Interview: Charlie Griffiths of Haken

Prior to their performance at the Albert Hall in Manchester supporting Devin Townsend, we had the opportunity to catch up with guitarist Charlie Griffiths from Haken. Amongst other things, we discussed how the tour was going, the response to the recent album and his advice for new bands.

How has the tour been going for you guys?

It’s been going really good for us. We’re not really used to being the opening band as the last time we did that we opened for Between the Buried and Me. Ever since that tour, we’ve been doing our own headline tours around the world and the odd festival in between so it’s been a bit different to normal. We quickly figured out what we needed to do though, try and stick out of everyone’s way and get on and off stage as quick as we can. We’re playing a 45 minutes set which is proving to be both a blessing and a curse! It’s been an interesting experience for us and welcome change. I get to see Devin every night as well which is awesome. In short, it’s been going great.

The latest album, Vector, came out last year. How do you feel the response has been to it?

Overall, it’s been well received from both our fan-base. The beauty of being in a progressive band means we can be quite creative in our music and we try and be honest in creating what we do. Some people might not like it and other might think it’s similar, but overall our fan-base has really liked it. It’s been quite well received on this run as well. We’ve been playing “A Cell Divides” which has been going down well with a few folk singing along to it. There’s been a few Haken shirts in the crowd but I’d say the majority of the people coming to the shows have never heard of us before. We’ve also been playing “Nil By Mouth” which has been going down super well. When we play that, the mood in the room kind of changes as it’s an instrumental track which is insanity from start to finish. It’s been really fun to do that in front of people who don’t expect it.

Haken (c) Bukavac Photography

How long did it take to get the melodies for “Cockroach King” to be in sync?

That song kind of started out as an instrumental section which is how most of our songs start out. It kind of sounded like a gentle giant thing and no-one was really doing it anymore and we assigned out the parts to get it joined together. From the recording point of view, it’s listening back and seeing if it worked. We kind of don’t really rehearse that much and typically just do it for a day before the tour. It’s understood that we’ll just be playing the songs through in the practice space and that all the rehearsing should have been done before hand. The more you perform something, the better you get at it and that’s kind of how it’s been with this track.

What equipment are you using these days?

I’ve currently using my two Kiesel Vader 8 string guitars which have been really great to play. They’re headless guitars which you tune at the bridge which is different to your standard guitar obviously. We play in Drop E and F# tunings so I’ve got one in each with the F# having a floating bridge which is really cool. I’m currently using the AX8 by Fractal which is the pedal version of the Axe FX II and that’s been super solid. It’s super easy to set down as well as I just go straight in and don’t need to worry about moving heavy amps or cabs. I’m using the Friedman HBE preset and a Mesa 4×12 impulse response which has been sounding great. I’m using something like a Mesa Lonestar for my clean tone. I dialled in those tones about two years and haven’t really touched them since then and our sound guy hasn’t complained which is good!

What would you say is your favourite song in the set at the moment?

I do enjoy playing the last half of the set. We’re doing “Nil By Mouth”, “Cockroach King” and then “1985” to end which I think gives a real overview of all of Haken’s sound.

What is something you would like to see less of in the music scene?

That’s a really good question. The first thing that comes to mind is the youtube competitive guitar playing. It’s all about how fast you can play and there’s been quite a bit of controversy surrounding fake playing at those speeds. I think that is kind of unhealthy in the guitar scene as it’s promoting the wrong kind of mindset. You should be happy to put videos up that have mistakes in them as it’s real guitar playing. If you’re a new player and see something that’s super-crazy and unattainable, it can be really disheartening as you might think you’re not that good when the person playing it is faking it. So yeah, that’s something which I want to see less of. Less robotic playing and more human style playing with people being honest. Make it more about, here’s a song I wrote and don’t try and pretend anything.

What’s some advice you’d give to a new band?

I’d say that it’s worth playing live. There seems to be a lot of reliance on social media to build their brand and I don’t know how useful that is compared to five years ago. You can portray yourself to be something big on social media by buying likes and fans which isn’t really the way to do it. I’m probably kind of old school but I think you should play live and get used to playing in front of people.  Build an audience that way and gradually grow the band. We made friends with some promoters and got to play at The Peel which has now sadly been demolished. But yeah, get out and do it for real and play live. Put your band in front of people and don’t fake it. That’s how we did it and have been growing since then. Before you know it, you could be opening for Devin Townsend at the Albert Hall!

Also, always try and remain your own boss. Don’t give control of your band to someone else who might rip you off and take a cut of the money without you knowing. Keep control of the business and remember you are the boss of your band. Don’t let someone take that away from you.

Tea or coffee?

I going to say coffee. When I’m at home, I guess I would drink tea but I’ve been drinking more coffee recently. Being from England, tea is obviously a drink which I have a lot of, but coffee has been winning recently.

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