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Douglas Skene (Hemina)

Interview with Douglas Skene from Hemina
by Dave "That Metal Guy" Campbell at 03 August 2019, 7:14 AM

This is Dave Campbell here, Editor-In-Chief for Metal-Temple. I am speaking with Douglas Skene from the Australian Progressive Metal band HEMINA. Thanks for this opportunity Doug!

I first discovered HEMINA from your album “Nebulae,” though “Synthetic” was your debut LP, released in 2011. Take me back to the early days of the band. How did you all meet, come together, and form HEMINA?

In the early days of the band, it was actually my friend Pat from University who started the idea of the band. He was only around for a short time at the beginning as I guess we didn’t have a unified vision of what the band was to sound like. The MO was to make a fresh take on metal with a lot of keyboards that wasn’t too standard structure-wise with lots of vocal harmonies. I knew Mitch through another friend Scott Davis, he wasn’t in a band and was looking to join one and there was enough synergy between what we wanted for the partnership to work – and it has been the undying partnership behind the core of our sound.

Jess was a very long term friend of mine and also my girlfriend at the time – she was more of a guitarist but I thought she had the potential to play these weird bass parts I’d write and she joined the band. Andrew Craig, the band’s first drummer was a mate from the Sydney Power Metal sort of community that was big on the Dungeon/LORD Ultimate Metal forums back in the day. I knew he was into Portnoy and DT and that was good enough for me as a huge Dream Theater nerd in 2008/2009. Phill (Keys) was a dude I had only met twice who used to play with my old band Avarin. Really glad I got in contact with him as we clicked so much and are still great friends to this day. The band lineup is quite a bit different though nowadays!

What are some of the bands you all enjoyed growing up, and how (if at all) have they influenced your sound? How did you know you wanted to be a Progressive Metal band?

At the time of forming the band I was really into 70's prog bands like Genesis and Yes, as well as really being into Metallica, Iron Maiden and a lot of other melodic metal bands. Mitch and I shared a love of 80's hard rock and some progressive/power like Symphony X and Angra. Jess and I had been playing guitar together since we were 14 and 15 to radio rock and pop punk. Nath has a lot more credible metal tastes from the 90's, so he had adds a lot of girth to some of our material. I knew I wanted to be a prog metal band as it seemed like the only style of music where I could truly be free to do what I want that would go from softest to hardest dynamics and channel the emotion I wanted.

Going back to your early days, how have you seen the band evolve? What have you learned from life experiences that has brought you to where you are today?

I think our songwriting has become more cohesive and a little less avant garde from our first album. Maybe to some that is less prog, but I have no interest in being a retro band. It may seem counterintuitive or hypocritical given the 80's flares we add to the music but that is just a part of the sonic palette to create a new modern fusion. We definitely learned our lesson from ‘Nebulae’ to create stronger melodies and more hooks and I honestly prefer it that way. It wasn’t a hell of a lot of fun to be counting 7/8, 13/8, 5/4 every new bar in some of the songs haha. I think we are just learning from life to enjoy what we are doing, we aren’t counting on it making us big dollars but we want people who may enjoy the music to hear and support it so that we can continue to sustain the band.

Let’s talk a bit about the new album, “Night Echoes.” It’s a concept album, about a young man trying to navigate adolescence, following his father’s suicide? Where did you come up with the concept, and how does it tie in with the songs?

Each of the albums has been leading up to certain story elements. With Synthetic we had the story of a deluded, religiously brainwashed “angel” hell bent on confronting god about his life. Within this story the main character meets a woman, who too has had a turbulent life – she’s actually the central character of Venus. Nebulae was a deep dive into the lucid dreams of a powerless woman, exploring all the areas of life she couldn’t in the waking world. Surprise – that woman was actually the woman from ‘Venus’ too. We have played with this shifting back and forth of time and knitting together the web of the Heminal universe with each record. There was a child born in the first album, Synthetic. Night Echoes is centered on this boy trying to put together the pieces following the suicide of his father.  Cruelly, the boy’s life seems to be mirroring the life of his father, a hazy night echo of the life that led his father down the path to take his own life. I see Night Echoes as a scrapbook of memories of the moments of clarity, loneliness, love, lust, success, failure and attempts to move on from his grieving. It is not meant to be an explicit linear narrative or rock opera, rather a thematic nebula with an approximate beginning of determination in ‘The Only Way’ and ending in desperate epiphany within ‘Flicker’.

“Venus” was for me a more diverse album, whereas “Night Echoes” really had some great melodies and vocal harmonies. Is that what you were trying to accomplish with the new album?

For me the sole goal was to make an album focusing on emotion and songwriting. I wanted the songs to move people. Although I am writing about a character, much of the content is informed by my own life or people I have directly observed in my life and I wanted to capture that squeeze on the heart, deep emotional intensity within the music. I think the strong melodies and vocal harmonies are a part of our musical “wrapper” so they’ll always be there and I hope that we improve them every album. Interestingly, I always feel like people’s general criticism of us is that we are doing too many different styles or that it’s too diverse so maybe we won’t hear that so much this time.

Your vocals on the album Doug are amazing. Do you do the harsh vocals as well? At what age did you realize you could sing well and what have you done to push yourself with your vocals?

Thanks, mate. I really want to call out the great work that Jess, Mitch and Nath did too on the album. The harmony sound is definitely something we’re working to improve and refine over time. I did kind of want to give a bit of a shout out to Mitch though – I think sometimes people just assume I do all the male lead vocals but Mitch has always done some alternating vocals with me. Listen to the bit after the first verse in The Only Way or the “if your cross the mountain” bit in Flicker for a closer look.

