The latest “15 questions” feature is with guitarist Ben Harris-Hayes. Ben is the singer & guitarist from the prog-metal band Enochian Theory, who’ve recently signed to Mascot Records and released the fantastic album “Evolution: Creatio Ex Nihilio“. Guitar Jar caught up with Ben to quiz him on his guitar equipment, technique and his impressive guitar sound…
…I really wanted the album to be heavy, but not have an overtly heavy guitar sound. I wanted ALL the instruments to make the ‘heavy’ sound…
Hi Ben, before we get into the details of your equipment and technique, can you give Guitar Jar readers an insight to why you first picked up the guitar and how long you’ve been playing?
Greetings observers of the Guitar Jar and all its magical contents! Thanks for giving me this chance to talk utter nonsense at you, you poor people!I originally started as a drummer aged 8 and played till I was about 19, but drums were a pain to transport and practice with… so I sort of ‘fell into’ playing guitar and started that when I was 16 because I wanted to play as fast as I could and write my own songs. So, being that I’m the ripe old age of 31 now (or am I 21? hmmmm…), I’ve been attempting to play those lovely stringed beasts for about 15 years, give or take a year.
I’ve never had a lesson, so that’s probably why I’m not very good compared to some teenager who has been practising sweep picking in their bedroom for 2 years but I guess I have my own style and that’s something I cherish… no one sounds as bad as I do!
In the first few years in learning the instrument, which guitarist(s) were you influenced by the most and why?
I grew up listening to some of my Dad’s records, artists like Prince and Paul Simon really made me want to do music when I was younger, but I’d say that during my mid teen years, I was influenced massively by thrash and extreme metal, that was when I got my first £40 acoustic from Argos and proceeded to try to play all this silly triple time shredding madness on it.The late great Chuck Schuldiner of Floridian death metal kings, Death really opened my eyes to melodic yet heavy metal. I had a fan boy thing for Jeff Hanneman of Slayer, as he had some really twisted riffs that I liked plus I preferred his solo style over Kerry King’s style, but Slayer as a whole was a big influence on my younger days.
Max and Andreas of early to mid career Sepultura, Trey Azagtoth of Morbid Angel, Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains are another bunch of guys I hold dear in my youthful days of first picking up the guitar.
Devin Townsend made me want to learn everything I could and the mighty Frederick Thordendal and Martin Hagstrom of Meshuggah were the guys the REALLY made me practice a more technical exploration of a more rhythmical approach to my playing (being a drummer helped there somewhat!). I just adored all these artists and still do today.
It seems you guys, as a lot of bands, have been working seriously hard over the past few years to make a name for yourselves. How are things working out for you now you’ve signed to Mascot Records? Are you able to focus more on the music & live performances? Yeah, it’s been a lot of hard work and it will continue to be, but we are in a good place or so it would seem. Getting picked up on our first album is great for us as it allows so many more opportunities that, as an ‘unsigned band’, we wouldn’t have the chance to do. We don’t like waiting for things, we’ve always gone and done things ourselves so having someone else do things for us was/is hard; it’s like letting your child cross the road for the first time on their own or some other strange analogy of similar ilk!We are still very much hands-on, so no, we still worry about every aspect of the band and are very much still involved but I can only assume that we will see more of the benefits of being with Mascot when we get our 2nd album out (hopefully next year), as we are just starting to write things now and it’s quite exciting to be able to write again.
“Evolution: Creatio Ex Nihilio” is an epic album. Can you tell our readers more details about how long it took to write/record and what’s the influence behind the theme of the album?
‘Evolution…‘ came at a strange time for us, it was really do or die for the band. Things weren’t great business and personal wise in the band. We needed a new record as we had only written one new song in about two years under the old line up, which as you can imagine, was just crap.So, we trimmed one member of the band for various reasons and I took over writing the bulk of everything, which we then completed as a band in record time for us. I think we spent about 4 months actually writing (Jan to April), then we recorded over a period of two months on and off due to the engineers randomly going away and not really understanding how much effort we wanted put into this record. Finally, we had the record mixed and mastered in Sweden by David Castillo in about a month.
