Lords of Metal
Arrow Lords of Metal
Ray Hearne (drums): “It is not necessary an album about specific animals and their behaviour, it is not a sort of David Attenborough documentary in a musical form (chuckles), but it is taking some things and finding out how they apply to us humans”

Na de sterk aan elkaar verwante albums ‘Vector’ en ‘Virus’ had Haken complete vrijheid om een volgend album te maken. Dat hebben ze benut want de nieuwe vondsten zijn talrijk en het album duurt meer dan een uur. ‘Fauna’ trekt interessante parallellen tussen de dieren en de mensheid. Op zich al een opmerkelijk thema voor een band, zo dus trokken we tijd uit om drummer Ray Hearne eens te ondervragen.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 17 maart 2023

I think you are preparing for a big tour…
Yeah, in the middle of practising, so I am pretty exhausted.

I am sorry for that, but it will be the longest tour that you ever did until now…
Probably the longest in Europe, I think it probably is, yes.

We have a new record called ‘Fauna’, this is successor of ‘Virus’ in 2020. When did you actually start writing the new material for this album?
I would say we probably started writing at the end of 2020. Pete (Jones – keyboards – Vera) is better in remembering it, but me and Pete started working on different songs. We didn’t have any conceived ideas of what we were going to do, we just were playing around and being quiet free with our ideas, so yeah, it was in the middle of the pandemic when we started writing ideas.

And did it have a kind of influence on your mind of on your themes?
I wasn’t really happy, kind of stressful, but I did not feel miserable during the pandemic. So I did a lot of work.

Because you all live in London I think, or do you live outside of London?
Most of us live in London yes. Four of us live in London and then Ross (Jennings – vocals – Vera) lives on the south coast. I live in the northern suburbs of London. We all live in the suburbs. Pete lives now in the southern suburbs, he used to be up north before, and Charlie and Richard live in the South as well and none of us central. So it is a little bit far away from each other, but it is okay.

The theme of the album is kind of special. Every song is about an animal, but that happens to be a metaphor for human beings. What can you tell about that?
What can I say? Well, it is quite varied, just like the animal kingdom itself. There are so many sorts of different creatures and aspects. Of course there is a lot of potential for drawing parallels between what the animals do, their behaviour, and their habits, their kind of cycles… of migration, that sort of things, we tried to tangle this. It is not necessary an album about specific animals and their behaviour, it is not a sort of David Attenborough documentary in a musical form (chuckles), but it is taking some things and finding out how they apply to us humans.

What inspired you in the first place to do that?
Well I wonder what inspired us… euhm, the theme is just full of inspiration. How can animals not inspire you? Personally I am often out in nature, staring on wild life insects, and I think the other guys to a certain degree, they like that as well. Why not interpret this into our music? We covered a lot of sci-fi things in the past in particular, so it is a pretty big contrast, a different approach.

There is an ape on the cover artwork. That is a human like being…
Yeah for sure. The artwork has a kind of playful connection with animals, made up like Victorian gentlemen.

Do you have lots of animals at home?
Me, I would love to have a house full of animals, but one of the problems is touring. I live on myself, so touring creates a lot of complications. I want dogs. I want dogs to have all over the place, but you have to give dogs full attention. I love the spiders in my house, they can come to me (laughs).

Can you give some examples of animals that are featured in the songs?
Yes, there are lots. The first song we released was called ‘Nightingale’, so that kind of speaks for itself. ‘Taurus’, the first track of the album is kind of loosely related to the migrating wildebeest in Africa. I think it is general the wildebeest, a good example, this general kind of profile and imaginary is going on. ‘The Alphabet Of Me’ is related with things from ‘Blade Runner’. You have that unicorn comparison there and there is also connection with a rattlesnake, because I think there is a scene with a rattlesnake in ‘Blade Runner’, there is also a sneaky white dog appearance in one of the cameos, that is why we have one in the video for ‘The Alphabet Of Me’. It just happened that the place we were filming the video, the lady who owns the land, she happened to have a beautiful white dog. So she just let him run around a little bit while we filmed. Of course ‘Elephants Never Forget’ kind of speaks for itself. ‘Eyes Of Ebony’ is about the fight of the final white rhino before it was extinct. There are a lot of different animals in the songs.

