The 20th century in music was largely about the never-ending arms race between the UK and the US (and, more often than not, a cultural exchange between the two). These days, the music industry is far more international – but does it mean the former cultural superpowers actually fall behind…? “Personally I don’t think we’re quite the creative powerhouse we once were”, says Harriet Wadeson, the bass player of the UK Rock ensemble Häxan, when asked about the current state of the UK’s music scene. Assuming she’s right, Häxan is one of the bands that definitely challenge this status quo. And speaking of challenges, there must be at least a few in the life of an all-female trio. I caught up with Harriet, Sam Bolderson [vocals, guitar] and Jess Hartley [drums] for Rock Speculo Interviews to discuss them and their first full-length album White Noise. And as it turned out, the girls’ tongues firmly in their cheeks, I ended up asking them how does it feel like to stroke a Sphynx cat too…
Alexandra Mrozowska, Rock Speculo Interviews: One thing that intrigued me about Häxan from the very start is that you provide very little information on the band, its history etc. on both your official site and social media pages. Is it a deliberate decision?
Harriet Wadeson: I’m personally very shy and don’t like people looking at me or knowing anything about me.
Sam Bolderson: I don’t think it’s intentional to be so mysterious. But now you’ve brought it up, I guess it can’t hurt, as we gotta have something going for us. Anyone who likes the band seems to do so for the music and gets to know us through shows etc. Our personality comes across on stage and off, and long bios just aren’t our thing!
Jess Hartley: It’s 100 per cent intentional. No paper trail.
AM: How did you girls hook up and what were the circumstances that led you to recording White Noise?
SB: Harriet and I are a classic example of an online advert that went too far. Neither of us can back out now, it’s been years. She’s stuck with me, no matter how much she kicks and screams, I don’t give a fuck. Jess took the drum throne a little over a year ago and I can only imagine that she regrets this on a daily. White Noise is our first child, and we are super proud of how it turned out. We’d been together a long time and needed to put out new material, we are so lucky that the fans were so patient and supportive. I hope it was worth the wait.
AM: White Noise is your full-length debut, but technically not the first recordings you’ve released. Why didn’t you include the material from your 2017 debut EP on your new album?
JH: We wanted to release something with all unreleased songs. The band has been going a while and felt it was owed to the fans to not only have an album of all new recordings to listen to, but also to have a bunch of new stuff to hear live!
AM: What was the songwriting process like?
SB: Turbulent (laughs). Sometimes the songs and lyrics come easy, other times, it’s sleepless nights and blisters. Usually music first. Unless we find a hook and write a song around it!
AM: The band earned their chops live before entering the studio, which is the old school approach of course. How do you think this kind of experience translate into the content of the album?
SB: As much as we love recording and put our all into it, we are a live band through and through. I think so much about Häxan is old school. Again, unintentionally. But it works for us.
JH: I think it gave us a chance to find out who we are as a band, musically, and allowed us to build experience playing as a unit. There’s only three of us in the band and we don’t like to record or put out a sound that isn’t us or that we can’t recreate live. I think the album represents us as a three-piece, and shows what we’ve built and developed through playing live together. Being a three-piece, it’s even more important to really listen to what each other is doing and play for the song, so with this album we’ve paid a lot of attention to every part of it and made sure everything compliments each other, which is something we’ve learnt through playing live.
AM: So that’s how you deal with Häxan being a power trio…
SB: We make it work. I’d say we make about as much noise as a ten-piece, and we get more share of the rider between three of us, so everyone’s a winner.
JH: I honestly wouldn’t say there’s any major limitations. Of course there’s guitar solos where we obviously can’t have guitar under them live, but Harriet and I love filling that space and having the freedom to have a little bass and drum fun here.
AM: Was a decision to go as power trio deliberate in the first place? Do you plan to add some musicians to the line-up in the future?
SB: We’re happy as we are. The sound is raw and energetic, and we have a great time on and off stage, and it’s been said before that we sound full and tight as a unit, so there isn’t much call to add anyone. Plus the van is a three seater, so it would totally balls that up. And we get each other’s shenanigans. We’d struggle to find someone else who understands without calling the authorities.
