute rockers?

In terms of songs?


I think we're not really going to make a conscious effort to write songs to be put on the radio. That's not our main focus. We've always been focused on creating songs that people enjoy and speak to our souls and speak to the bands soul. We're really try to be conscious of that. But we're openminded to other music we generally like every style of music. If we did release a song that's more pop oriented it doesn't mean we're selling out, we;re just open to different styles. Certainly on the next album theres nothing too... It's all pretty proggy.

You guys are pretty young did the internet affect your development at all?

Oh yeah, very much. I mean nowadays, it pretty much took the music industry by storm really, it's almost putting record labels out of business. It's giving the power back to the band. In years to come, who knows? Bands may become their own record labels. You can distribute and promote it on line. If people astute enough, they can really manage a band successfully. It's a really good way for us to keep in contact with our fans. Like the Art Attack contest on our facebook page. It just wouldn't be possible without the internet!

What do you feel is the future of music? Prog in particular?

I think, as I was saying earlier, I think the future of music, who knows? Recently, Roadrunner UK and Canada closed only a few days ago. Which is pretty major because they're the main meta/prog label out there. That's quite a qorrying sign, or if you're optimistic you can see it as a positive sign for bands. It's a step forward for bands, to control their own music, making it, producing it and distributing it online. Giving them more control.

Prog in general, I think it's going through totally different times. Because first there was the prog rock era and then Dream Theater came along and gave it that metallic edge along with bands like Rush. And then there's this huge djent style. I think it's going to be this kind of jazz, djent and rock, hopefully we'll be part of it.

Let's talk about how people view you, knowing you're in a band. I feel like, when you tell people you're in a rather unknown band, do they portray as a dirty hippy, or do they see you as a “Musician extrordinaire prog jazz master”

A lot of people look down on musicians and say “Get a real job”. A lot of people don't understand the kind of hard workt we put into it. There's a lot more than just playing a tune. A lot of people don't understand that. It's a general misconception of the masses out there.

What do you love so much about music, and what do you love so much about Haken?

I love music. It's hard to really describe it. You're entering a world, like another dimension. You close your eyes and it takes you on a journey. Thats why I love progressive music so much, because it has such a vast soundscape. As for writing music I love the idea of creating something from nothing and creating this new world. Thats what I'm passionate about. As for playing with Haken, I feel honored and blessed to play with such great musician, and people. Every day, it's a treat for me.

Final Comments?

Haken is pronounced like Bacon. Thats it. (Laughter) And if you haven't already heard them go check out our first 2 albums, you might enjoy them.

You WILL enjoy them.

(Laughter) I'll leave that up to you to say!


  1. Great interview. Haken are also playing The Crescendo Festival in France - August 16.17.18. 2012 @ St. Palais Sur Mer.

  2. i know!
    i'm looking forward to it if i can make it!