An Interview With Deaf Havana: What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through the Fire

An Interview With Deaf Havana: What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through the Fire

—by , January 25, 2017

01-25 Buzz - Deaf Havana 2 (Photo by Jamie Martinez)

The challenge of striking a balance between making money and doing what you love is a unifying growing pain for Millennial talent. Consumers have more options and information available to them than ever before, and however modest or abstract their definition, workers and producers are presented with an often unpredictable path to success. For the career artist, particularly those in the music industry, walking that line all the more makes for a continuous assessment of their chosen path.

This Friday, Brit-rock outfit Deaf Havana will release in the U.S. All These Countless Nights, its first album in four years. Their last album, 2013’s Old Souls, enjoyed considerable commercial success, earning it favorable reviews, a spot on the Top 10 albums list in the U.K., and the opportunity to support Jersey’s own son, Bruce Springsteen. For a band founded on a college campus in the U.K.’s Kings Lynn with roots in three high school friends, this was an arrival.

But a changing economy, coupled with the normal tendencies of a touring, working-class, band, saw the U.K. quintet struggle with financial issues and strained communications that pointed to the band’s imminent disbandment. Lead singer and songwriter James Veck-Gilodi (a 2005 founding member holding currently at the tender age of 26) planned the band’s final performances as a means to pay off its looming financial debts and tie things off.

But it was those little shows that put the band face to face with their fans, and with the reasons they ever became a band; the songs on this new record are the result of that period of time. Straightforward and earnest, All These Countless Nights is expansive and eclectic, evoking themes of loneliness and self-actualization polished by the deft hand of producer and engineer Adam Noble (Placebo, Paul McCartney, Ed Sheeran).

If resilience is the ability to adapt and recover in the face of change, for many artists, staying true and staying afloat have the potential to become mutually exclusive. But while this changing landscape creates obstacles of uncertainty for musicians and bands, this new economy allows one to seek out and nurture the market for that which is true: the music itself.

Today, Lee Wilson (founding member, bass guitar), Tom Ogden (founding member, drums, backing vocals) and Max Britton (keys, acoustic, backing vocals), along with James, are back with everything they got, which is everything they are: British, honest, sweeping, and catchy as hell. Matthew “Matty” Veck-Gilodi (lead guitar, backing vocals) gave us a window into the state of the band and where this album places them.

Where have I reached you today? Where does everyone call home?

Hello! You’ve reached me at my house in Brighton in England. James and Lee live in London, with Max just outside, and Tom lives back in the East of the country where the band was started.

Just after the announcement of the new album, All These Countless Nights, at the Reading and Leeds Festival in 2016, it was announced that you’d embark on your first UK tour in over two years. How do you expect touring now will differ from playing shows back in the bands beginnings?

Well first off, the shows will certainly be bigger than they would’ve been back in the early days of the band! But they will also be different simply because of the amount of material that we have to be able to put into a setlist. Whereas before it would’ve been rather more straightforward as to what songs would be played, we will have three albums’ worth of material to choose from by the time we go out on tour.

So the setlist we will play will be something we will have really thought over so as to flow well, but still be interesting and engaging for our audience.

The songs on All These Countless Nights, Deaf Havana’s first release since Old Souls in 2013, are the result of a period during which James is quoted as being “probably the most creative [he’d] ever been,” following a time the band was very close to breaking up. Please tell us a bit more about that time, and your journey to deciding you wanted to keep making music.

Well, somewhere during the year 2014, we were very disenchanted with the band as it was, we were simply playing shows to pay off the band’s collective debts and we weren’t enjoying being with each other, let alone playing music together. Then some time in early 2015 James sent over a demo of a song that just came to him (which ended up being the song “Cassiopeia”) and as soon as we all heard it, I’m pretty sure we all just went, “Wow: this is something that has to happen!”

And then as the year went on, James became more and more prolific in his songwriting and by the time we got round to getting in the studio, we had around 30 songs to choose from, which was amazing but something that came from us having had such a difficult and subsequently long time out from being an active band, I guess.

Let’s talk about the new album. One of the songs, “St. Pauls,” is a bit reminiscent of Bush (in a great way!) in spots, the studio version of “Trigger” is gorgeous, and personally brings me back to a very specific time I can’t quite put my finger on, and “Sing” makes a great nod to Placebo. What was it like working with producer Adam Noble? What’s your process like? How was writing this album different from writing your previous material?

