Having scaled the heights with album number three, The Mountain, it would have been easy for UK based multi-national progressive outfit Haken to simply produce an obvious follow-up that merely repeated the style and shape of a release that brought the band to a wider audience. Never an outfit to take the easy way out, follow up, Affinity, seeks a different starting point from the 70s prog with a modern twist the band have built their reputation on. Instead the shimmer and sheen of the 80s is neatly infused into a progressive sound that is quickly becoming the band's signature. Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid asks keyboard player Diego Tejeida to take us on a trip into the past that somehow sounds like the future.
Affinity is an album title which suggests a multitude of ideas. However I believe that it could also be seen as a strong parallel for the creative experience the band went through while writing and recording this time? At least, certainly in terms of the collaboration between band members during the writing sessions.
Yes, Affinity is our most collaborative album to date, although that side of things has been a natural transition. When we released Aquarius, Charlie [Griffiths (guitars)] and I were newcomers, Tom [MacLean (bassist who left the band in 2013)] was focusing his creative ideas in the band Tomera and Ray [Hearne (drums)] on his orchestral studies. Therefore Richard [Henshall (guitars & keyboards)] was in charge of the main writing duties. At the beginning the rest of the band would function as arrangers and orchestrators. This means that back then, for instance, I probably would get a basic keyboard line and I'd turn it into an orchestral ensemble. Charlie and everyone else would do the same on their respective instruments. We would then meet at the rehearsal room to tweak the actual arrangements of the tune until everyone was happy. Since everyone in the band is of a creative nature by the time we came to do Visions we were willing to get involved in the creative process from beginning to end and this carried on evolving through the years. Everyone got more and more involved for The Mountain and Restoration until we got to this point where it was only natural to take that next step.
Having said all that, the album name has nothing to do with the actual creative/recording process we went through though! Lyrically speaking the album explores questions of human behaviour that often are of a very primitive nature. For instance, we have a tendency to create and be part of groups we feel identified with. At the same time, we tend to repel other groups that are different from us. They could have a different flag, name, taste, language, appearance etc etc. We all fall into this trap from time to time and this 'tribal' behaviour is one of the most primitive behaviours we humans have. Affinity is also an observation of our modern society, nowadays it seems we have access to infinite ways of communicating ideas. That could be a great, positive thing. For example; Conner and I live on the other side of the planet [North America], yet we're able to be part of a band that is based in the UK and make it work. Furthermore, Jens Bogren mixed the album in Sweden, he has mixed our last three releases yet… we haven't met in person. We're so used to this now, but 15 years ago it wouldn't have been possible! Nonetheless, all this technology and devices are dehumanising us in many aspects and one wonders what the outcome of this will be.
Stylistically the results have shifted quite considerably. Previously you've added a contemporary twist to a more traditional 70s prog vibe. However with Affinity you seem to have stepped into the 80s for some inspiration; a more hard edged pop-prog sheen added to the band's sound. Was that purely from having more people involved in the writing process, or from somewhere else…?
We all in the band are fans of big 80s names like Toto, Vince diCola, Van Halen and so on. They are always played on the bus when we're touring. Charlie sent the first sketch of the song "1985" – back then the songs all had different names – and immediately the idea of having an album influenced by that 80s sound seemed like something really fun to do. Everything unfolded from there, really.
Vocally however, the thick, dense layers, and the incisive guitars bring things right into the current prog movement. It's a fine balance, but one you must be very proud of?
Absolutely! Of course it's one thing doing an 80s influenced album, but it's another thing to do an 80s replica. We didn't want the latter, we wanted to keep the modern sound we have but have some 80s colours here and there.
The album is excellent, however I wonder if you think there's a risk that fans of your previous albums may struggle to accept the stylistic shift?
You're talking about human behaviour… We tend to resist and avoid changes, we all want to find our comfort zone. I can see that maybe some fans won't get it at first listen if they are expecting a 'The Mountain PtII album', however this has happened with every release we have had in the past, as all our albums have a quite different vibe. I remember hearing people when we released Visions saying that Aquarius was way better, when we released The Mountain some people were saying that Visions and Aquarius were much, much better. Guess what? There sure will be some fans saying that The Mountain – or any of our previous works – was better after their first listens. If you, reader, are one of these people, I would advise that you give it a few listens and let it grow! We consciously didn't want to religiously follow a writing formula that has proved to work for us just so we can 'have it easy'. We love making music and love the thrill of doing something fresh and inspiring, for us that means doing stuff we've never done before and exploring new territories. That's the main reason why we do what we do! If we wanted to make a quick buck we probably would be doing some four chord radio friendly music. That said, I'm sure that most of our fans will get it. Even though Affinity explores new styles, it still has our essence and core sound. We have incredible fans that have been following us through the years and the many phases we've explored.
Well, you're fans certainly 'got' The Mountain, the album seeming to open new doors for the band and bringing Haken to a wider audience. Did that add any pressure going into this album, or possibly drive a desire to make sure you didn't repeat yourself?
