Nothing seems attractive, when you are sick of it all.
Alternative rock duo Deaf Havana have dealt with feelings of negativity. They know how it feels when you’re fed up with being in a band. It can be the moment when the idea of playing live puts you off, or when writing music is non-inspirational, and when creative disciplines that are supposed to feel energising and fun just aren’t anymore.
They are ready to share their life-affirming, inspirational story about what has been happening. Having emerged from a dark place, they chose to respond with energy, and James and Matty Veck-Gilodi are in a good place now. While the relationship between the two brothers is stronger than it ever was, it comes after a period of stark, contrasting emotions.
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Their creative output reflects the transformation. ‘Going Clear’, their new single has just been released, and with the prospect of their sixth studio album ‘The Present Is A Foreign Land’ following later this year, there’s plenty of scope for renewing Deaf Havana’s raison d'etre.
2020 marks the year when splitting the band seemed the only sensible thing to do. It came close, a bit too close for comfort. “There was a band meeting” Matty recalls. “It was basically untenable as it was. We just weren't getting on. I spent the last six months leading up to that incredibly miserable and hating every second that were away on tour playing shows. It just got unhealthy for all of us, and we did walk out of that thinking ‘that’s it, we were done’.”
Knowing the pretext, Matty’s admission of not having “any positive associations of being in the band” at that point does not come as a surprise. “It felt like I'd been using it as an excuse to have a party for the past eight years. It seemed hollow and soulless, and I had been asking myself about the actual point of doing it.”
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As Covid-19 swept the UK, the band’s journey was brought to a natural halt. Unable to meet and rehearse in person, the devastating global pandemic showed its ugly face in every way, profoundly impacting Deaf Havana in life-changing ways. It was humbling, but it also represented an obvious chance to reassess and take stock.
If the brothers’ feelings about being in a band were similar, but they had different ways of tackling the situation they were in. “It was like, I hate this, so I'm gonna get drunk every single day,” says James. “All my experiences seemed negative, even if they weren't, that’s how I felt. Matty was doing the last six months leading up to it sober. We were butting heads. I was unhappy doing what we were doing and just wanted to get through, whereas, he was actively trying to make things better.”
Band members and friends Lee Wilson and Tom Ogden had decided to leave the band. “We had no rehearsal room,” says Matty. “I wasn't even listening to music or thinking about it. I don't know why, it was probably because I had such a negative year leading up to that. Every time I thought about music, playing it, anything really, it just made me miserable.”
It was a difficult time, but rather than seeing it as a direct career hindrance, Matty and James would begin to see that it could be a chance to rethink status quo and channel their future through new ideas and fresh inspiration.
Matty had noticed that he was starting to think about music in positive ways again. With that came the realisation that music was the only thing he wanted to do. Forcing himself to write every day, he soon ended up with a load of material. One song was quickly followed by another, as he noticed a new creative vitality, as he adopted his approach.
“I'd had enough distance to realise, what I really wanted to do,” Matty reflects. “I'm alright at it, and I started treating it like a proper job. I would start at 9am and write until 5pm, regardless of whether it was as an exercise or something that would end up as a song. I got into that rhythm, and then I just started churning out songs.”
Having reconnected with James, they recorded what became ’19 Dreams’. The experience was electrifying. Collaborative, organic, it felt more natural than anything they had worked on together before. Where they dreaming? Years had passed, and now, all of a sudden, they were on a high after such a long period of time. It was special. “It seemed to happen in a natural way,” enthuses James. “It was such a weird turnaround at the start of last year. We were sure we didn't want to be in a band. It's just mad to think of where we are now, and what we've done.”
The twelve compelling songs on The Present Is a Foreign Land were recorded in Hastings with Mike Horner. A fulfilling collaboration from day one, they were at total ease in his company. “He thinks pretty similarly to us,” says James. All he cares about is the music, and he’s a pretty normal guy. So it wasn't like some big studio environments we’ve been in, they can be really intense. It’s good for a bit, but it becomes a bit too much. Music is his life, it felt casual and normal, it was a nice environment. He came up with some fascinating stuff that I would never think of.”
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Not feeling under pressure when they started recording the songs for the record gave them a relaxed environment, says Matty. “We had literally no pressure or any restraints that we had to work within, and we weren't writing for anyone other than ourselves. It’s pretty freeing, which may sound quite self-indulgent now, but it’s liberating. Because you always think of the people, the label or otherwise. It was just such a fresh lease of life for us.”
The effective nature of their collaborations shines through this album. New single ‘Going Clear’ touches on vulnerability as a theme. An older track that James started writing a long time ago, it tackles addition, and the effect it can have on people you know. Often timing is everything, tackling a topic so close to the bone takes courage, but there was a need to do so.
“It was difficult at first. I’ve been a heavy drinker since I was 16. Sobriety needed to happen. It was difficult at first, but me and alcohol just don't go well together. The reason I've been doing it so much in the past is because I'm naturally nervous and anxious, so I used to just drink a lot. It took away all that, it took the edge off things.”
There was an element of learning how to do things differently, but it was accompanied by a sense of reward. “This was the first time I've ever written and recorded music sober. It was so much better, because we did stuff every day. When we recorded the last few albums we ended up being in the studio much longer than we needed to be.”
Deaf Havana are writing the next chapter in their journey. They are not just ready to embrace the future, they are preparing for it. This time it’s for real, there is a thirst, they are chasing it, and now they truly know how much they want to make music.
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Deaf Havana's new album ‘The Present Is A Foreign Land’ will be released later this year.
Words: Susan Hansen
Photo Credit: Jon Stone
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