Circa Waves vocalist Kieran Shudall may be “a dad who rocks,” but that doesn’t mean the band’s new album ‘Never Going Under’ sees them mellowing out or playing things safe.
Released on Friday (January 13), Circa Waves’ fifth album is full of what the band describe as “sad euphoria”. After a rare night out at the pub, Shudall and guitarist Joe Falconer join NME to tell us all about it, upstairs at London’s Old Blue Last. It’s the sort of sweaty, intimate venue that they wrote their 2015 debut album ‘Young Chasers’ to play but, by the end of that cycle, those giddy coming-of-age anthems had taken the Liverpool-based four-piece to a sold-out show at Brixton Academy. Since then, they’ve been an undeniable staple of the British indie scene.
“I don’t think we’ve ever lost the joy around playing a gig. Seeing a crowd move, that’s the most exciting thing to me,” says Falconer. “I still remember what it was like to be in the middle of it all, losing my mind.”
That communal celebration wasn’t possible around their last album ‘Sad Happy’ though, which was released shortly before COVID-19 took hold in March 2020. During the resulting lockdown, Shudall wrote close to 200 songs in his home studio, manifesting “what it would be like to play them in front of a crowd.”
You can hear that across ‘Never Going Under’, from the swaggering ‘Carry You Home’, and frantic ‘Do You Want To Talk’ to the hammering ‘Golden Days’. “It’s more rock-y than ‘Sad Happy’, it’s got like four guitar solos and is far more bombastic,” says Shudall. “Playing live is the thing that’s always got us through,” continues Falconer. “We write songs that you’ll want to hear at a gig because the core of Circa Waves is that we’re a really good live band.”
“The best, some would say,” Shudall adds.
Circa Waves spoke to NME about their “vulnerable” new record, taking risks and why there’s more to the indie greats than nostalgia.
What were you pulling from with ‘Never Going Under?
Kieran: “Hazy Californian vibes. The Dandy Warhols. The Cars. I didn’t know what power-pop was, but now I love it. I imagine listening to this record in a car. There was also The Weeknd’s ‘Blinding Lights’ which is like, the biggest song in the world but it just uses a little, closed high hat. I wanted to do that, but with an indie band. When you limit yourself, it brings in more interesting music. I won’t start talking about nerdy stuff like the high-frequency textures though.”
Was that the vision going in?
Kieran: “Not at all. I write whatever I’m feeling and I pretty much disregard genre. The essence of being in a band is all pulling together to make something but because I was on my own, I didn’t have that. It’s only when we were able to finally get together, that it started making sense.”
Lyrically, what were you writing about?
Kieran: “All sorts really. ‘Northern Town’ is about my family and Liverpool while I wrote ‘Never Going Under’ because we had a support tour with Gerry Cinnamon and I thought it would be fun to open with the most raucous rock tune ever. Then ‘Carry On’ is about my son. When he was born, he had jaundice and was stuck in hospital for five days. My desire to protect him, to take him home, was this animalistic thing I’d never felt before, so that song ended up being cathartic and therapeutic.”
It does feel like a more sensitive Circa Waves record…
Joe. “If you want to get vulnerable and write really meaningful lyrics, when are you going to do it if not album five? As a community, we went through something together during the pandemic and now it seems like everyone’s more comfortable talking about mental health and how they’re feeling.”
Kieran: “I’m really passionate about the importance of mental health so it would have been disingenuous to not be honest about what I was going through. I think as you get older, there’s less reckless abandon but we know what can happen live with this band. If we’re going to do these big, more introspective songs about having a kid and how grown up that is, of course, we’re going to make them into massive fucking indie rock tunes.”
You made a name for yourself with escapist, coming-of-age anthems. Does ‘Never Going Under’ feel like a risk?
Kieran: “Yeah, but you have to stop worrying about whether people think you’re too old or if they’ll stop coming to the shows. If you don’t, you’ll make shit vanilla music. Our gut feeling is that these are all good songs, and that’s all that matters. We’ve done the indie pop thing, then we made heavier, more experimental music and people stuck with us. With this album, there definitely was a fearlessness and a willingness to try new things.”
Joe: “The last record did really well, and we got confidence from that. It’s now just a case of following this new mantra of ‘we know who we are, we know how to do the thing that we do well, so let’s keep pushing ourselves’. Plus, I’d be concerned if Kieran was still writing about doing tequila slammers at three in the morning at this point.”
What do you want ‘Never Going Under’ to mean to people?
Kieran: “Euphoric resilience. Even though it does touch on sad things, I hope it results in this feeling of euphoria because it’s pretty positive, all things considered. I want people to listen to it then walk down the street taller, with their shoulders back and the belief they can get through anything. I want it to inspire kids to start bands of their own.”
You played Community Festival last summer, alongside The Wombats and Two Door Cinema Club. There’s clearly more to that scene than nostalgia, right?
Joe: “We feel like we’ve been around for ages, and for a while, we definitely believed that everyone was coming to see us for ‘Young Chasers’. But on our last tour, the front row was made up of people who were the same age as the people who were there when we first started. I’m really glad our music is still speaking to the people that it should be speaking to. We’re not a heritage act. We’re putting out new music, that’s reaching new people and bands like The Wombats and Two Door are doing a similar thing.”
Kieran: “It’s adapt or die, isn’t it? I’m obsessed with new music and I love modern textures, so I incorporate them into my writing as do Two Door and The Wombats. The bands who fall by the wayside are the ones who try and sound the same as they did on their first or second albums.”
Do you feel like you’ve got anything to prove with ‘Never Going Under?
Kieran: “We’re still super ambitious. We want to get bigger and better. I always want to prove I’m the best songwriter and we want people to think we’re the best band they’ve ever seen.
We play every show like it’s our last. When you stop doing that, that’s probably when you should call it a day.”
Circa Waves’ ‘Never Going Under’ is out now