Saturday 23 August 2014

Interview with H A R K

Today's guests have released one of the years finest Sludge/Stoner Metal albums with Crystalline. It has been critically acclaimed throughout the Hard Rock/Metal World for it's diverse style of sounds and gigantic riffs.

I described the album as - “A new power-trio that is going to rule the Sludge/Stoner Metal for hopefully many years to come. As Crystalline is an unforgettable ride of Progressive Sludge/Stoner Metal riffs. HARK have released one of the most important debut records of 2014.

HARK’s sound has no boundaries. It’s a living and breathing entity that demands your full attention, co-operation and respect when the first note is struck. Crystalline is the Sludge/Stoner Metal album of the year for me. It will be considered one of the landmark metal albums of 2014. Don’t be surprised if Crystalline ends up on a few Album of the Year Lists. It’s a brilliant introduction to a band that demands your attention now.”

If you don't know who H A R K are, then this is the best time to find out. You can read my previous interview with Jimbob here. Now I felt it was time to catch up with Jimbob (Guitar/Vocals) and Nikolai (Bassist) from H A R K as they have had a killer year so far.

So lets gets straight down to business with H A R K

Hark by Ester Segherra

Q1 – You’ve just returned from your Paris show with Phil Anselmo, and Hellfest. That sounds like a great weekend, apart from reports of thievery. What happened?

(JBI) It was a highly testing, but ultimately rewarding weekend. En route to the Paris show, we hit gridlock on the Parisian peripherique and made the show by the whiskers on our cheeks. Phil’s crew were super cool though and helped us make our set time. We had a good show, and having Phil looking on at the side of the stage was really special for us. He fist bumped Niko mid-set, and we spent about 1.5 hours talking with him after. He’s one of the realest characters I’ve ever met, and was a total pleasure to be with. So, it turns out The Illegals had their laptop stolen before showtime, and while we were hanging after the show our van was getting broken into. We lost my laptop, my phone, our three passports and various personal items. I’m not sure what’s more crushing, the loss of important technical tools like the motion backdrop we would have run at Hellfest via my laptop…or losing my Cro-Mags, Yob and C.O.C t-shirts.

Q2 - And how was Hellfest? It always looks like such an amazing festival.

(JB) Well, after reporting to a Parisian Police station and leaving the city later than planned, we took a night drive to Nantes. We stopped at our friend’s place for about an hour’s worth of token sleep, before loading into Hellfest at 9am. We went onstage at 10.30am, sleep-deprived and wired on post-robbery angst, and buzzing on excitement about the task at hand. People were already filling the tent up during line check, and the tent was pretty much full by a song or two into the set. We didn’t know what to expect, but the Hellfest crowd delivered, and we gave it straight back to them. It was an amazing experience to play to almost 3,000 people at 10.30am.

Q3 - Jimbob, as someone who’s been operating in underground circles since Taint’s formation in 1994. How do you feel when you’re backstage at an event like Hellfest? Some might regard it as other worldly, or certainly a departure from the 90’s Uk hardcore/sludge/stoner rock scene that you cut your teeth in.

(JBI) In principle, it’s no different for me than playing other kinds of festivals and catching up with friends. This whole music lark is just a game of smoke, mirrors and the individual’s perception, and being part of bigger shows like this still requires the same level of humility, as a basement punk show. I feel like Hark has earned it’s place in these lineups, so perhaps that’s why I take a grounded approach to being in those environments. It was also incredibly grounding, when other band members reached out over a situation like the theft. While I was doing press at Hellfest, the guys told me how Neil (Fallon) stuck his head in the dressing room to offer his condolences, and then Philip (Anselmo) grabbed Niko in the corridor to express his solidarity and exasperation over the dual robbery we both experienced. That really goes to show that we’re all just human, just regular dudes, just trying to get our jobs done.

Hark Temples 2014 by Falk-Hagen Bernshausen

Q4 – ‘Crystalline’ has been released for a few months. was it an easy or hard album to write and record for. Is there any particular meaning behind the title?

(NIKO) I think it was both. It did take us all a while to get to know each other as songwriters so the first few songs were more of an experiment that took place over a couple of years of jamming. Once we got into a rhythm though and found what we were writing exciting, it wasn’t too difficult to get the rest of the album written in a short space of time. I remember Jim suggesting ‘Crystalline’ during his vocal tracking, and it definitely sticking with me. My personal interpretation and the reason I really liked it was that as a newly-formed band, we went through a long process of ‘crystallising’ exactly what we wanted to create musically, with the album the result of that process.

Q5 – Did you feel any pressure making the album as your début 7 inch single - 'Mythopoeia' – was so well received within the Sludge/Stoner Metal community.

