HAKEN: Without Limits; Interview with Richard Henshall


London based progressive rock purveyors, Haken were on a roll following the release of their third studio album The Mountain, back in September 2013. Since then, they had toured a lot, and this October they put out an EP called Restoration which features reworked material taken from their 2007-2008 demo sessions. 

The band is in a songwriting phase for their fourth full-length, but they will be taking a break from it with the performance at the upcoming Generation Prog festival on November 15th in Nürnberg, where they are set for the headliner.

Prog Sphere took on these topics to talk in what is to be the fourth interview with the band. Guitarist Richard Henshall provided answers this time.

You’ve just wrapped up a UK tour with label mates Leprous and Maschine. How was the run?

It was our first extensive UK tour, so we were naturally a little apprehensive about how it would turn out. Thankfully, lots of people made the effort to come along, which helped make the tour an unforgettable experience. It was hugely inspiring watching Leprous and Maschine do their thing each night. They were certainly tough acts to follow! Both bands have a ridiculous amount of talent and were the greatest people of to hang out with. I hope we get to the chance play with these guys again at some point in the future.

Any particular funny moments from the road?

Our last show was in York, which is famous for its rich Viking history. Therefore we naturally, we felt it would be fitting to sneak onstage during Leprous’ set and place an authentic, plastic Viking helmet on Einar’s head during one of their brutal numbers. I must say, he pimped that helmet like a true pro! They got us back by displaying some goofy footage of us on two large tv screens during an intimate moment in our set, which was clearly a much better thought out prank!

Haken - Restoration coverThe tour matched up with the release of Restoration EP. Have you performed any of these old-new songs during your set? How did your audiences react to them?

There’s always a risk of receiving an awkward silence after playing a new track live, especially if it’s 20 minutes of unheard material! To try and prevent this from happening, we streamed Crystallised, and released a video for Darkest Light, a short while before the tour to give fans a little time to get familiar with the song. It seemed to work as both Darkest Light and Crystallised were received very warmly. Some people were even singing along!

Speaking of the new EP, whose idea was to rework the material from your 2007-2008 demo sessions? Why not completely new material?

We’ve had a lot of requests to remix or remaster the demo from fans for a long while now, so we thought it was about time to actually do something about it. Rather than go to such a great effort to rerecord the chosen tracks note for note, we thought it would make sense to completely rework the tracks. We’ve evolved a lot since the days of the demo so it was important to us that the music reflects this. We’re also working on completely fresh material album 4 at the moment, which will hopefully be released late next year.

Restoration is Conner’s first official recording with the band. How did he in particular contribute to these songs?

Another reason for working on Restoration was to ease Conner in to the whole writing process. He’s been a great addition to the band and has offered a fresh perspective to proceedings. He’s a huge fan of Indie and jazz music and has introduced me to a lot of new artists, such as Volcano Choir and Tigran Hamasyan, which have been melting my brain over the last few months! I’m sure their influence can be heard on the EP.

The closing piece, Crystallised is a whooping 19-minute monster, featuring guest appearances from Pete Rinaldi and Mike Portnoy. Are you aware that it has the potential to become one of the most popular modern prog epics?

We didn’t really plan for it to become an ‘epic’. When we started playing around with the original version of the song, Snow, we just felt that some of the themes could be developed further, and before we knew it the track length had crept up into ‘prog epic’ territory. Snow was always a fan favourite, so out of all the tracks on the original demo, it was always going to be the one the stood out. It’s certainly a fun one to play live!

So, are these songs off the EP the definite versions? I have this interesting thought of reworking the reworked material. [Laughs]

Yep, these versions are the definitive versions and will be the ones we play live from now on.

You announced that you started working on your fourth studio album. How much of the work has been completed on it? What is the songwriting process like this time around?

We’ve decided to take a different approach with the writing process of the next album. We’re going to write the album as a band, whereas in the past I’ve taken care of the main writing duties. We’ve never really worked in this way before, so it’s really exciting to see what we can create together. It’s still very early days, but the stuff we already have is already sounding very promising. Most of the ideas are still in their infanc, so I’m really exited to see what they grow into.

