Hailing from Northern Ireland, Bakken are a band that have had a surprisingly large amount of buzz in the metal underground (including from Nemo himself in his blogging days), and for good reason: with a combination of early-Metallica, Helloween-influenced power metal and some slight progressive touches in the vein of early Megadeth, there’s a lot for metal fans to love about them! We decided to fire some questions over to them, which drummer Niall McGrotty and guitarist/vocalist Simon Pickett kindly took the time to answer.
How did Bakken form?
Niall: Bakken formed in October 2010 by Simon and Mark-Anthony. They contacted the only drummer they knew, me! We all got together and started to jam out a few covers and realized there was potential. The band managed to get Brian on bass the following January and at the end of February, the band recruited a standalone vocalist, Neil McIvor.
What was the inspiration behind the band’s name?
Niall: The inspiration for the bands name was an idea Mark-Anthony came up with. A big list of potential band names was drawn up and Mark’s idea was to have a name, where fans could chant easily at live shows. The shortlist came down to “Kracken” and “Bakkus”, so we split the 2 names and joined them together to create Bakken!
You’ve mentioned on your Facebook page that you have a new line up now, having parted ways amicably with guitarist Mark-Anthony McGinnis in March this year. What can you say about the new line up and when can fans expect to see the new line up in action?
Niall: Obviously Mark-Anthony’s departure was a massive blow and left us wondering if there would be a future for the band. However, we got together and had a few discussions and decided collectively to seek out a new guitarist. Now that the position has been filled, we are eager to get back out onto the stage again very soon once our new member gets up to speed with our material. Most definitely, the new line up will be ready for the start of 2016.
Do you have any plans to tour outside of Ireland in the near future?
Niall: Definitely. We were guest artists for a mini tour in Holland at the start of the year (2015) and it was an awesome experience and one we would love to do again. So yeah, we’ll see what the coming months have in store for us and it’ll be something we will think about.
Bakken’s first release was 2012’s Death of a Hero. Thinking back on the songwriting for that album, what were your favorite songs to write for the album and why?
Simon: I love them all in a way. I think the most ambitious one was ‘Voyage of Aodh’ and I think that ranks up there at the top as one of our best accomplishments. Mark-Anthony came up with a couple of cool riffs and I tried to write something as epic as I could, it actually took me months to get the whole thing arranged. It’s kind of like a massive homage to all our favourite bands. I also love ‘Mystic Mogul’ and ‘Sasquatch’, I think they both flow nicely and are easy to remember live!
What was recording the album like?
Niall: Recording the album was really exciting for us to do. As it was our debut album and some of us were never in that kind of environment, it was really awesome. We recorded the album at The Parlour Studio in Kettering in England. It took a long time (nearly two weeks), but the whole recording process was an awesome experience for us all.
Simon: We learned a hell of a lot. I was massively apprehensive, mainly due to the fact I was still finding my feet as a vocalist. It was also physically draining, but definitely one of the best experiences of my life. Listening to the final master tracks at my house was one of the best feelings ever, we were really happy with it.
What do you think of the album’s reception among the metal press?
Niall: Death Of A Hero got an amazing response from the metal press. Some reviewers described it as like a breath of fresh air and for us, as our debut effort, we were completely blown away. To be compared to some of our great influences like Maiden, Priest, Megadeth and Metallica, it was an achievment we were all proud of.
Simon: I’m still quite shocked, I really didn’t expect such a strong response. I was very paranoid about my vocals, but, for the most part, that didn’t seem to put people off so much! (I hope). As a debut, it was very diverse and the 8 songs on the record are the first 8 we wrote.
If you could change anything about that album now, with the benefit of hindsight, what would you change and why?
Simon: Knowing what I know now, I reckon I could do a much better job with the vocals. In terms of songs, one or two (like ‘Back To The Future’) seem a bit out of place, but it doesn’t bother me too much.
Was recording 2014’s Worldwide Genocide easier than recording Death of a Hero for you?
Simon: Nope! I’ll be honest, recording WWG was quite a painful experience for me. The songs were complex and hard to learn (mostly my fault) and due to other life commitments we were working with a much tighter budget and timescale. I also mixed the album myself and found the pressure to make it sound good wasn’t much fun. Having said that I think the vocals on the album sound much better and I’m very proud of the songs. ‘Judgement Day’ and ‘Gaia’ are probably the two best songs I’ve written so far.
Which song is your favourite to play live and why?
Niall: My favourite song to play live would have to be ‘Darkest Day’. For the simple fact of the epic intro, then it’s just an explosion of my drums with my double kicks going flat out. I love the break down in the middle of the song when it slows down, then gradually builds speed again. This song was the third for the band, if I can remember, and it’ll always be a favourite of mine.
Simon: Probably ‘The Cursed’ or ‘Sasquatch’. Anything that’s fast and heavy!
What can you say about the material that you are working on and do you have a planned time for when you would like to release this material by?
Simon: We aren’t signed, so we aren’t under pressure to have a timeframe for the release of new stuff, which is good for us. I can tell you that it will be a full album and we are going to take a long time getting it perfect. You can expect more direct songs, slightly shorter and to the point, most of the new material is fast and heavy and carries on nicely from Genocide.
For those not familiar with the Irish metal scene, where do you think Bakken fits in with the scene?
Simon: We are kind of outsiders as we live in the middle of nowhere! But often play gigs in Derry/Londonderry, Belfast and Dublin. Our genre kind of falls somewhere between thrash and power metal, so we often play with bands from both genres. Death metal and very traditional hard rock forms the biggest part of the scene in Ireland I guess.
Are there any other bands in the Irish metal scene that you keep up to date with and, if so, who would you recommend people check out?
Niall: We have shared the stage with countless talented bands since our inception in 2010. Weve made great friends with a lot of the bands here and it’s a great community spirit. Psykosis from Dublin are a very energetic and entertaining thrash band, their songs are catchy and old school thrash which all of us in Bakken grew up with. Sinocence from Belfast are another great band and good friends of ours too. Their style would be a mix of psycadelic and groove metal with powerful riffing. Other bands would include By Any Means, Overoth, Conjuring Fate, Gasoline Outlaws and Sandstone.
Simon: Too many to mention. I’d add Interrogate to that list along with Triggerman, too many to mention!
What advice would you give to other bands wanting to get into the music business, based on your own experience?
Niall: Based on our own experience, young bands wanting to break further in their music career would need to be 100% dedicated and focused. Writing their own material and having it recorded. Pushing to the limit and bettering themselves every time and not to give up. Music is a passion for all of us in Bakken and we strive to better ourselves each time we either go to the practice space and on stage. It’s hard work and a lot of hours, but, in the end, it pays off.
Simon: It’s probably a cliché, but I would say write music for yourselves and no-one else. There are many aspects of being in a band that are really tough and, at times, you ask yourself if it’s the right thing to be doing, but, so long as you feel happy with what you create and really push yourself to make the best music you possibly can, then you can feel truly satisfied. I’d also say to young bands that there are many aspects of managing your own band that will test you and that you might feel you need to spend a lot of time worrying about like PR, advertising, social media… the list goes on. It can really sap up a lot of your time and its easy to get distracted to the only thing that really matters – writing songs and trying to nail them live. That’s all you really need to worry about, I’d say!
Bakken‘s material can be found on Bandcamp at http://bakken1.bandcamp.com/