For a band that started out almost by accident, Circa Waves are looking like the real deal these days. "We've gotten pretty good at pretending to be a band," jokes frontman, Kieran Shudall, who plays alongside Joe Falconer, Sam Rourke, and Colin Jones. Of course, selling out tour dates for the past two years and playing festivals like Glastonbury means that it's more than just make-believe.
And now, the British rockers have decided to get serious. After finding success in their ability to churn out token indie anthems like "T-Shirt Weather," they realized they were growing sick of spewing admittedly meaningless lyrics to growing crowds. So for their sophomore album, Different Creatures, Shudall buckled down and looked at the world around him before putting pen to paper.
"I think it was a case of wanting not just to be taken as the 'summer band,'" says Shudall.
Different Creatures arrives as a signifier of Circa Waves' newly keen awareness of the world around them, their desire to make some sort of sense of it all, and their honest attempt to find their place within the ever-changing landscape of music. Ahead of their recent show at Rough Trade, in Brooklyn, New York, and in between their pursuit of the best pasta in New York (the Master of None fans tweeted at Aziz Ansari for a suggestion), we sat down with Shudall and lead guitarist, Falconer, to discuss everything from Harry Styles to the current state of the world.
How did Circa Waves form?
Kieran Shudall: We played a festival in Liverpool and sort of met there, really. I was working, and Joe was in another band, and Sam was in a band. Then, that weekend, I got played on Radio One, a demo that I did, and I was like, "Shit, I need to start a band." So luckily they were all there, and Joe was really drunk and he was like, "I'll be in your band!" And four years later, he's stuck with me.
Your debut album, Young Chasers, came out in 2015. Following that, you toured sold-out venues and played Glastonbury as well as Reading and Leeds. What was that time in your life like?
KS: Watching it from the inside was just like, "What the fuck is going on?"
Joe Falconer: To a lot of people, it seemed like we just shot up out of nowhere, but we went around the country about four or five times.
Kieran, you've been quoted as saying, "I don't think I would want that kind of thing," regarding Matt Healy of The 1975's fame. But you've also said that you want to headline major festivals. Do you think it’s possible to have one without the other?
KS: I do. The sort of pop star, sex symbol thing... I'm not really into that kind of vibe. I'm more into the rock stars who just seem like regular people, not rock stars who consider themselves rock stars. I think if you look at bands like the Maccabees, Two Door Cinema Club, or Foo Fighters, you can tell they're just pretty normal people, but they wear cool clothes and stand in front of 50,000 people instead of 100 people.
Alan Moulder co-produced your sophomore album. What was it like working with him?
JF: It was the best. I mean, we've listened to his records for a long time. I think it’s one of those things where we couldn't quite believe it when the opportunity came up. It was a bit daunting at first, because the problem with working with some producers is you're committing to this amount of time you have to spend with them, and there's no guarantee that they'll be able to understand what you're doing. But he was perfect in every way. He understood what Kieran was trying to do with the songs and it ended up being a co-production with Kieran. He was just very collaborative.
KS: He's got such a wealth of knowledge. He's got all the pedals that Smashing Pumpkins use and the keyboards that The Killers used. So he can reference a lot of things in trying to sort of make your own version of that sound. He's amazing for that and exceptionally patient as well.
Can we talk about "Out On My Own?"
KS: I would say, it's sort of about male depression. It was happening a lot around me; not particularly to myself, but certainly to friends of mine. I was kind of on my own in Liverpool for like five months writing every day. I felt a bit isolated, and it gave me a tiny insight into what it might feel like to be incredibly lonely. I researched it further. It's so strange how it's happening and so many young men kill themselves. So I wrote it about that, but then other people see it as a song about a relationship, so I want it to be about whatever someone wants it to be about really.
JF: I think it's one of those things where when you tour with someone we're in close quarters constantly, and we don't really talk about the stresses of it to each other that much, but I think we're all aware of it. So, for me, it seemed to me that Kieran had gone away after the tour and just sort of vented into a book, and then I finally got to read and go, "That's what you were thinking in the last six months." It's what's unsaid between band members. That's how I take it.
Tell me about "Stuck."
KS: That was just being fucking sick of reality TV. You know that show The Voice? I was just a bit sick of all those TV shows. I get so angry when people tell kids at these auditions that they have to be a perfect singer to be a musician. Like, if you're a bad singer, start a punk band. Every time we got in a taxi with a guitar, and they'd say, "Wait, are you a musician? You should go on X-Factor." And it's like, "Fuck you, man." You know what I did? I've been in bands since I was 13 years old and I practice eight hours a day, and not go on a reality TV show and try to get famous quickly. I do think it poisons the youth.
JF: Music has always been bought and sold, but even worse now is you're taking it, something that has important meaning—it's an art form—and you're basically just shifting through some really cheap format.
So how do you feel about someone like Harry Styles?
JF: If you think about him, he got involved in that racket at a very early age, and if you look at what he's tried to do on the record, it's go for ballad, acoustic, and I think it's maybe a suggestion that perhaps he might have wished... I mean, I don't know how he feels, but I think he definitely has a respect for what musicians do.
KS: He's really handsome, so it's hard to dislike him. I mean I don't like that format. I think Harry Styles' record is better than expected, but I'm not going to buy it.
On a different note, the title track of your sophomore album, Different Creatures, is about Syrian refugees. Can you talk to me about that?
KS: As I was writing it, the media at the time was really heavy on the immigration that was happening and all these people struggling to get over from Syria. So it was just on my mind, and it came out naturally. At first, I was like, "Fuck, I don't want to write a political song." Because people are kind of weird about that sometimes, but then I thought, Fuck it. It's something that you don't have to be in grade school to have compassion for people and see people dying to try and get into your country.
Concerts, which have always been a sort of sanctuary for young people, have become dangerous places given recent events like Manchester. Do you have any words for audiences on the matter?
KS: It's hard to say. I would say just be strong and keep going, and be powerful and keep going to shows.
Given the current state of the world, do you think it’s important for artists to be driving messages like that?
JF: I think there's a big stigma behind musicians getting involved in politics. I think you should be able to say what you want and people don't have to listen. We're on the eve of an incredibly important election in the U.K., and the thing that's going to turn it is young people. And I think there's nothing wrong with encouraging young people to get involved in their political system. Even if people don't agree with you just having an awareness. I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all. And who wants to sing about drinking and girls forever?
KS: I think when you're making music that people listen to, you always want to make something that in 20 years time they go, "Remember that summer when all we listened to was Different Creatures?" When I look back to the first album that I got into rock-wise, The Colour and The Shape by Foo Fighters, those songs just mean so much to me now, until the day I die. And I would love this album to be the same for someone else. That's my sort of dream.
Circa Waves will be making their way back from across the pond in September to play at Meadows Music & Arts Festival in New York.