Interview : Raymond Hearne : Haken
Ray Hearne, drummer for British prog-metal band Haken and self-professed James Blake fanboy, spent a bit of time with us to discuss Haken’s latest album, The Mountain.
With a distaste for the term ‘prog’ and an energy level described by his band mates as a “hyperactive mental disorder”, Hearne is a master of his own right behind his Pearl set.
Words about the Drummer – Ray Hearne
What’s the brief history of your life of drumming up to today?
I started playing when I was twelve. Played in a few bands while I was at school including a Maiden/Metallica covers band, pop/rock covers bands and even once or twice with a guy in the year above me called James Blake (who is now a world famous electronic music producer/singer-songwriter)! A good friend and co-band mate of mine, Pete Jones, met a couple of guys on an online forum who were looking for a keyboardist for their band ‘Haken’. They made one demo track together, I expressed my extreme envy to Pete and a month or so later they asked me to come and have a jam! Since then, I’ve played across Europe, played in the US and even shared the stage with Dream Theater!
Tell us about your kit (include a picture if you have one).
I like to try and provide my readers with a more in depth understanding of you as a drummer so that when they listen to an album they can better picture your movements, fluidity, and style. So…
Up until recently, I’ve always played a Pearl Export (rock set up). It’s the first kit I bought and with the right heads/tuning I think it sounds great. A friend of mine was selling her limited edition Pearl EXR kit recently and I had to get involved! That’s the one in the picture. It’s 10”, 12”, 14” toms, 22” kick and has a really cool wrap finish. Additionally to this I’ve got an Odery snare and a Ludwig Black Beauty snare both with ‘Pure Sound’ snares and also a Pearl 12” soprano snare for those tight grooves! I also use Pearl Demon Drive double pedals.
The cymbals are a bit of a mix. I love the Sabian AAXplosion crashes and I’ve got those in 14”, 16” and 18” although last week I smashed through two of those on tour A 20” Istanbul Radiance ride, a huge-sounding Wuhan 20” china, a 10” Meinl filter china which I also smashed last week so I’ve stacked it up with an old 8” Meinl SBT splash, an 8” Sabian AAX splash and a rusty old Pearl ride with a bike chain hanging off it! I’m not a huge fan of my hi hats. They’re 14” Sabian fusion hats. They’re extremely powerful but too brutal-sounding for me and lack any finesse. I really want some new ones!
What, if anything, is particularly special about your kit (physical setup, drum placement, special heads)?
I try to keep my kit deliberately unremarkable! I find that the simpler the setup, the freer I can be. I always feel very limited and trapped by large kits with lots of toms and auxiliary stuff! Having said that, I like to use a lot of cymbals as I love tone and colour variation in my music but I keep the drums themselves limited. I’ve only recently added a secondary snare (which I love) and the extra ride only gets a look in if there’s enough room on stage! I use the same heads as most other rock/metal drummers – ‘CS black dot’ Remo snare heads, clear Emperors for the toms, ‘powerstroke 3’ for the kick.
Same again but with your style of play?
Again, I try to keep it simple. It’s probably just an excuse for being a below-par drummer But with the kind of music I play, it’s already complicated enough before you start trying to put a drum beat to it. I generally try not to over complicate things and provide something relatively simple. Obviously the odd polyrhythm here and there is good fun and sometimes I can’t help myself!
What other drummers out there are impressing you today?
Ben Assiter (James Blake) is a really great drummer. He was the year above me at school and (although he probably doesn’t know it) was a great role model for me in my formative years as a drummer.
Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) is just mind blowing. He’s a strong influence on me and such a ridiculously tight all-round amazing drummer.
Stef Broks (Textures) is just outrageously awesome.
But there’s so many others who have impressed me and had a huge impact on me as a musician; Nicko McBrain, Mike Portnoy, Vinnie Colaiuta, Ralph Salmins and more recently John Weathers of Gentle Giant.
A few words about the Band – Haken
You’ve been with Haken virtually since its inception. What are the biggest transitions that you’ve made as a band since starting? (obstacles overcome, improvements, etc).