Working with Adam was absolutely brilliant. The guy is a little bit of a genius and he and James work really well together. He just makes everyone feel comfortable in the studio, which definitely helped in getting the best takes we possibly could.

On the one hand, the process of writing this record was pretty similar to how it has been in that James, or he and Max, would write a lot of the songs by demoing them on his iPad, or Max’s laptop and showing them to us all, which is pretty similar to how we have previously done things.

However, Adam Noble was heavily involved in demoing some songs, so James would take really rough demos to Adam’s studio and then the two of them would really craft and hone the song, turning it into something that sounds great and similar to what eventually would end up on the record.

The song “Seattle” talks about loneliness (“the life that chose me doesn’t know my name”) and makes some references to a state (Arizona) in the United States, as well as a city (Seattle). What’s this song about?

Seattle is basically about the time we spent touring America in early 2014. It was a very long tour where we played all over the country to hardly any people. It was in January and February so it was absolutely freezing and we would have the most incredibly long drives, and to get through those kinds of drives to play in front of 13 people in a 1,300-capacity venue is a little bit soul destroying to say the least!

I mean it wasn’t all bad times at all, we did have a lot of fun—just not very often, and the song is about how lonely James (but I know all of us did) felt on that tour. It just went on and on, and we really couldn’t wait to get home by the end of it.

James recently lent support to the launch of a new youth group for 17- to 25-year-olds through West Norfolk MIND with a gig in King’s Lynn for STAR, or Supporting Transition and Resilience. Could you tell us a bit more about the organization and how you got involved in it?

I think James first got involved with West Norfolk MIND through a friend of ours, whose mum works for the charity, and as someone who struggles with anxiety himself, he was more than happy to do something for the charity. West Norfolk MIND is a charity for young people suffering from mental health issues, offering support and inspiring hope for recovery.

I saw a cool piece you did for Substream Magazine where you shared your playlist of songs you had in rotation while in studio. I’d say reading books could influence a writer, as listening to different artists influences songwriting. Would you agree with that?

Absolutely. I know that James is heavily influenced by the literature of Charles Bukowski; he really loves the way that everything Bukowski writes is very straightforward, to the point and not really hidden in metaphor or simile, which is something James definitely transfers into his lyric writing.

Describe the state of Brit-rock currently. What does the landscape look like in terms of an underground scene, the pop scene, and independent music?

I think the state of Brit-rock is pretty healthy at the moment. There’s a decent crop of bands doing really well at the moment, with a lot of records being released (like ours) in the early stages of 2017, which is great really. To have that sort of “competition” is definitely healthy for a music scene.

With regards to the pop scene, I think it’s great to have a band like The 1975 as big as they are—just a great pop band, and I think it shows people in other bands or anywhere that pop music can be exciting and interesting, which is great. It’s also great to see a band like Bring Me The Horizon managing to cross very much into the mainstream. Whether you’re a fan of the band or not, to have that kind of diversity creeping into mainstream music is very important.

What was the music scene like when you were growing up and getting into working with the band? What’d you listen to? What were your favorite venues?

The music scene where the band grew up was pretty terrible. There wasn’t really much on as we were right in the countryside in the east of England, so you wouldn’t ever have any really high profile or good bands ever come near to where you were, meaning we’d always have to travel. The closest place any decent bands would come to would be Norwich, which would take an hour or so to get to, but as a result would really make you cherish the gig itself. My favourite venues would have to be the Waterfront and the UEA, both in Norwich.

Deaf Havana is an 11-year-old band that grew up, so to speak, during a period that saw a very rapid, condensed evolution in the way that people (both young people and “adults”) discover and consume music. What are your thoughts on that as both consumers and artists? How does this consideration affect how you operate as a band?

Yeah, the industry has changed massively and is constantly changing and as a result, as a band you have to change and evolve with it. What with the rise of streaming, it has made all music more accessible, which as a consumer is something that I love.

As a band, it means that more people are probably going to stream your record than buy it, and so that definitely changes the way you look at packaging an album for release. I mean, if you’re going to spend money buying music, you’re going to want something worth buying and having a physical copy of—which I’m certain is why vinyl sales and packages are on the increase again.

You just have to be smart about it all, with the nature of music consumption being ever changing these days, you can’t really afford to take your eye off the ball. You really have to think of something innovative and fresh to promote yourselves and give people incentive to buy your music.

 

Deaf Havana’s new album, All These Countless Nights, drops January 27 on SO Recordings. For more information, visit deafhavanaofficial.com.


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