“I’m a guitar player who always wanted to be a bass player” chuckled William Theis, a multi instrumentalist and one of the founding members of the band Hadoken, an instrumental rock group currently set to release their third and final album. Theis, presently residing in Greenfield, Massachusetts, in a house filled with a myriad of analog music equipment, shared with me some of the history of Hadoken, news about the mysterious third album and his new band EYES (already enjoying some success in local music scenes), and many an insight into post-rock, live performance, and the music industry in general.
The evolution of Hadoken
Hadoken began with Theis recording music in GarageBand and finding other musicians online, principally David Durán (drums). “For the longest time, we didn’t know what post rock was,” he said. Theis had been listening to bands like Mono, Do Make Say Think, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Mogwai, but to him these groups are so different, Mono being more “classical with guitars” and Do Make Say Think more jazzy. In the early days of Hadoken, said Theis, the band invented the term “slambient,” among others, to define their music.
“I always liked the idea of including as many guitars as possible,” he commented. Hadoken had had a viola player in their first lineup, and after a new lineup solidified (the main lineup came after a first round of musicians phased out) started playing with a violinist. “We had this whole structure to the tone.” The main lineup consisted of three guitars playing layered parts (Theis, Eric Egavian, and Matt Hopkins), with an electric violin (Alex Wagner), bass guitar (Steven Wendel, apparently not present on the upcoming album), and drums (Durán), all without a singer.
“No vocals wasn’t really a choice,” said Theis. To him, there were so many bands with untalented singers who fit a certain persona, and melodies could instead be done on the guitar. After many shows, people would go up to Theis and say, “you don’t even have a singer!”
“Most people can’t even fathom that you can play a rock song that doesn’t have a singer,” said Theis.
The post rock genre
According to Theis, post rock generally comes from guitarists and bass players with classical or jazz backgrounds, who tend to be “more melodic with the instruments instead of vocals… I think the original post rock people didn’t sit down and think they were going to be post rock. They just wanted to play music.”
“Post rock is a coalescence of rock and classical, or rock and jazz, or even rock and metal,” he said. “I still have problems with the terminology of that, because I don’t like the title post rock. There are so many bands that sound nothing alike. I like to say post rock isn’t a style of music but an approach to music.”
“The biggest travesty of the whole grouping and naming is that now you have all these Explosions in the Sky or Caspian clones – I like both those bands – there’s like a million bands, especially in America, who have that basic kind of sound.” Theis reflected, though, that the post rock scene where many of these bands operate helped propel Hadoken.
What made Hadoken stand out, however, according to him, was that the band was never trying to be a post rock band, instead focusing on being different.
“We played for a year or so, just finding our sound.”
“One exercise we had was every time we wrote a new song we would try to do something that we hadn’t done before; sometimes we’d set some type of limitation,” said Theis. For example, if you listen to Luminary, their second album, the song “Mandala” was written without any effects. And on another track, “Cloud Ruler Temple,” the band utilized a Nintendo DS for electronic beats and fun effects.
“The whole band was founded on making weird stuff, so that’s what we try to do.” Theis was aware of homogeneous-sounding post rock before the band recorded Luminary, and wanted to make sure they continued to create unique music. “A lot of post rock is recycled emo, and we are more melodic and less droney than that. We have a lot of rhythmic complexity.”
“The key to the Hadoken sound was those three guitar players together. We had this weird match,” he said. “Someone would have an idea, and we’d jam on it, and we’d jam on it forever, and then gradually a structure would form organically. After we’d start to draft it out in our heads, until it was more solidified.”
The band disbands and regroups
Before deciding to record a third studio album, Hadoken announced that the band would be finishing a six-year career.
“We didn’t really decide to disband, it was more like we were playing for a while, and then we recorded Luminary during the time we were playing the most shows and were the most inspired, and what gradually happened was people started to phase out,” ultimately leaving Theis, Durán, and Wagner.
“I have an unspoken rule. If 50% percent of your band fizzles out, you need a new name.” Theis revealed that he had a new group called EYES, comprised of him and the two aforementioned remaining members of Hadoken.
“It’s kind of more like Battles,” he said, commenting on the new band’s use of loop technology and experimental songwriting with guitars and violins. “I think people would call it post rock, but it’s really a lot weirder than that.”
About the other members of the band, Theis stated, “The rest of us all still love each other very much and there was no personal reason for ending, it was really just logistics of money, jobs, distance, gas, and dedication.”
The new album
According to Theis, the new album is comprised of four very different sounding tunes. Their engineer, said Theis, has described it as world music; “we almost departed from post rock in a lot of ways. It’s definitely going to be our best sounding album by a factor of a million, in terms of mixing, in terms of the heaviness of the sound.”
