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Ross Jennings - My goal is to leave behind a musical legacy of some capacity and perhaps be able to open some doors of opportunities for my children in the future Aanbevolen

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Ross Jennings - My goal is to leave behind a musical legacy of some capacity and perhaps be able to open some doors of opportunities for my children in the future

The solo debut album of English singer Ross Jennings has been released. There is also a double vinyl version. Ross is better known as the singer of the English prog rock/metal band Haken. ‘A shadow of my future self' is a very personal record. Inspiration came from relational problems and problems in the immediate surroundings.
You can read the review of that album here
Following this release, we had a nice conversation with Ross, we shed some light on how this record is put together and looked to the future with good hope.

Ross you are most well known
for being a founding member and the lead vocalist of the bands Haken and Novena, can you tell some more about this projects?
Certainly. For the unacquainted, I am a founding member and the lead vocalist of ‘Haken’ which I consider my main band. We were largely influenced by the likes of Dream Theater and set out with that model in mind yet the goal for Haken was always to explore a wider musical palette and see where that took us. Similarly, my side project ‘Novena’ flirts with a similar ethos, only with a slightly more theatrical approach and a different band formation consisting of two vocalists. At least in the case of our debut album ‘Eleventh Hour’ and sister EP ‘The Stopped Clock’ I was responsible for all the clean vocals and Gareth Mason too care of the heavier growling parts and spoken word performances. I’m proud of both projects equally and enjoy the different approaches to writing and working with each group.

Haken is still ‘on the route’ but you made your debut solo album , if I’m right, why bring out a solo album? Is this the place to purge or something like that? How must I see it?
The way to ‘see’ or ‘hear’ my solo album is not to think too deeply about band politics or personal ambition… of course that being said, I would love to see any project I work on succeed on its own merit but the truth is I had some very personal compositions that I felt had no home in the prog metal canon yet could serve me well as a solo outlet and reveal a true, authentic individual music identity . I had presented a chorus idea or two from these tracks in the past to see if they’d fit with anything Haken were writing but they usually wouldn’t work in that context, so I kept them in the bank in the event I ever had an opportunity to make a solo pop/rock record. Lo and behold, the pandemic offered me that time to work on it, so the timing in that sense was divine. Whilst I have ever intention to make a second album, and I do have the bulk of it written already, the focus now is on Haken’s next record and tours.

According to my sources, you had to deal with relational problems in your immediate environment that were a source of inspiration, can you tell us more about that?
Some issues had been brewing under the surface for a few years and reached a boiling point when I returned home from the last tour I had been out on in support of Devin Townsend. This was when all lock downs started, and no one could go anywhere or escape. Certainly, in my immediate environment we were able to work things out and writing the lyrics for these songs certainly played a huge part in reflecting on my own shortcomings. It was certainly a therapeutic personal experience doing that.

Unlike you  more well-known Progressive music,  this solo record follows a much more mainstream approach with Jennings directly citing Styx, Coldplay and Porcupine Tree as references. Is this correct and why this deliberate choice?
My tastes in popular music are vast and eclectic and this was the side of me that I felt needed to be expressed and represented on my solo album. I was growing a little tired of the extremely intricate and obsessively technical approach to writing at this point, so I  needed this release from a musician’s point of view. As a consumer of music, all that technical prog stuff requires a focus and concentration and can sometimes be a bit much, whereas the simple and catchy stuff is often just what the ears and the soul needs.

Some reflections I wrote down. That sensitivity and melancholy connected to these kind of subjects is already present on 'Words we Can't Unsay' but nowhere does the record sound too soppy or tacky, on the contrary. There is enough room for energetic fireworks such as the stunningly delivered one. do you agree with that statement? is that a deliberate choice?
The important thing for me was that the whole experience was fun. Fun to make and fun to listen to. However, aside from ‘Rocket Science’ which was deliberately goofy in a way, I was extremely careful not to cross that line into ‘Tacky’ territory. I’m singing about very personal and deep stuff so that could never be tacky because it’s all based on real events and sincere feelings. I still wanted this record to be ‘cool’ and meaningful as well as pleasurable.

One aspect speaks to the imagination, apart from the stunning guitar playing of course, your voice that sounds crystal clear on the one hand and warm and sensitive on the other, makes us feel at ease, without losing the rock content of course, here too a deliberate choice, how do you see that?
For me it stems from this idea that my voice is telling my story and attempting to convey the emotions I lived through. Quite often in my other projects I’ve found myself singing quite robotically in order to tap into to the technical nature of that music, usually doing take after take after take until it’s ‘technically’ perfect. Even with that there’ll be an element of post-production and it all ends up feeling far from human in my opinion. With this album it was most important for me that the vocals breathed organically. To capture the emotions in an authentic way, the majority of the vocals on this album were recorded in a handful of takes.

You are also surrounded by top musicians who have already proven their strength, how big was their impact on this disc?
In terms of my contributors on this record I couldn’t have been happier with the team I assembled, even if they aren’t A-list names (yet). Everything was demoed by myself but there are certain instruments that I can only play to a certain level so hiring a core band was essential to the quality of this record’s outcome. I am incredibly grateful to Vikram Shankar for going the extra mile with the string arrangements and sound design on many of the tracks. Nathan Navarro is a class act on bass and added some really spicy moments on this record where it counted. Simen Sandes on drums understood exactly what was required in the drum department and he delivered huge arena rock – ready performances for me. A very special mention should go to my mix engineer and co-producer Karim Sinno for being a guiding hand throughout the production. This record wouldn’t have sounded the same without him!

