London prog metallers Haken recently embarked on their tenth anniversary tour, following the release of their critically acclaimed fourth album, Affinity. Preparing for the first night of the tour in Nottingham, we caught up with keyboardist Diego Tejeida.
Congratulations on ten years of Haken, how did you come to the decision to bring back older material for the anniversary tour instead of just continuing to support Affinity?
Well I guess it’s just due to the fact it’s our tenth anniversary! I haven’t been in the band ten years, I joined in 2009, but a lot of the fans have been asking, ‘what about the early albums?’ We haven’t played a lot from Aquarius or Visions for a long time, and they were out of stock as well because we’d changed labels, Aquarius and Visions were released via Sensory Records and that was over, so we actually reissued the albums with Inside Out so it was the perfect time to promote that. I think a lot of the fans we have now, they knew us from The Mountain, Affinity or the Restoration EP so I think it’s a good way to introduce the fans to our older catalogue and I think the older fans are going to love it.
You mentioned that you’re going to be focusing on older material for the tour, are you still going to be including new material in the set list?
We’re focusing on what we’ve done over the last ten years, so we’re playing old material, new material, Affinity. I think for us it’s always good to play the new material because that’s what we’re excited most about. I think most musicians will agree with me, what you like the most you’re gonna play last, so yeah we’re playing everything!
When you’re putting together a set list for a special show like this, how do you decide what tracks you’re going to play?
It’s just basically a massive email conversation! We just go with the flow, first of all we need to know our timeslot. Unfortunately tonight we have a really short time slot because of the curfews, that’s a big thing and we have a couple of support acts, it all depends on the time slot we have. We try to get the energy going for the show, there are songs that work great on the albums but when you play them live you have to put them in the right context. You play a chilled song to early you maybe take the energy off, so you have to get the energy right for the show. Sometimes when we have a definite time slot for the whole tour we sometimes swap one song here and there just to keep the energy going.
Do you have any songs that you feel you need to play at every show? For example, Cockroach King seems to make it into every performance.
It seems to be that way, it’s not really intentional but it seems to be a song that everyone loves, and we love it! Playing that song is so much fun because it’s got all of the elements that we like, it’s got the prog going on, it’s got the metal going on, it’s got the jazz going on, so it’s a very fun song to play. Maybe we’ll change that in the future but it seems to be a fan favourite that one, and it’s short and sweet which is cool. We have songs which are 20, 25 minutes long so it’s nice to have something that’s short and sweet. Well, not that short, but it’s shorter!
So do you have any songs that you get tired of playing every night?
Yeah of course we do, as I say we’ve done this for quite a few years now so obviously there’s songs where you think ‘Oh my god, I’ve had enough of this’. It’s like when you buy some clothes and you wear them for a bit but after a while you want something new. That’s why it’s so exciting to play the new music, obviously there’s fans who love them and you will enjoy them but obviously there’s songs you will enjoy more. Everyone has a different view in the band, it all comes down to personal taste really.
You mentioned how you’ve not been in the band as long as some members, and obviously Connor Green joined on bass even later. Do you all get input in the writing process or is Richard Henshall still the main composer?
Absolutely, we all take part in it. We all give each other feedback when we’re writing and recording. So at the beginning as you mentioned Richard composed the main ideas, so he would send his ideas around and then we’d flesh it out in the rehearsal room. I would get a basic line up and change it to my tastes and so would Charlie. I think the first two albums as well, especially Aquarius, mine and Charlie’s involvement was very polite because we were the newcomers. When I joined the band most of the songs for Aquarius were already written, and Richard was doing a lot of keyboard work as well. When you join a group you don’t want to be intrusive and step on someone’s toes, you want to kind of see how the dynamic was in the group and try to get involved. As we evolved we all started to get more involved, with Visions we all got more involved and The Mountain was the same thing. When we got to Restoration we all rearranged everything and by Affinity we were all getting involved in every aspect, even in lyrics, production wise, sound wise, I would get Charlie telling me what kind of sounds he would imagine for a certain section and it’s great to get that kind of feedback. Then I can just translate it to my language and make it happen, the same with Charlie, I could imagine a riff and send it over and he will change it into something proper for the guitar.
