Attempting to predict what’s next for Merseyside’s Circa Waves is no easy task, but then it’s equally hard to imagine they would want things to be that way.
Curious, playful and driven, the Liverpool indie rockers prefer to surprise, and they remain reluctant to narrow down their musical scope or limit themselves to one sound, style or genre. They firmly believe that an album needs to be interesting and exciting, every time.
This level of ambition has taken them places. Having emerged in 2013, ten years may seem like a long time, but in music things tend to move very quicky. So far the group have gone above and beyond to deliver their vision, and the fifth studio album ‘Never Going Under’ is no exception.
The global pandemic changed things for everyone. Kieran Shudall became a dad, a joyous, life-affirming event that would also generate darker emotions, which again would inspire the more reflective undertone that is traceable throughout this album.
Electrifying, probing, and deeply fascinating, it has been a vibrant journey for the band, and Clash sat down with Shudall and got the songwriter to shed some light on what drove him and the rest of the band to mark their tenth year – and return – with such an inspired creative effort.
What are your feelings about ‘Never Going Under’ now that it is out there for people to enjoy?
I’m excited. It’s been in the making for a couple of years now. It’s a cathartic feeling to have it released into the wild and let everybody have it, then it’s not just mine anymore. I was craving playing live, I envisaged playing the songs in big venues to thousands of people that made the songs have that explosive gig energy. It’s that longing to play the songs in front of people and building an energy.
This album has been coming together over some time. Did you have a set idea about what you wanted to achieve or was it about exploration?
I never write with any end goal in mind. I don’t to try and write a concept record or have a title. I just wrote, then filtered everything down to what we thought the best songs were. I also like to experiment, we never stick to one specific genre, we’re always moving around, we never ever thought it would circulate. It’s always been wherever we think the best sound is, that’s what’s gonna go on the album.
Circa Waves seem curious and open. How do these qualities help shape the sound of a album?
We listen to all sorts of music. I listen to a lot of pop music, any music that connects with millions of people connect for a reason. Trying to understand a Taylor Swift melody is just as important as trying to understand a Foo Fighters melody, or a guitar line written by Metallica, Joni Mitchell or The Cribs. Everything has value. I see the value in all of those different things, and I try to bring those approaches together. But if you write a Joni Mitchell melody over a Foo Fighters instrumental it’s going to be an interesting song.
It’s all about trying to make great music, combine different influences. I’ve always admired bands like The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac, bands that change, evolve or move and don’t stay stagnant, maybe that’s why Circa Waves survived for this amount of time, we’ve not just done five of the same records, each record evolved.
Can you share a unique moment from the creative process?
I got tinnitus about a year ago, that completely changed me, I thought I had to give it all up. Gradually over the months things calmed down, it’s still there, you can’t get rid of tinnitus, unfortunately. But to pull myself through, I needed to write a song, that’s a cathartic, powerful tool. ‘Never Going Under’ is about that resilience, it became the song that represented the album as a whole. It was about me saying ‘pull yourself together, you can still do this’. That song was as much for me as for everyone who listens to it. It’s like a diary, people have diaries to get rid of stuff when they’re feeling down. I write songs, and that helps me.
Aware that you don’t work to concepts, but how much do consider the previous record when a fresh process begins?
I wanted to go heavier than the previous record. I wanted more of a rock feeling – there’s five guitar solos in this album. The last record was more synth and pop-like, I’ve just turned the guitars up a lot more. The drums are more bombastic and in your face. Who knows, the next record might be more mellow because of that. The previous record does influence where you want to go with the current record, I wanted a fun vibe, something that would sound amazing in a venue.
I’ve noticed Circa Waves’ passion for drum sounds, where does that enthusiasm come from?
I started playing drums really young, I played them before guitar, rhythm’s important across all music. I’m obsessed with snare sounds, I’ll spend hours on different kick drum and snare drum sounds, and use difference samples. I see things in textures, a great drum groove with a great drum sound can inspire a whole world.
Aware you have been getting quite involved in record producing for the band.
I’ve become quite obsessed with production over the last few albums, and I produced the last three. We worked with Caesar Edmunds, who’s a fantastic engineer, he helped us get the great drum sounds, and record it beautifully. We spent the two years locked-down pretty much just honing the production on the songs, trying to get everything perfect.
By the time we got to the studio is was pretty much mapped out and ready to go. It’s a good way to be frugal because by the time you get to the studio, you want to just get it all done and finished. We did the record in ten days, there’s nothing more rock and roll than being organised.
Been noticed that you all pick up extra areas of responsibility in addition to playing. It’s like a self-sufficient, highly efficient operation.
Colin, our drummer, is our social media mogul. He seems to be able to connect through all that. Joe, our guitarist, does all of our music videos now, he’s smashing it like Martin Scorsese. Sam, our bass player, has become our musical director. We’ve become a well-oiled machine, we wanted to be in control of our own destiny.
