A very old man from a very old band stated recently that rock was dead. Haxan beg to differ. You see, they’re young, they write great songs and quite importantly they can perform without the aid of a zimmer frame. In fact the Welsh trio have just lit a fire under the music tree with their fantastic debut album ‘White Noise’. Gary Trueman was dispatched to have a chat with band members Sam, Harriet and Jess. Up for discussion was the new record, who does what band jobs off stage and whether Lemsip was named after Lemmy.
So let’s jump right in there and talk about the new album White Noise. You’ve been around for a while now and yet this is your debut album. Why the wait?
Sam: “We have been around a while, but were so busy with the gigging side of things, we neglected the songwriting and recording side. Our fans were so patient with us, supporting us at shows even though we were playing the same tracks from previous EP’s, which we are super grateful for, but we were itching to play fresh stuff. So we made sure we found time, be it day or night, to get some new songs together. I think the new stuff shows how much we’ve grown as a band, so I’m kinda glad we waited in a way as you only get one chance at a debut, and this is a collection of songs which we are so excited to put out!”
You’ve not gone down the route so many acts do by putting out a debut album which features a handful of old favourites plus some new songs. This is a properly brand new work with all new songs. Were you tempted to stick a couple of already released tracks in there for people new to the band?
Harriet: “I don’t think it was ever really a consideration. We’ve deliberately pulled the rug out from underneath ourselves to put out an entirely new set of tracks so that it will feel new to everyone; old fans and new. We’ve been playing for a really long time and I feel like re-releasing our old tracks (most of which were written over 5 years ago) would’ve aged the record before it had even had a chance to flourish. It’s honestly the best feeling to see how excited people who have followed us for years are getting about this album and we would be doing them a disservice by regurgitating old material.”
The vibe on White Noise is pretty much solid hard rock and yet it still sounds fresh and up to date. You’re bucking a trend in a way by not going for more of a crossover mix of music. Is that a very conscious decision to shoot straight from the rock and roll hip and rely on your song writing to build your fan base?
Jess: “I wouldn’t really say it’s a conscious decision either way, it’s more that we just write what we feel and what we enjoy – listening to and playing. I think that individually, our playing naturally bridges a sort of hard rock sound but with a modern edge, and when we come together that’s just amplified. Particularly with Sam’s vocal, her voice really pushes our sound and personally I don’t think there’s anyone out there that sounds like her and that massively helps in giving Häxan our ‘Häxan’ sound. In terms of building our fan base, I would like to think that the majority, if not all, of our fans are our fans because they enjoy our music. We are very proud of White Noise and every song on it and so we hope it can continue to grow our fan base, in the same way previous releases have, and particularly when we can start playing it live!”
You’re big on harmonies too. It’s one of the things that set you apart musically and one of the things that makes White Noise such a memorable record. How do you work the harmonies into the writing process? And do you write songs specifically with harmonies in mind at the outset?
Sam: “Thank you for picking up on them because it really does play a huge part in the songwriting process. I get probably way too excited trying to figure out non traditional harmonies. Most of the time I write the harmonies before the lyrics. I’m not sure if that’s a ‘normal’ way to factor them in, but it does shape the hooks of the tracks. I hum melodies into my phone, play it back, and sing over the top. So if anyone stumbled across those recordings, they would probably bring me a straight jacket. A super weird collection of “la la la”, the shit nightmares are made of!”
How much of a role in the songwriting process does each band member play? And who does the lyrics?
Sam: “There’s two scenarios with the song writing. First being I write a song, take it to the girls, and they tell me to rethink my life and start again as I’ve brought shame to the Haxan name. Second scenario, I bring an idea we all jump on, and excitedly encourage each other for playing cool shit which has to go in the track. I think the best way to describe it is the analogy that I bring the bones of a song, and together we put flesh on the bones. Every time we play a gig, or more recently, every time I listen to White Noise, I get a moment where I’m like “Shit, I am so lucky to be in a band with H and Jess”, because without the style, flourishes and energy they pump into everything we do, we wouldn’t be the band we are today, putting a record out that sounds like it does. As far as lyrics are concerned, I do the majority of the lyrics, but only because H would only sing about tits and butt holes. FACT.”
Jess has been in the band a little while now, but long enough to become well known to fans. What has she brought to Haxan? Does she have any hidden talents or quirks away from the drumming?
Harriet: “Mainly dead animals.”
Sam: “She is so organised. Merch is colour coded, routes are planned, hotels get booked, we get fancy spreadsheets for everything. Such a nerd. She also makes the best sausage and marmite cheese sandwiches.”
You’re taking the brave step of releasing White Noise during the current pandemic. In a way fans will at least have plenty of time to get to know the songs. Were there any extra challenges in putting the album out while things are so uncertain?
