Words by Paul Waxman.
Calling from his house (not too far from Penny Lane, Liverpool) Kieran Shudall, Circa Waves‘ lead singer and key songwriter was resting after a 9-date tour of the UK.
Recuperating on a “rare” warm day in England, Shudall and his bandmates are gearing up for a US tour to celebrate their third studio album What’s It Like Over There? Interestingly, playing the album on a US tour is pretty fitting, as according to Shuddall himself, a large portion of the album came to him in an “peculiar” way while touring the states with Two Door Cinema Club in early 2017.
“I wrote a bunch of ideas and lyrics and recorded a few melodies on my voice notes,” says Shudall. “It was written across America and then finished in Liverpool. It was otherworldly when I found all the lyrics and the things that I’d written in America. I made the album from them in Liverpool — it was quite strange.”
It was from this practice of rediscovering his older ideas and words that inspired the concept behind the album title’s eponymous question.
“The album title almost refers a bit to that. ‘What’s it like over there?’ It’s me speaking to myself in America about what was going on in my head at that time.”
In many ways, Circa Waves’ three album discography has been a process of discovery for the whole band. Being a group that received a fairly unexpected “jumping start” in their earlier years; having received a record deal before honing their craft, their albums have always been a process of experimentation and learning.
“We didn’t have time to get out any problems or any niggles and things that you should really do before you release a debut record,” Shudall says about their 2014 debut release Young Chasers. “We have been finding our sound throughout our records as opposed to before our records. I think that’s why our sound has changed quite a lot from each record, it’s because we’re still discovering what Circa Waves are and what we want to be.”
The band has a freedom with their sound that has produced three distinct studio albums, including their 2017 sophomore album Different Creatures. Despite their being independent sounds on each album, Shudall says there’s a clear vision is his mind on what Circa Waves should sound like.
“I always sort of imagine a Sofia Copolla movie in my head when I develop music. I imagine Lost In Translation.”
It’s hard not to draw parallels between the silver screen and Circa Waves’ music when two of the songs on the brand new record are entitled ‘Movies’ and ‘Me, Myself and Hollywood,’ but despite being film buffs themselves the inspiration from cinema isn’t as clear cut as it seems.
“The feeling that you get when you think of Hollywood and you think of palm trees and you think of dirty streets and you think of the stars. I just wanted to get that across.”
The inspiration goes further into the album’s themes with a cinematic album cover, and a crisper, cleaner sound.
“The first two albums were normal television and this album, the size is expanded a little bit. The next album will feel like IMAX.”
Circa Waves created this new, embellished sound by letting go of some of the inhibitions they think strike fear into the hearts of many up and coming bands. Although not entirely purposeful, the band experimented with swapping instruments and going full pop to let go of their long standing musical phobias.
“It’s just really fun to experiment and to not be precious about your instrument because people get so tied down to ‘he’s the lead-guitarist, he’s the bass player, he’s this, he’s that,’ in reality all you’re trying to do is make a good song,” reflects Shudall. “The person that’s looking for the song does not give a shit who played what — all they care about is if it’s a good song. So, if you can attune your songs by experimenting and playing around and having a good time and genuinely being a healthy band and having a good relationship in the studio, I think that can only be a positive thing.”
The band have been quoted saying “The pop will not hurt you, it’ll set you free!” In Shudall’s opinion, Circa Waves have always been pop since day one, but the most recent album is the band embracing pop in every way and is a middle finger to bands that are “too cool” for pop.
“The fear is that once you go into that poppy world, people will say that you sold out or that you’re not cool or whatever. At this point, 3 albums in, I don’t really care anymore about what people think of my band. In terms of hoping that the “cool kids” think we’re cool, I don’t give a shit.”
Admitting himself that there’s definitely a line these days between “shit pop” and “good pop”, it’s clear to see that Circa Waves tread the right side of that line with their poppier and more cinematic third album.