Although you also walk those paths solo as with a.o. Haken, may it be clear that on this 'A Shadow of My Future self' you leave your own emotional mark. I find that very remarkable, do you agree?
I was very conscious of the fact that stylistically this was always going to be extremely different from Haken and that for some fans it might not be their ‘cup of tea’, but it was important for me to explore and flesh out my own unique identity. My hope is that it can be enjoyed alongside everything else I do but also have its own audience who might in turn check out my work with Haken or Novena and vice versa. Hopefully my existing fans will listen to this album and start to recognize what elements of mine I bring to those bands.

A song that appeals to my imagination is 'Be the one' (a Dua Lipa cover) where you prove to be at home in many markets, are there more plans in that direction?
The bonus track is indeed a cover of a successful pop song by Dua Lipa. It was intended as an exercise in having a lot of fun with a simple track and basically making it rock! I was very fond of the layered vocals and production on that song, so it was really an experiment that turned out pretty cool. Novena also covered a ‘Billie Eilish’ track recently too… I’m not sure that’s a direction I will take regularly but never say never. I’m a fan of pop music, so if the song feels right, then why not? It’s only entertainment, folks!

Anyway, how where the reactions till now on this debut?
I’ve received some very positive and uplifting reviews from the prog community which surprises me the most, since I don’t consider this to be a prog record. It’s obvious however, that Haken is much loved in the community and they are a loyal crowd who will support whatever path we all take, collectively or individually, and that’s incredibly heartwarming to me. I am hoping the project branches out further into the mainstream. I would love to hear my tracks featured on TV shows for example, but I’m sure that will come in time. Right now, I’m just feeling really proud that I was even able to pull it off and excited to do another one when the timing is right.

One of the advantages of this pandemic, for me as a hobby journalist, is that I always know what to ask for. So;. how did you as a musician (and human being) experience these times?
It was a very polarizing experience. I both embraced the stillness and loathed the lack of movement. As someone who likes to keep busy, it was difficult, but I found a way to find balance in the end. I found some new perspectives on life, worked on my personal life, made a record or two and started a family so I am grateful for the experience. We have to live in gratitude and find the good in it otherwise life will just continue to throw us more of the same.

Was that also a source of inspiration or more of a rest?
The key word was balance. I found both in equal measures and one certainly complimented the other.

What are the future plans for you solo, going on tour with this record? Coming to Belgium to?
Touring is still proving to be problematic at the moment but if the demand is still there, I will certainly love to take ‘A Shadow of my Future Self’ out on the road at some point. I had some acoustic shows booked that had to be cancelled due to covid, so I will be most likely waiting for more of a sense of normality before making such commitments. My ‘Acoustic Shadows’ livestream event that aired last July will be made available again in some form early 2022 so that will be a nice addition to the solo repertoire for the time being.

And the future plans of you, other projects like Haken?
Both Haken and Novena intend to begin work on new material this year despite both bands losing a member each. I’m really excited for the new chapters to keep things fresh for both bands. Eventually, Haken will hit the road and finally perform material from ‘Virus’. We’re especially looking forward to the US tour with Symphony X this May!

Are there still other projects or collaborations you working on?  To give a example. On December 2020, You worked with Simen Sandnes, Filippo Rosati, Arzene, Bringsli, Thrailkill and Jogan J. Bakken, together under the name of "Simen Sandnes and Friends with Benefits" in a cover of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You. Is there more coming up?
The ‘Friends with Benefits’ side gig is a whole lotta fun curated by Simen Sandnes. We returned this season with an arrangement of ‘Oh Holy Night’… I think it is the unwritten, unconfirmed and undiscussed plan to do a Christmas cover every year until we have a full album to put out in 10 years’ time… Now that I’ve said it, I guess there’s no going back on it…hahaha!  This aside, I did record a few other guest vocal performances on things that will trickle out this year no doubt. One of which is already out in the form of a duet with Mike Mills (Toehider) on the latest ‘Star One’ album ‘Revel in Time’ by Arjen Lucasssen. The track is called ‘Prescient’ and is great fusion of prog and space metal… The most important one for me on the books however, is the collaboration album I have made with former Spock’s Beard legends Neal Morse & Nick D’Virgilio. The album is called ‘Troika’ and is released via InsideOut Music in February. This album will explore another side of me as a singer-songwriter and vocalist as part of a 3 way harmony group.   

After all this years on tour and projects, do you still have ambitions, Is there a kind of goal or something like that, or are you not busy with that
My end goal is to leave behind a musical legacy of some capacity and perhaps be able to open some doors of opportunities for my children in the future. I’ve had to work quite hard to make something of this, having never taken the path into music and performance from a young age, I still feel like my career in music is an ever-blossoming flower… To be able to do this for a comfortable living is enough but a taste of fame would also be nice, I’m not going to lie. I could die happy if one of my projects became a major headline act eventually.

I think as a well know artist you propyl been an inspiration to you musicians, what is your advice to your bands an musicians who want follow you path?
The music business is hard to crack and it’s difficult to know where it’s heading. The first thing to do is understand your goals. If it’s money and followers first, then you may be better looking to tiktok or become a YouTube musical influencer. Session Musicians get paid more and sound engineers get paid even more!  So that’s good to consider. If you’re like me and you just want to make great records and rock out for a living, just make sure you’re in tune with yourself and write songs all the time. Surround yourself with excellent people and players too. Everyone’s trying to make it, it seems so don’t lose heart if you’re not an overnight success. You’d probably regret that anyway. Stay authentic and true to your art. Be open to and find peace with whatever challenges come your way and do the hard work, it will pay off! Trust me, I’m still waiting for that pay off too!

Thanks for the interview I hope we can have this talk face to face soon, please put some links where people buy your music and merchandiser , or contact you?

www.rossjennings.co.uk
https://www.facebook.com/rossjenningsofficial
www.hakenmusic.com
www.novenaband.uk

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