Singing unlike the guitar was something that didn’t come that naturally to me. I was never the kid singing around the house growing up. I was way too shy for that. I really only noticed when I was about 16 that I could sing alright in the lower-middle range and I had some pretty big range that could go up really high but no power. Everything was really an uphill battle of reading about singing technique and repeatedly trying things out until they stuck. Our EP which was a bit scrappy looking back now was the first time I had recorded vocals properly and our first live show with Hemina was the first time I had sung in front of an audience - pretty daunting for me at the time. I used to love power metal so much as a teenager as well as Metallica and Maiden so I wanted to be able to do those really high powerful wails and screams. My voice was never quite right for it  being a baritone – it still sort of isn’t but I am always working on it. I think though, it has a hidden charm for me because it means every album I get better. I didn’t start off with some holy natural voice that I didn’t have to tame where everything is just down from the start.

I do the harsh vocals and we had a big help from the fans who sent in gang vocals for some of the big shouty parts. I feel like what I do well (although I don’t have much stamina with it) is the pitched screamed stuff kind of like Devin but I am not the greatest at your death metal/black metal screams etc. I get by but even Nath, our drummer is a much more natural screamer than me. I think next time, he can just do them as I would prefer to just sing.

What are some of your favorite tracks in the album and why?

I think ‘Flat’ and ‘In Technicolour’ are my favourites. Flat just feels like such a different track for us. It’s really tender and moody for a lot of the track and when it gets to the middle where the intensity builds, I just feel very emotional singing it. I guess a lot of the lyrics are inspired by my younger brother who has gone through a lot and I can’t help but think of him as I sing the song. In Technicolour is just a journey, it’s the closest thing to what we have done before with ‘To Conceive a Plan’, ‘Otherworldly’, ‘I’, ‘Venus’ or any of our other epics but it has some uplifting spiritual quality that may not have been present before on any of our work. It’s a good blend of all the influences of where we’re at in 2019 too. The intro is also special as my good friend Anthony Stewart from Anubis notated the melody at the beginning that I had written onto paper for a musical box and recorded with a real musical box!

What is it like having your life partner in the band with you? You guys must really get along well to live and work together! Perhaps this is what the theme of the song “Soulmates” refers to?

Yeah, you’re spot on. That’s what it was referring to and it was even given to people as a little gift at our wedding . It is really good getting to share the passion of music together and living with her. She is my best friend so it feels natural. I just think it makes it a bit tough at times to balance band and quality time with each other but I think we do a good job of that. Also, I am very self critical with our music and she unfortunately cops me at my most negative as she is almost an extension of myself in that way. Poor Jess haha.

You’ve toured since the early days of the band. Are there any fun/crazy touring stories that you can share with us?

There aren’t a hell of a lot of crazy stories – probably one of the only crazy ones I can think of which was pretty typical of early Hemina days was us always getting put on bills with grindcore bands with fucking shit names. Granny Fist is one that stands out and all of their songs from memory were sung by this guys with a sock on his face like Mankind from WWE. Crazily bad. I am sure if you ask our biggest party boy Nath, he may have some funnier stories about big nights drinking and spewing before going on stage at Euroblast haha. We are lucky to have played with some damn good people like Voyager who are always a laugh to be around especially if face swapping is on the agenda.

The Progressive Metal scene in Australia is nuts…there are so many good bands. Are you friends with any of them and do you guys get to meet and interact at all? If you could go on tour with one special band, who would it be?

Yeah, I am pretty friendly with a lot of Australian Progressive Metal bands. You do end up playing together as there really aren’t that many bands. People need to realize, we do have a lot of great bands but even if you have 20 noteworthy ones across a country that is really only populous in 5 or so capital cities across a country almost as big as the USA, it isn’t that concentrated still. I am a pretty big music fan and I do like to go see live progressive music whenever I can. If I had to go on tour with 1 band from the Aussie scene, it would be Voyager. They are amazingly nice, well balanced people with no egos and I think the music shares a similar enough sentiment. Special mention goes to Toehider and Teramaze who also make music that I really love.

Do you have any musical regrets, or anything if you could go back in time you would changed or have done differently?

Well, I still have very small micro things that annoy me about our first couple of albums but in general I am pretty proud of what we have done and I take it for what it was at a point in time. I don’t get a lot of enjoyment out of our initial EP anymore but I can’t say that I regret it. In making it, we effectively did a great pre-production for our debut album. I’d say from a business sense, I wish I wasn’t so obsessed with trying to find record labels at first to work with because it just meant we really got a much smaller piece of the pie than we should have got with minimal extra promo. I don’t want to sling shit though so that’s enough on that.

What hobbies or interests does the band have outside of music?

I honestly don’t have a lot of hobbies beyond music as it takes a lot of my thoughts. Whether it be improving writing, playing, singing and understanding more theory knowledge, it takes up a lot of my time. I do love film, many TV series and travelling though. Jess is pretty big into finance given that she is an Accountant so she runs a finance/minimalism/decluttering blog called Minimise With Me. Mitch is starting up a guitar teaching business soon and is into console games. Nath is a busy boy – playing in 2 bands and writing his first Sci Fi novel. We find a way to fill up our time!

Is there any advice you would give to a new band looking to release their first album and try to make it in the music industry?

Please don’t copy what other people are doing. Listen to a lot of different music and let us hear an interesting melting pot, not just a diluted version of your 2 or 3 favourite bands. Don’t think that a label will give you something for nothing. You have to have something to offer the world for people to offer you something. Make good music. Build good relationships. Have fun!

Thanks, Doug! It’s been a pleasure!



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