In 2008, we had two members (Matt Marshall – guitar, Pete Jones – keyboards) leave the band within days of each other. It was such a tough time as we were really starting to find our feet having already released around 60mins of demo material and we were just about to start working on Aquarius. We found Charlie first, who slotted in perfectly from the first note – it was quite surreal. Diego’s audition was quite funny as we were playing in a very loud, boomy room next to a jazz band rehearsal at the Guildhall School of Music. About 30 seconds into the song these guys came through the door asking what the hell was going on! We apologised and then proceeded to conduct an almost inaudible audition; the quietest prog-metal the world has never heard! Needless to say, Diego was pretty baffled by the whole experience but nailed it. In the space of a couple of months, Haken’s future had gone from ‘how are we ever gonna replace these guys?’ to ‘yes! Full house! Now let’s take over the world!’
At the other end of the band’s history, our recent signing to Inside Out was a huge transition for us. It was a long-term goal for the band from the outset to get on Inside Out and now we’re on the same roster as bands we’ve been listening to since we were kids! Working with this label so far has been fantastic and we only hope to expand our relationship further with more releases and great shows!
In your own words and for the world to know; who/what is Haken?
Haken is the loudest, softest, heaviest, lightest, darkest, funniest, epic-est, everything-est band on the planet!
Do you feel a strong connection with your fans? If so, how have you achieved this? If not, what do you see as the biggest obstacle?
As we are still a relatively small band, we still play in relatively small venues to varying numbers. Last week we played in what felt like some one’s living room! It was amazing. These intimate venues give us a very strong connection to our fans and the response we’re getting live, and also from our releases, confirm and strengthen this relationship further. Additionally to this, I run the Facebook page so I’m constantly connected with the fans.
Given the long nature of your songs and changing styles within songs, how do you keep the audience engaged when performing LIVE?
I would imagine that the changing of styles is one way that keeps an audience engaged, as long as it’s done with fluid conviction. That’s one of the challenges when writing our music; we don’t want it to just sound like a big mess of any old ingredients. It sometimes takes time to put all the pieces together. And it can also take time to build an appreciative and engaging audience. But now I feel we’re getting to a point with our live shows where we’re becoming more and more comfortable – loosening up and visibly enjoying our time on stage and sharing that enjoyment with the audience. It’s definitely a two-way thing. If the band’s enjoying it, the audience will too and vice versa. As for the long songs, ‘Visions’, ‘Celestial Elixir’ and some of our other extensive tracks seem to be the most popular and well-received songs in a live setting.
How well is your music/genre received where you are [in UK] as compared to other parts of the world?
Because we’re a UK band, I like to think we’re well received in our own country. But some of the best shows and crowds we’ve experienced up until recently have been abroad. This does seem to be changing though and our last few UK shows have been some of my favourite shows with the band. Although the UK is viewed as a sort of ‘holy land’ for most kinds of music, it actually seems that many other countries, for example Germany or Japan, have a far more expansive market and a more open minded audience for music that isn’t exactly mainstream. The UK could definitely learn a few things from these countries…
A few words about the Album – The Mountain
What do you want your listeners to know about The Mountain, particularly as compared to Visions and Aquarius?
Six guys have poured their hearts and souls into 60+ minutes of music without sparing a drop of effort, always 100% committed to create the best music we’re capable of. The main difference is that we’ve used the experience of releasing two prior albums to develop and improve our unit and we’re not stopping there. The Mountain is a more personal and accessible piece of work compared with Visions and Aquarius. It’s more expansive, more aggressive, more emotive and more experimental and it’s a step towards the band’s future. We will keep climbing this mountain until we reach the top – whatever’s up there!
As a drummer and with an album like the Mountain that spans different musical boundaries; how do you like playing those dramatic swings? That is, how difficult is it, or how much do you enjoy having to make dramatic changes between styles (like from Cockroach King to Pareidolia)?
