August 4, 2012 by Dan Swinhoe
A decade is along time anyway, but in music it’s an age. Back in 2001 Slipknot were just breaking through and scaring the shit out the mainstream, Pantera were still a unit, and Metallica had decided they were into S&M.
It was also the last time anyone had heard from Haji’s Kitchen. A little-known metal band from Texas, they had built a strong local following and released their second album, Suckerpunch, a mere six years after their self titled-debut. But throughout their tenure they struggled with various problems. Management issues led to their debut running out and not being repressed, followed by gear theft, and a problem with retaining a vocalist for more than one album. Eventually this led to the band calling it a day.
Fast forward to today and they’re back with a new vocalist and a new album. Fronting the band is none other than Nottingham-borne singer, Dan Tompkins. The former TesseracT frontman has already had busy year, releasing contender for album of the year with Skyharbor and has another release with a band equally far away from home in the opposite direction. Completing the current line-up is Eddie Head & Brett Stine on guitars, Derek Blakley on bass and Rob Stankiewicz on drums.
The album itself, entitled Twentytwelve, a solid slab of Nu-Metal tinged Djent and Thrash, featuring some blistering guitar work and tasty bass solos, not to mention a stellar performance from Tompkins. But can they still cut it after so long away? I talk to the band’s bassist, Derek, and get the story behind the album.
Your last album was 2001-Why come back now?
Derek: Short answer? We simply felt like it. We never fell out of touch as friends over the break, we just stopped playing together as a band. There had been times that we’d talked about getting back into it, but it just never happened. When Brett called me in 2010 and said he wanted to get together and play, the word got passed around and for whatever reason it got followed up on that time. We didn’t start with the intent of making a comeback, or even putting a new disc together. The four of us got into a room, started playing, everyone felt energised about it and things carried on from there.
The band seemed a bit hard done by the first time round- Is coming back a case of unfinished business?
In a way, yes. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we had anything to prove, but in the end it was definitely satisfying to get back to writing. To finally get the chance to polish up the older material to what we felt was it’s full potential was a bonus.
What have you guys been doing in the meantime?
Brett, after quitting back in ’96 to learn to play jazz, spent a lot of time learning to do so. He also started his own bodybuilding supplement store. Eddie got into the management & production sides of things as the band was fading in ’03. He pursued that for a while and then got involved with a network marketing travel club company, of which he now sits on the board of directors. After taking about a year off from music, Rob and I recorded a crazy prog-rock record with vocalist Ted Leonard (Enchant, and now Spock’s Beard), keyboardist Bobby Williamson (Outworld & Eumeria) and guitarist Michael Harris called Thought Chamber that was released on Inside/Out. We also got into a local band called Somsara for a few years, which did a ton of local/regional gigging.
Haji’s Kitchen is a Very odd band name- never tempted to change it, especially with the new start?
“Very Odd” is a nice way to say it! Changing it honestly never came up for discussion though. It’s not a name easily forgotten, and there were still a large number of fans asking for more. I think it would’ve been foolish to discard the name. After all, I think Def Leppard, Limp Bizkit and the Goo Goo Dolls have proved it’s the music people care about most. (even if they do have rather poor taste!)
What sort of people populate your fanbase in 2012- New fans or the old ones plus a few more?
We have an odd mix of all three. We still have an enthusiastic musician/shredder fanbase stemming from the first Shrapnel disc. We also caught a lot of fans with the tracks that made the Dragonball Z movie, who usually also really like Sucker Punch. Getting Daniel has obviously led us to another completely different group of fans. We’re happy about it.. diversity is cool!
How would you describe the bands sound- and how has it moved on in ten years?
I’d say we’re a hard-post-heavy-metal-pre-djent-core band these days! (that’s a joke…) I genuinely have no idea what people mean when they refer to music as “post-something” or “whatever-core”, and have no idea if they’re applicable to us at all. I have no problem with fans giving us any of those kinds of labels though; we’re going to do what we’re going to do, but people are going to call it whatever they like. We prefer things heavy and groovy, we don’t like “cookie monster” vocals, and we obviously don’t live in fear of shreddy guitar or even bass solos. Things have always been that way with us, although we did hold back on the shred when doing Sucker Punch because we were trying to make a career of it at the time, and shred guitar was the industry equivalent of the Black Plague back then.
What was the writing & recording of the new album like?
Awesome. Stellar. Wicked. Cool. Eddie, Brett, Daniel and myself were all equipped to do professional quality recording at home. By the end of it we even had Rob recording multi-track up at our rehearsal room, although the bulk of the drum tracks were done at Maximedia here in Dallas. Eddie has made quantum leaps in the production/mixing department since Sucker Punch, which is beyond monumental. Not having to pay $60-$100 per hour to track and mix really frees up creativity and cuts the budget down. We’d mix a rough take of a song, FTP the session to Daniel, he’d put scratch ideas down, send them back to us for feedback and then everyone would settle on parts and finish. For those who have never done it before it might seem like a strange way to work, but it’s actually quite an easy process to adapt to.
Did you self fund & release the album?
100%. After our experience with managers and trying to get on a real label during/after the Sucker Punch period, we had no interest in taking orders from outside. After several years of having members be gainfully employed as opposed to keeping the easy to get/lose jobs to facilitate gigging, we were fortunately able to put together a budget and do it ourselves.
