As 2018 wraps up, Circa Waves’ Kieran Shudall is in a reflective mood. In the past 18 months, they’ve taken on a whole new chapter with packed out shows from America to Korea, an album that took them above the scrappy indie roots and laid out their ambitions for the world to see. For most bands, you’d argue that some time off is pretty much the standard after that. From recording to album launch, from UK tours to worldwide nights and festival big-ones; it’s a pretty busy time. Circa Waves aren’t like most bands though.
“We didn’t want to go away for too long,” states frontman Kieran. “The way the industry works now is so quick; there’s this constant demand. We want to be releasing music more often. We want to keep playing those big festivals, and the only way to keep doing that is by releasing new records, so we just want to stay on this high that we’re currently on.”
It’s why 2018 has not just been another victory lap for Liverpool’s blazing sons, but the start of what comes next. With ‘Different Creatures’ now in their rear-view mirror, it’s given Circa Waves a chance to build on the breakthroughs played out in front of them from show to show.
“It felt like an important stepping stone for us,” notes Kieran when thinking about how their second album introduced something different to the party. “Putting ourselves out there as a bigger sounding band, I suppose there’s a lot more ambition in that record than there is on the first record. That was us wanting to set the tone for people going forward. We consider ourselves a future festival headliner and the only way we can do that is by releasing records that sound big. It was a bit of a statement of intent - this is what we’re going to be doing going forward. It’s songs for big venues and big festivals.”
Searing ambition has never been as bright as with Circa Waves. You can practically feel it bouncing off them whenever they step on stage, something that’s only emboldened them to try something new.
“Playing in front of 40,000 people at Reading & Leeds is fucking addictive,” laughs Kieran. “You get given that drug of playing on those main stages, and then you play Glastonbury, and then you play TRNSMT… We’re hooked now, and we don’t want to stop doing that.” After those stages, it’d be pretty simple to try and just repeat what has come before, but that’s not the sort of thing that sits well with Circa Waves.
Continuing an almost vital necessity of each and every day, Kieran had the tracks and direction already laid out, and it’s coming to fruition on their upcoming third album 'What's It Like Over There?', set for release next April. 2019 doesn’t know what’s about to hit it.
“I’ve always enjoyed bands who’ve changed over records like The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac and all these bands who progress and grow,” he notes. “That’s what we’ve always really wanted to do, and I think we‘re doing that.”
With a newfound hunger for even bigger stages, the tracks crafted in the studio have taken on a whole new life, leaving no time for any doubts or questions. Circa Waves are firing on all cylinders, and the choices are endless.
“It comes from, like, unbridled ambition,” explains Kieran, thinking back to what inspired them to truly push the boundaries. “Just the incentive of playing those big stages and seeing big bands play those stages and wanting to make music that can connect with more than 10,000 people but with a million people - really it’s as simple as that.”
“The more we’ve gone along, the more we’ve realised that we love creating music that connects in such a wide way,” he continues, “that’s sort of inspired the way the album sounds.”
What Dork has heard so far certainly suggests that. This is Circa Waves as you’ve never heard them before, taking those universal sounds and locking them together into piano-singalongs, swelling orchestras, fuzzy rock and arena-baiting marvels. If you had written down on a piece of paper what you thought Circa Waves would do next, it’s guaranteed to be different to this.
“It’s almost a genre-less record in a way; it doesn’t cater to one side - it’s not a rock record, it’s not a pop record, it’s kinda a bit of everything.”
Working once again with Alan Moulder (“He’s almost like a surgeon more than a producer, he can just go into my brain and make the album sound exactly like it does in my head - which is a scary place to be, inside my head,” notes Kieran) and recorded over three-four weeks, it was a completely new experience for the band.
“We weren’t afraid to pick up a different instrument,” divulges Kieran. “We had songs written on piano, so Sam’s had to learn the piano in order to play it live! We just didn’t stop ourselves from being unshackled in the studio, and in the past we have.
“That thinking of, ‘We can’t do that, we’re a rock band’; ‘We can’t do that, we’re a garage indie band’ - now we’re like, fuck it, we’re a band who wants to make great music and that’s all that matters.”
As Kieran puts it, “why be scared of making a kinda hip-hop beat with a piano? People will say Circa Waves can’t do that, but I think no, we can do whatever we want. The way music is going, genres are becoming more unidentifiable, and that’s the way I see Circa Waves as well, as a band you can’t quite put your finger on and you never really know what the next record will hold. That’s more exciting than just being that rock band who does the rock record every time.”
That idea of convention and doing songs by numbers went right out the window. Sampling sounds, bringing in a whole feast of different instruments and quite simply pushing at the boxes and preconceptions people may have put around them - things got wild.
Kieran laughs as he recalls a particular memory. “There was a moment when me and Colin were doing tribal drums in the studio, two of us just losing our minds smashing these drums. We thought we could never do this live because it’d look so ridiculous. It’s so far away from that small garage sound on the first record. This big epic thing, I was like, if I could send a video back to myself doing this, I’d have thought, ‘Oh shit, I’ve lost my mind - it’s all gone a bit Tusk’.”
Yet it’s the sort of track that’ll sit pride of place on daytime radio, that reach into the bigger world and call to those who may not have heard what Circa Waves are about to come and try something different.
“We used this old organ thing, which you put these discs into and they played some old 1920s entertainment which is all this fucking dead weird, hurdy-gurdy type of thing.”
No fear and no restraints, it’s an undeniably freeing new direction that plots a path for Circa Waves to become something even bigger. Not even the worry of taking that out on the road was brought into the mix.
“I remember it was the third Vampire Weekend record and they were saying they just used what they wanted in the studio and worried later about how they were going to recreate it live,” Kieran remembers. “That was quite inspiring, what a cool way to do it - don’t worry about it, you’ll find a way to do things live so don’t let it dictate how you make your songs.
“I mean, I have no idea how the fuck we’re going to play it live because there’s so much stuff on there. There’s like 50 instruments on each track; it’s going to be an interesting one.”
Circa Waves live in exciting times. In the best place they’ve been as a band for a long time, now is the time to expand into something far greater than themselves. Going for gold with bare-chested honesty, things are about to get quite interesting.
“It really is exciting,” agrees Kieran. “There’s this potential new audience that haven’t listened to us before that may hear these tracks, wondering who that is.”
Gather round; Circa Waves aren’t waiting around any longer.
Taken from the December 2018 / January 2019 issue of Dork. Pre-order a copy below. Circa Waves' new album ‘What’s It Like Over There?’ is out 5th April 2019.
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