It’s with the help of our management who’ve been amazing over the last years, they just let us do our own thing and have helped us build this machine. When a record comes along, we know that I can produce it, Joe can make the videos, Sam can make it happen live, and Colin can manage the online stuff. In that sense, we’re probably like our own record label.
It’s about taking pride in something. The reason we’re doing this is to have fun, the reason you start a band is not to think about any end results. Joe loves making videos, he makes them for us, we’ve been able to facilitate him doing that. It’s about how we can keep being a successful band, and what it takes. Learning all these different skills means you can cover all the bases, then you become easier to look after from a record label or management perspective.
Circa Waves have gone from being on a major label to releasing on an indie, what’s the journey been like, and do you believe it makes a difference?
We’re still doing exactly what we did. The cool thing about the label we’re on now is that the people who work there love music and are into cool bands. I didn’t hate my time at a major label, they know we built a foundation, but once we left, I felt like I had come home when we moved to PIAS, which is still a huge record label. It felt like we got to do our own thing. You’re just trying to get your music out to people to listen to, doing it yourself, through a record label, through a distribution company or just put your songs on TikTok. The most important thing is to get it out there for people to hear it.
The album deals with the future, it explores feelings such as worry and anxiety. How did you feel about opening up and being direct about personal concerns?
It came naturally. I wouldn’t have put those songs out a couple of albums ago. Having done five albums, you’ve got to take a few more risks, just put yourself out there, so there’s a few songs like ‘Carry You Home’, which is personal. I felt like now is the time. But it’s interesting, if you write any song about mental health, you get people messaging you asking you if you’re ok. People worry about you when you write songs, which is quite sweet.
It’s nice to have songs that people can relate to, maybe give somebody some comfort, if they’re feeling down it’s a nice thing to give to someone. Anyone going through the same thing that you’re going through, you feel catharsis through that, I just wanted to be honest about myself. It’s a sign of things changing, your life being different than it was even five or six years ago.
Do you enjoy switching between different roles, one moment you’re with your family, another you will be out on the road playing to big crowds?
It’s an adjustment. When I go on tour now I need to coordinate childcare ‘who’s picking up the baby when I go to Germany?’ It’s mad stuff that I’ve never had to consider before, it coexists in a nice way. I certainly don’t like leaving, when you’re on tour that’s hard. But we don’t tour as long as we used to, we come home and see our kids. It’s just an adjustment, life changes, and you move along.
We’ve been a band for ten years, bought houses, got married and had children, all these things are grown up, but then we get to go on the road we get to be away from the kids, drink beer, and play gigs. We can get the best of both worlds, really. Except I used to come home – off tour – I’d sleep for three days, now I get a child handed to me, that’s different, I’m still young and healthy. I can manage things for now.
Do you find it as easy to come up with ideas now as it was at the start of your career?
I don’t feel there’s any lack of ideas. I used to write on an acoustic guitar, the whole first record is written that way. Now I don’t always write a full song on an acoustic guitar, I have to be inspired by synth, a drum beat or even just buying a different guitar, each guitar seems to have its own feel to it.
You have to change things up. It helps to write songs when you put yourself in different environments or using different instruments. I write songs outside of the band with other people and learn a lot from them, how they write songs and that changes the way I write. It’s all just working on getting better and keep on working and hope that that great song just pops out one day.
You mentioned the excitement when a new instrument is brought into the creative process. What instrument was it this time?
There’s a thing called the Mellotron, which the Beatles used to use loads. You know ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, the mellotron is used at the start of both songs, and I’ve been using it recently. A Mellotron song of ours is ‘Sad Happy’ from the last record. It just gives you these amazing, real textures that have actually been recorded, so that’s a big one.
You referenced The Beatles, an undeniable all-time favourite band..
Penny Lane is literally a hundred meters away, it’s hard not to be inspired by them. We don’t sound much like them, but I’ve certainly taken influence from them. I also love The La’s, Echo & The Bunnymen, and The Coral. When I was growing up it was The Zutons. We’re lucky in this city, we have a lot of good songwriters.
You still live in Liverpool. Does your loyalty come down to a belief that it’s the best place to be?
Our family and I like Liverpool. It’s the greatest city, I’ve been to a lot of cities around the world. The band takes you all over the shop, but Liverpool works for any artist, there’s great venues and amazing people. It’s not mega expensive to live here, which makes it ideal for creative people, you can play gigs and make music, the city is perfect for that. I feel very fortunate to have been born here.
Speaking of travel, like you say Circa Waves have been able to travel the world, what’s your favourite destination or country?
Tokyo is one that we’ve seen four or five times now, and every time we go there, it feels so special. Such an interesting place. Every street is different, the lights, the culture, the food, and the people. It’s like nowhere else. Anytime we go there we play Summer Sonic Festival, when we get the email that says Summer Sonic, we get excited, and I hope we get to go again, it’s a cool place. We love it there.
‘Never Going Under’ is out now. For details on all Circa Waves live shows, visit their official website.
Words: Susan Hansen