Do you always have the album’s theme in mind when writing the music, or are the story and lyrics added later?
I don’t think we have a system to do it, but I prefer to have an outline, have an idea of where we want to go with the story, so it’s easier to know the energy and the narrative of the album, we know what’s going to be the peak or the climax of the album, we want it to be really big. When you have that kind of imagery when you start working it gives you much more flexibility than if you work aimlessly and just see what happens, so I think we try to get the structure going before we start writing. At the same time we try not to restrict ourselves because most of the time we start with an idea and it turns into something completely different and we just kind of go with the flow.
What are the plans for Haken once the X tour is over?
For the rest of the year we have some shows going on, we’re gonna be going to the US and possibly Australia. That’s not confirmed but we’re hoping to make it happen. Obviously we have the involvement with Mike Portnoy with the Shattered Fortress, so we’re going to be playing some shows with him which is amazing. We’ve been discussing about what’s going to happen with the new album, we plan to start writing by the end of the year and just keep it coming.
So after the anniversary tour is over will you be reverting back to a regular set list or will you be adding more of the older material going forward?
Well we’ll see, that’s something I can’t tell now. As I said we just go with the flow and see what works, so we’ll see about that!
You mentioned the remasters of your first two albums, is there any chance of the Enter the 5th Dimension demo receiving the same treatment?
We talked about it and we would love to, unfortunately when you have a remaster like with Aquarius and Visions, the mix has to be a certain level or it’s like a rescued remaster, so ideally it would be like remixing the demo, unfortunately I think those files have gone missing! We’ve talked about it, we still haven’t decided. I think it’s a good idea just to keep the character of it, when you listen to it obviously the songs are there but the production is all over the place, but I think it’s a nice thing to have how it is.
Each of your albums so far have been critically acclaimed, does that ever make you settle into a writing style or are you always trying to reinvent yourselves?
We try deliberately to avoid that. This is personally speaking, but I think when you find a formula to make any form of art, that’s when you start going downhill. That’s why we made something completely different to The Mountain with Affinity. The Mountain was kind of our breakthrough album, and it was very tempting to continue going down that path but we tried to keep it fresh for us and do something very different which portrayed our mental state at the time. I think we always try to make every album as something that portrayed what we were thinking at that moment.
You mentioned earlier how you have some longer songs reaching around the 20 minute mark, do you go into writing with the intention of writing a longer track or does the track just build?
No I think it just happens. When you’re writing it’s a very delicate art, and when you go in with the mentality of making a really massive, epic song you can fall into the trap of not making it as exciting. We always try to keep the songs as long as they need to be if that makes sense. That might sound too deep but that’s the reality. Sometimes a song needs to be longer, sometimes it just feels right and flows well doing a 4 minute song. Initiate is a short, snappy song and it works well, it’s got a narrative. It’s always about the narrative of the song and the context within the album that matters the most for us not the actual length.
You hear so much about bands struggling to sustain themselves within the music industry, ten years in is Haken a financial success for you?
Not fully, we’re kind of in that transition between being full time Haken members and part time Haken members with day jobs. If I look back to when I joined the band we were doing gigs to 40 or 30 people and that was a good gig, and we were doing ten gigs a year and now we’re doing 50 gigs a year, so it’s definitely getting there. The music industry these days is a really tough world, but I think we’re on the right path. It’s not there yet but I think it’s gonna happen eventually.
You’ve already mentioned working with Mike Portnoy, are there any other names that you’d love to work with?
I don’t know about that! This Mike Portnoy thing for all of us is like a dream, I didn’t think it was possible really. I grew up listening to Dream Theater, when I was fourteen or fifteen just going to one of their shows was a big occasion for me, I’d be looking forward to that for months. Going there was like a whole experience, so now sharing the stage with him, and what happened at the cruise sharing the stage with Tony Levin and Eric Gillette, it’s just surreal, it’s just amazing. I don’t think we actually pursued that, it just happened. The opportunity came and we were really grateful for it, it’s just a great honour that’s all I can say!
Haken‘s latest album Affinity, is available now through Inside Out Music.