(NIKO) There was definitely an anticipation there but I wouldn’t say I felt any pressure as I knew how much hard work and time had gone into writing the songs on the 7 inch and trusted that the music would get only get better once we fully understood what we wanted to write as a collective.

Q6 – Crystalline has been acclaimed all over the place. Did that surprise you the response that it has received. Or did you know that you had something special on your hands.

(NIKO) Personally, I always struggle to view things objectively from inside the band, as I’m sure most musicians do, so to be perfectly honest the amount of praise it’s received has totally blown me away. That’s not to say I didn’t believe that we had made a great sounding album but I think whether or not a whole load of people are going to enjoy it as much as you do is something that can be difficult to predict.

Hark Hellfest 2014 by John Gallardo

Q7 – ‘Crystalline’ has largely been described as an incredibly diverse and unique album, that offers something new to the stoner, sludge and progressive metal areas. How would you describe it? Do comparisons to bands like Baroness and Mastodon feel accurate or perhaps limiting? Can you tell us about your influences and how they combine with Simon and Niko’s?

(JBI) I’m glad the record has been described as being so fresh and diverse. I think the urgency of the record comes from the way we went into forming the band, a somewhat ‘who dares wins’ attitude. Not to say that we were balls-out confident, as it was a huge gamble as to whether we could write music together as new band mates, let alone make a record and tour it. Simon and Niko have a great knack at squeezing the most out of a riff or movement, and I think it combines well with my approach to feel, simplicity and the space I need for things to breathe. The guys also have the chops and ideas to help take us to places that we want to go, musically and tacitly so. We’re all keen on interesting time changes, but it all comes from the heart not the head. There’s far less counting and thinking than some people might realise. It’s kind of fun to have the ‘math’ tag attached to us sometimes though, it makes a change from ‘stoner’. The guys are seven and ten years younger than me, but we agree on lots of bands/influences as well as others that we don’t. I think it’s great when you like stuff that each other doesn’t, it’s that push/pull of ideas and feelings that can make for really interesting music.

Personally, I don’t listen to many ‘stoner rock’ bands these days, other than most of the luminaries that I discovered in the early/mid ‘90s. This is why I have an EHG/Joey Lacaze tribute tattoo on my right leg. The bands from that period are in my blood, just like bands from other scenes at that time are also in my blood. I love ‘Take As Needed For Pain’ (Eyehategod) as much as I love ‘Slip’ (Quicksand), ‘Undertow’ (Tool) and ‘Transnational Speedway League’ (Clutch). That was my time. I’m also not interested in playing 4/4 pentatonic forever, and hope I take just as much influence from people like Miles Davis, Yes and Radiohead as I do from say Deadguy, Crowbar and Metallica. I’ve always been into mixing influences on an instinctive level, and making music that is interesting for me. I was doing this with the first Taint demo tapes in ’94 and ’95, and this ethos is what Lee Dorrian told me, made him sign Taint to Rise Above back in 2004, because we didn’t sound like anyone else.

Comparing Hark to Mastodon and Baroness is a huge compliment of course, but in terms of influence, I’ve been ploughing my modest furrow for twenty years now. To break it down for you, I’m a classic rock/thrash kid from the late ‘80s, who also loved hip hop, discovered hardcore, prog rock and jazz in the ’90s and has been writing music and expanding my musical tastes ever since. Mastodon certainly joined my collection of favourite bands, but at the same time I was already listening to bands like Kiss It Goodbye, Botch, Converge, Keelhaul and Knut amongst others. Those bands influenced me hugely, in different ways. Not forgetting the ‘90s staples like Acrimony, Kyuss, Fudge Tunnel and the others I talked about earlier. Taint did a few shows with Iron Monkey, I think some of their first, around ’96 and those live experiences also influenced me a lot. So that period of time for me, is the main genesis of how I play and what I write. Baroness are a great band too, and I’ve been friends with John (Baizely) since Taint did shows with them on their first UK tour. We have a healthy mutual respect, and I guess a lot of similar influences. I heard that they blasted ‘..Nova Roma’ in the van with my friends in Capricorns, on their ‘Second’ tour (’Nova Roma’ and ‘Second’ were both released in 2005). John recently dropped me a line to say how rad he thought ‘Crystalline’ was. That was really sweet. I visited those guys during their recovery from their bus crash, so it’s always great to hear from him.

Q8 - The lyrics on ‘Crystalline’ stand out for me, as you certainly don’t seem to be re-hashing tired themes in the stoner/metal world. Can you tell us more about any influences and processes in the writing of them?

