Ross Jennings, the front man of one of the most popular and promising progressive metal bands out there today, Haken, recently had a chat with Prathamesh Hoshing of MetalWani. The subjects of discussion were broadly threefold – Insights into the new live DVD titled ‘L-1VE’ to be released on June 22nd, the new album in works; and Jennings’ personal influences and tips on self-improvement.
Making a live DVD was in the works for a while, so what made you decide that the time was right during this Affinity tour? How did you settle on the setlist and the delightful “Aquamedley”? The overall sound as well as your vocals on the album is brilliant, how was it achieved?
Ross: “We wanted to draw a line on the back our 10-year anniversary for the release of the live album. We wanted to initially create documentary: We filmed and recorded most nights and envisaged a larger scale package with scenes from different shows. It finally made sense to focus just on one show- we were all happy with the Amsterdam one and decided to go with it finally. I have Dutch heritage myself and was somewhat proud that the Netherlands was represented here.
The setlist draws from all our records and we wanted everything to be represented well. It is a perfect DVD for a newer fan to get to know about us. About “Aquamedley”, we initially thought of playing ‘Aquarius’ in full but finally decided to present it in a more succinct manner, inspired from “Instrumedley” by Dream Theater. “Sun” is the only track off the album that doesn’t get represented but we got everything else across well, and even in chronological order.
We have received a few comments that the record sounds extremely clean. The way Haken is plugged in on the live show is everything is direct to the desk, which made the mixing process a lot cleaner. Jerry Guidroz (from Winery Dogs, Neal Morse Band) has done an incredible job. We’ve known him for a long time as he works with Mike Portnoy quite closely and was involved in the live mixing of several of our shows.”
The band has started working on a new album, with Ray Hearne kicking things off in the recording studio. After capturing the 80s synth influences during Affinity in your ever-evolving sound, what do you have in store for the new release? How does the songwriting process work with the band and has this changed or evolved over time? Do you think future albums may have guest appearances from prominent prog musicians?
Ross: “We’re still in the process of formulating things but we of course want to push the bar. We want this album to be heavier in a way and we’re paying more concentration to the riffs – Charles Griffiths has been coming up with a few insane ones. We’re also mixing up the crew involved in creating the album, with Nolly (Periphery, Devin Townsend Project) coming in and he should give a different, heavier edge to the sound. You can also bank on us drawing from surprising influences, it is a Haken trait after all.
About the songwriting: For our first two records, Richard Henshall was heavily involved in it and we’d fill in the gaps. Subsequently we’ve all become more involved. Just as in ‘Affinity’, everyone has brought in their own ideas and we’re developing more as a band.
For ‘Affinity’, Einar Solberg was the choice as the guest vocalist on “The Architect”. We don’t have anything planned for the record coming up, but more guest musicians are a possibility in the future”
What are your personal influences as a vocalist? How do you go about in your self-improvement process? Do you think harsh vocals could be more included in the future and is it something you’re working on personally?
Ross: “Growing up, Dream Theater was a huge influence obviously, and I love ‘Terria’ by Devin Townsend. I also followed a lot of indie music so Thom Yorke and Guy Garvey (Elbow) have had an impact. Others include stadium rock band frontmen such as Steve Perry, Steven Tyler and even Bon Jovi mainly because of their stage presence.
About self-improvement, I like to keep challenging myself. I’m always looking at other vocalists, past and present. There’s no big secret – I just keep going at it. You develop your vocal chords like any muscle – practice makes perfect. Recently I’ve been working on the growlier, grittier voice – since Haken has been going more metal, I’ve had to work on that. I was also on the Shattered Fortress tour recently, so I’ve had to work on tracks such as “The Mirror”. I practiced till it became a part of my voice, though there’s still room for improvement.
(Smiling) I cannot confirm nor deny whether there would be more harsh vocals – it is a color on the palette for us. Being a metal band, we always have them on our minds. “