You’re probably lying if you say that nothing about you has changed over the last year. To varying degrees, we’ve all experienced shifts in our lives that have led us to either moments of madness or dramatic transformations. For Haich Ber Na, the lengthy periods of solitude saw his musical output take the latter path, evolving from uber-smart electronic music to fully-fledged pop. As transformations go, while on paper it may seem like a precarious line to tread, the change never seemed to go through a transitional period and was already fully realised. Having previously trained as a graphic designer, you can sense that the impeccable attention to creating worlds within soundscapes is where Haich has really focused his craft, not to mention the stark visuals he creates for his music videos.
As noted, it hasn’t always been this way. Before bringing the club to the bedroom, Haich was producing what he describes as ‘art gallery music’; a style that had grown old to him and lacked the fervour of what he had chosen to shift towards. While still displaying a heady mix of rumbling bass and layered synths that are still present on his recent work, it’s clear that Unbalanced and Everywhere’s Home are not pop records in the same sense as From Then ‘til Now. The forays into ambient, grime and techno are shown sparingly or used to different effect, all to create a much more refined experience. There are still shades of the introspectiveness that characterised his earlier material, but the pulsating grooves of tracks like ‘0594 Help’ and ‘Think About It’ add a newfound vibrancy. Three EPs in and Haich Ber Na has truly hit his stride.
It would seem that he’s not content with leaving it at that either. There are clear ambitions to push this project further and wider than its current state, and the pace at which Haich insists he wants to work at would suggest that there are more bitesize glimpses of his singular talent to come later this year. For the time being, From Then ‘til Now acts as the defining moment of what will surely become a lengthy and fruitful career, whether working on his own material or producing for others.
How are you finding productivity at the moment, has this been a fruitful period for you?
To be honest with you, it’s not been that bad. Most of the time I work from here in my house, so I was lucky in that when everything locked down I didn’t have to rely on anything and could just carry on doing what I’m doing. It’s been pretty good you know, but it has been hard to find inspiration because we weren’t seeing anyone at one point, but you’ve just got to dig deep. It’s mostly me and my best friend Diesel, who lives with me – he plays bass.
It’s a good thing you’ve got that comfy setup and don’t have to worry about getting too many people together – I feel like that’s what has stunted so many people.
Yeah, I mean everyone has their setups. Working in a studio is nice, and I was in a different studio earlier today, but you always feel it’s helpful to just be self-sufficient.
I guess having the other studio to work in, you’ve got engineers and outside input to give you advice though, do you ever find working alone that you get stuck in your own head?
Definitely, but I’ve got enough people to show my music to, and they’ll get me out of my head. It’s a natural pattern, really. Diesel, who I was just talking about, he gets me out of a lot of routines if I start to get stuck in one.
What sort of things do you mean?
Maybe if I’ve used a drum that sounds like something from an older project or I’ve used a certain lyric that sounds very similar to another thing, he might be able to say “you’re leaning on that because you’ve done it before” and essentially say “fuck that” – and then we do something new.
I guess I wanted to begin by talking about the EP you put out earlier in the year, From Then ‘til Now – how long was that in the works for and can you tell me a bit about the process?
It was exactly the same process as I’m in now, working from the flat. I would switch it up if I could switch it up but lockdown hit and changed some things. I was already planning on making a project and putting it out, but I guess this situation actually sped up the process because there was nothing else to do. I was literally just in this room, making beats, messing with weird sounds and then singing over it. Over a couple of months, I’d then get an idea down and perfect it with Diesel.
How long were the sketches for songs around for?
Maybe all of them were done in January and February 2020 in terms of getting the ideas down, then it would take me another six months to finish them, and then another three months on top of that to make the videos and artwork and put it all out. It is quite a process, but I like to capture the ideas pretty quickly, and be firm and say “right, this is it”.
Were there any delays at all – were you expecting it earlier?
Yeah, Christmas – I wanted it out in December, even though everyone says to avoid December because you won’t get any reviews or press and all that crap. Apart from that, everything was on time.
I’m curious to know where the shift in tone from your previous work stems from, and how much the events of the past year have influenced the changes in your music?
I think naturally whatever is going on in the world is going to effect most musicians’ output, and with something as dramatic as that, there’s always going to be elements that find their way into the music. I haven’t got any bait lyrics like “put on your mask” – it didn’t touch me like that. Maybe there was definitely a sense of missing people and being scared in a lot of those songs. In terms of the other musical processes and in terms of the sound, I was trying to make this stuff a bit more palatable, because my older stuff was super left, and I was just tired of doing that. I didn’t want to be making art gallery music anymore.
There’s still patches of it left though and certainly a sense of individuality in what you can hear but with a few new influences in there. What was on in the house and what was your go-to for inspiration around that time?
We listened to bare Blur, a lot of LCD Soundsystem, and then nobody in particular but a lot of old and new pop. Until this EP, I didn’t really know how pop was written – I knew nothing about chorus, bridge, verse and all of that. All of the old music I made was just guesswork, and then I came to realise that most songs are in sections which was something I then tried out.
Was it a case of hearing ideas and trying to replicate it at first and then spin it into your own thing?
No, not even that. Usually I’d just mess around, but it’s more feeling most of the time. With ‘0594 Help’, I started with that first noise that comes through on that song, and when I played it to Diesel he said it sounded like Britney Spears; it really had that sort of diva swing to it. My rule was after that to not listen to any more Britney because I didn’t want to go too far in that pocket, so instead I just took that energy and kept adding stuff on.
You’re not thinking of working on her comeback record then?
Nah, I don’t think that’s for me. ‘Toxic’ is a banger though – greatest pop song ever, man.