AM: Speaking of gigs, obviously 2020 is a very tumultuous year for the music industry. How was Häxan affected by the pandemic and how do you deal with the obstacles?
JH: Now we drink in our homes rather than at venues. Like everyone else, everything for this year has of course been cancelled, and we had some really great stuff like a cruise in Australia with Suzi Quatro and tours of Bulgaria and Germany. We’re very sad that these couldn’t go ahead this year, but the album has helped us hold to at least a small piece of sanity, and everyone’s positivity surrounding it has maybe helped us regain a little more.
AM: Do you think the still ongoing pandemic will have further influence on your promotional plans, touring in support of the album etc? What are your future plans?
HW: It’s going to influence everyone’s plans (or lack of being able to do so). No one knows what is going to happen even still, and although shows are starting to slowly creep back in, it feels very tangible for it all to be taken away again if shit starts getting real. We’re cautiously excited for next year but I think we all agree we don’t want to be playing gigs where four people are assigned a corner each.
SB: We’ve got an ever growing gig list for next year, and its got some bangers and some international and some UK tour dates on there. So fingers crossed, they all go ahead.
AM: Häxan labels itself as a “Classic Rock” act, which is a term often applied to ‘60s or ‘70s acts. Is it more about the inspirations or, perhaps, the generation of listeners you intend to address your music to?
JH: I think the Classic Rock label comes from our sound. The album in particular has an old school Classic Rock feel to it, but with a modern edge. I wouldn’t say it’s exclusively aimed at a generation who favour ‘60s and ‘70s bands and I hope anyone who enjoys rock music will find something they like on the album!
AM: Do you receive a lot of feedback from younger Häxan fans?
SB: Looking at statistics on our socials (boring), I’d say the album has definitely helped us reach a younger audience. Mainly through Spotify. It’s nice to have fans of all ages to be honest. Ranging from 6 to 66 and beyond.
AM: Being an all-girl band, do you look up to other female Rock bands from the past, from The Runaways and Girlschool to The Donnas for example?
HW: Not really. We often get pigeon-holed in with these bands and it’s easy to understand why because let’s face it, historically there haven’t been a lot of options. But it never took for me to see a female with a guitar to want to do it – it would’ve probably put me off if anything.
AM: Do you think the music industry is still as male-dominated as it used to be in the past?
JH: It’s definitely still male-dominated, but that’s just because there’s more all-boy bands, and that’s ok. I would say there’s more female musicians and bands getting recognition now, and for the right reasons, because they’re banging musicians (as in really good..), and that’s pretty cool. We’ve had some negative experiences related to us all being girls, but you just have to take it on the chin and show them who we are and what we do. At the end of the day, we’re just a band who love music and love playing, who also happen to all be girls.
AM: Right on! You’ve surely been doing a lot of press recently, so is there any question related to the album or the band you’ve never been asked but you’d like to?
SB: Yes. No one’s asked us what the Sphynx cats felt like. I thought they would ask.
AM: So, what does it feel like…?
SB: It’s skin. A warm bag full of lumps. Made of skin.
AM: That’s exactly how I imagined it (laughs) And speaking of the music press, do you think media in the UK are supportive for bands like Häxan in terms of providing exposure and promotion of your album?
JH: There’s tonnes of independent and less-mainstream media that have and continue to provide incredible support and promotion for bands such as ourselves, and we’re eternally grateful as I’m sure so many others are. Huge shout out to people like Guy from Great Music Stories and Naomi at Distorted Sound, and so many others, for championing the band and the album over the last few months. We love you guys!
AM: What do you think about the current UK scene?
HW: Well… not much going on at the moment. Personally I don’t think we’re quite the creative powerhouse we once were – countries like Australia and France are pushing out incredible bands right now and we need to catch up before we get left behind.
AM: Any last words?
SB: I like turtles!
HW: I smell like beef.
AM: …So now you know more about those girls! (laughs)
You can check out Häxan‘s video to their song “Nine Lives” off their debut album White Noise below: