Story / Erica Hawkins
Photos /Hollie Fernando
There’s a formula for success when conducting phone interviews. I, personally, like to start with witty banter in the way of insight on the weather in between apologizing for all of the noise in the background. For example: “It was raining in New York City, but now, it’s just cloudy.” If I’m feeling adventurous, I may mention that I’ve just had breakfast, or I’m about to head to dinner. Sometimes it lands and I’m provided with an equal quip about the minutia of the other person’s day. Lucky for me, Kieran Shudall, the reluctant (and more on that later) frontman of Circa Waves seems to be equally trained in the art of amusing small talk, and I learn that yes, there are also things like meals and weather in Liverpool.
Speaking of questions about the state of things, the band’s third LP happens to be about just that. “It was almost like it was written by a different person,” Shudall shares, “What’s It Like Over There? to me was like asking my past self a question.”
The majority of the album’s lyrics were scribbled down as diary entries and notes as the band traveled across the United States, a departure from Shudall’s typical songwriting process he describes as “at home in Liverpool sort of on my couch in my underpants.” Once they returned home they recorded the tracks under the formative guise and co-production of Alan Moulder in less than a month’s time. Shudall, guitarist Joe Falconer, bassist Sam Roure, and drummer Colin Jones made the conscious decision to experiment with the sound for the follow up to 2017’s Different Creatures. Instruments were swapped, pianos were played, and any inclinations towards perpetuating a garage rock sound were left on the shelf.
“I would get so bored if I did this the same sort of record every time,” Shudall says. “You as a listener of music don’t listen to the same record over and over again and you don’t listen to one type of music. You like to expand your horizons and listen to different things. I think making music is exactly the same. It gets really stale if you just stick to the same format.”
Track by track What It Like Over There? outlines such a romantic view of the United States, inspired by the deviance of Hollywood and the bright yellow taxis cabs that often take center stage in American films, I nearly felt guilty complaining about the yelling and sirens punctuating our conversation when Shudall explained that “America to an Englishman is a very cinematic place.”
No song embodies this sentiment more exquisitely than the album’s echoing sing-along of a lead single, “Movies.”
“It’s a bit of an ode to the women in our lives as a band. We all have really close partners and I imagined this woman, a James Dean character being the leading role because when you’re in a band and travel, to have that rock and that foundation at home, they’re sort of the tough one in the relationship. They help you acclimatize when you come back. I liked the visual of this rebel without a cause being the woman.”
Not only does Shudall have no aversion to playing a supporting role to the leading woman in his life, but he’s also been hesitant to take on the lead role when it comes to being a frontman.
“There are some people who love the stage and were destined to be on the stage,” Shudall admits, “but I’m more of a songwriter who has to be on the stage because he wants his songs to be heard by everyone.
That training I mentioned in the art of amusing small talk—illuminating the trivial through careful reiteration and storytelling of what so many of us would look pass as boring happenings of relationships or the passing day is what Circa Waves and Shudall transmute and communicate through their songs so well. In their stories, a sunny day becomes a hit like “T-Shirt Weather,” a leading lady becomes James Dean, a dreary New York day becomes something out of a movie.
I asked Shudall about the longevity of songs and what he believes the main ingredient is behind the ones that stay with listeners forever.
“I think there has to be something slightly genuine in the song. There’s some sort of human condition which just can tell when something’s bullshit. I definitely try to do that and try to put genuine heart into every song I make and just kind of hope that that will work. I suppose in 10 years time we’ll know whether Circa Waves have lasted or whether anyone’s still listening to us. I think it’s probably just all about being quite real. I think if you have genuine emotion, the melody will be genuine as well.”
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