I love being kept busy with all sorts of changes in our music. I’m a bit like that outside of playing music anyway – I’ve gotta be out and about keeping active rather than sitting around relaxing. The rest of the guys in the band are convinced I’ve got some sort of hyperactive mental disorder! But between you and me I just relish being the youngest in the band and try to overcompensate for it by acting like a big kid! I also love being presented with a challenge. In the rehearsal room we joke about the song Pareidolia just being a 10 minute drum solo! It definitely took me a while to record compared to some of the other tracks on the album and kind of does feel like a long stream of fast notes sometimes. In the build-up to playing it live for the first time I remember feeling a strong combination of anxiety and relentless drive! On the contrary, Cockroach King is far more stripped down in many places. The verses in particular have a much more open, spacious feel compared to a lot of our music. This space gives me a chance to breathe and really enjoy myself with the more basic aspects of laying a beat under a band.
On the beginning of Atlas Stone, is that a [real] choir I hear in the intro?
Unfortunately not. Diego uses a really cool plug-in of some sort which sounds pretty authentic. He can program all sorts of vowel/consonant sounds and everything!
Describe The Mountain as if you’re speaking to someone who only listens to Top 40.
We almost reached the Top 40 in Germany! So I think I’d have a good chance at convincing a German to listen to us! But really I think our music shares lots in common with the Top 40. I just can’t seem to find a succinct way of describing our album to some one so narrow minded!
I read on another blog that Portnoy is quoted as saying “The Mountain is the best prog album of 2013.” Can you confirm that and if it’s true, how do you feel about that?
It’s a petty surreal thought but yes, it’s true as far as I’m aware. The guy is a bit of a legend so even if he said he hated it at least he’s listened to it and formed an opinion. That’s good enough for me! The fact he thinks it’s the best prog album of the year feels great for me and the band. And he invited us to play at Prog Nation at Sea 2014 which is just the biggest deal ever for us. What a ridiculously amazing line up! And hopefully we’ll get to meet him and see if he still likes the album come February!
A few words about the Music Industry
Where does Haken fit in within today’s music industry?
At the moment we’re in a niche market which is largely due to the niche music we make. But taking the horrible term ‘prog’ out of the equation, it’s possible to break free from this niche and still make the music we like to make. I believe prog, unfortunately, prevents a lot of great music being heard by the masses which is a real shame. Not to say ours is necessarily in that category but I would love for Haken to one day be considered as a great band, not a great ‘prog’ band.
Biggest keys to succeeding in today’s music marketplace?
Diversity. In as many senses of the word as you can conjure.
If there was one thing you could change regarding today’s music industry what would it be?
Can I have two? I want the word ‘prog’ to disappear and I want orchestral musicians in the UK to be paid better!
What does it take to make money as a prog metal band these days (and is Haken achieving that)?
A lot of hard work, commitment and actively trying to progress! As I mentioned above, diversity is very important too. Yes, we are making money. Not enough to live on (yet) but what’s great is we’re doing this without any personal expense and we’ve still just about got our day jobs!
Just for a little bit of Fun
What are a couple of your favorite albums that have come out this year?
James Blake – Overgrown. It’s a seriously beautiful album.
Everything Everything – Arc. So great! These guys have luckily avoided any ‘prog’ associations and have done well to do so!
Oh, and something prog? …… Leprous – Coal. Of course! Leprous are fantastic!
Any rituals/superstitions for you before going on stage?
Not so much a superstition, just being cautious: I’ve gotta make sure all my hardware is seriously tight! I’ve had so many annoying gigs where I just spend half the show trying to fix my gear!
I’m quite a physical drummer. Probably more an athlete than a drummer to be honest. If I’ve got enough time before a show then I’ll stretch and warm up my upper body as much as possible. Unfortunately, sometimes we turn up to a venue, unload straight away, set-up, sound check and play. No time for stretching then!
Loudwire.com is holding its Greatest Metal Drummer contest. Your name was absent, what the fuck is that all about? And…….who would you have voted for?
Firstly, I’m glad I wasn’t included! I’d feel like a fraud if I was seriously placed in the same league as those guys! I couldn’t pick a winner out of that lot if you held a gun to my head!
Follow Ray and the crew on their Facebook page.
Get off your ass and go see one of their shows.
Open your wallet and spend a few quid for The Mountain.