To make up for some lost time in the last few years, Haken have taken a very aggressive approach toward the year 2023. The band recently started an extensive North American tour in Nashville in support of their latest album Fauna, which was released just in March via Inside Out Music. Their seventh studio record, the follow-up to 2020’s Virus, has been extremely well received by fans and critics, as it marks the return of the band’s outstanding keyboard player Peter Jones. The presence and influence of Jones is very apparent throughout the record, and having that dynamic back within the band has really helped revive a certain element of their sound that perhaps wasn’t as apparent on Virus.
Fauna is an expansive record, an exploration of new concepts and ideas. The premise of the album is centred around each song having an animal assigned to it, with each track having something related to the animal kingdom, while also connecting to the human experience. Animals play a key role in a lot of classical stories, and they are obviously very much related to deeper philosophical thought and concepts. The band used animals in a similar way on Fauna, with the topic opening up some deeper philosophical topics about the nature of identity, which served as a basis for a lot of the lyrical content on the record.
Joining us today for an enlightening chat is none other than Haken lead singer Ross Jennings. We discussed the band’s creative process, putting together Fauna, welcoming Peter Jones back, some lesser-known facts about the band, and much more.
How would you describe your own music?
Ross Jennings: “Haken’s music is a casserole of genres and influences served on a bed of metal with a side of prog rock.”
What is the story behind the Haken name?
“The word ‘haken’ derives from a Nordic name ‘Haaken.’ I believe it means ‘Of The Chosen’ or ‘The Chosen Son.’ We decided to remove an ‘a’ from the moniker and thus invented our own pronunciation of a word that really has no meaning whatsoever. However, we subsequently learned from our European fanbase that Haken means ‘hook’ in German… and ‘crochet’ in Dutch, which is rather less rock n’ roll!”
How would you describe your creative process?
“I think individually, we all have our own personal processes. Speaking for myself, I don’t tend to overthink things. I often find that I create more roadblocks for myself that way. There’s a lot of subconscious involved. You’re playing with a different kind of alchemy though, once you start creating with and through other people.”
Who are your biggest influences?
“I’d love to pick out specific forefathers of prog, metal, or classical music, but I really believe we are just a product of everything we’ve ever consumed. It all lives there upstairs and shows its face when it needs to.
“That said, it was the excessive exposure to early ’90s MTV classic rock in my formative years that inspired me and set me on a path to wanting to do this line of ‘work.’ Aerosmith stole much of the airwaves back then, and they remain my go-to band. They are like musical comfort food to me.”
Tell us more about Fauna: what was your experience of making it? What went on behind the scenes? Any notable moments that stand out?
“The band were reignited and reinvigorated by the return of our dear friend and keyboardist Pete Jones after a difficult time of cancelled shows and the departure of Diego Tejeida. Pete dove head first into new original material, generating lots of fresh ideas, and approaches to composition that got us all re-energized and inspired to kick-start Haken back into top gear again.
“A significant part of the writing happened when we all rented a place in Surrey and lived together for a week or so. Collaborating on this album was possibly some of the most fun and rewarding experiences of writing as a band, and I think having an ‘anything goes’ attitude to the process really helped to express that in the songs we put to tape.”
Which do you enjoy the most: writing, recording, practicing, or playing live?
“For me personally, I love both ends of that chain the most… writing new material and piecing together that musical puzzle of heart, mind, and soul is the best part. Recording can be arduous at times, given the self-inflicted pressure for perfection and knowing whatever is recorded is a final and permanent document. It is, however, incredibly rewarding when the final physical product is in your hands, mixed, mastered, and packaged with wonderful artwork.
“It’s always a huge relief and mark of achievement when it’s ‘finished.’ Then there’s the live aspect, where songs can take on new life and lyrics are sung back to you. It’s just the best feeling when you have visual evidence that a piece of music is really hitting the spot for your audience.”
What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened at one of your shows or on tour?
“End-of-tour pranks are always fun. There was that time we all wore Christmas sweaters for a Halloween show too… However, to date, I think the funniest (and most fun) thing we’ve ever done was performing a cover of ‘Stone Henge’ by Spinal Tap, complete with an 18-inch replica Stone Henge lowered onto stage mid-song and a dancing Jimmy Keegan of Spock’s Beard.”
Your new disc Fauna was recently released. Now that it is complete, how do you feel about it, and what has been the response so far?
“We’re all thrilled and proud of how it all turned out. We’ve certainly turned the page and started a very positive chapter for the band. The response, on the whole, appears to have been hugely positive, even if our choice of singles was somewhat of a divisive move. For us, it’s all about exploration, experimentation, and evolution.”
What is your writing process like?
“We tend to work on new musical ideas in cluster groups. That may be a riff or a rhythmic idea. These things are typically passed back and forth and added to until it reaches a point where we can sit in a room together as a band and develop, expand, arrange, and finalize a song structure with vocal melodies in place.
“All the while, in the back of our minds, we are thinking about the theme or concepts that may inspire lyrics. Lyrics are a solitary and personal process that takes some time and can include further reading and research. Sometimes, however, the creation of music and lyrics can flow a lot quicker and organically. There’s really no real reason or rhyme to how or why those areas of the brain unlock.”
What is the story behind the name Fauna?
“Fauna embodies the animal kingdom on planet Earth. It’s such a diverse kingdom, and countless species in their current form have forgone a journey of evolution to arrive here. This is how we feel about our songs and about music today. There’s nothing original anymore. It’s practically all been done. However, there are OUR songs and they are equally valid and have a place in the history of recorded music.
“A lot of our albums in the past relied upon a central narrative or theme to serve as the glue to bind the songs together. We felt this time that each song should have its own identity and its own concept. This is what makes this album very different from our previous works.”
What are some of the lesser-known fun facts about the group that people might be surprised to hear?
“Hmm… let me think… It’s probably not common knowledge that both (guitarist) Rich (Henshall) and I were born with hearing disabilities. To this day, it’s a challenge we have to overcome, especially in the live setting, but it hasn’t phased us in our pursuit of creating and performing music. The funny part about it is that for Rich, the hearing loss is in his right ear and for me, it is the left, so we’ve always considered that by using our ‘good ears’ together as a team, we have the ultimate hearing!”
What is the music scene like where you’re based in England?
“I’m personally in the south seaside town of Bournemouth, which is predominantly somewhat of a student town. We, of course, have our club venues for the student nightlife, a midsized and a large concert venue here for bigger touring acts, but it’s not a typical stop on a touring route.
“In terms of grassroots acts, I can’t think of many Bournemouth-based bands, but I’ve no doubt there are some great bands down here. I’m just away too often to check anything out! In the prog world, Big Big Train originates from here, and I’ve bumped into Greg Spawton from that band a few times.”