A little bit over a month ago, we here at OVERDRIVE were given the chance to chat with Diego Tejeida of mighty progressive metal band Haken, and very recently struck gold again and Ross Jennings who handles all of Haken’s vocals was gracious enough to sit down and receive a call from me.
Ever the humble man, we discuss what he was up to before it came to interview time and he informs me that he was preparing merchandise for the upcoming tour and placing orders and “doing all the back-office stuff that no one sees behind the scenes of being a band” he elaborates that it isn’t just himself that still likes to have a hand in such things, “All of us still keep busy on the business side of things definitely. It’s so important to be involved in that. It’s not just about going out and having fun and playing notes. There’s a lot more to being a successful band.”
When the conversation moves onto the fact that Haken have been a band for 10 years, the powerful singer shares a little bit about what it means to him to be celebrating the particular milestone, especially considering the 10th anniversary tour the band are currently embarking on.
“I never thought that we’d still be a band and doing successful shows, ten years down the road. When you start out it’s a dream of course. You want it and you fight for it. But it’s always a one in one thousand chance that it could happen. We were quite humbled and sensible about that. I guess it’s the working man kind of thing, do the grind and hopefully it pays you back and rewards you.”
On the topic of the upcoming Australian tour, Haken’s first in Australia, Ross enlightens even further about what we can expect, both in regards to the setlist and the live show.
“We’re doing four shows in a row and it falls at the back end of our US tour, and we’ll be doing a ten-year anniversary setlist for that tour. I guess it’s kind of relevant to keep a similar approach for visiting Australia for the first time. People are gonna want to hear tracks from our whole catalogue and that’s pretty much what we’re doing. I don’t know the final setlist for the Australia shows yet. I guess it’s still up for discussion. To be honest I’d like to personally represent everything quite fairly and go from there. So that’s what people can expect in terms of the music. As for the shows themselves, people who have never seen a Haken show before, hopefully are gonna be blown away. We like to have a lot of fun on stage and just go wild I guess.”
On discussing the latest album Affinity and how enjoyable it still is to play live for the band, Jennings says, “It is for me! That’s for sure. There’s still tracks that we’ve not really played that much. 1985 is always great fun and we’ve played that a lot, The Architect too. They’re two pieces on the record that have become fan favorites I guess. Tracks like Red Giant and Lapse we haven’t really played that much and it’s gonna be fun to get out and do those. It is ageing well but it’s still early days really.” He adds humorously, “Ask me in another ten years if it’s still fun to play 1985 and I might have a different answer for you.”
Continuing on his mention of the epic piece The Architect, which clocks in at nearly 16 minutes, I ask Ross how he prepares for vocally demanding parts like the screamed section. His response is sure to be surprising.
“I do my warm ups an hour before each show and kind of go through the motions and make sure my voice is vocally ready. To be honest I don’t find that song particularly difficult really. The hardest one for me in the set is probably The Endless Knot. There’s a lot of words and some high-pitched stuff in there as well. Unfortunately that one falls at the end of the set where I’m quite tired so I’ve always gotta be pumped and have a lot of stamina for that.”
On the topic of Haken being the band for Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress shows, which will see the prog metal stalwarts returning to Australian shores not long after their own headline shows, Ross goes into detail about what the experience has been like for him, including what the dynamic is like between Haken and Portnoy as well as Eric Gillette who is the third guitarist in the mix. He also mentions what Haken drummer Raymond Hearne’s thoughts are.
“I can’t tell you enough how incredible an experience that’s been. As a Dream Theater fan growing up. They’re a massive influence on our music too. Now actually playing alongside their drummer, it’s incredible. Hopefully we’ve done it justice. The response has been great. Every show has a been so much fun and that’s the important thing. There’s a lot of guitars, put it that way. I think the initial plan was to have just Eric. But since most of Haken were coming, it was a really cool gesture of Mike to kind of have everybody on board. Unfortunately, Raymond is left behind. I think he’s learned to deal with that now. It’s a shame but he understands. He was there at the first show in London and he really enjoyed and I think he saw straight away how important it was for us to do it. We’ve seen that our profile has been raised somewhat since doing these shows. Of course, there were quite a few people who have not heard of Haken coming to see these shows and being quite impressed so it’s been good for us.
The conversation turns briefly to the material that Haken had to learn and prepare for these Shattered Fortress shows and Ross explains the process and challenges behind the process.
“Vocally, I spent a bit of time leading up to the tour trying to make sure I’m honouring the original material as best as I can. Obviously, James was a massive influence on me as a singer. So, I think some of that came naturally and it’s partly why I think Mike chose me for the role as well. I think he heard a bit of James in my voice. I think my role is probably easier than the other guys. They spent months and months learning each track note by note. They had quite a tall order. I just did what I could to be faithful to the material and I think everyone’s done a great job.”
On a slight change of topic, I ask Ross a couple of rapid fire questions such as if there is anything he absolutely must do before a show to which he responds, “I make sure I’ve not eaten before singing and Diego and I have this fun little ritual. I guess you could call it dance. It’s kind of a motivational thing, gets us pumped up for the show.” When questioned about his vocal range however, he laughs and tell me that he has no idea but, “That’s determined me to find out now. I’d like to think it’s at least three octaves but I could be wrong.”
The conversation turns onto how he combats sickness whilst on the road during the band’s busy touring schedule. Ross imparts,
“I actually had a pretty bad experience on the last European tour earlier this year. Most of us in the bus got pretty sick quite quickly and we had to kind of struggle through a lot of the latter shows towards the end of the tour. It was a really tough one. I mean I personally try to eat well. I’ve been kinda maintaining a plant based diet whilst on tour. I make sure I’ve got a lot of vitamins and things like that. Exercise is always good. It’s not always possible on tour but days like this where I’m off tour, I make sure I’m keeping healthy and it’s staying away from germs in general. It’s a hard thing to do and I think most musicians experience the worse side of this. It’s just a matter of fighting through it I guess.”
To wrap up the brilliant conversation, Ross digs deep and offers up some advice to any aspiring musicians within the progressive rock and metal genres.
“It’s a tough road. It’s the road less travelled and you’ve got to be prepared to put in a lot of hard work. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, be involved in all the aspects. Get those demos out there. Do your thing. Stay true to yourself and there’s a lot of luck involved so don’t be disheartened if you’re not getting what you want straight away.”
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