Jess: “Definitely. We chose not to postpone the release, it was of course discussed, but we felt it really important to give both ourselves and the fans something to look forward to. When lockdown happened though, we hadn’t finished the vocals for the album so Sam did have to make a homemade vocal booth and record the last ones using whatever mics she had at home. Todd Campbell did his thing though and added them in seamlessly! Cheers Todders!”
How have the band members been coping with lockdown generally? Anyone gone totally stir crazy?
Jess: “I have two words for you: Joanna Erotic. Check our Facebook if you really want all the details.”
Harriet: “It was really shitty to be so far away from the other girls. I live in Gloucester whilst the other two are in Wales. It’s not exactly ideal at the best of times, let alone being literally banned from crossing the border. So I put on my big girl pants and dealt with it the only way I know how, draw a penis tattoo on my neck and made a porn star alter-ego called Joanna Erotic (sans actual porn).”
Do you think there have been any positives to take from the effects the pandemic has had on the planet, or any personal positives?
Jess: “I think there’s definitely some positives in there, it’s given the world a chance to slow down and appreciate a lot of things we probably take for granted normally. The planet has had a chance to breathe and personally I’m enjoying everything moving at a slower pace. However, get us back on a stage the second it’s safe to do so!”
Harriet: “The world is a very, very different place now if you look back 6 months ago. It’s difficult to say what will bounce back and what will be affected forever. I hope we have the opportunity to start afresh with a lot of things that may have been broken before, be it politically, economically or environmentally, and take the opportunity to build it back bigger and better. Personally it has been really tough on me. I went back to work full time about 2 ½ months ago, but didn’t have the gigs to look forward to at the weekend. I didn’t realise how much I needed them to survive a stressful job. Now I do, and I’ll be damned if I ever take it for granted again.”
Sam: “I think it’s made everyone realise the importance of spending time with, and appreciating the time we have with loved ones. We missed each other’s company a lot. As we were used to living in each other’s pockets. But everyone has been in the same boat, and hopefully when the world gets back to normal, people will carry on looking out for one another, and make time for what’s really important.”
You must be itching to tour the album. Do you have any plans in place? Any dates booked? Or are you waiting a little longer to see how things pan out?
Sam: “We have got some dates booked in! Some are gigs that got rearranged from this year, and some are new ones. We are hoping our Australian dates with Suzi Quatro still go ahead at the end of the year, but we will have to wait and see.”
You’ve got to play some really cool festival slots. Do any stand out as particularly special? Are there any festivals on your wish list you’d love to play in the future?
Jess: “We’d have to be pretty crazy to not have Download in both of those categories! Personally I’d love to play Stonedead Festival too, and I’ve always loved Sweden Rock so that would be incredible.”
Harriet: “Having attended Download since I was a foetus, playing it last year will be near impossible to beat (unless you’re offering a main stage slot?) Bloodstock, Ramblin’ Man, Summerbreeze, Rock AM Ring – all way up there on my to-do list.”
Typically band members have various roles off stage. So who in Haxan does most of the driving? Who is the chirpiest band member, the morale booster? Do you have a band joker, or a band matriarch or an organiser?
Sam: “I do most of the driving, but I’m a terrible DJ so it’s for the best. Want someone who can make you both laugh and vomit with the same sentence? Harriet’s your girl. Jess is a feeder, always with a strong snack game. We’re always laughing, always. Which is why it just works. We laugh, we get shit done, on to the next one! Ask H about krumping.”
Harriet: “Sam does the driving, Jess does the organising, I do the krump and assign nicknames to everyone, which is a vital role.”
Jess: “Harriet is our source of comedic relief, both on and off stage. I’ve lost count of the amount of photos I’ve seen of us playing live where we’re laughing at her for some reason. Sam is the pilot and me and H co-pilot with snack provisions, dj-ing, and researching serial killers and the like for entertainment. The girls also make fun of me trying to be organised with merch and whatnot but I know they secretly love it.”
Imagine a few years into the future and Haxan are headlining a major festival. You get asked what you’d like on the rider. Each band member can request three things, what are they?
Sam: “Guinness, Jam roly poly and custard, but it better be hot, and marmite and cheese scrolls. Marms me up.”
Harriet: “A small horse, a big cat and A LOT of wine.”
Jess: “Pineapple, a roast dinner with about 10 yorkshires, and an easter egg.”
And finally one for you to have a debate about. You get to have a meal together but there’s an extra seat. Who as a band would you love to have to fill that seat, you can choose any person living or dead. And each of you get to ask that person one question. What would you each ask?
Sam: “We’re gonna pick Lemmy. My question is; what was the coolest show you went to whilst carrying out roadie duties for Hendrix?”
Harriet: “Preferred string gauge on the Rickenbacker?”
Jess: “Is Lemsip named after you?”
Interview and photos by Gary Trueman