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Taken: Something to Believe In

Ray Harkins is the former vocalist for Taken and a veteran of the southern California hardcore scene. He amiably took time from his busy schedule to answer a few questions for me.

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There have been few times in my life when I have really cried—when a close friend of mine died, when my grandma died, and when my brother left for Iraq. Only certain pain can bring a person to cry in such a way that a dull knot forms in their stomach; in effect, losing complete control over the body. Taken’s Between Two Unseens, mimics such heartbreaking pain. Hearing the intense emotion brought those memories back to me; I could hear the pain in the music and was surprised by the effect that it had. Between Two Unseens will be Taken’s last release as the members have decided to go their own ways. The five-song EP was preceded by three farewell shows and serves as a goodbye to all of the band’s loyal fans.

Since the band has recently broken up, I feel that I have found a talented band just a bit too late. Ray Harkins is the former vocalist for Taken and a veteran of the southern California hardcore scene. In his free time he writes for Sound the Sirens, among many other magazines. He amiably took time from his busy schedule to answer a few questions for me. 

I read in an interview that, since the breakup, you have started working with some new musicians in the Orange County area. Is a new band in progress?

Harkins: I started talking to friends and people from local bands. A friend of mine from Iowa used to play in a band called Preacher Gone to Texas. He moved out here about a year ago and I have always wanted to play with him. It all came together and now we are just looking for a solid bassist. Basically the whole band is together and the name is Mikoto, which stands for beautiful in Japanese. We already have five songs written so we are pretty well underway.

How would you characterize the style of Mikoto?

Harkins: It is not exactly too far off from what Taken was doing. It still falls into the whole hardcore/punk umbrella. I would say comparatively speaking it is a little heavier and I have experimented more as far as vocals are concerned—I am singing more. 

What are your ambitions for future projects?

Harkins: My vision and goal for it is to just get out there. Without sounding clichéd and idealistic, I just feel like a lot of what people are being exposed to, as far as hardcore is concerned, isn’t the original intent of it. I’ve never sat back and just thought that I couldn’t wait until I could make a living off my band. So many bands now start up with the intensive purpose of getting signed after two months and getting labels interested; “We can get huge deals and tour the world after only being a band for two months!” There isn’t any sort of mediation with the band. They start up and immediately become huge. No one will remember most of these bands in 5 years. The important bands will stay around; the bands that build more organically and take their time with actually building their fan base while making real connections with kids. 

The most recent example I have seen is, not commenting on the music or the people, the new band Hawthorne Heights. Everything about that band and every reason they are popular is so stupid, so clichéd. The band sold 3000 records their first week out and honestly musically it is everything that is being done right now.  There is no variation in it. It is sad to see that band do it while bands that have been working really hard for four or five years get shuffled under the rug because they don’t fit that mold.


Ray Harkins on the current crop of popular bands: 

“… Hawthorne Heights … everything about that band and every reason they are popular is so stupid, so clichéd … it is sad to see that band do it while bands that have been working really hard for four or five years get shuffled under the rug because they don’t fit that mold…”


So, I guess my goal is to show that a band can be held in a high regard as far as popularity is concerned and still maintain some sort of independent DIY ethic.  Alexisonfire is a great example—they’ve done everything the right way. They did everything organically and never intended to become so successful. It is great to watch people who are still grounded and connected to that scene while being involved with a greater scene. I guess that is my goal.

What are your opinions of the current rise in the popularity of punk and hardcore music in mainstream media?

Harkins: It is like grunge in the mid-90s. It was huge and was bred from the same cloth that we were. It was a very DIY, independent scene. They did fine on their own and when they were introduced to mainstream culture and it just caught on. I think this type of music (hardcore) has more of a staying power because younger and younger kids keep getting into it. The grunge scene was older fanwise and bottomed out because of it. I also think that hardcore will bottom out and it will be funny and scary at the same time. A lot of the bands that have illusions of grandeur and have little experience will be dropped very quickly. Sincerity will certainly outweigh this trend in musical style. Bands like Thrice and Thursday will be sticking around. After the popularity bands like those will be remembered for doing something for themselves.