Happy with results/good reaction from fans & critics? Any favourite songs?
Definitely ecstatic about the results! I truly love both the material *and* the sound of the disc, which is a first for me on an HK album. We’ve had mostly very positive feedback from fans but very little feedback from critics thus far. Being self-released has it’s downsides, and not having a label’s promotional connections is the biggest. As for favorites, mine change pretty regularly I’m afraid!
The relationship with Dan-
How/why did you approach him?
I approached Daniel via Facebook message believe it or not. I was very much motivated to do so after seeing the first round of live bootleg videos of him with TesseracT. (Gargantuan thanks to the Russian fans who uploaded those!) As for why, he simply had all the abilities we wanted. We wanted a guy who had a great sense of melody and harmony, great pitch, unique sense of song structure & flow, great timbre and range in both his clean & gritty tones of voice and the ability to transition between them without needing to punch. He was the first “whole package” vocalist we came across, so after about a week of watching these videos I just decided to hit him up, explain who we were and the current situation to see if he’d be up for doing a song or two. We’d originally intended to have multiple vocalists share the load and have someone local we could gig with. The more things went the way they were going though, what with Daniel repeatedly sending us sessions full of killer ideas and triple-tracked 3 part harmonies that didn’t need any pitch correcting, (not to mention him saying “Hey mate, I’d really love to do the whole thing!), the idea of using anyone else just kept getting less and less appealing until we binned it and let Dan do it all.
Are there any Distance/schedule or culture issues? Is there a big age gap?
It think Daniel is around 10 years younger than the rest of us, but we didn’t have any issues. He’s a great guy, absolutely professional in his conduct, and doesn’t seem to have any of the usual vocalist disorders. Scheduling wasn’t really an issue either. Although Dan was busy and active with TesseracT and Skyharbor while he was working with us, he was always up-front and realistic about his available time. Things moved slowly, but we’re pretty busy over here with day jobs and families anyway. Truly, the only downside is the general inability to play live, but that was a sacrifice we knew we might have to make.
Has he been over much, or you to him?
We’ve never been over there, but we’ve been able to get together over here a couple of times while he was on tour. Very early on in the process, I flew out to Las Vegas to meet him for beers and see TesseracT open for Devin Townsend. We also got very lucky when he came through Dallas with them last year. Their tour had a day off scheduled after their gig here in town, so while the band drove on through the night to Florida he stayed here with us for a day to hang out, take pictures and record a bit. Then we flew him out the next morning to hook back up for their next show.
Happy with his efforts on the album?
Again, ecstatic. For the first time, we definitely had a vocalist who was on exactly the same page as the rest of us. All the ideas and performances he sent back were killer; great melodies & harmonies, cool lyrical concepts, and no autotune or manual pitch correction necessary. His diversity is a gargantuan asset; nothing seems to throw him off.
So there’s not going to be some sort of tour at any point? With Dan or instrumentally?
We’d love to, (Daniel included), but unfortunately no. The cost to fly him over for any amount of time makes it prohibitive, as do his/our work schedules. We’re not on any sort of label or management to help put us on a tour or anything either. In the future, “who knows”, but for now we have no plans to tour.
Have you tried to stay abreast of how things have changed in last ten years?
We’re all pretty avid listeners in general, so that’s a yes. Any influence has been purely osmotic though; there wasn’t any coherent intent to shoot for any given genre at all.
How does TwentyTwelve compare to Suckerpunch or your debut?
Favorably, I think. Not to belittle it at all, but there was a definite attempt at commercial viability on SP, and that was something we put aside this time. We did away with second guessing ourselves or holding back, and I think the disc sounds more natural and cohesive as a result. We also lost most of the “industrial” influence between then and now. There’s still electronic bits in the songs, but it’s different to my ears. I have favorites on the first two discs as well, but I think the overall songwriting is stronger on “2012”. I think the production quality is well above & beyond either of them as well.
If “2012” has a shortcoming, it’s just that.. length. We wanted to do more, but Daniel got time-crunched, and he had several other side-projects to wrap in a compressed time frame. We could’ve put more new instrumental material on it, but at some point we had to call it “done” and move on. We didn’t want to delay it any more than we already had.
Biggest influences/Favourite bands?
Brett would likely say Kurt Rosenwinkel, Pat Martino & Allan Holdsworth. I know he & Eddie both are into Guthrie Govan. Eddie also likes a lot of electronic music along with the heavy guitar-based material like Meshuggah and such. Rob listens to a bit of everything, really. I’m a prog-rock fan myself, among other things; Dream Theater, King Crimson, etc. I’m definitely enjoying the new Circus Maximus disc at the moment. I think some of the “djent-ish” standouts are amazing.. the TesseracT, Vildhjarta & Skyharbor discs topped my faves list last year.
What are the immediate and more longterm plans for the future?
Immediate plans are to jump back into writing & demoing new material. Eddie & Brett both have some absolutely killer stuff that’s ready to dig into.
What’s gonna be different for the band this time round, how is the Haji’s Kitchen story going to end?
Tough to answer this early on, but fans can probably expect things to get more adventurous & exploratory. Total creative freedom is a luxury we don’t plan on wasting. As for The End? Not a clue, things will probably end when we don’t feel we have anything more to offer, but I think that’s quite a ways off.
Photo: Kristell Gathoye