"I feel like I've got a fire in my belly with this record," says Kieran Shudall, almost straight away. "Now, I want us to be the biggest and the best. I want to headline festivals. Whereas with the first one I was a bit more like, 'Oh I'll
take it as it comes, and see what happens..."
We all know what happened with 'Young Chasers', the debut album by Circa Waves, that arrived in March of last year hitting the top 10. That it berthed four Radio 1 A-list singles, the most notable – and for a time completely unavoidable – of which was 'T-Shirt Weather'. That after its release they seemed to rise very fast indeed, to the extent that a mere six months on, the whole of a sold out Brixton Academy was jumping up and down as one, singing every last line of its thirteen direct, propulsive, carefree, indie pop songs. "When I saw the way
that people connected with it," Kieran continues, "I really started to believe in myself. I’m a different person now."
This much is emphatically evident in the new songs, and the second album. From the very first moment, it sounds like a different, louder band, and showcases Kieran’s disenchantment with the world he sees, with more in common with Foo Fighters or even Nirvana than with, say, The Strokes. Co-produced by Alan Moulder ("He heard us on the radio, and said to his engineer: 'Didn't this band want to work with
me? Why the **** am I not doing their second record?'"), the pop sensibility is still there, but now it comes buried in up-to-11 alt-rock guitars. It is very much not the sound of a band giving people more of what they know that people want from them. In every respect, it is the sound of a band who are going with their hearts, changing up because they have to, taking a risk and moving forward. "I think the rest of the band were quite shocked when they first heard these songs," Kieran notes. "I mean, they’ve all always been into heavier stuff as well. But I think everyone was a little bit nervous at first: just going, 'Will the fans like this?' But then we just thought, 'Well, **** it, we can't just keep doing the same thing. So we then just had to embrace it."
The route of this fairly radical change in direction came, Kieran says, as "a natural reaction to touring those indie songs for a year and a half." Both he and the band, having gone hell for leather in support of their breakthrough, were burnt out. There was less and less talking as the touring went on and on. And as a consequence their singer, songwriter and leader was starting to find himself contemplating things a lot more. "When you play that first record for so long, you get kind of sick of your own lyrics a little bit," he says. "I'm still really proud of it, but I wanted to write every lyric on this one as something I can sing with proper conviction every night. I really tried to do that. And as soon as you start writing with those darker chords, stuff naturally comes out of you.”
The big breakthrough came back home in Liverpool where, in his house at the start of the year, Kieran sat, on his own, for weeks, just writing and writing and "losing my mind a little bit". He started to feel things – things a long way from 'T Shirt Weather' pouring out of him. "I'm not a very political person, but I certainly feel there's a lot of wrongs in the world at the moment," he says. "And just that thing of, everyone's got an opinion, but a month later, they don't talk about it at all anymore. I was getting frustrated with people who just post and post and post about Brexit or Syria or whatever, and then the next week they've just moved on to something else. Like the ice bucket challenge: no one remembers what that was actually about. It's a narcissistic thing: boosting your profile by pretending you care deeply about whatever. It can be a bit frustrating to watch a generation do that, and not even realise they're doing it."
Alongside more personal songs like opener 'Wake Up' – "About me coming to terms with my demons" – and 'A Night On The Broken Tiles' – "about drinking on the road, and finding yourself intoxicated with the strangest mindsets" – are songs like 'Different Creatures': the "20,000 souls" referenced in one of its lines coming "after Britain had agreed to let in 20,000 Syrians."
"I remember I just thought it was really bizarre that you could put a number on it," says Kieran. "It just got to me. Like how can you put a cap on it, how can you stop people trying to save their kids' lives?’ It’s more a humanist view of politics: 'If I was you and you were me/We'd be different creatures.' Just saying if you were in their position, you'd be doing exactly the same thing."
There are songs, too, like 'Stuck' – with its reference to "poisonous TV" – that express those frustrations with a generation glued to Instagram, and others, like 'Out On My Own', that deal with the male anxiety and depression that Kieran had started to see emerging in some of his closest, oldest friends. He may be half joking when he refers to this album as “a quarter life crisis record", but there is some truth in that. It’s a set of songs written by someone very much aware of what is happening in the world, in both a personal
sense and a wider sense. "But saying that, I’m quite an optimistic person," he stresses. "So everything also has quite an optimistic twinge to it. So like in 'Stuck', you get the stuff that is all doom and gloom and like 'poisonous TV', but then in the middle eight it goes, 'Just keep holding on/The sun has been and gone but we’re all just beginning.' It’s like a euphoric optimism: I know we're stuck, but, it’s gonna get better. And I tried to put that in all the songs."
The heavier sound, also, has brought a renewed excitement to Circa Waves. "We started playing them live in the room, and there was so much more energy than the first record," says Kieran. "I think the songs are big enough, and I think we're easily good enough live, for us to be as big as whoever now. I don't see what the difference is between us and the bands above us anymore.
"I've come to a point where I'm like, 'Why the **** not?'"