Circa Waves Interview: On The Road With The UK’s Newest Indie Heroes

It’s 11am – seven and a half hours before Manchester Ritz’s doors open and more than 10 before Liverpool quartet Circa Waves take to the stage – and there’s already a queue of moon-eyed teenagers outside the venue. For a new generation who were in nappies when The Strokes released ‘The Modern Age EP’, Circa Waves’ high-energy indie bounce is blowing minds. “It’s not dubstep or that kind of thing that’s everywhere; it’s something completely different!” enthuses 16-year-old fan Emily Tabberner, who’s at the front of the queue. “They’re really unique!”

Eighteen months ago, the group, fronted by chief songwriter Kieran Shuddall plus Joe Falconer (guitar), Sam Rourke (bass) and Colin Jones (drums), were yet to release a single. Now, they stand with a Top 10 album under their belts (March 2015’s ‘Young Chasers’) at the end of a completely sold-out tour, looking like one of the most likely new acts to cross over into the big leagues. Not bad for a band who, basically, have taken the sound of the noughties indie boom, dusted it off and given it a quick polish.

It’s not just a particularly dedicated portion of the North that’s coming round to the quartet’s charms either. “We played London [Shepherds Bush Empire] last night and a mate of ours said he’d never seen a crowd go that mad in that venue,” grins a leather-clad Shuddall backstage, where the band are trying to cobble together the ingredients for whiskey sours – the benefit of having a roadie who used to be a professional cocktail maker. “He saw Arctic Monkeys there back in the day and apparently it wasn’t even like that for them.”

The entire nine-date tour, taking in venues all roughly the size of the 1,500-capacity Ritz, sold out long ago and the energy in each city has been, as Falconer puts it, “unbelievably consistent”. “From the moment we started we went everywhere, we never confined ourselves to the North West so there’s never a place that’s had ownership of us,” he says. “We see the same people every time, from the first gigs when we had 20 people in the room to now.” Now, however, it’s likely that 20 people might turn up to catch a glimpse of Circa Waves having a drink in the pub. Inciting their own mini Beatlemania across the UK, the band have found their whereabouts being intently traced via Twitter with packs of boggled-eyed fans trying to catch up with them at every turn. “It’s started happening on this tour. We have to watch what we’re tweeting,” says Kieran. “When we do pub crawls we tweet one pub behind. People will tweet us like, “I thought you were at the Sebright Arms?” Well, we were at the Sebright Arms… It’s like a treasure hunt.” Later, meanwhile, when the band head to the restaurant of nearby venue Gorilla (the site of Circa Waves’ last Manchester show), several fans stand outside the glass window and openly record videos of the band as they eat. Entirely un-phased (“Oh yeah, I refuse to eat unless there’s a film crew there,” chuckles Shuddall), it’s clearly a strange new norm that the group are becoming rapidly accustomed to, yet it’s one that seemed unlikely given the group’s less than explosive beginning.

The Circa Waves story goes like this. In Spring 2013, a 26-year-old Kieran – having been in a standard array of average but unsuccessful musical projects and had a day job pulling the hair out of plugs in student houses – wrote some demos in his bedroom. One, ‘Young Chasers’ – the track that would go on to name their album and become their free-spirited, escapist rallying cry – started to blow up and so Shuddall recruited Falconer, Rourke and former drummer Sian Plummer in order to play the tracks live (Plummer was replaced by Jones earlier this year). So far, so unremarkable. Then, however, things quickly started to take off. Fuelled by the hype created by ‘Young Chasers’, the band played a host of industry-packed gigs so buzzy they would often be forced to perform under secret pseudonyms such as Wet Wet Wet Wet Wet. They signed to Virgin EMI, played the NME Awards tour in 2014 in the prestigious opening slot (previous openers have included Florence & the Machine, The Vaccines and Coldplay), released relentlessly infectious debut AA side ‘Get Away’/ ‘Good For Me’ and watched things slowly escalate around them.

