Taken | Ray Harkins

What do bands like Defeater, Modern Life Is War, Verse, Have Heart, Counterparts and Pianos Become The Teeth all have in common? Well, other than being great bands, they were all directly influenced or inspired by Orange County melodic hardcore legends, Taken.

Later this month on April 27th, Taken will release their first new material in 14 years – the truly moving ‘With Regard To’ EP. As you’d expect from a band such as them, it’s an emotionally charged release of passionate vocals, honest lyricism, dynamic songwriting, and powerful melodic hardcore. While it may be a very big call to make given the history and impact of this band’s past work, this new EP is one of Taken’s strongest efforts to date!

Speaking with us about the heart-breaking story of his wife’s cancer diagnosis back in late 2016 that fuels this EP’s narrative, frontman Ray Harkins also walks us through the creation of ‘With Regard To’, the story behind it, the heart he’s poured into it, where the band are at now with music and touring, as well as the legacy Taken have at their heels. Check it out below: 

We’re seeing a lot comeback releases lately, from the likes of Quicksand, At The Drive In, Glassjaw and also in April, Underoath. Now, Taken joins that same league with this new EP. Do you think the stigma of the “comeback” effort will affect this new release or do you maybe think that that’s what will push it even further out there given that it’s been nearly 14 years since Taken’s last release?

Well, considering those bands are at a much higher level of exposure than we ever were, the pressure is much less from a public perspective. I think because that most people weren’t ever anticipating new music from us helps the case of unrealistic expectations from a listeners eyes. We see no downside from us continuing to put out music and be active in this community as long as we are being true to who we were as a band back then, and who we are as individuals now. I think it’d be a different story if we were attempting to “fit in” with whatever is happening in 2018 where we felt like we needed to write music that would be digestible by a 16-year-old kid just starting to go to shows. That wasn’t a consideration whatsoever from us so we feel great about coming back.

Yeah, well said and I’d agree with that sentiment – this is a different kind of return than other bands. As for the new EP, ‘With Regard To’ is that classic melodic hardcore sound that Taken had back in the day, the kind that inspired countless other bands that followed. Do you think that that sound now stands stronger due to how this EP was produced and how well you guys worked on it with Beau Burchell?

Appreciate the compliment and I do think we stand stronger now for a couple of reasons. Beau produced our last EP before we broke up, so the quality of the recording has only gotten better because Beau is frankly better at what he does now than when we first worked with him. Secondly, we are all adults and are more comfortable in our skin and our creative output so it will come across in the way we write and present our music. I also think that due to the fact that we didn’t NEED to get this together makes it more important to us. We spent a lot of time and planning executing this over a 6 year period culminating in this EP. We are just glad that melodic hardcore has still stayed relevant all of these years later and bands are continuing to push the envelope of creativity in this space.

Well, I think it wouldn’t be as relevant without bands such as yourself paving the way for others to follow. So how are you guys anticipating fans to take this new release? On your end, what has the reception been like to ‘Regret’ and this new EP’s announcement?

From the people that we played it before we put it out to the world, it was nothing but positive and the most common sentiment was that “Wow, sounds like Taken but…better” and honestly, that’s what we have seen most people commenting and sharing with their friends. It’s rare on social media and instant “hot take” reactions that people are kind and generous with their praise but that’s what we have felt and it’s really flattering.

Good to hear! For those who don’t know, what was the creative timeline like for ‘With Regard To’ like? When did writing first begin and how long has newer Taken material been in the pipeline?

We accidentally wrote a new song in 2010 when we were preparing for a tour of Japan. I came into the rehearsal space and was surprised and asked “What are we doing here!” and then, we just committed to the idea of pulling all of the ideas we had together to eventually release new music. We personally didn’t want to just come out with one song though, which is why it took some time for us to pull them all together since everyone in the band is so active in our personal pursuits and musical. Finally, in 2016 we all convened in Southern California for a whirlwind weekend in which we were pulling 15 hour days to finish writing and with that, we had the EP musically finished save for a few parts here and there. We then started tracking everything with Beau later that year and pieced it together over those months.

Man, I just love how spontaneous this release’s creation. With the five tracks of this EP – Regret, Reflect, Realign Repose, Rejoice – it’s all a trajectory of how you’ve personally come to deal with your wife’s cancer diagnosis and how you view it all now. It all comes from a place of deep love, quite clearly, but due to the subject matter, these lyrics and your vocals could not have been easy to write and record, right?

It was incredibly hard and it still is to this day although she is in a much better place. It was by far the hardest I had ever worked performance wise, on my vocals. I had about 7-8 songs written lyrically before my wife was diagnosed with cancer and once that reality came into our lives, I threw that set of lyrics completely out because, at that point, they became irrelevant. In some respects, I am nervous to play these songs live as I don’t know what emotions they will really elicit.

I wish you all the best when that time to play them comes, Ray. The way this EP flows narratively and tonally I feel is very important to its overall strength. From the sheer defeat in ‘Regret’, the inner reflection in ‘Reflect’, the forward-thinking of ‘Realign’, the hope in ‘Repose’, and the melancholic but still uplifting nature of ‘Rejoice’. Is that an assessment you’d agree with and what emotions do you battle with now after the fact regarding your wife’s journey through this?

