“I mean, we just did eight hours in a van from…” Kieran Shudall stops to gather his train of thought. “Where did we go from?”
It’s a chilly winter day in the middle of Europe, but away from cross-country travels, it could easily be a reflection on the ride Circa Waves have been on from the very beginning. A blistering run of evolution and unbridled ambition that grew out of the streets of Liverpool to the world, there may be no other band doing it right now who so clearly are aiming for those huge stages and huge moments.
“We’re not content with being a small garage band, we want to be one of the biggest bands in Britain,” notes Kieran, “and we’ve made an album which has the cinematic-ness and the grandness that shows that ambition.”
The eight hours in a van took them from Tilburg in the Netherlands to Berlin – kick-starting the year with a run of dates across the continent with The Wombats that sets a path for a fresh chapter for Circa Waves.
“Every time we do a new album, I feel like we have a bit more clarity on exactly what we want and what we want to do,” admits Kieran. “Our ambitions have grown even further than what they were with ‘Different Creatures’, we want to push as much as we possibly can with this new record.”
Across its ten tracks, ‘What’s It Like Over There?’ pushes Circa Waves to levels you wouldn’t have put money on when they first ripped into view with debut album ‘Young Chasers’ – a bold jump for bigger things and one backed up with some of their most eclectic and rewarding music to date.
“I wanted to make something bigger and more ambitious and more cinematic. That was always on my mind. ‘Different Creatures’ felt big, but I wanted to go even bigger.”
When ‘Different Creatures’ arrived in the world, it answered that all-important question of what Circa Waves would do next. How would the summer-flavoured indie hooks their debut shined with move into its next gear? What followed was a beefier, tougher record that fizzed with heavier hooks and punchy fire – a statement of intent that Circa Waves weren’t going to sit by and celebrate the fun times that had taken them to the heights they found themselves, but instead drive on for more. As Kieran reflects, it played a vital role in opening up doors for the future.
“It was an important stepping stone for us to do that record,” he reflects, “to step out from that garage-indie vibe and be like yeah, we can make really big impactful rock songs. It was an experiment in seeing how far we could push certain things – how rocky we could go and how poppy we could go.”
It built on the rush that had come before it, of Circa Waves blazing a trail of joyous and unmissable live shows, with anthems in their back pocket that caught the hearts of thousands upon thousands and catapulted them right up festival bills as a force that can’t be stopped. As Kieran sees it now, it’s been a process of feeling out exactly who they want to be as a band, with ‘What’s It Like Over There?’ serving as the perfect result of travelling across the globe, playing shows and wanting to push for more.
“From the first record and the second record, we gathered up a blueprint of what Circa Waves is now, this record feels like an amalgamation of the two. Like, we jumped into being a band from Radio 1 playing our first song – we didn’t have that time to realise what we were all about. So it feels like this record is kinda like our first record in a lot of ways. If we’d been a band for five years and then made an album, this is what it would have been.”
After the heady touring of ‘Different Creatures’, the inspiration for where they go next was something Circa Waves had to work in place. They knew they wanted to go bigger, wanted to reach even larger audiences and open up a whole new world of possibilities – but the groundings of what would become ‘What’s It Like Over There?’ started to form together from a lyric book Kieran had been scribbling in across their last US tour.
“A lot of the lyrics came from this book, which I had on tour for like five weeks,” Kieran notes. “I wrote a lot of that in a sleep deprived or half-drunk way, like the ramblings of a mad man, almost. When I got home and found that lyric book, it was almost like a treasure chest of ideas and lyrics that I couldn’t remember writing!
“It helped me get out of this writer’s block that I was sort of in – struggling to figure out what the album was going to be about. When I found the book I was like fucking hell, these are interesting ideas. I can create them into something which is purely unique, that’s what excited me the most.”
Across ‘What’s It Like Over There?’, you get a true sense of Circa Waves playing with the very notion of being a band. From the slinking grooves of ‘Me, Myself & Hollywood’, to the heavyweight drops of ‘Sorry I’m Yours’ to the almost-Use Somebody cries of ‘The Way We Say Goodbye’ – there’s something distinctively fresh about what Circa Waves are bringing to the table. Wearing their hearts and goals on their sleeve, they’re aiming squarely for the big leagues – a playfulness that took flight when they stepped into the studio. In the middle of a bitter cold snap across the UK, a bright and shimmering new direction emerged.