(JBI) I’m a big fan of writers like George Orwell, Cormac McCarthy and Charles Bukowsky amongst others. All kinds of other writing too, political, poetic, spiritual and metaphysical amongst others. Bill Hick’s ‘Love All The People’ is also one of my favourite books. I keep a constant lyric book going, and add stuff to it whenever it comes into mind, often when I’m travelling and at home. I like to have fun with words, and paint visual pictures that don’t need any definite meaning attached to them. I mix my own meanings with randomised and fragmented references and emotions. I’d be here all day if I had to attempt decoding them for anyone though. I do put a lot of personal energy in to my words, it’s what makes me able to sing them repeatedly. I can’t quantify or describe what that energy is, other than it being a tension release, but it can be draining. I sometimes wish I could write completely care-free, happy lyrics, to make things easier on myself, but I’m not sure if that will ever be possible. For me this is catharsis, as well as creativity. I’m not sure which one uses more energy.

Q9 – We have to talk about the awesome artwork. Though I am going to get Nikolai to answer this one. Obviously Jimbob designed it. Did you have any input into the final design. Or did you let Jimbob work his magic.

(NIKO) The great thing about Jim is that despite the hours of blood, sweat and tears he poured into the designs he was always open to suggestions and discussing his work every step along the way, from the initial concept right up to the final design. But it would be unfair to claim any real credit, it’s definitely Jim’s genius all over it. We’re incredibly lucky to have a killer artist in the band!

Q10 – What is the song-writing dynamic in the band. Is it a group collective or down to one individual.

(NIKO) It’s definitely a group collective. Jim and I will usually bring riffs to the table and all three of us will get into the nuts and bolts of putting the songs together in an way that’s interesting and fun for us to play. The best things always happen when one of us takes on someone else’s idea and runs with it in a new direction.

Hark Hellfest 2014 by Laurent Burnier

Q11 - What is your musical set-up when playing live or recording your music. Any hints and tips would you like to give to the budding musicians out there.

(JBI) I’ve paid a lot of attention to my equipment over past few years. I was always one amp, tuner and wah kind of guy, for many years. I eventually started to expand my palette towards the end of the Taint years, and have found the importance of a tone and pedal array that serves to provide as unique a voice as possible. The studio lends itself to capturing more varied sounds, but I like to keep it mostly as close to my live set up as possible.

(NIKO) My set-up is as uncomplicated as I can possibly make it, just bass into an overdrive pedal and into the amp. It’s simple but works for me. My personal tip to a budding musician would be to make sure you find an instrument that really fits you. In my case it was switching to a short-scale bass. Your instrument should never impede your playing. It might seem simple but it’s something that took me years to figure out!

Q12 – You have toured quite extensively over the past few months or so. What has the audience reaction been like to H A R K playing live. Which gigs have been your favourite so far.

(JBI) We did 3.5 weeks out in Europe with A Storm Of Light, just after the album came out. The crowd responses were mostly great, and highlights on that tour were definitely the Roadburn and Temples festivals. We’ve felt a modest sense of the crowd building, and when we return to a town there’s a few more people there. Word is spreading, and everyone seems really pumped to hear the songs live, after finally having time to digest them on the record. There’s a lot to take in on the album, and I think the deeper you go with it, the more rewarding it becomes.

(NIKO) I always love playing Germany, there’s something about the crowds there that always makes for a good time. But Hellfest and Temples festival have definitely been the highlights for me. Playing in front of that many people and feeding off their energy was an incredible experience.

Q13 – How did you hook up with Season of Mist. Fantastic label.

(JBI) Gordon Conrad at Season of Mist was already a Taint fan, and we had been in touch over the years, when he worked at Relapse. He and Philipe Soret took charge of signing us, as they loved the ‘Mythopeia’ 7”. They could see that we were already out there, booking shows for ourselves, and took note of the Red Fang and Clutch tours that we did in Europe. Gordon and Pip know what we’re about in terms of influences, background and our overall vision. Working with the label so far has been really good.

Hark Hellfest 2014 by Laurent Burnier

Q14 – Your album was released on 3 different editions. With two of those versions already sold out. Congratulations on that. Did you have much input into the design of the Vinyls.

(JBI) The splatter edition is almost sold out. We chose the vinyl colours, to compliment the colours in the artwork. We want to give people the option to get as nice a physical package as possible. We’re not afraid of ‘the album’ as so many seem to be at the moment. I want to credit our audience with the attention span that we’ve got. We’d love to expand on packaging even more in future, with the next album.

Q15 – Lets talk about the Wales Doom/Sludge/Stoner Metal scene. Lots of great bands from your country starting to make a name for themselves. Sigiriya, Hogslayer, Bloodlung, Spider Kitten, Thorun and Prosperina to name but a few. Have you noticed anything different within the Welsh Hard Rock/Metal scene over the last few years. If so, what do you think has changed.

