Interview by Si Smith
And here we are having a nice chat, this time, with Kat Ward about the second platter of the UK Progressive Gothic masters hAND. Let’s hear what the singer she has to tell us…
If you don’t mind, let us take a walk back in time. You describe your current musical incarnation loosely as “Prog goth”, but originally you were a rocky trance duo? How did that work?! And where did you find Cris? (FYI Cris has now left the band and Dan Thomas is now our new drummer).
We started off with a piano, a guitar and a drum machine, the very early work of hAND is quite industrial sounding and very different to our current sound. We recorded one EP before we decided that adding a live drummer to the mix would really add impact and presence, especially on the live front. We advertised for a drummer on our local music forum, Cris turned up for an audition and we just hit it off straight away.
So moving on a little we find the band releasing 2 EPs, the second of which appears to have gained you some sponsorship and reputation in the industry. How was the feeling in the band at this time? Did you see something good coming, or were you just playing things “by ear”?The second EP was really just a chance to see how we sounded as a three piece, it was also the first time we went into a studio to record so it was a nice experience all round. We sent it out to a few people for critique and overall response was very positive. At this point we just wanted to get some live experience, write some new songs and look into releasing a third EP. We were enjoying being a band more than anything else. In 2007 you took part in the AKG Unsigned Heroes competition and won through to the top 20; eventually you signed to Copro Records. How was the band evolving at this time? Were you still reworking your original material, or constantly writing new stuff? We’re always writing new songs! When we signed to Copro it was a little bit of a wakeup call, I think we all took a step back and thought “ok let’s start taking this a bit more seriously and see what we can do”. The first album consists of most of our original material; there are songs on there that are from back when hAND was a duo.
And so the inevitable debut album loomed large on the horizon!! “Deadroom Journal” (July 2008) seems to have been received well in the press, with Metal Hammer describing it as “surprisingly inventive”, and Kerrang comparing your lyrical world to Amy Lee but your musical approach as “reminiscent of Tori Amos-style experimentalism”. Great praise indeed from two of the UK’s most popular music magazines! How did you as a band view your debut album? Did it end up as you had hoped? The whole experience of recording “Deadroom Journal” and hearing the final version was one of the best times of my life so far, I’m pretty sure that goes for the guys as well. It came out far beyond expectation, and we are all really proud of that record. Sure we listen back to it now and think we should’ve done this differently or that could be better, but it’s still a great sounding album. It was really nice to hear all the songs we’d been working on and playing for a couple of years brought to life and done justice.
“Manuscript” and “Clannad Mass” were the only two tracks to make it to your debut album from your earlier releases. What was it about these two pieces that you felt was particularly worthy of a place on the album?
“Clannad” was always a favourite with the band and our fans, so we felt that it had to be on our debut album, everyone loved that song. We really wanted to represent the piano more and we had some interesting ideas for an album version of “Manuscript”, so that’s why it ended up as the first track. Much gigging and promoting of the new album followed, but at the beginning of 2010 your UK tour dates were cancelled. Two cancelled tours in 12 months? That must have been a real downer for the band. What was the problem with the management? And how do you “bounce back” from something like that?
It must have been a real buzz to join up with Femme Metal Records, as committed as they are to supporting and promoting their acts. Has it made a difference to the bands outlook and approach at all?
Towards the end of last year you were asked to guest on Isor‘s new album on the cover of “I’ve Got the Power”. That must have been exciting! Did it tempt you to progress in an even heavier direction? Or are you happy with the band’s “heaviness” as it is now?!It was a last minute and spontaneous thing but I was very happy to do it. It was a nice feeling to be asked as Nick (drummer for Isor) has worked with lots of artists but chose me to guest on his album. In terms of heaviness, I would say we are writing “heavier” sections for some of the brand new material, but for us it’s about a piece as a whole and we love contrast and unpredictability. I don’t think we’ll progress much more into the heavy side of things, but you never know. The first thing you revealed with regards to the new album was the cover, which you posted up on your various sites. Could you explain its significance to us? The whole album artwork was loosely based around a vinyl by Toyah called “The Blue Meaning”. We all really liked the front cover and wanted to create something along the lines of that. We invested a lot of time and energy in a photo shoot for the artwork and let Gustavo run with it, we wanted photos to play a big part of it. He came up with about 4 different covers which were very hard to choose between, in the end we picked the one we did because it was a little bit darker and had a bit more mystery to it than the others.
It appears from the “Recording Breathing” video series that you released that you had a great time in the recording process of the new album!! What would you say is the key to successfully getting through this process alive and well at the other end (and with a great product!)? Preparation before you even get to the studio is a major factor. The more practiced you are with the material the easier it is to record and it’s going to make the process more relaxed and fun. You want to triple check every piece of gear and take spares if you can, something will go wrong!!! Other than that, discipline in yourself. Recording an album is a great experience and personally I want the finished result to be the best that it can be, if that means detoxing on caffeine, dairy, alcohol and the occasional smoke to make sure my voice is ready, then that’s what I’ll do. The album starts with a deceptively simple song, after which we get “The Pier”, a six minute journey through mellow parts, a really fast interlude and finally almost shouted/spoken vocals over riffing towards the end. With all that variety, how on earth do you decide upon the final structure of a song? Do you all have similar ideas as to where a song should be going, or do you all have conflicting influences and preferences that somehow create a coherent whole? Sometimes we have a rough plan for a certain type of song and work round that, others we just go with the flow. We generally tend to write songs with the music first, and most of it comes from us having a jam until one of us plays something we all really like, and that’s our starting point. I write all the lyrics completely separately from the band and match them up with whichever song I feel they suit the best, the vocal melodies are always the last thing to be worked on. All of us have very different influences and taste in music but we’re happy to include bits from everyone’s pool of experience, it’s what makes our music so varied.
Being only a three-piece, the vocals are quite prominent in the mix and some of the backing is quite minimal in places. Do you feel that the band is limited at all because of this? Have you ever thought of having additional members? I definitely don’t see it as a limitation and it helps in writing by pushing us to think of more interesting ideas. We did experiment on this album with the track “Re-animation” (and are continuing to do so); it features some synth from Tom Johnstone – which works quite well! We’re always trying to think of new elements and have discussed having a second guitarist from time to time; we usually come to the same conclusion that we feel it would make our sound more “mainstream” and lose some of the quirky edge it has now.
The album comes out on the 2nd May (It’s was changed to June 6th) in the UK. Judging by the reviews you have received so far, how do you anticipate the album being received? I hope the overall reception will be very positive, based on the reviews and comments so far it’s heading that way. I think most reviewers will be able to appreciate the musicianship and intricacy of the music even if it’s not a style that they would normally listen to. A big “thumbs up” from the UK prog scene would be very nice too! You have played in the past alongside bands such as Delain, Octavia Sperati & Lahannya. Will you be (hopefully) touring the UK promoting this album? Any festivals planned? Unfortunately not long before “Breathing” was released our drummer Cris decided to leave the band due to having other commitments; this has meant that any dates or plans for a launch party have had to take a backseat to finding a new drummer. Fortunately we have very recently recruited Dan Thomas to be our new drummer and are looking to get back on stage and playing shows as soon as we can. Well we look forward to hearing more from the hAND camp in the future, but until then thank you so much for talking with us, we at Femme metal webzine wish you all the best with the album release!! Cheers and thanks for the interview!