“The songs and the blueprints of the songs were there and demoed, but there were certain songs we wanted to change. When you’re sat there thinking about how you’re going to rearrange a track, and there are fucking pianos looking at you it’s like – ahh okay, maybe we should try that,” recalls Kieran.
It opened a door that helps showcase Circa Waves’ unmistakable knack for big-time anthems. Of standing with your mates in the field as a band pull in thousands upon thousands to sing along to every word – an irresistible invitation to knock things truly out of the park. The creativity and freedom to go right after it was front and centre in the band’s mind, and of experimenting with the very preconceptions, people may have of them. Take ‘Times Won’t Change Me’, a track built around a slinky piano hook that pops into a mountain-sized wall of sound.
“Me and Colin stayed in this terrible Airbnb near the studio,” recalls Kieran. “I was in bed one morning and had this low piano in my head, and wrote the whole song lying in bed on the phone with no instruments but just imagining this big amazing piano. If the piano hadn’t been there, that’s the sort of song that before we’d of probably made with a distorted guitar – but because we had those pianos there in the studio, it pushed and inspired the album to have multiple instruments on it. Once the piano was down, then it was like well, let’s fucking throw synths on it or some tribal drums. It was a bit of a gateway drug to other instruments.”
Regularly swapping their own instruments, and bassist Sam even having to learn how to play the piano to play the tracks live, that freedom and willingness to go wherever needed to make the best tracks possible became an unspoken rule for Circa Waves.
“There were elements of this record that we were kinda scared of doing at first,” admits Kieran. “There’s a great David Bowie quote that sums it up – always go a bit further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, then you’re in the right place to do something exciting.
“Tracks like ‘The Way We Say Goodbye’, which is this super epic sort-of pop tune, we might have been inclined to go no we can’t do that, it’s not alternative enough. But we sort-of said: fuck it, we want to make this band as big as it can be and want to write great music.”
“The one thing about this album is that it’s like a genre-less album,” continues Kieran. “It’s the sound of us doing what we want in the studio and having a good time making a record ourselves, and I think that comes across.”
It’s the sort of album that’s bound to shake up a few feathers. That idea of someone listening to the radio and catching a track before being shocked by it’s a Circa Waves song is a feeling Kieran enjoys. Of breaking down boundaries and smashing any expectations people may have of them. Whether it’s ‘Passport’ and its Beatles-esque bar singalong feel that could easily translate into packed festival fields with phone lights in the air or the almost-throwback feel of the fizzing ‘Movies’ – it’s a variety of cuts ready to meet a wider audience. If Kings Of Leon had ‘Only By The Night’, then Circa Waves have ‘What’s It Like Over There?’
“It’s been interesting to see the reaction to ‘Me, Myself & Hollywood’,” smiles Kieran. “It’s quite a departure, and you see people who weren’t into the band say they really love it which is cool, and then you see some early Circa Waves’ fans saying, ‘What the fuck is this!?’ You can’t win them all!”
As he speaks about the months and shows to come, it’s clear that Kieran is brimming with the confidence of someone who knows they’ve laid it all out there with what comes next. An album that fully captures the places they want to be now, it throws away the idea that Circa Waves are simply happy to be here. They want to take over, and they want those big moments in front of thousands upon thousands to prove it.
“The main thing is just wanting to see everything on a bigger level, wanting to see what a track like ‘Times Won’t Change Me Now’ sounds like on a big stage at a festival in front of 20,000 people. Seeing people react to it all in one place, that’s what I can’t wait to see. That’s what gives me the most pleasure from doing this.”
It’s something Kieran has been saying for a while now, those standout moments of witnessing a band in their prime packing the biggest of rooms and stages with universal tracks that have thousands in awe. But it’s with ‘What’s It Like Over There?’ that Circa Waves have their fuse to light up those stages in a whole new manner. It’s a goal that you know has always been there, but delivered with an unexpected flair that never could have been predicted.
“We’re not scared of the big pop song anymore,” Kieran admits. “We’re not scared of being commercial, of wanting to be a bigger band and wanting to be a bigger prospect.”
“I’m always up for shocking people. Being the underdog who writes the big tunes, I find that quite exhilarating.”
Taken from the April issue of Dork, out now. Circa Waves’ album ‘What’s It Like Over There?’ is out 5th April.
Words: Jamie Muir