I’m guessing that the title of the EP, From Then ‘til Now is designed to show the transformation your work has gone through from the early days to what you’re currently doing – what does it mean to you?
Sometimes when I come up with titles, I’ll get so obsessed with what they mean, but then by the time it comes out that will have gone. I’m sure that title was some personal stuff with me getting there with those sounds, but I’m sure there was something about older aesthetics vs new aesthetics too. Those were the main two things, but I don’t feel very attached to the name like I have been with previous projects. It’s nice when other people guess though, and then I start to believe it is what other people say it is, which is sick. But yeah, the ‘now’ is now I guess.
I suppose it’s quite nice having that mystery and leaving it up to people to take what they will from it.
Yeah, when you put something out, it’s not yours anymore, which is great because everyone else can come up with their concepts about what it might be.
When was the last time you put it on? Are you the sort of person who avoids listening to their own music once it’s finished?
Probably last week, I don’t mind it. I might have to sometimes, especially when I’m making new stuff. I know a lot of people will say to never compare your old stuff to your new stuff but sometimes you need to. Maybe I’ll change my mind on that, but it’s a new thing, and I’m not scared to do it.
Is part of the reason for making these dramatic shifts in style and tone down to the fact you’re entirely self-taught? Because you’ve learnt from scratch, would you say you’re more open to playing around with any ideas?
Yeah, absolutely. I just love making music – I know it sounds cheesy as fuck, but I just can’t imagine not making it. I’ve thought about it before, where I’ve thought if I maybe make myself more of a product and was making the same style of music for 3-5 years, then maybe people would get it. I guess it’s both a flaw and a strength in me that each project changes quite a lot, but that’s what’s quite fun, and I think that the people that are into it will stay on the journey. I don’t think I could ever settle on a sound though really, project by project there will be a sound, you know? There’s no sound for life.
Was there a particular reason why you felt now was the time to let it evolve into this?
There were two things. I got bored of those sounds, and I also asked some of my close friends who support me, and my friend told me when he was drunk that my listening party was one of the best things he ever went to and that he loved my projects. He’s a pretty serious person, and I knew he wasn’t gassing me up for no reason, but then he said about how the quality was good, it was interesting, but I only ever listen to it once a month. I thought that was good, but he explained that him listening once a month was nothing, because he only listens to about five artists every day. He’d listen to Childish Gambino every day, Kanye West every day and so on, but he’d listen to my old music once and it would be so intense that I don’t need to listen to it again because it was more like an experience. I guess that was cool for the time, but I didn’t want to make ‘experience’ music that people will only listen to once, I wanted to make bangers. It’s not even a dumbing it down thing, because I thought the old stuff was dumb as I wasn’t thinking about it much when I made it. I guess that was the shift – I looked at what I was listening to on a daily basis and I do listen to a load of experimental music, but I’m not listening to it on a regular basis. It was time for me to take that madness and put it inside that box, but it wasn’t as scary as I’d imagined doing that would be.
What’s the verdict on the new stuff from that friend?
He actually text me the other day saying it was the best stuff I’d ever released; it came out of nowhere, but he’s happy. I actually told him this and he didn’t remember because he was so drunk.
I mean, if someone who only listens to those artists is putting you in the same league as them, that’s only a compliment really.
That’s what I mean, he said the quality is there, but as a non-music creator he couldn’t explain what it was that stopped him listening more than once a month. I just thought “fuck, I need to figure out what it is” and I think it was the structure of it and not trying to make something that was nice for people to listen to.
Could you ever see yourself ever making a shift to making fully ‘club-ready’ music?
You know what, maybe. For someone else, I think I’d love to produce a big dancehall song that’s massive in Jamaica, or a big American rap song that everyone loves. I’d love to do that, it’d just be funny and plus I love rap as it was what I was producing first. Even something like a big Dua Lipa thing. Some people will say, “ah, I don’t care, I’m just about my art”, but for now the Haich Ber Na stuff is that – that’s my little art project. As a producer though, I’d happily do something like that, whether that’s club bangers, or doing a side project of dance music.
I wanted to ask about your approaches to making all of the artwork and videos for your music – would you say that you approach those in a similar way or do you have a different method for working those out?
To be honest, when I’m making a tune, the video idea will probably come at the same time, maybe a few days later. I’ll write down in the most childish way all of the things that come to mind – maybe making a note on my phone that’ll just say ‘panda bears, clouds, balloons’ or something like that. Slowly the note will build up to a point where I’ll start looking for references, and I’ll search online for those things which will slowly lead me down a rabbit hole that’ll lead me to something else.
With my old EP Everywhere Is Home, the cover of that was going to feature an inflatable room, like a massive dome that would inflate. I was trying to find one for months and months, and I nearly got one made on Ali Baba but I thought that would be too unethical still with all of the plastic wastage. While I was searching for a dome, I was on page 24 of Google and I ended up finding this old 60s-style spaceship in Wales. That was decided then – we had to go there. It’s mad, it’s on a campsite in a glamping location and you can actually sleep there. Big up Apple Camping, and big up Wolfgang who made it – he’s got a big record collection and built an aeroplane and a spaceship that you could stay in. We stayed there for one night and just took some photos of it.
I also really loved the visuals you did for the ‘Hold Tight’ single – how did you come across the guy who appears in the video?
Albert is a great guy, he loves culture. I put out a casting call and he was perfect, he was just so cool. He gave me some curry paste from Kuala Lumpur because I gave him a t-shirt.
What does the rest of the year hold for you?
I’ll be dropping another EP at some point in the summer hopefully, there’s going to be videos too which will be even better than the last ones. Definitely something good will come out of it all.
Words: Reuben Cross // Photos: Willow Shields
‘From Then ’til Now’ is out now via HQI. You can stream or purchase the EP via Bandcamp.