Having released their debut single Get Away to universal acclaim at the end of 2013, last year was a success-punctuated 12 months; one of the runaway successes at New York CMJ, the coveted opening slot on the NME Awards tour, performances in front of packed tents at Reading / Leeds and Latitude and a prestigious appearance on the 2nd stage at Glastonbury plus a euphoric sold-out UK tour in November culminating in a show at London’s Heaven confirmed them as THE most exciting guitar band in Britain right now.
Yet despite their seemingly effortless rise, the gestation of Circa Waves is far from a straightforward tale. Having met in Liverpool a couple of years back, the four members had each served their time in various bands around the city with frontman Kieran Shuddall, in particular, being very close to throwing in the towel finding himself at one point bandless and working in a dead-end job. “You see a lot of bands you think are shit do well, and that's difficult to take,” he admits. “It's all about timing and luck and perfecting your craft.”
Shuddall's craft is, undeniably, well honed now. His last throw of the dice was a set of demos he created under the name Circa Waves, and it was the track Young Chasers that turned it all around, gaining national airplay.
Starting the recording process with producer Dan Grech-Marguerat at the famed RAK studios in London’s St John’s Wood in May 2014, the four-piece were resolute in what they were trying to achieve. “We wanted our live shows to come across on the recording” says Kieran. “You can feel us in that room smashing it out, that was never an afterthought, it was vital to us.“
Grech-Marguerat, whose credits also include the first Vaccines record and Lana Del Rey, brought restraint and definition to the band’s sound. “Live we definitely have a certain energy, but we realised the art when recording was to make sure the subtleties and nuances of the songs weren’t lost,” says Joe. “It's in the arrangement and the production and Dan really managed to strike that balance.”
The tracks the band took into the studio had largely been knocked into shape on tour and recording was therefore a fairly straight forward process. “It's been dead easy,” says Kieran. “We had five weeks and we finished on the minute. It was nice to step back and play gigs and not worry about the album, it felt like we'd done our homework early.”
The result is a 13-track record that puts choruses, riffs and hooks to the fore. My Love packs a chorus built for FM radio, Deserve This is dreamy and coy and T-Shirt Weather is a breezy tune about, Kieran says, “false nostalgia, a song about how you imagine your past – summers were always better when you were a kid." Elsewhere, Best Years is a rock racket, The Luck Has Gone adds disco beats to the mix and Talking Out Loud is the languid, Pavement-inspired closing track.
Also present on the album are all of the band’s singles to date, albeit in re-recorded versions including: the AA side Get Away and Good For Me plus the album’s title track. “This recent UK tour was the first one where we had hundreds and thousands of people coming and singing our songs back to us, and it gives those songs a new life,” says Kieran. “We fell back in love with them, so there was never any question about leaving any of them off the final album.”
Read between the lines in his lyrics, says Kieran, and you’ll find “the usual tales about growing up, youth and frustration. Being a struggling musician for a short period of time, sometimes feels like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. But as much as it’s a document of that side of my life there are also elements of the everyday; going out, getting drunk, having fun. It's a whirlwind of emotions…”
With much of the album in the bag by June 2014 (it was completed in December), the band played Glastonbury two weeks later and – soon after that – fulfilled teenage dreams by touring with the reunited Libertines. Celebrating a birthday in the company of his old favourite band, Joe found himself being serenaded by Pete and Carl and Kieran received a somewhat obtuse song-writing tip from the latter. “I was asking Carl about the acoustic song he plays. I said, how did you write that? He said, well, it's just an old gypsy song, innit. He suggested we just get a load of gypsy songs and rip 'em off!”
Having grown up on the classic guitar bands of the early 00s, the band are hell-bent on recapturing some of the excitement and success of their former boyhood heroes. “Guitar music will never go away, because it’s important to people,” says Joe. “That's why I got into music, that's what I grew up listening to. There's something about simple pop music that you can instantly tap into.”
Kieran agrees, even if he’s not willing to wear the saviour of rock crown just yet.
“You can only do what you do and try and be as good at it as possible,” he says. “It's sweaty and raucous live and we give everything when we play. When we come off stage, Joe's often sick, Sam's hands will be bleeding, I can't talk and our drummer will be lying on the floor crying. We fucking put everything into it, you know. If that doesn't convince you, nothing will.”