(JBI) Yes, there are a crop of great bands from down here. I’m not sure if anything has changed, apart from the cyclical nature of venues closing and new ones re-opening. There will always be great bands from Wales, it’s just a case of how many people outside of their hometowns get to hear about them. The Iveys and Badfinger started it in the ‘60s, with Budgie and Mann in the ‘70s. It’s great to see how many active bands we have now, with Spider Kitten, Sigiriya, Thorun and Hogslayer amongst others. I think newer bands are getting used to having to leave Wales to build a following, as in the mid-90s when Taint started, there were often bands who didn’t have the work in them or savvy to get out of Swansea. I’m from the tape-trading generation, so have kept that ethic with me.

(NIKO) Personally I’ve been away from it for a few years as I live in London, but there’s always been a great scene in South Wales for that kind of music, even when I was starting out in local bands. It definitely helped motivate me as a younger musician to want to play music all the time. What’s really great to see is that though the scene did take a bit of a hit over the years with the closing down of venues, change in trends etc, great bands just keep coming up regardless.

Q16 – If you could give any advice to someone wanting to start a band. What would it be.

(JBI) Play what moves you, book your own shows and tours, prepare to sacrifice your own money, time and sometimes even relationships, and don’t expect anything on a plate. Even when working with a reputable label, or with a booking agent, always be on top of things, stay creative and don’t assume anything.

(NIKO) Don’t let your musical prejudices get in the way of creating something killer! Always be open to trying something different and never say ‘no’ to an idea until you’ve jammed it together at least once.

Hark Hellfest 2014 by Mush Design

Q17 – What are your thoughts of the entire crowd-funding scene. It seems to have it's defenders and people think it's a waste of time. Would H A R K ever participate in a crowd-funding project.

(JBI) I think it’s a positive thing, given the climate of the music industry today. Bands have to be more DIY than ever, and I crowd-funding gives a mutually beneficial opportunity for both bands and fans alike. We’ve never done it, but would consider it if the situation and timing was right.

Q18 – The last thing before you go, Do you have anything else to say to your fans. Can you also tell us what’s on your personal playlist this month?

(JBI) Thanks for your support, Steve. We’re heading out on a 3 week UK/European tour with KEN Mode in Sept/Oct, so we hope to see you all there. We’re humbled by the reaction to ‘Crystalline’ and eternal thanks to everyone that has got behind the band since its release.

Wolf People - Fain
Cro-Mags - Age of Quarrel
Scorn - ‘Greetings From Birmingham
Bohren & Der Club of Gore - Piano Nights
Mahavishnu Orchestra - Visions of the Emerald Beyond
Rose Windows - The Sun Dogs
Eyehategod - ’s/t’
Deathspell Omega - ‘Drought’
Twitching Tongues - ‘In Love There Is No Law’

(NIKO) The response we get at shows and the messages we receive humbles me every time and definitely makes travelling in a van for hundreds of miles worth it to get to play for you. From the bottom of my heart thanks so much for your continuing support!

Wolf People - Steeple
Avishai Cohen - Gently Disturbed
Corrosion of Conformity - Deliverance
Ken Mode - Entrench
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats - Blood Lust
Lord Dying - Summon The Faithless
Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um
John Coltrane - Soultrane
Karate - Karate

'Black Hole South West' lyric video

Hark/Ken Mode tour trailer

H A R K / KEN mode Europe & UK Co-Headline Tour 2014

25-09 NL Amsterdam, Winston
26-09 NL Oss, Groene Engel
27-09 DK Copenhagen, Stengade
28-09 DE Flensburg, Folksbad
29-09 DK Backstage, Aarhus
30-09 BE Brussels, Magasin4
01-10 FR Orleans, L'Astrolabe
02-10 FR Nantes, Ferrailleur
03-10 ES Barcelona, Razzmatazz
05-10 ES Madrid, tba
06-10 FR Toulouse, Saint des Seins
07-10 FR Montpellier, Black Sheep
08-10 IT Milan, LoFi
09-10 AT Innsbruck, PMK
10-10 DE Chemnitz, AC17
11-10 DE Leipzig, Zoro
12-10 BE Liege, La Zona
13-10 UK Brighton, Sticky Mike's Frog Bar
14-10 UK London, Our Black Heart
15-10 UK Bournemouth, Anvil
16-10 UK Nottingham, Chameleon
17-10 UK Glasgow, Audio
18-10 UK Sheffield, South Sea
19-10 UK Swansea, Garage

Thanks to Jimbob and Nikolai from H A R K for talking to us here at Sludgelord HQ. If you haven't witness the full power and fury of Crystalline then do yourself a favour and buy that album now. You won't be sorry!!!

Check The Band From Links Below 

Interview by Steve Howe