We really did go for it on the last record, pushing things harder and working hard on it to get it done as soon as possible. I’d say “Life” really did influence the record; as I said, things were not good in various aspects of our lives, so that sort of channelled into the music and the result of all this madness is what you hear. It was a great form of catharsis.
Your guitar sound is huge on the album. Can you tell our readers what guitars and amplifier(s) you used and are they different to what you would use when playing live?
Thanks! Glad you like it, I wasn’t too sure myself first of all for many months after recording but I guess it’s done now and there’s not much I can do. I remember starting to record the record digitally, but it sounded so utterly hollow and mechanical, that was not what I wanted for the album at all.I really wanted the album to be heavy, but not have an overtly heavy guitar sound. I wanted ALL the instruments to make the ‘heavy’ if that makes sense. After recording for a day or two, I remember talking to that chap who was engineering the record about how I was feeling rubbish about it all, so we scrapped the digital thing and brought in a Fender 79 Deville amp with a hot plate to crank those valves and that’s what I used for the record in the end.
It was about as close to the prog bands of yore as I was willing it get production wise, but it sounds ok – just needed more time to play with it I guess, but time wasn’t really on my side. I will explore more ideas on future recordings I’m sure.
As for live, I use Line 6 modelling equipment and a cheap flat response amp, as I don’t have the patience for ‘pedal hopping’ and I’m not really ‘touchy touchy’ about my equipment – and besides, there’s less things that can go wrong with one FX pedal! It’s like “Oh…it’s not working…ok, pedal is broken, sorted!” unlike before in other bands I used to be in where I’d be thinking “This is madness, 20 stomp boxes and various other bits, so many cables…which part is broken!?!?” Fiddling with things mid show when you have catastrophic equipment disaster is not my favourite thing…I’m too old and grumpy for that stuff!
How difficult is it for you to sing and play the guitar parts live? Do you pick and choose which guitar lines to play or do you try to re-create the album as closely as possible?
A good question… I personally have zero ability, so yeah; I’m not afraid to admit that sometimes it is hard to play and sing but I muddle through and do what I can. And yes, I choose which parts I want to play that help me sing and leave the rest to the backing track that we use for the extra guitars, but I do play almost all the main parts myself live.It was just a case of sitting down when we were putting together the backing tracks and saying “Yep, I’ll play that live”, but in all honesty, I’d been playing the bulk of it from day one as the songs were written that way. A lot of the additional guitars on the record were done spur of the moment in the studio; I like doing things that way.
How has your band gone down in the South Coast UK? Is there a thriving prog-metal scene around the Portsmouth area?
Gone down like a lead balloon! Prog is a dirty word here and we don’t have much of a following locally, but that’s fine with me. Having said that, we have people who come to see us when we play live, who have followed us since day one, so that’s really nice to know.There are some good new bands in the area and with the emergence of it being ‘cool’ to chuck the odd timings and poly-rhythms in there, more and more bands are exploring ‘progressive’ sensibilities.
I’d recommend one of the old school guardian of Portsmouth metal, Dragon Eye Morrison, as one of the better bands in the area. Their new E.P called ‘Kodiak’ (which is about a giant bear randomly) is sounding pretty meaty, so go check them out right away.
When are you next coming to the Bournemouth area and can I have one of the brilliant tour T-shirts? In fact, who did your art work for the album/merchandise as it’s seriously impressive?
Of course you can have a t-shirt fella…a mere 10 of your finest English pounds should complete the transaction! ;-)The artwork was handled by the 5th member of Enochian Theory, Mr Robin Portnoff, our Swedish artist and art director (the 4th member being ‘The Lost Orchestra’). He’s been nothing but utter gold to us from the day we contacted him. As you can see in the artwork, Robin has a very unique style and one that worked hand in hand with our music. We badly needed someone with an eye for artist direction and Robin came along, and well, the rest is history.