That last track would also be a tribute to the father of Richard who passed away…
Yes, he used that as a metaphor to express his love for his father after he passed away. It is a deep-draught song for all of us, but of course it is a very important part of Richard’s life.

Keyboardist Pete Jones has come back after an absence for 14 years. He was your close friend since the beginning, what did you feel when he came back and how did it happen?
It made sense to happen really, I have always been very much in touch with Pete all the way through the time he was out of the band. He moved to Brixton for a few years and went to the university, he moved back to Southampton and then back to London for all the different studies he was doing. During that time he still kept music as part of his life. He kind of fluctuated between being a student or a musician on the sideline. By the time he finished his PHD, he was very much focusing back on music. So it was the perfect time really, to invite him to rejoin. He was extremely eager to do that, even though there was a sort of – career-wise – taking a bit of a risk, because it is not like Haken is a big successful entity. Pete is a very intelligent, high qualified person. He can be earning a lot more money, having a much more high flying career than playing in Haken, but anyway, hopefully he remembers realizing that and just enjoys being in the band.

The music of Haken also has an intellectual tinge. Are you aware of the fact that people have to go deeper into that before judging the music? Do they have the discipline to get profoundly into the stuff before putting everything on social media?
The impulsiveness of people’s reaction is not giving the music the time it deserves. I think that is true. I think that people are too quick to judge and it is very easy to make immediate reactions and comments on things on line, because the platform is there to do that. Some people just want to be heard, some people sound like they have no one else to talk to and they say things, whether they believe them or not. I don’t know, but there is always a discussion going on, yet I believe the overwhelming response that we have gotten since the new music, has been very positive. We do it too, we encourage fans to like and spend a bit more time to let the music sink in. This album in particular is extremely dense. There’s a lot of ideas packed into every song and there is not really much space. So there is a lot to break down, a lot to digest.

Yet I was surprised of your fanatic fan-base when I attended ProgPower EU years ago…
Yes, we have always been extremely fortunate with our fans in the Netherlands in particular. We have played there at least twice, you are probably talking about the second time. The first time we had ever played abroad outside the UK was at that festival. We have a kind of close connection, as a country, as a fan base, but we always do very well in the Netherlands, because we get a good response for our music which is great.

You are coming back to the Netherlands, because in June you will be playing at the Midsummer festival in Valkenburg in the Netherlands…
I am looking forward to that. We are playing in Tilbury as well, in March.

Now with the return of Pete… does it mean that Richard won’t be playing keyboards in Haken, only guitars?
I don’t think so. We are not going to put the keyboard on one side. Richard still works on a lot of ideas on the keyboards, even just to begin a song or to develop a song, so he still plays. He just plays the guitar more and when our music tends to be more guitar oriented, he will take guitar parts rather than taking keyboard parts. We will see in the future years, but at least yet for the last few albums, I don’t think we are really having any keys from Richard since ‘The Mountain’ from what I remember. There might be a little bit on ‘Crystallised’ and ‘Restoration’ but I think from ‘Affinity’ on, he’s been pretty guitar oriented.

