Into The Abyss – an interview with Brooklyn sludge noise rockers HAAN

With loads of quintessential thick noise rock dense sludge riffs augmented by a more visceral and almost psychedelic on the most absorbings brands of metal, Sing Praises, the debut album by Brooklyn sludge band HAAN is yet another worthy album to add to our catalogue of highly recommended records. Building up to an overall mid-paced groove, the NYC based quartet explore colossal rhythms and define their unique heaviness through harmonic interactions and sssociations.

Sing Praises by HAAN is available now via the legendary Finnish noise rock label Kaos Kontrol. The EP was recorded in March 2014 by Andrew Schneider at Translator Audio (Unsane, Cave In, Pelican, Shrinebuilder) in Brooklyn, NY, mastered April 2014 by Carl Saff at Saff Mastering in Chicago, IL (Young Widows, Helms Alee, OFF!, Kowloon Walled City, Big Business) and spiced up by an amazing artwork by Chuck Berrett.

HAAN is currently finalizing their next LP, scheduled for a Spring 2017 release.

Formed in 2012, HAAN, quickly established themselves in the New York punk scene with their violent and noisy sludge punk and were named a Band to Watch From New York’s Underground by the Observer following shows like-minded artists Eyehategod, Coliseum, Whores., Fight Amp, Cancer Bats, Inter Arma, Rosetta and Black Tusk.

Led by the haunting, macabre imagery of singer Chuck Berrett and complex, brutal rhythms of drummer Chris Enriquez (Primitve Weapons, On The Might Of Princes), the band takes their moniker from a Korean cultural concept denoting a collective feeling of oppression and isolation and connotes lament and unavenged injustice. Although often compared to legendary NYC noise rock acts Helmet and Unsane, HAAN have developed a wholly unique sound that mixes the physical, red-lined abrasiveness of The Stooges and Swans with the dirgy, LSD-tinged psychedelic of Sonic Youth and Spacemen 3.

HAAN is: vocalist Berrett, guitarist Jordan Melkin, bassists Dave Maffei, and drummer Christopher Enriquez.

Photo by Freddie Ross.

Hey guys! Thanks for taking some time with IDIOTEQ. How are you? How’s NYC?

Dave: Of course, thank you for having us.

Everyone’s been great and super busy, as always. We recorded the follow-up to Sing Praises last summer and are finalizing the artwork and mix right now. It will hopefully be out Spring or Summer of 2017. There’s also a large batch of songs we’ve been working on for the last few months. We typically take a short break around the holidays to work independently so that everyone gets some alone time with the songs. We’ll put together some demos and play with the arrangements in the next few months.

It’s a very strange time right now in New York City. The recent election was polarizing and most people in NYC are confused and scared that so many people agreed with Trumps ideas to got him elected. New York City is a super liberal bubble and we take for granted that not everyone in the country feel the way we do. The last few years felt like the country was moving in a more positive direction and aligning more with our mentality in terms of environmentalism, pro-LGBTQ, women’s and racial equality, so hopefully that progress won’t be derailed too much. Jordan and I are both fathers, so it’s extra stressful to think about the environment our kids will grow up in.

Oh, for sure, Donald Trump has shared dangerous rhetoric about so many issues. I get a lot of feedback from European or even Asian countries where people fear that he has set a dangerous precedent that can result in bad behaviour and extreme, radical ideas will be pushed further globally.

Nevertheless, do you think there could be some pros of his presidency? I mean, there is a common stance that his win won’t matter much for many branches of industry, most of aspects of living and could paradoxically mix up many abnormalities of the previous establishment. Can he bring back your national manufacturing, boost your economy, or even solve some of the Middle East’s crises? Personally, how do you view this guys? Is he really the ultimate evil?

What’s scary about any politician is you never know where they are coming from; their entire reason for being is to appeal to as many people as possible so they can get elected and push their agenda. In a lot of ways, I feel like this country got exactly what we deserved – a spectacular con man. I’d be thrilled if there were some benefits to his term, but I’m extremely skeptical.

All this is parallel to the concept of HAAN. The meaning is derived from the cultural concept of overwhelming sorrow and resentment towards an oppressor. That’s the over-arching theme to what we create – that our lives are guided by forces we cannot control or even understand. It’s a passive feeling and acceptance of the situation although you want vengeance. It’s dark and grim, but it’s recognizing the bleakness instead of running from it. The abyss is there wether you want to look into it or not. Ultimately, each individual has to decide how to live with that.

HAAN live!

How did you get inspired by this Korean cultural concept?

