Having just released their critically-acclaimed seventh studio album Fauna, things are definitely on the upswing for progressive metal band Haken. In the middle of a whirlwind tour, the band played at this year’s Download festival, so The Midlands Rocks took the opportunity to speak to bass player extraordinaire Connor Green just before the band hit the stage.
Original band member Peter Jones has returned to the group. I wonder, how has that effected the band’s dynamic?
He’s been a breath of fresh air as far as his energy goes. He’s a very smart guy, he graduated with a doctorate in theoretical physics, he has a lot of knowledge about other things outside music, it gives him an interesting dynamic, musically and otherwise. He came back and brought electronic influences, he wrote a lot of material on the new album, so he’s brought a lot of positive vibes to the band.
It sounds like he’s been a real vitamin shot.
Yes, I’ve been in the band for eight years, and the other guys a lot longer, so to have someone “new” come in, obviously he was in the first incarnation of the band, but to have an old friend come in with a fresh outlook has been great.
You’ve toured all over the world, and you’ve just come back from a run of dates in the States. What makes Haken’s sound travel so well?
That’s an interesting question. I think it both helps and hurts us to have eclectic genres in our sound. On the latest album we’ve got an electronic song, we’ve got our heavy moments, we’ve got quirky moments, and I feel like there’s something for everybody. It’s a double-edged sword, because it can confuse some listeners, but it also helps us to appeal to more people. I felt the response we had recently in North America was the best we’ve ever had.
After Download, you have shows in Europe and Latin America for pretty much the rest of the year. What’s your survival plan?
My survival plan is, whisky after the show, and getting as much sleep as humanly possible. The whisky helps with the sleep, then we’re up at 5am and onto the next show.
Touring is a tough lifestyle.
It is tough. But hey, it’s not like we are blue-collar workers, the band is pretty easy compared to what those guys do, so that puts it all into perspective a bit.
You mentioned the band’s eclectic sound earlier. How easy is it to replicate in the live environment?
It’s easier than you might think. We don’t improvise too much, we maybe have one 12-hour rehearsal the day before a tour, we sound a bit rusty, but after a few shows we’re right into the rhythm of it and it becomes second nature.
How does Download compare to other festivals?
We played Hellfest half a decade ago, and that was probably the biggest festival we ever done, Download is the biggest metal festival in the UK, so I feel a little out of my element with bands like Metallica headlining. I really don’t know what to make of it, it feels way too big [laughs]. For me, I’m just overwhelmed, there’s just so many people. Of course, we’re not headliners by any stretch of the imagination, but hopefully some of these folks will come along to see us.
I’m sure you’ll pull a big crowd: people here are very receptive to different music.
I guess you have to be, there’s no way everybody has heard of every single band on a festival bill. You have to go in with fresh ears and discover some new music.
Aside from talking to idiots like me, what’s your pre-show routine? How do you get in the groove?
I try to find a quiet space and just sit down with my bass, and noodle around for a little while. I warm up for 30-minutes, practice a few parts from songs we’ll be playing, I don’t get wasted or anything, a quiet space is all I need…and an espresso shot!
It’s been three long years between your last two albums. Why such a gap?
Sometimes we just want to relax for a little while. Especially after this touring cycle where we did seven weeks in Europe, four weeks in the US, and now we’re doing a month around Europe and then Latin America, after that it’s time to relax and remember you have a family and spend a bit of time with them! Then, after you’ve recuperated, you can get in the head space of being inspired to write a song. Of course, for some bands, three years is quick. I think we’ve pretty much stuck to a two-year cycle, but with the pandemic, that didn’t really happen. We don’t intend to keep to the three-year gap but 2020 was a weird time.
Do you think some band’s can spend too long working on an album?
Take a band like Black Sabbath. Their first six album were released in quick succession, and each one was a killer. Why don’t bands have that schedule nowadays?
I feel with computers that it is really easy to get bogged down with the details. When I write a bass part, typically I write it on my computer, and if I don’t kick myself, I’ll just get stuck on the same part. Even if it only lasts four seconds, I’ll get stuck on it for an entire day, working on these tiny details that no one will ever notice. And when you write together as a band, the editing process is easier, people will say instantly if it is not a good idea. Even with technology helping us, it does get in the way sometimes.
Each of your albums has a conceptual nature, and the new record seems to be tapping into the current ecological zeitgeist. Would you say that’s a fair reading of it?
It’s good that people can infer their own meanings.
Exactly. I think that’s the thing. We didn’t want to be so acute with the animal themes, it was mostly just a jumping off point, each of us can take that loose idea, an animal symbol, and apply it to anything we like. I feel if we can do that with the writing process, then people can do that with the songs themselves.
Do you think having a concept helps with the writing process?
I feel with having a loose concept helps you have a tonal palette with a song, and especially if you have a lyrical concept, I think it definitely helps.
And how do you feel about Fauna now it’s been out in the world for a while? Anything you’d like to go back and change?
In retrospect, I’d say I’d like to have spent less time working on the tiny little details. I’d probably have done it a lot faster. What I ended up recording was what I started with in the first place [laughs]. I felt with this album, recording was the easiest part. Recording the bass parts and the music around that took at least a year-and-a-half. But it is such a detailed album that we couldn’t have written it in a week.
As an artist it must be so difficult to know when something is finished. How do you know when you’ve reached the cut-off point?
I think a lot of time we rely on a majority decision in the band. There’s six of us and if four people say it’s done, we’ll go with it. Or sometimes less, if two people are adamantly convinced of something, then we’ll do it. There’s no one leader of the band, we’re a democracy and that has always been our way.
The two CD version of Fauna contains a version of the album in instrumental form. What was the reasoning for this? Were you sending vocalist Ross a subliminal message?!
It wouldn’t be very subliminal [laughs]. The truth is we have a lot of musician fans, I imagine that’s due to the music being intricate in places, and because vocals are usually at the forefront of a mix, when you take them away people can pick up on the tiny nuances.
And there’s something special about instrumental music where people can infer their own interpretation.
Yeah, write your own melody for God’s sake.
Finally, what are the future plans for Haken?
I feel that after this cycle is done, I feel like we’re going to take time to breathe for a while, and then explore the idea of playing our new album in full across Europe and America, and then get writing immediately. I assume the direction will be completely different from Fauna. We went fully eclectic with this album: I feel like we might reign that in a bit.