In September, they were invited to open up for musical heroes The Libertines at the likely lads’ final Alexandra Palace show in London and on tour in Europe in a turn of events that still leaves Shuddall grinning like a kid in a candy shop. “The first thing Carl said to me was whether I wanted some champagne. ‘Yes please Carl Barat, I would like some champagne please’,” he laughs, still visibly tickled by the memory of teenage daydreams made reality. “Pete and Carl are so tight and they talk so poetically. It’s almost like they’re speaking in limericks sometimes,” he says. As Circa Waves worked the tour circuit, their own inter-band dynamic cemented too. While Falconer and Rourke admit that before they had to “tiptoe around a bit” (“It was very much Kieran’s baby; we had to spend time with each other to get used to it,” says Joe), the band are slowly edging towards being more of an equal unit. “This last year’s been mental. We’ve taken every step together and we’re all aware of what’s happening and we’re the only people who understand what it feels like,” says Joe. “Apparently now we’re like the UN, but Kieran is America and I’m Russia,” Sam jokes. Maybe there’s still a little way to go then.

Tonight, on the final date of their current tour, the crowd reaction is undeniable. From the opening chords of their LP title track to the final strains of feel-good summer hit ‘T-Shirt Weather’, which come accompanied by celebratory confetti cannons, the entire crowd, from barrier to bar, is bouncing. Sure, the venue is equipped with the country’s only spring-loaded floor, but tonight that’s an aid more than a necessity.

Of course, away from the sweaty teenage adulation, there are still those who suggest that Circa Waves’ sprightly riffs and feel good schtick are nothing more than a recycled version of what’s only recently come before. “Perhaps we just pre-empted the 20 year cycle [where trends seem to resurface two decades after their original emergence] by 10 years?” suggests Joe, as post-gig champagne is popped and sprayed over the room and each other. But while pre-empting a trend might be a savvy move, realistically many of the bands that directly formed the foundations of Circa Waves are still very much alive (or at least reborn) and kicking. The Strokes have recently announced that they’ve started work on a sixth record, The Libertines are reunited, on a major label and mid-way through LP3, while other latter-decade favourites such as The Futureheads and Maximo Park still tick along quietly. Are Circa Waves just clutching at the coattails of a generation that they narrowly missed out on being a real part of? “I understand that people need a signpost when you’ve not heard a band yet,” admits Falconer. “But imagine if The Libertines came out now and it was the first time people had heard of them – they’d just say that because they worked with Mick Jones they sound a bit like The Clash. So I think people say that [we’re like those bands] now, but hopefully eventually people will realise it’s something else.”

Following this summer’s festival season and a huge autumn tour that will see the band play London’s 5,000-capacity O2 Academy Brixton among others, Circa Waves intend to return straight to the studio to prove that they’re more than just copyists. “This first record was something we had to get off our chest; it was a snapshot of us quite early on,” Shuddall states. “The next one will be more considered, maybe a bit more 70s style stuff.” The main prerogative, he maintains, is to do something that pushes them. “[Sticking to one thing] is just boring. Imagine if The Beatles had said, ‘Oh, we’re just gonna do lad rock and that’s it?’”.

For now, however, Circa Waves’ relentless, inclusive enthusiasm is what’s fuelling their rapidly spreading fire. “It felt like everything went really black and white for about four years and then suddenly now there are some bands that are technicolour,” says Sam “Maybe music from the last few years has been a bit cynical. There’s not been a lot of stuff like us for a while, a lot of fast-paced guitar music that you can lose your shit to,” adds Joe. “If you’re The XX then you can stand there and be still, but we want to put on the greatest rock’n’roll show every night. And at the end, we’re bleeding and sweating and being sick because we’re so tired, but that’s what you have to do.”

It is, of course, not all work, work, work. Part of the beauty of Circa Waves is that they’re part of a group of young acts (see also: Peace, Wolf Alice, Swim Deep) that are making being in an indie band look like fun again. From tales of having Bill Murray watch them at SXSW (“I think he was there to see Best Coast, but I’ll take it”), to inventing new DJ alter-egos (“We’re coming up with famous horse DJ names – I’m DJ Seabiscuit, Sam’s DJ Warhorse,” chuckles Joe) to grinning about the weird and wonderful array of gifts they’ve started receiving (marshmallow penises and intricate drawings of the band in Halloween costumes, in case you were wondering), they’re boundlessly excited about what’s happening to them.

If it’s unclear exactly where the balance between inspiration and perspiration lies, it is obvious that Circa Waves have struck on something that matters to people – more even than the band dreamed it might. “At first we couldn’t believe it was happening, like, ‘How are we doing this?’ But now I think we’re all starting to believe that it’s real,” says Kieran, reclining on the sofa in a fug of post-gig euphoria. “It feels like anything could happen now,” nods Sam. And, as 1,500 sweaty fans fall out of the venue having uniformly lost their shit, you can’t argue that it really does.

Circa Waves will be playing this year’s Reading and Leeds Festival in August.