We always want to improve our sound as a band and as individuals on every release. It is nice to look back and see that we've grown in different aspects. This time was no exception. There's many things about Affinity we're very proud of, things that now have a more mature feel than before. So, the pressure of doing things better has always been there.
I'd suggest that without compromising the Haken sound in any way there's definitely a strong link on this album to the current sound bands like Tesseract, for example, are bringing into the prog arena. Do you think there's the potential for this album to bring you to a younger audience than we often connect the word Prog with?
I guess so and I hope so. The album, even though has 80s influences, also has many modern aspects. Jens did an incredible job at the mixing desk blending the modern and retro sides yet keeping the modern sound prominent.
Now, prog aficionados love an 'epic' and with "The Architect", Affinity certainly delivers big time. The track gathers together all manner of themes and ideas, making them into one cohesive journey. How do you guys go about piecing together such a diverse piece of music? Is it a collection of separate ideas brought to together to see whether they'll work, or does a song like that simply evolve naturally into a 15 minute epic?
Charlie sent the initial sketch/framework for this one. "The Architect" was one of those cases where one section of a song got a completely different meaning when someone else got involved. For instance, Charlie had some really cool stereo guitar lines for the middle section, I came and added big ambient/electronica/sound design textures to it, then Conner [Green] came with an incredible bass solo. Ray added a mental trip hop beat… so on and so forth.
The main point when writing the music is to get the energy of the tune, if it sounds right and it flows being a three minute track, go for it! If it feels it can go further and be a twenty minute track, go for it too! Sometimes a four minutes tune feels like an endless hour, and vice versa a well arranged long opus flows like water.
And you have Leprous singer Einar Solberg adding his vocal weight to the track as well. How did you come to get him involved?
We did a small UK tour with Leprous back in 2014. These guys, on top of being an incredible group of talented musicians that have one of the best live shows in the genre, they are so easy going and very welcoming people. Both bands got on instantly and have been in touch since. Einar is a fantastic vocalist that sings his heart out every time, I remember hearing his vocals for "The Architect" on repeat quite a few times, just getting the vibe and all the flavours his guest performance added to the mix.
However I love the variety displayed across the entire album, "The Endless Knot", "1985", "Initiate" and "Bound By Gravity" all offering remarkably different takes on the Haken sound. How much do you focus on finding the balance of presenting the different sides of the band's outlook, against making sure an album has a natural and understandable flow?
Yeah it is always a major priority. We always do our best to make sure the album flows from beginning to end as that's how we like to listen to music. All our favourite albums have that quality so we aim to get that aspect right too as it is of crucial importance.
I've also been loving the artwork, both for the single and album, surrounding this release, it feels almost like 70s Sci-fi crossed with a stark 80s aesthetic. Who is behind the artwork and how much input does the band have in the design and look of your releases?
The artwork for The Mountain, Restoration and Affinity has been done by Black Lake. They are very, very talented at what they do, however, they work very closely with us as most of the times we have initial ideas and concepts for them to then bring their expertise to.
So when do you guys hit the road to play some live shows in support of Affinity?
We have an upcoming headline tour in Europe around the corner with Arkentype, Rendezvouz Point and Special Providence supporting us and also a couple of shows in Tel Aviv, including an exclusive acoustic show!
And here are the tour dates in full…
25.05.2016 Bristol, UKTHE FLEECE
26.05.2016 London, UKTHE GARAGE
27.05.2016 Zoetermeer, NLBOERDERIJ
28.05.2016 Verviers, BESPIRIT OF 66
29.05.2016 Paris, FRDIVAN DU MONDE
30.05.2016 Pratteln, CHZ7
31.05.2016 Lyon, FRMARCHE GARE
02.06.2016 Barcelona, ESRAZZ 2
03.06.2016 Madrid, ESCARACOL
04.06.2016 Peralta, ESMINNUENDO FESTIVAL
06.06.2016 Milan, ITLEGEND CLUB
07.06.2016 Munich, DEBACKSTAGE
08.06.2016 Karlsruhe, DESUBSTAGE
09.06.2016 Aschaffenburg, DECOLOS SAAL
10.06.2016 Berlin, DEMASCHINENHAUS
11.06.2016 Warsaw, PLPROGRESJA
12.06.2016 Gdynia, PLKlub Ucho
14.06.2016 Stockholm, SEBRYGGARSALEN
15.06.2016 Oslo, NOJOHN DEE
16.06.2016 Copenhagen, DKSPILLESTEDET STENGADE
17.06.2016 Hamburg, DELOGO
18.06.2016 Cologne, DEGEBAUDE 9
19.06.2016 London, UKSTONE FREE FESTIVAL
25.06.2016 Tel Aviv, ILGagarin
Exclusive Acoustic Show
26.06.2016 Tel Aviv, ILHAVANA CLUB
17.07.2016 Joensuu, FIIlosaarirock