“One thing you’re going to get that wasn’t on past albums is the use of string arrangements. We’ve expanded to viola, violin, and cello. There’s a lot more symphonic stuff. There’s some trombone stuff in there. We just expanded in every direction, which is why all the songs sound completely different.” As well, Theis said that world music percussion would be featured, as Durán had spent time in Africa prior to the creation of the tunes, influencing the direction of their songwriting.
Theis also said that a lot more care and attention would go into the final product. “I’m so upset by past mistakes, so no mistakes this time. Spare no expense, in the words of John Hammond from Jurassic Park.”
“There’s a shit ton of overdubs.” Theis described the new album as having many overdub tracks, and much better mixing than before, recalling that Luminary was hardly mixed to his standards and completed on a much smaller budget. He also stated that the music would be polarizing, mentioning that “there’s going to be a lot of people liking one song.”
With this in mind, the new album, as of yet unnamed, sounds like it’ll be epic and just as mesmerizing as Luminary. Theis wrote after our conversation to give me exclusive descriptions of the new songs.
‘“Irankarapte” is the last song we wrote. It is a much different song, very short, faster, with more African rhythms. Very positive and almost poppy, very mathy but also has a lot of ambience. “Tsrna Gora” is the earliest written of the songs on this album and has more of the “Hadoken” sound whatever that is. It’s got a very foreboding and darker kind of sound, and is essentially a good mixture of buildups and changes, layered well. More of a “godspeedish” or post rock sound that gets very very heavy towards the end and in a highly symphonic/classical way. “The True Forest” is the second to last and really last big song we wrote. It has three very different parts within it and probably has more variance within this one song than any other piece we’ve written. It does get very aggressive with even elements of hardcore/chug and is one of the weirdest ones we have. “Shadow People” is the 20 minute monster, it breaks into parts too and has an arguably dark/night time kind of sound, very pretty sections too, a lot of dynamics. The second half is following a long drone section and is a huge, slow build with a lot of Middle Eastern kinds of scales and feels, also very very heavy when it kicks in, towards the end sounds like straight up doom metal, and we went all out in terms of getting those super heavy tones (ampeg v4, marshall heads, etc.).’
I talked to Theis about his perspective on music culture, focusing on his opinions of current trends, such as “press play” acts, and live versus recorded music.
“I grew up playing instruments. It’s always been the case that people want to be musicians, because they like the lifestyle, they like the idea of going up on a stage, and getting lots of chicks and stuff. It’s a stereotype, but it really does work like that, and I think the way technology has progressed has made it so people that don’t really have musical or instrumental talent can easily fall into that gap.”
He stated, “There are a lot more musicians now than there ever have been. It’s so easy to call yourself that; if you have Ableton Live, you’re good.”
“Having live instrumental performance is very important. I’ve always been a not so computer based person,” observed Theis. “The more premade stuff you use, the less powerful your live performance really is. If 30% of what you’re performing is prerecorded, then you’re only playing 70% of your music. If you’re playing a live show, use your instruments.”
“The point is not getting up and playing an iPod, you can do that anywhere,” he said, while also commenting that audiences often don’t notice that much because most people don’t know enough about how music is created. “And they care less than they know.”
In Theis’ opinion, instrumentalism is a declining art, as it takes diligence and time, a statement he thinks could be construed as offensive to DJs. To many people, thinks Theis, it makes more sense money wise to buy a computer and Ableton Live, as good instruments are so expensive. “Bands are looking at DJs thinking, how can we make more complex sounds?”
However, “more groups are taking the instrumental sound into their hands [he mentions Little Dragon and James Blake] and not looping as much.”
“People should play more instruments,” remarked Theis. “It’s more important to be different than better.”
EYES and the future
On the topic of electronic music, Theis said that the new band does a lot of things electronic musicians do, but with analog instruments and technology. “Live looping is big in the new band. All the looping has to be live. We’re not loading it in from a computer recorded at home.”
“We’re weird but we don’t suck.” About the new band, Theis explained that one mission is to be different and find a niche, almost like the group Battles, because there will always be better musicians, but if you’re the only one playing a certain style of music, there will be a dedicated audience.
As well, EYES will be a more serious band. “We’re going to be doing a lot more touring and a lot more getting out there. Also, I’m going to be doing all the recording for EYES.” Theis said that their album is almost half written, but they are going to wait until the Hadoken album is completed to begin recording for EYES.
“You can expect us to be more serious in every way. I’d say you can expect big things. There are people out there who can really benefit from our music, even in just a small way.”
Follow Theis and the movement of his projects for weird music that definitely doesn’t suck.
Also, watch both pages for a release of Theis’ solo project, “Darklight,” and for more general information check out my prerelease story about Hadoken’s third album which includes reviews of their older tunes.