Have you seen a lot of original, distinctive bands that are not really getting the attention they deserve?

Harkins: This band called The Backup Plan from Long Island. They put out a record on this New Day Rising record label. They are a combination of a few styles I have always loved. They are a mix of Kid Dynamite meets Lifetime and the whole Jade Tree type stuff. They are incredible and nice dudes as well. As well as underrated in general. I think a lot of the stuff Jade Tree is putting out is going to be really awesome. They are putting out the new Breather Resist record, and that band is supersonically devastating. They will definitely bring a whole different perspective to a lot of mainstream music journalist after listening to it. Also the band These Arms Are Snakes, Jade Tree is releasing their record as well. A lot of the stuff Jade Tree is doing is very commendable because they have always stuck to their guns. I also think Level Plane records are doing amazing stuff as well. They are releasing new records from Hot Cross, LickGoldenSky, and Anodyne and a lot of bands of the heavier genre. They are a great label that has always stuck to what they believe in.  They know that these records may not sell tens of thousands of copies but they don’t care. As long as it does enough to break them even then it that’s fine. A lot of labels don’t have that sort of perception these days.

How do you feel about political messages, such as veganism, straightedge, liberalism and so forth, which are tied in with the hardcore scene?

Harkins: Kids see these bands that are up there singing about absolutely nothing.  They are being exposed to something that isn’t really what I personally perceive as being an independent act. 

I think it is really important that bands, whether or not they take a political stance with their lyrics, that they actually live up to their position; especially when it comes to straightedge or vegetarianism because a lot of kids like to claim things like that because it is cool in the scene right now. You really have to back up what you say.  When you are speaking and showing yourself through your actions you should definitely mean what you say. I see a lot of people who aren’t standing for anything at all and then there are bands that use clichéd slogans to get people interested in what they do. Being active no matter what you involved in is important. That is what differentiates the punk/hardcore scene from everything else that’s out there.

How do you feel about the emerging “look” in the hardcore scene? Bands like Atreyu and AFI wearing eyeliner and tight pants? 

Harkins: It is just one of those things; I personally don’t like it at all. When I see bands doing it I am bummed. I just don’t really see where it fits in. There is something to say about being stylish or whatever because I don’t want people to be looking like slobs. As long as it is done tastefully then I don’t have a problem with it.  You can look at bands like Refused and Elliot—they dress up when they play. They have the whole suit and tie thing going on and it creates a very blank canvas. If you’ve never seen Refused and you see these 5 dudes get on stage and it’s like who are these squares, what is this? They proceed to blow your mind and become your favorite band. I really like the whole aesthetic as far as creating a blank canvas.  When a band walks on stage wearing a lot of makeup and paper tight jeans you can imagine what they are going to sound like and play into. It takes away the guesswork. It is just one of those trends that is just going to die out. I will be a little more thankful when the fashion side of hardcore fades out. It has always been my rule of thumb that whatever you wear that day to work or wherever, you can wear to a show. 

As a record label employee, has working at Abacus influenced your perception of the label/band relationship?

Harkins: Everyone is seeing now that this whole market of music is an untapped resource. Everyone is knocking, major labels are taking interest. When people see that bands like Underoath can do better than major acts than the labels are pouring a ton of money into promotion and whatever it takes for the band to get to the next level. I think record labels in general are doing pretty well as far as promotion is concerned. They are basically just forcing stuff down kid’s throats and that is what it takes now. I see a lot of money and faith put into marketing and advertising. 

How do you want fans to remember Taken?

Harkins: After being in the band for six years I have watched people react to us, the people who have supported us, and it is really amazing. While I feel that we didn’t really hit that level where massive amounts of people knew about us, there were still so many people that were insanely genuine about what we were doing both musically and lyrically. People would attach themselves so emotionally. I never thought I would do anything greater than myself as far as this was concerned.  People have come up to me crying at shows. It is one of the most intense experiences I have ever had. I think if people were to fondly look back on us, I think that is all I can ask for, is that we were a great band. We weren’t following trends; we were doing our own thing straight from the heart. That is all I can ask for.