The inspiration and concept was there before we found the term. The band was originally named NO WAY when we started playing together, almost 5 years ago. The lineup and sound of the band was different, although the thematic idea of futility and resentment was the same.

Jordan (guitar), Chris (drums) and I (Dave, bass) have been the constants in the group and we kept gravitated towards writing heavier, more rhythmic music. Chuck joined in summer of 2013 and as we began writing music as a unit, the concept of HAAN kept emerging. It’s a heavy, dark malaise and that hangs over your existence which felt appropriate to us, although there isn’t an specific fascination with Korean culture overall.

With a new lineup and new songs, it seemed like the right opportunity to commit to the concept.

HAAN band by Andrea Kassl

Which output can you get with HAAN that you feel you couldn’t get in your previous collaborations?

There’s always been an understanding amongst us that the only goals are to write and record music that challenges us and to enjoy doing it. Most of the negative experiences we’ve had in previous collaborations were due to egos or the business side of things. It doesn’t matter to us if we don’t put out a record every year or go on tour for weeks at a time – the only focus is to create something that we are proud of. Once you stop thinking about external factors, you can focus only on what you’re creating and go at your own pace. That’s opened a lot for us and made it a really positive experience for everyone.

Let’s go back to NYC for a moment. There’s such a huge independent arts and music scene in the city! I mean, the Brooklyn itself stands as one of the finest and most varied local scenes in the States. What’s introducing HAAN to your local audience has been like so far for you guys?

New York’s great in that regard. Like you said, there’s a huge community and so many different scenes, there’s an endless amount of things to check out and get inspired by and it’s changing all the time. In terms of heavier music, things are always in a state of flux, but the past 5 or 10 years have been particularly strong in Brooklyn. There’s a good show happening pretty much every night of the week, the only problem is being able to see everything you want to. Also, being arguably the biggest market in the world, pretty much every artist or band you want to see

We’ve been fortunate to have played some great shows locally. The reaction’s been positive, I think. There’s a handful of bands that are sonically similar to us in the sense of being on the noisier end of the spectrum, which is nice.

HAAN! live

Photo by Freddie Ross

Was this thick, sludgy noise rock style something you planned to create from the very start? How do you set the mood of your tracks?

There was never really a conscious plan, we just gravitated more towards something more rhythmic and experimented a lot with different tunings and amps until we arrived at what you hear on Sing Praises. The moods come from exploring that sound and what the four of us bring to an idea.

The planning really comes in deciding which material should be released and in what order. We typically just write and demo songs without a conscious agenda. Once we feel we have a batch of songs that fit together, we record. The main criteria is the songwriting and how the records are structured. The goal is that each song, and on a larger scale, each record have an arc. It should take the listener in different directions while keeping them engaged and interested. There were two songs recorded for Sing Praises that didn’t get released. We just recorded a new album in July and ended up cutting one from the final order.

How did you go about recording ‘Sing Praises’ and putting final touches in the production process? How did it transform your original compositions?

After a doing a few lo-fi practice space demos, we reached out to Andrew Schneider at Translation Audio through mutual friends. We were big fans of Andrew’s work and thought his approach would add a lot. Andrew’s studio near the Gowanus Canal was flooded during Hurricane Sandy, destroying his studio and most of his equipment, so we ended up recording with him at Don Fury’s old studio in Coney Island in the middle of Winter. If you’ve ever seen the end of the Warriors, that’s pretty much exactly where the studio was, right on the boardwalk and off the Atlantic Ocean.

It was pretty surreal camping out on the boardwalk and beach during the off-season. There were very few people around, and most of the ones who were were junkies or prostitutes. I took some long walks with my dog during the down time and didn’t see the sun for the duration of the sessions. The mood was pretty dark and we were ingesting a lot of substances at the time, which I think put us in a certain headspace for the recording. We welcomed Andrew as an equal partner during the process and I think his contributions helped realize the sound. I distinctly remember him telling me to try to break my bass during tracking. Between his engineering and Carl Saff’s mastering, it really brought us a long way in understanding how songs needed to be presented sonically.

HAAN studio

Gear-wise, what were some of your favorite hardware inventions? Also, now that you have it all wrapped up and you’re probably thinking about your next releases, is there an effect pedal or other type of equipment that yo feel would be a nice improvement of your current setup?

Jordan: Looping devices. I use them constantly as scratchpad for writing, and for adding parts both live and while recording. I’ve been fascinated by looping ever since I caught wind of the stuff as a youngster in the form of tape loops, probably via Mission of Burma or Brian Eno. I’ve jumped on looping tools as they came along. i’m old enough to be a digital immigrant; there were no looping pedals or Ableton when I started playing. Delay pedals with longer times and nigh-endless repeats allowed for rudimentary looping, and came into my life around the same time as smoking too much grass; there is some serendipity. These days, I have a TC Ditto X2 on my board for live use, and a Digitech Jamman Solo at home for writing.