Gentle Giant is also a band which always pops up when talking about Haken. What is your personal history with this band? When did you discover them?
Probably it would have been around the time of ‘The Mountain’. I know they are a legendary progrock band, but when we were writing ‘Aquarius’ and ‘Visions’ we were still very young. Compared to that I was pretty much influenced by Dream Theater and Pain Of Salvation and bands like that. Then also some classic prog bands like Yes and King Crimson, I have always been fan of. But yeah Gentle Giant came later. I hadn’t really heard of them. Actually I’ll tell you what… I was introduced to them when I was just at music college, it must have been right before or around the time of ‘Aquarius’, but they didn’t come and sink in with me, so one of the profs of my music college, a trumpet player called Paul Codge, he is a very good friend of Kerry Minnear, one of the main composers and the keyboard player from Gentle Giant. Those two went to the Royal Academy of Music together years and years ago and they were each other’s best mate at their weddings. So they are really long time friends and Paul recorded some trumpet on some of the Gentle Giant albums. He was really into progrock. Maybe I was a year or two into my degree and he gave me some copies from Gentle Giant CD’s to check out. I was basically not really into it until the time of ‘Visions’, that session in the song ‘Visions’, that has got a bit of a Gentle Giant vibe.

How did you consider Pink Floyd?
Pink Floyd, of course. They are heavily included in the prog world. Richard has the closest connection with Pink Floyd. His dad was just a mega, mega Pink Floyd fan and he was bombarded with Pink Floyd, even since he was born.

Which era do you like most?
Me? To be honest, I kind of like… maybe ‘A Momentary Lapse Of Reason’, that is probably my favourite Pink Floyd album. I really like that era, the eighties.

Dan Goldsworthy did the artwork and that is a remarkable choice, because I remember him from Alestorm… quite a difference…
Yes, he has done lots of power metal and death metal stuff, but he did the artwork for Charlie’s solo album and Charlie suggested him to work with Haken. At that time it was a big step, because we have been using the Dutch design company called Blacklake for years. But Dan is a brilliant artist. He is extremely versatile, he is very, very flexible and easy to work with. He has a lot of abilities, a lot of skills and enthusiasm and time for the band, because he is a fan as well. It is a perfect combination and we hope that it will be a long time relationship, because this is just so brilliant, what he does.

In that same artwork, people can search for Easter eggs (as you call them)…
Oh yeah there’s a lot of Easter eggs in the artwork. I think some of them haven’t even been found by us. People have found a few until now, but there’s a lot more to discover. There is one particular string of Easter eggs which we are all related to. It hasn’t been found, or at least I haven’t seen anyone saying they found them. So yes, there are lots of details. It is fun. It is like making the artwork like a little game, a little puzzle.

Often there are hints to earlier works. What do you like the most in the evolution of Haken?
I don’t know, probably the fact that we’ve kind of allow ourselves to be a little bit more free and spontaneous and experimental on this album. Perhaps we weren’t with the last two albums – because ‘Virus’ was closely connected to ‘Vector’ – so we were restricted in what we could do and we were restricted in what we could do then, because ‘Vector’ and ‘Virus’ had this particular sound. With ‘Fauna’ we really didn’t restrict ourselves that much and that is coming close to the running time, because it is quite of a long album for us. It is one of our longest. We didn’t have much of a filter, we just let everything happen.

How do you personally look up to the longest tour coming up? Is it for you a blessing or do you look up against being away from home so long?
No, I don’t feel like that at all. I am only excited and positive about it really, because we haven’t done a headline tour since before the pandemic. Even then it was a while before the pandemic, because we were supposed to do a support tour with Devin Townsend. Our own headline tour was early 2019. I don’t know if we have headlined Europe since 2018. So it is something like four or five years, a big gap. I think all of us are ready to go.

In the end, do you prefer studio work or do you like more going on tour?
I like both to be honest. Ultimately live has got the energy. Studio can be quite tedious at times, you get breakthroughs in the writing process and you kind of know you have the ultimate sound of recording. When you get to the mixing state again, it is always very exciting to hear the mix. There are also exciting aspects to studio work and tedious too, but that goes for live shows as well. So I would say I like both equally, but if I had to choose, I would say touring.

What was the most far away show you have played?
We have been to New Zealand and now we are going to Chile and Brazil, so I think that New Zealand is probably a bit further.

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