What’s the direction you take on this new material? Anything that you can reveal about its sound?

It’s hard to tell at the moment. Lately, we’ve been listening to a lot of contemporary artists like Karnivool, Everything Everything, Tigran Hamasyan and The Contortionist, so I’m sure their music will have rubbed off on us and will help shape the sound of the next album. We tried some new things on The Mountain, like electronic drums and intricate backing vocal arrangements, so I’d love to explore these ideas further on the next release.

Do you already have a title for the new record, or any of the songs?

We haven’t really gone into depth with the concept or theme of the album, so no titles have been decided on yet. We have a few ideas floating around, but nothing is set in stone. For the moment, we’ll just focus on creating the best music in our capabilities, and I’m sure this will guide us to a suitable theme.

Richard Henshall

Richard Henshall

In our last interview, you said that The Mountain was influenced by ‘70s music, but you also threw in some prog-unrelated influences. How do these new songs compare to the material from The Mountain?

So far, the new ideas are sounding very fresh, but still retain a lot of the essential elements of our sound. Whilst writing an album we try not to be too conscious of how similar it sounds to our previous work, as this could hinder the creative process. It’s important for us not to limit ourselves by aiming for a particular sound, as the end product will doubtless feel derivative and dishonest. We’ll instead write what feels natural to us and see what comes out in the end.

Will you be working again with Jens Bogren in the album’s mixing and mastering phase?

I certainly hope so. We were blown away by his work on The Mountain and Restoration, so it would be great to work with him again. His style of mixing really compliments our sound, and he really has a knack for bringing our music to life.

The Mountain was an ultimate hit when it was released. Do you have any expectations concerning the new album?

Ultimate hit! I still haven’t heard any of our tracks on MTV, but then again, I don’t think I would want to. The positive response we received for The Mountain was beyond our wildest dreams! We reached a lot of new fans and have managed to build the band into a much better position than to where we were a few years ago. It would of course be great if people receive the next album as warmly as The Mountain, but we won’t be thinking about that as we’re writing it. Our primary focus will be to compose something we’re all happy with, and if others enjoy what we come up with, then that’s an added bonus.

Your concert activities for 2014 aren’t done yet. You will be headlining the upcoming Generation Festival, which is your second appearance on the Nürnberg’s event. Do you have anything special planned for the set?

We’re really looking forward to returning to Nurnberg. We’ll be playing a collection of songs across all of our releases, so I’m sure there will be something for everyone who comes along. Last time we went Michael Schetter (the festival organizer) treated us to some traditional Franconian cuisine, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he has in store for us this time round!

Back to the new album, when can we expect it to be unleashed?

We’re hoping for a release at the end of 2015.

Overall, 2015 is already shaping up to be a pretty busy year for you. What else do you have in a pipeline?

We’re playing at RosFest on May 2, and we’re hoping to plan a mini tour around it. We’ve hardly played in the US, so it’d be great to play to some new audiences. We’re also booked to play at Be Prog in Barcelona and Tech Fest in the UK along with the likes of Meshuggah and Katatonia, so we can’t wait to be sharing the stage with these legends!

This is our fourth Haken interview. Will you ever become bored of doing interviews with Prog Sphere? You probably know that I will be bugging you again after the release of the album?

Of course not! In fact, I get bored of not doing interviews with Prog Sphere! We really appreciate your support over the last few years. Thanks.

OK, last question. With Prog Sphere we tend to release a Progstravaganza compilation series, highlighting the artists coming from progressive related genres from all around the world. Do you think such a thing is good enough to showcase the potential of many unheard bands on the already overcrowded scene?

Sharing new music from lesser-known bands can only be good thing in my eyes. It’s a crime that so much incredible talent often remains unheard, so having outlets such as your website is crucial to keeping this kind of music alive. Keep up the good work!

Haken’s new EP “Restoration” is out now via InsideOut Music, get it here. The band plays Generation Prog festival in Nürnberg’s MUZclub on November 15th, together with Relocator, Kristoffer Gildenlöw, Exivious and Beyond the Bridge.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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