Haken's shocking musical confession
Dust off your Walkman and get ready for Haken’s new 80s-inspired album Affinity. A compelling mix of 90125, the Transformers cartoon soundtrack and Toto, with just a touch of black metal, they
T here’s still an unmistakable sense of incredulity and excitement in the voices of Haken’s Rich Henshall and Charles Griffiths when recalling the acclamation of their 2013 breakthrough album The Mountain.
Granted, it might not have propelled the band into the mainstream arena, but with their audacious musical mix of contemporary progressive elements and a 70s Gentle Giant styling, it became their most successful recording to date. And with the prog glitterati lining up to stack commendations onto Haken and gift them sought-after support slots, it’s a period the band still reflect on with astonishment.
“Honestly, we really weren’t expecting that, or the response we got from it,” says guitarist Griffiths. “It was just one of those lucky breaks you hear about and we managed to get some good contacts from it. People like Mike Portnoy and Jordan Rudess [Dream Theater] giving your band a stamp of approval? You can’t buy that. It was a huge thing. We did a couple of cruises at Cruise To The Edge and Progressive Nation At Sea and it was just incredible. That’s not to suggest we think we’ve made it or anything, as we know it’s still going to be a very hard slog.”
Faced with such media and industry plaudits, Haken had to face the reality that there were now people scrutinising their next move. Their re-recording of three of their early tracks for the Restoration EP was effectively a stopgap, and logic would dictate that the band should be feeling under pressure to write and record a worthy successor. Yet guitarist and keyboard player Henshall claims they never felt the nagging inner questions that plague many bands, like, ‘How on earth do we follow that?’
We thought it would be great to fuse the modern sounds with a lot of that synth-based stuff they were coming out with in the 80s.
“Well, we try not to be too conscious of what we’ve done in the past and try to treat every new album as something completely fresh,” he explains. “So we go into the writing process with no preconceptions of how we want it to sound or any pressure. We all just go to our instruments and write what we’re feeling at the time and see what comes out.”
With all members of the band being encouraged to suggest musical motifs and ideas, this was a change in their way of operating. Previously, Henshall had taken responsibility for steering the music and although the results of the new process were striking, the reality of additional musicians conceiving ideas was a potential source of conflict. Such debates may have been fiercely contested but seemingly never resulted in any tantrums, with Griffiths suggesting diplomatically that instead there were some rather intense negotiations.