Hemina – Thinking Forward Part ISunday, 8th January 2017
Dead Rhetoric: You seem to add a lot of color and nuance through the use of saxophone parts and having multiple members contribute on background vocals – how do you decide when to add these textures and when to go full force in the technical intricacies? Are you conscious of still developing hooks and melodies in this genre?
Skene: I think probably I’m more conscious of bigger hooks and catchy melodies than a lot of other people out there. I put that more in my focus of my mind than the technical stuff- there’s a fair amount of shreddy stuff on the album and things that push our technical limits to the max, that have also been quite challenging to learn how to play live. The hooks and catchiness is a big factor. When it comes to the saxophone and the trumpet parts and flute- there are particular songs that have a hunger for a certain color there. I don’t mean to be pretentious, but it seems obvious to me on “Moonlight Bride” the opening line I heard a saxophone line over that, I played around the part with a keyboard but the real instrument clicks better. We never really worked with guest musicians in the past, but I think it added a new level and a color that you can’t get with synthesized instruments. It doesn’t have the power of the human performance there.
In terms of the backing vocals, I think a lot of people don’t realize how much the other guys are singing. I am the main singer, but there are a lot of parts where especially Mitch is doing a lot of lead vocals- his tone is quite different to mine, especially in how I hear it. For example the last chorus in “Dream State of Mind” or the bridge section in “The Collective Unconscious”, Mitch sings those parts- so I have to give him a bit of a shout out there because it doesn’t get covered in all the reviewing. I know we have different strengths in our voices. When I need someone really, really high, there’s a particular way that Mitch can sing- or a woman singer can do things live that come natural versus what Mitch and I can do due to the natural tones of our voices. Jess has more of a relaxed tone- and Nathan even has a few little lead parts, he does some of the call and response stuff in “You” and he does some of the beginning of the chorus in “Down Will Come Baby”. We are really just trying to invoke the colors of each individual’s voices. In terms of the choirs as well, I brought in some of my friends that are good singers to just have tonal variation. Something that can happen when you layer a lot of vocals together it sounds very different, you get a lot of subtlety and variety with different voices that adds to the final product.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you ever worry about keeping listeners’ attention given the fact that most Hemina albums are rather lengthy- especially given the conceptual themes Hemina covers? Is that why song order and dynamic flow matters to ensure the least amount of aural/brain fatigue?
Skene: Yes, I think a lot of people are going to make reference to the length of the album. If you include the bonus track, it’s about 83 minutes. A lot of people notice that, it’s definitely something that was on my mind, some people may crucify us for having such a long album. The way I always see our music, it’s supposed to be cinematic, to me I attach that to the idea of being like a movie. Most movies require like at least 80 minutes to go through the whole story. I try to do the same thing with our music, I have a story that goes through each of the albums, and I want the dynamic ebbs and flows. I try not to have too many of the long songs go next to each other, or the heavier songs right next to each other. I try to give a bit of breather throughout the album so that you aren’t getting hit with the same sounding stuff. I think all the songs are a little bit different, but song order is extremely important so that you can enjoy all parts of the album. Track order has been a big thing for me, even on the last two albums.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve had a career in the social worker field, which you applied to some of the lyrics in Hemina. Did you find that real-life experience and situations you witness were aspects that you could channel into the progressive metal framework for Hemina- and as a result release proper emotions in a healthy, constructive manner?
Skene: That’s a very, very good question man- and that’s something that hasn’t been asked enough in the past. And it’s something I feel passionate about as well. It definitely gave me a lot of insight for writing about this story. Mainly channeling around the breaking of trust, domestic violence, and what happens when you try to make things work after the trust is gone. I saw a lot of scary stuff when I was working as a social worker- in child protection especially – which made me have a lot to say about this and actually give a more positive outlet or perspective maybe for people in these situations to talk into. One of the important things you said about having a healthy channel to give our real emotions in a healthy way, that’s pretty much what it does for me personally. I try to tackle a lot of dark themes in the music, and I would say for myself I’m a reasonably, well-rounded, happy person – not too morose. I feel tackling those darker elements actually makes you deal with your own emotions in a more cathartic way. It’s very important to me, I couldn’t write happy stuff all the time because I wouldn’t feel it would serve me for that purpose particularly enough.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you end up writing the lyrical content first, or is it a challenge to find where you are going to put the words after coming up with the music?
Skene: I knew what it was going to be about, the overall theme. I nearly always write music before lyrics, because I need to find exactly what the kind of vocal melody and lyrical pairing will go best over which musical sections. As I am writing the lyrics I’m kind of writing the melody at the same time. They have to go hand in hand, I’m not one of those people who just writes poetry and bends the words to fit the lines. I try to use atypical wording and in my own style, but I don’t try to have it be a free prose poetry and smash the words into sentences, it feels clunky. It’s got to sing well as well.
Part II of Matt Coe’s interview with Hemina will post Tuesday night, January 10th.
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