Dave: We’re always buying and selling gear to try things out. I think Jordan and I have gone through about 10 or 12 different amps and dozens of pedals the last few years. I settled on a 1977 Gibson Ripper and a Fender 300T head (which is essentially a relabeled Sunn) 3 or 4 years ago and have been really happy with that combination.

The last year or so I’ve been playing around with drum machines and synths. We’ve played with some hardware (I obtained an Arp Omni MkII last year), but I mostly use software on a laptop for songwriting. I have a 1-year-old daughter and a tiny Brooklyn apartment, so most of my work gets done late at night when she is asleep. I have to be really quiet!

HAAN gear

Wow! What a dedication!

Ok, so what can we expect from your next record? Do you plan something special in terms of developing your style?

The overall sound is more abrasive, chaotic and abstract. The songs flow in all sorts of directions and the arcs they take are something we’re really proud of. A few begin very chaotically, fall apart and then come back together, some attempt to keep a consistent punishing pulse throughout. We’re really proud of how it came out and are really itching to have people hear it.

We didn’t really begin writing with any sort of concept other than to improve on what came before – the songwriting, the playing, the overall craft. After completing a handful of songs we were satisfied with we noticed some recurring themes and qualities and just continued in that direction until we felt there was a set that would fit together nicely.

Another big component for us was in the performances. We spent way more time making demos and rehearsing the songs before we went into the studio so that the recording would represent a live show. There were very few takes or overdubs and we didn’t use click tracks – we just played and didn’t sweat little mistakes.

Are there some gigs you expect to be doing in the coming months?

Yes, we have a small Northeastern US trip planned for February. We’re keeping quiet on live shows for the moment while we finish up the second LP. We plan on doing a lot of shows once the record is out later this year. In the meantime, we are hard at work writing and demoing new material this winter.

HAAN cassette

Awesome! Distribution-wise, how did you team up with Kaos Kontrol for the release of ‘Sing Praises’? Also, how would you see it expanding for your next record?

We met Kaos Kontrol through some online groups and message boards. Jukka, who runs the label, plays in a band called THROAT, which we were all fans of, and he distributes a lot of the bands we have played and are friends with here in the States, so there were a lot of mutual connections. It was pretty serendipitous, really – we traded emails and they offered to do a vinyl release. It couldn’t have been any better – Jukka is a great guy and the whole process was completely painless.

We had self-released Sing Praises online and a very small run of cassettes back in Summer 2014. We played a ton of shows that year and sold out of the tapes pretty quickly, so it was great to finally have a proper release.

We’ve been taking our time with this next release. The goal is to get it out to a larger audience, especially now that we’ve been able to get to people outside of the Northeastern US. Ideally, we’ll be able to have Kaos Kontrol help with European distribution for the next record. We’d love to tour Europe once it’s finally out.

We’d love to see you touring our lands!

So how much touring do you expect to be doing in the coming months?

It really depends on when we confirm the release of the LP this year. Once that’s out, we’re planning on getting out on the road. We like to have something new to show people when we play. Until then, I’m sure we’ll do some occasional shows in the area. The focus right now is finishing the mix and mastering and finalizing some demos. The third release is already starting to take shape and we’re in a really productive phase right now. Hopefully we’ll be back in the studio during 2017.

HAAN band

Is there a place, country, city or a specific venue where you’ve never been and where you would love to book a show?

Honestly, we haven’t done much touring and have mostly played in New York and the Northeast. We’d love to hit more areas in the US, Canada and especially Europe. There are so many great bands and scenes in Europe right now.

Any examples? What do you associate European hardcore and metal with?

There just always seems to be really innovative things happening there. Outside of hardcore and metal, we’re huge fans of 70’s German prog stuff, glam, post-punk, goth, early black metal. I’ve always had a romantic fascination with European culture and art.

As far as current bands, we really like the newest ORANSSI PAZUZU and OKKULTOKRATI records, BLUT AUS NORD, DEATHSPELL OMEGA, newer DARKTHRONE. THROAT and BAXTER STOCKMAN from Finland are fantastic as well.

Great! Ok guys, once again, congratulations for creating such an enveloping textural experience and keeping it alive! Many thanks for the interview! The last words are yours.

Can’t wait to share the next record with you. Thanks again for your time!

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