I am glad you picked up on that as that’s it’s intended purpose. I wanted to walk people through my exact thought process through each step of the journey. It’s meant to be unflinchingly honest in the way that my head was wrestling with these notions of death, my role as a caretaker and the possibility of me being a single father. It’s dark stuff but I couldn’t let that be my only focus so both emotions I attempted to depict.

I actually think that’s what makes this new EP so gripping too – that you were super honest and didn’t hold back about those thoughts. Also on the story behind this EP, what was your wife’s first response to you talking about such personal family matters on it? Or was she maybe expecting you to given who are you and the kind of music that Taken write?

To be honest, I haven’t sat down and shown her the lyrics. Once I brought the idea to her, she was very comfortable in me expressing myself as such. I do think it is the latter, rather than the former idea of the fact that I couldn’t think about much else during that time so putting any other form of expression out there, would be extremely inauthentic. We actually recorded two separate “podcasts” about her sorting through her own emotions and to document that time. At some point, we may share it with the world at large.

Wow, that’s heavy stuff. So what emotions do you battle with now after the fact regarding your wife’s journey through this diagnosis? Has this new Taken release helped you make peace with some of those inner thoughts?

It’s a continual battle as honestly, I just think of cancer less as each day goes by knowing that at any point, it can be the centre of our world again. As bizarre as it sounds it’s one of the best things to happen to us. Granted, I wouldn’t have chosen this for ourselves but now we have such a clear perspective on what is ultimately important to one another and with what we want to accomplish with our lives. The EP serves as a touchstone for these feelings and hopefully a repository for that dark time in my life. I am ultimately grateful that I went through it and have something like this piece of art to always attach myself to.

There’s a silver lining in everything, I like to think. Likewise, who is the woman on the EP’s front cover?

That is my wife on the cover. She isn’t a very public person, but between myself, our guitarist and his wife we were able to capture that rad photo and all of the artwork centred around the EP.

Cool! And as so much of this release is about your wife, forgive the rather direct question, but how is she doing lately? Where is she at with all of this now?

She’s doing incredibly well, she’s been clear for a year from this cancer and is working part-time. I am just really happy that I have her still when in reality, she could have been completely gone at this point.

That’s great to hear, truly! Another thing I’ve noticed about this new release is a stronger use of more melodic, dynamic instrumental passages – whether as intro’s, outro’s or as bridging sections in the songs. Granted, you guys did just that on older tracks like ‘Eternity Was On Our Lips’, but here it feels far more palpable. Is that kind of songwriting a by-product of the emotional tone and contemplative mood of this new EP or perhaps Taken trying not to go a million miles a minute the whole time now?

I definitely think it’s a case of us being more comfortable as songwriters now. I promise I am not trying to spit cliché’s out at you but it definitely feels more natural in where we are at on this EP than to attempt to become more technical for technical sake. We wanted this EP to continue the work that we started on the final EP as you mentioned, so it felt natural to expand on the atmosphere and texture that we only started to experiment with towards the end of the band.

Right on. Since Taken’s initial breakup, you’ve taken on the 100 Words Or Less podcast (which is a great listen, by the way). In doing that podcast, speaking with old friends and lots of new people changed how you’ve seen music, hardcore and the world itself? Do you think you’re much wiser now by doing 100 Words for so long?

Thanks for the compliment! The podcast is incredibly important to me to stay connected to something that I hold so dear. I think through all of the conversations I have had on the podcast it’s made me appreciate more this incredible subculture and how connected we all are to it not only by the art that is being put out to the world but how all of us involved feel that connectivity in ways that many other people don’t experience. I wouldn’t use the word wiser but more connected and committed to this music scene.

Ray Harkins.

Now, a lot of bands have come from the sound that bands like Taken helped define. Is that something you think about; about what artists you yourself helped inspire with your music or does that kind of thinking weird you out a bit; that form of self-aggrandizing?

Oh, it absolutely registers with me and I couldn’t be more happy about it. I distinctly remember when bands like Hopesfall started to exist and we felt like we had some sonic kindred spirits (as well as This Day Forward, Alexisonfire and more) but watching other bands take the torch and run with it is inspiring. It wasn’t until I got to know guys in Counterparts, Pianos Become the Teeth and others to realize that they were fans of Taken because I personally was already into these bands. It’s really flattering when bands give us a nod because clearly there are more accomplished bands that did a lot more than we did but the fact that people remember us at all is a crazy notion.

That’s so sick! Finally, with this EP’s release in April, what does the future look like for Taken in 2018? Are things hard for touring and shows due to you all living in separate states? I’m not gonna lie, I am very much holding out for a Taken tour out here in Australia this year! Plus, we’d have way more fun and have more fan interaction than that Club Absinthe show you guys played in December…

We would LOVE to come down to Australia as that is one of the most beautiful countries I have had the pleasure of visiting. In short, we are actively looking for fun opportunities that get us in front of people that have a connection to what we do, no matter how large or small. We never inspired an insane crowd reaction (save for a few places around the country) so we get people standing back and watching which is what the crowd did at Club Absinthe. We have international touring plans to Japan and potentially some other spots as well. Touring is hard due to life commitments we have, but we are all on the same page to make fun things happen for Taken and the people that care about us.

Taken’s first new release in 14 years, ‘With Regard To’, drops April 27th through Other People Records. Check out ‘Carry Us Until There Is Nothing Left’ here.

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