“It’s quite an angry EP,” says Kieran Shudall, considering Circa Waves’ surprise new five-track release ‘Sadder Happier’. “Evidently I was quite pissed off while writing these songs. Lyrically it’s a bit more disenfranchised and talks about my issues with society, and it’s more self-deprecation of me being like ‘I’m annoyed at myself, I wish I was better’. But it’s cathartic, it’s all good for the soul.”
The frontman is taking some much-needed soul nourishment where he can get it. The band had just scored their biggest hit album so far when their fourth record ‘Happy Sad’ reached Number Four mid-March, just in time for the lockdown to scupper the celebratory Academy tours. Instead, as a new father, he celebrated in quarantine with his family and found himself consumed by creativity, writing and recording three songs a day in his home studio The Boxroom, even as he lost loved ones to coronavirus.
From his mountain of pandemic demos and pre-Covid crackers he plucked five which, by accident or design, undoubtedly resonate with the times. An acoustic take on the album’s title track highlights the prescient optimism of lines such as “I know this feels like a dream but the good times will come round”, while new tracks ‘Gun In My Hand’ and ‘Anti Social Anxiety’ (“I’ve been listening to news too much”) may not directly tackle the lockdown but echo its stresses, paranoias and alienations. ‘The Only One Who Lets Me In’ concerns lost human connection, and if ‘Sugar Side’ was recorded in lockdown then Keiran, like many of us, has clearly been on the dark web ordering illegal deliveries – in his case, a full orchestra.
While shared now simply to “keep the music out there at a time when people need it more than ever” and to provide “a bit of sanity and a release”, the music on the new EP is, as Shuddall admits, a reaction to “a lot of the upbeat, sugary music” that Circa Waves have dropped of late. To mark the new EP, NME called Shuddall to talk celebrating success, inspiration, losing loved ones to COVID and life under lockdown.
Hello Kieran. Did you manage to celebrate ‘Sad Happy’ going in the top five before lockdown?
“We’d just had to go home from the tour that we were on, so not as much as I would have liked. Instead I had to go home and mind my six-month-old baby. So instead of getting pissed on champagne and whiskey I was changing nappies and making sweet potato. But that was pleasure in and of itself – I got to celebrate it with my family instead of with the band, but I still loved it. Going top five was boss though man, really good. It’s good validation for us as a band to go on for this long and still feel like we’re progressing.”
Was it odd to be stuck in when you should’ve been out on a lap of honour?
“It’s annoying because you do all the nitty-gritty to make an album happen – acoustic performances and interviews and so many little things. We had Brixton and Glasgow and all these 2000-4000 capacity rooms booked. They are the greatest shows you could ever imagine playing for us, and it all got pulled away from underneath us. We were gutted. It’s kinda cool that the songs get to live in the atmosphere with people for that long. When we come to do the actual tour people will have lived with the songs for almost a year so that’s great.”
Have you got a huge stash of lockdown songs already?
“I record three songs a day so I get a bit lost. All I do all day is record, from eight in the morning to six at night. I’m massively obsessed with making music of all sorts. I’ve written probably 30-40 new Circa Waves tunes. For me it’s the most creative I’ve ever been. All the songs I write now are reflected differently because I think about my son and my future. The songs aren’t as carefree because when I was writing ‘Young Chasers’ and ‘Different Creatures’, I didn’t give a fuck, I was just in it for the fun of it. But I need these songs to be the greatest songs of all time, now because I kind of want my son to be proud of me or something.”
Why record an acoustic version of ‘Sad Happy’?
“I just want to get on a John Lewis advert, man. I want that sweet John Lewis cash! Nah, I just think it’s cool. It’s nice to see how a song begins: the bare bones of it. I’ve made it a very lo-fi Daniel Johnston sort of thing, I wanted to see what it felt like in that setting. You could almost close your eyes and imagine it in an indie movie, that was what I was trying to achieve. It obviously wasn’t written about this time unless I can predict the future, which I’m happy for people to speculate on, but ‘Sad Happy’ has an awareness of how difficult it is for people in these times. Even before the COVID stuff, it’s been generally a very strange time to live in. The consumption of news and how sporadic and terrifying it is has got everyone thinking about the end of the world, or struggling with their mental health. We live in this really amazing time – it’s one of the safest times you could ever live in but it’s still really hard for people. That comes up quite a lot in our songs, and trying to be optimistic.”
‘Gun In My Hand’ paints a vision of society breaking down and feeling besieged…
“It’s all about that anxiety, when it builds up and you feel like you’re trapped. I wrote it as a set-opener. I wanted a song that would open a gig. I also wanted it super-short, almost like a panic attack of a song. It hits you and all of a sudden it’s over and you’re left with a strange feeling of, ‘What did I just go through?’ Inadvertently, it has become an EP for very much this moment in time. There’s a lyric, ‘We’re all the same, you and me, just wanna get rich quick so we can buy more shit we saw on TV’. That’s me being fed up of how we’re all just consuming shit all day long. The way people are put down now is much more subtle and conniving, whether it be through social media or programmes on TV that tell you how to be – like Love Island, where everyone’s got perfect bodies and six-packs and some 15- or 16-year-old boy or girl might think that that’s what makes you popular or a good person. That annoys me. I’ll often write a song like ‘Gun In My Hand’ which is about anxiety but not necessarily from my perspective. It’s my take on what someone might be going through.”
Hence, also, the social media takedown ‘Anti Social Anxiety’?
“Everyone goes through trying to adhere to social norms and find popularity in statistics. If I get 2000 likes, that’s great, but I find it such a strange world where that is a thing, and people are doing social media more and more often because of that. I’m quite aware of it and wary of it at the same time as using it a lot of the day. It feels like the end of the world is just an Instagram Live event. The world would be ending and everyone would just be doing covers on Instagram Live. [Although] for times like this, that’s been really good. I’ve enjoyed watching people like Loyle Carner cook food. Just normal everyday shit which makes you feel more connected to people, which is what we, as humans, desperately need.”
What do you make of Boris Johnson’s handling of the crisis and the situation we’re in?
“I don’t know – I’m sure we should’ve locked down earlier and I certainly don’t think we should currently be allowed to go and mingle, which is essentially what they’re saying. I often feel that the panic of the economy is at the forefront of his mind as opposed to people dying. I’ve lost two members of my family – my grandad and my uncle – to coronavirus and to see people out and hanging around together not realising the severity of a simple transaction is quite alarming. There are still hundreds of people still dying every day, the whole nation is mass-grieving at the moment.”
The lyrics might suggest you’re suffering in quarantine?
“Not really because music for me is cathartic, it’s like the greatest diary you could ever write, it’s the ultimate way of getting it off your chest so I don’t suffer too much. I’m happy being isolated and a little bit unsure. I go for my jog in the morning and try to eat healthy and I write music and put all of my – if any – any pain into the songs, and that’s served me well since I was thirteen years old, writing songs that have kept me quite level.”
Circa Waves’ ‘Sadder Happier’ EP is out now