Photos by: Mark Keraly

[Disclaimer: As you may be aware, Ray Harkins is a writer for Sound the Sirens, and I was actually afraid that I would have nothing nice to say to my peer about the hard work that his band put into its last release. In fact, the opposite has turned out to be true.  I want to reiterate that I am attempting to be unbiased in this article. I actually feel some sort of duty to criticize the work more than I have due to the circumstances.] 

Interviews

Everything Will Be Alright: An interview with Ogikubo Station

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There is great joy in simple chords and simple melodies. It is, after all, the feeling of comfort that these things often bring. Comfort from the day’s burdens, comfort from the issues that disappoint us, comfort when the sunsets bring us joy. Ogikubo Station, the music project of Maura Weaver (of Ohio punks Mixtapes) and Mike Park (of Asian Man Records), is that kind of comfort. It is music that makes us think of the week we’ve just had, music that makes us want to do better in our every day, and music that makes us laugh, cry, and sing-a-long.

Fresh off the release of a new 7” EP Okinawan Love Songs, we chat to Maura and Mike about the new songs, making music from distances, and how Ogikubo Station came to be. The chat was a reminder that music can be the result of many things and many reasons. Some simple, some more complicated. It was also a reminder that if we’ve got the music, then maybe, just maybe, everything will be alright in the end.

You released your full length We Can Pretend Like last year- was there a catalyst that sparked getting back into the writing and recording again so quickly?

Maura: I think Mike just called me and said do you want to come out to California and do some songwriting, and then while I was out there he booked two days in the studio and said “Guess what? We’re gonna record a 7 inch.”

Mike: Is that what happened? Haha. I can’t remember. I know we had “Would I Break My Heart Enough For You” written and we were playing it live, so I thought “let’s just add a couple more songs and release a fun 7 inch.”

Did you write these songs the same way you’ve written in the past; from a distance?

Mike: Not this time. Since it was only a few songs we just rehearsed for a day and then recorded.

Does that process ever get easier, being quite far apart?

Maura: Not really. I prefer being able to collaborate in person and I believe that’s the plan for the next record. We started writing 4 new songs aside from what’s on this 7 inch to go towards the next Ogikubo full length.

Mike: Yeah, it’s not the best case scenario, but I’ve been doing with a lot of different projects over the years. Sending mixes and vocal parts and asking various friends to guest on records, so it’s not that bad actually.

Okinawan Love Songs

How was having Dan (Andriano) play bass on this EP? Will you be working with him again in the future?

Mike: I’ve known Dan since he was a teenager, so I just called him and said “Dan, I’m gonna send you a couple of songs for you to play bass on” and he was like “okay”. He has his own home studio and he’s kind of a gear head, so I knew it would be easy for him to do. I’d love to do more stuff with him, but I guess we’ll see.

Maura: Heck yes! I’ve been an Alkaline Trio fan since I was 14, so this is all kind of geeking out excitement for me.

For those who are new to Ogikubo Station – tell us how you ended up collaborating together?

Mike: Maura, you want to tell it?

Maura: Sure. So I was visiting the San Francisco/Oakland area where my sister lives and we were hanging out with my friend Danielle Bailey who is also friends with Mike. Danny had posted some photos of us hanging and Mike called Danny and said: “ask Maura if she would record a song with me”. So we drove to San Jose and we recorded a song called “Weak Souls Walk Around Here” and that was it. Just a one-time thing.

Mike: And at that time I believe I told Maura I’d like to put out her solo album and so for the next 2 years I would bug her every couple months to see how it was going and she would say “oh, I’m still working on it”. And then I finally said “hey, let’s start a project together” and thus Ogikubo Station was born.

How many bands are you in now Mike?

Mike: Kitty Kat Fan Club, Ogikubo Station, Bruce Lee Band …are the only ones that play, but I’m working on a couple of new projects. Always doing music.

Maura, how different has it been with Ogikubo Station than say, writing and recording with Mixtapes? Do the different processes give you new ways to write and approach songwriting?

Maura: I guess the biggest difference is the distance factor and that Ogikubo is not a full-time band. Mixtapes was my first real band and it was at a time in my life when everything was a first. First tour, first record, first van, the first van breaking down. I was still in my teens with Mixtapes and we all lived in Cincinnati. So it’s very different with Ogikubo. It’s hard to explain fully, but both bands have definitely been influential in different ways. But the basic idea of writing a melody over a strummed guitar chord is the same no matter the situation.

I love the TMBG cover on the new EP, and the fact that you chose to keep it lo-fi—what are some of the other bands you say would have directly led to the music and songwriting of Ogikubo Station?

Mike: I guess I’ve been listening to a lot of 80’s bands as of late and just kind of falling in love again with bands like Hoodoo Gurus, the Replacements, REM, and then newer bands like ALVVAYS, PUP, and Laura Stevenson. I’m always just looking for a good melody and some lyrics that aren’t filler bullshit.

Maura: I listen to so much music. From Kate Bush, TMBG, Desmond Dekker, Operation Ivy, to Beyonce and Taylor Swift. It’s hard to say what influences Ogikubo Station, but those are some bands I’ve been listening to lately.

Mike, I know on Twitter recently you’ve expressed your frustration and anger at a lot of the political things that are happening in the US (hopefully that’s not the cause of those grey hairs!) – but as songwriters, do you feel that it’s more important than ever to provide listeners with fuel to fight for equality and kindness, or do you feel that its just as important to provide an escape through music?

Mike: I’ve always felt music is political even when you aren’t trying to make it political. The sounds fuel the soul, creates the body to move and puts you in moods that you may not even realise are happening. Music has been my solace when it comes to expression and emotion. An outlet to get my ideas across in an artistic and productive manner. I don’t feel it’s imperative to be overtly political. I try not to shove politics down your throat, but if something comes to mind and I write about it and it happens to be classified as political, so be it.

Maura, you did the artwork for the new EP, an illustration of your Okinawan grandmother. The art is beautiful, can you tell us a little bit about your art and how you came into illustrating?

Maura: I’ve always enjoyed illustrating and painting. Creating art: With a guitar or a brush or a pen/ pencil. I wanted to draw my grandmother and give it to her as a present.  When Mike saw the drawing he asked if we could use it for the 7-inch cover. It wasn’t meant to be the cover, but after mike brought it up I said of course.

What are some of the things you’re looking forward to on this UK tour? You guys are going all over England, and then to Wales, and then Scotland. 

Mike: Sadly I’m not going on the tour this time due to some hearing damage I have sustained, but I’m still going to Brighton for a wedding, so I will be there for 3 days. And I’ll try to do every stereotypical British thing. TEA/MILK/FISH/CHIPS/MUSHY PEAS.

Maura: Getting to travel with my best friend Megan is the most exciting part of this UK tour. She’s never been before and that makes it that much more special being able to share this experience together. We are both Vegan/Vegetarian and one of our favorite things to do is eat, so we’ll checking out the different vegan spots in every city. And just meeting new friends, seeing old friends, and Edinburgh. I can’t wait to go to Edinburgh.

Is there a new full length on the horizon?

Mike: I’d like to work on one next year. I’m tapped out for this year. I’m gonna work on some new Bruce Lee Band stuff next and then I have a couple of other collaborations, but hopefully sometime next year we can start the process for the next full length.

Maura: That sounds good to me. It will give me a chance to keep writing songs.

Ogikubo Station’s new 7″ EP Okinawan Love Songs is out June 14th on Asian Man Records. Find out more about Ogikubo Station and their upcoming tour dates on their Facebook page.

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