We are currently working on a full animated video for the song ‘The Fire Around The Lotus’, which is based on a story board that Robin did in a week when he was tripping his balls off with a very, very nasty fever.
It‘s looking amazing and we cannot wait to be able to show everyone all the hard work that ‘Team Lotus’ has put into the video; trust me, it’s going to be something special, so keep an eye out for that.
How often do you practice and what do you focus on to improve your technique?
I don’t really practice as such; more just write and play stuff when I feel the need. Having realised recently that I cannot play all the silly metal stuff I used to be able to do, I’ve started doing my old exercises and just trying to relearn that style of playing as I’ve been learning jazz and such in recent years, which has changed my style. Hopefully when it comes to writing the new record, I’ll have some new tricks up my sleeve and judging from the new demos I’ve done, I am getting better – sort of!
Listening to “Evolution…” you do play some tasteful lead breaks, but in my mind, I wish there were more. Was it a conscious decision to hold back on the guitar solos?
It was indeed a conscious decision; I didn’t want to widdle all over the record as a lot of solos just leave me feeling empty and never suit the song. As I said before, I wanted the record to be all about the collective heaviness, not just about the guitar.I spent a long time scoring the strings and the arrangements so that it would be this way. I cannot say I’ll really change that in the future either, as I prefer not to widdle unnecessarily and simply prefer to have suitable simple (what I term) ‘extended melodies’ – and I don’t play solos, ha ha ha.
Your house is burning down. What’s the one guitar item you would save?
Oh… ummmm… not sure I’d save anything right now, ha! I’d swindle the insurance company after the fire to get better equipment than I had! Oppppss…did I say that out loud!?I guess I’m particularly fond of the 7 string and my lush electro-acoustic. If pushed, I’d try to get them out, but as we all know kiddies, fire is nasty and you should not attempt to take personal belongings with you. That’s my Dad talking, he was a fireman. 😉
A DeLorean time machine has just burst onto your front lawn. With your hover board in hand, you’re ready to climb in and hit 88mph. Where do fancy going – past or the future and why?
Hmmm…I think I’d go forward to see what the future of humanity is like.People always say (in a negative way) that we’ll destroy ourselves, but the optimist in me ‘hopes’ that mankind can get it together and explore the future as one conscious mind, not a divided, bickering and petty life forms. I believe that we are very resourceful as a race and when pushed, we can do some incredible things; just look at Russell Brand’s hair! Now, that’s some atrocity right there! 😉
I could harp on about all the bad things we do, but let’s keep this cheery! Come on Humanity; get your stuff together, for the greater good! *cue Bill Hicks inspiring speech*
If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
Ahhh, a stinker of a question. It’s always tough to answer this, as there are so many bad-ass players from the past and present. I’d guess I’d choose a tossup between Ginger Baker, Nick Mason or Tomas Haake; purely because they are just leaders of their fields and I adored them when I was learning drums – plus I’d just watch them and drool…
Lager or Cider?
Ermmm…both please, followed by Jaegermeister and Jack D. Ha ha ha! In all honesty, it depends on my mood. Sometimes lager cannot quench that ‘thirst’ that cider can and sometimes the other way around. I can be fussy like that.
What’s the plan for you musically for the next 12 months?
We are starting work this very week (early October) on our new record, just getting my ideas demoed and shared with Shaun and Sam in the band. We’ll then come together and craft this little sucker, with view to getting the new record recorded around summer 2011.We are REALLY looking forward to writing new songs and it’s going to be VERY interesting to see what comes out as I’m just letting whatever riffs come out this time, rather than having a firm mindset like I did on ‘Evolution…’.
In between that, we hope to play some festivals next year and continue promoting our current record; which you should buy as it’s pretty looking and makes a fabulous beer mat or frisbee!
For more information about Enochian Theory, please visit: