In an over-saturated digital world where every song or artist is available via the Spotify search bar, there are no second chances. The music industry is entangled in a race for streams; in a game that relies on easy, catchy choruses on repeat in order to captivate a listener the first time around. We're in an age of singles, which is presenting a challenge to the traditional record. In a bid to work with this new musical landscape rather than against it, the Liverpudlian band Circa Waves decided to release their fourth studio album Sad Happy in two parts. By spreading the album out, the band sneakily manipulated our increasingly short-spanned attention by fixing it to them for a period of three months.
I met Circa Waves, which consists of vocalist and guitarist Kieran Shudall, guitarist Joe Falconer, bassist Sam Rourke and drummer Colin Jones, on the release day of the Happy side of their new album, which also happened to be an overcast Friday in early January. As the bleak weather proved contradictory to the excitement of album release, we learnt that those two things are not mutually exclusive. Cosied up in stylist Nathan Henry's sofa, sheltered by a knitted blanket, we discussed the changing nature of the music industry and Sad Happy and spoke, surprisingly, at length about planes. And somehow, the topic of cats made its way into the conversation throughout. They don't take themselves too seriously, I discovered.
Photographer Chieska Fortune Smith played with focus and blur as she captured the band in moments shared in East London. Taking interest in overlooked details and seconds, she ignited the otherwise mundane, resulting in an intimate exhibition. Stylist Nathan Henry supplemented Chieska's attention to details and dressed them in classic statement pieces that served to amplify the bearer. Circa Waves is equally infectious in person as they're in their music. It's long since I've laughed this much with people I've just met.
Their new album Sad Happy will be available in full on 13th March.
I thought we'd do a little round where everyone answers the question: who are you?
Kieran: I'm a cat because I like being alone, I like being warm, I like my home and I'm relatively lazy.
Sam: He loves cat food.
Kieran: Sam loves cat food.
Joe: The most important thing to know about me is that I'm a mess. I lose things, I'm untidy and disorganised which in turn informs every part of my life.
Colin: I would put my role in the band as the fun one, even though we're all fun. Quite easy-going.
Sam: Like a funny uncle. You're a big kid.
Colin: Yeah, a big kid, you could say that. I just like to smile.
Sam: "Live, laugh, love", he often says.
Sam: I.. *interrupted*
Kieran: I love cat food.
Sam: Apart from loving cat food, I'm Colin's counterbalancing force in the band. I'm the yin to his yang.
Kieran: He is a tiny man. Colin's a big kid.
Sam: I'm a small-minded man. Colin's a big-minded child.
Kieran: You're an old soul.
Colin: I do feel like on the inside of me lives a side of you. And then inside of you, you have a side of me.
Kieran: Colin likes it when Sam's inside him.
Colin: Yeah. You do have a very fun side, Sam.
Kieran: Does he?
Colin: Yeah. He is very caring. He doesn't like people to see it.
Sam: People describe me as having a hard exterior with a very soft centre.
You just got to like crack the outside.
Kieran: He is a soft-boiled egg.
Sam: When no one's looking I cry when I watch TV.
What show did you cry about last?
Sam: Honestly... The ending of Gilmore Girls.
Kieran: What happened?
Sam: I don't know what it is, but it's just a very emotional moment. It's seven seasons long. You're probably watching about 150 hours of episodes in a very short space of time and it ends on a very emotional note. I squeezed out a little tear.
Kieran: I think that's healthy.
When's the last time the rest of you cried?
Joe: I'm not a big crier, but on planes, it almost always happens. Do you never feel like that?
Joe: It's something about flying... It's very emotional.
Kieran: You cry when you're on the plane?
Joe: There is something about it. I've googled it and I'm not alone; there are dozens of us.
Kieran: Really? Is it the lack of air? And the wine?
Joe: I don't know what it is... It's definitely the wine and the potential to fall out of the sky.
Kieran: I cried when my son left.
Joe: To university?
*Everyone cracks up*
Colin: Two days ago when I left my son. I had to leave him for this next tour which was sad.
This is a bit of a team bonding exercise. What do you like most about each other?
Kieran: I'll start. Sam helps me with my incorrect film information. We all like films but I have an awful memory; like a goldfish.
Sam: Kieran can mention any director and any film title and they'll both be wrong, but I know what he is talking about.
Kieran: He's like my translator. Colin just cheers me up on the road. He's a very happy bunny. Waking up to Colin, I see calm and I just know it's going to be a good day. Joe gives me trousers and belt advice. I was wearing these trousers and I was like, 'man, this is just not working'. And Joe's like, "Hey" and he passes me this belt. So, he's become quite the fashion guru. Just top lads.
Colin: I'll do a collective of everyone. If someone's having a bad day, I feel like each of us have a good kind of understanding where we'll rally around him and pick that person up. I feel like there's a good part of that in each of us.
Joe: I enjoy the fact that we've been around each other for so long. We've got so many little things, jokes, memories and greatness that only we know about and it's enjoyable that we get to rip each other.
Kieran: Yeah, but what do you like about me?
Joe: What I like about you... You write really good songs. He grows a mean moustache, even though he doesn't want to. One day he's going to commit to it.
Kieran: I did do Movember like six years ago, but it was disgusting. I might try it again in a few more years.
Joe: Next time we have a bit of time off. It's something you've got to do in private. And I like Sam because we talk about stuff in the news; we like to talk about current affairs.
Sam: Whereas these two guys don't...
Colin: I, maybe Kieran as well, get most of my news updates each morning from Sam and Joe.
Joe: But we've been lying to him. He thinks that the UK invaded Switzerland six months ago for the Toblerone wars.
So, how are the two of you feeling about the start of this year? It's been quite turbulent.
Joe: I'm actually taking a break from the news. I just can't - I need January to be a good start to the year. I think it's just too much for me at the moment. Yeah, I'm going to come back to it in February and see if it's any better.
Sam: Sneak peek: it's not.
Let's talk Sad Happy. Happiness is a topic we've explored quite a bit at Boys by Girls and our last print issue was called happiness. What makes you happy?
Kieran: Creating music. I think I feel most content after I've made something for a song or some sort of musical bit. That's when I feel most levelled.
Colin: Happiness to me is my family.
Joe: I like doing really minor indulgent things like a good night, good food and good wine. I like going on holiday, spending time with my girlfriend. Just doing things that feel a little bit out of the ordinary but not that special.
Kieran: I know what you mean, like a really good cheese.
Sam: I really like it when you're reading a good book and you're in the middle of it and you know you've got loads of it left. There is that feeling of total contentment because you're in the middle of something that you enjoy and you know you've got a lot of it left to enjoy. I quite enjoy that feeling. That's it - the only thing that makes me happy.
I read the press release and I love this conclusion about sadness and happiness being not mutually exclusive. I think the two emotions sort of enforce each other, you must know sadness to know true happiness. What makes you sad?
Kieran: Being away and missing my kid and stuff is probably the saddest, but that kind of makes me happy as well because I get to come back to that after missing it. The two feelings are always so close together.
Joe: During winter, I tend to get really low but then I quite enjoy to wallow a bit in some sadness.
Kieran: A nice mope.
Joe: I think that having a good old mope can be quite helpful sometimes, as it's quite good for being creative. I don't find I'm particularly drawn to happy music or happy books. I feel like I'm more creative if I'm in a bit of a slump because if I'm happy, I'm just like, 'ah, I'll just go out for a walk, it's a lovely day'.
Kieran: Misery brings creativity, I think. Apart from The Beach Boys.
Colin: I think seeing other people sad - that's my number one thing. It gets to me.
Sam: When you get to the end of the book... And you know you'll never read it for the first time ever again. That's sad.
Are you reading anything good at the moment?
Sam: I've just finished a book. It's part of a four-part book series and I just finished the second one, so still lots to go. I'm borrowing them from a friend, so I have to wait for him to give me the next one. It's like a noir thriller set in Northern England in the 70s - it's really good.
You released the Happy side of the Sad Happy record today, so I was listening to it on my tube journey over here. The melody comes off as quite sad, so there's a bit of a contrast between the happiness in the lyrics and the melancholic melody. Tell me more about this.
Kieran: Melodically it might not seem super happy but generally on the happy side, everything is pretty optimistic, like Love You More is just an exclamation of like loving somebody. And The Things We Knew Last Night sounds a bit melancholic, but that's just about the joy of being at a gig and that feeling of youth and energy. I've always liked music like MGMT which sounds happy but the lyrics are sad or vice versa where there is a sad song and the lyrics are happy. It's a good juxtaposition and I quite like that someone might perceive it as not being a happy song, and if it's not happy to them, then that's fine.
I can imagine it also changes the more you listen to a song. I was reading about Jacqueline and that it is a song about a woman basically raising a child on her own. I thought it was a really lovely song because that's someone you don't hear about so often, especially in music.
Kieran: I think it's a struggle with concepts for songs and what people should write about and what you hear bands writing about at the moment in regards to style and the subject matter. I get quite bored with it quickly. It seems like, especially with new music, that the subject matter has just become smaller and smaller, especially with pop music. It's always just generic: I love you and you love me. If you go back to 70s music, it's about all sorts of crazy shit; cosmic and weird. I like to write about things that are maybe not the usual thing.
That's refreshing because a lot of popular music nowadays is just about this one theme of love which just repeats itself. This is your fourth studio album, or well, half of it at the time of speaking - looking back at your old albums, how do you think you've evolved over the years?
Joe: I think we've gotten better. I think when we started out, it was all really quick for us. We had just met each other and the kind of music we were playing was raucous pop, and so we spent a lot of years trying to actually figure out what we were as a band and what we wanted to be. And I think with each record, we've tried something new and I think we banked certain elements of each record and brought it forward to the next one. It's all that sort of packaged into this new sound, but it's like the first album in many ways. For instance, if we had spent the last five years in the dark with no one knowing who we were, then we might have got to this point as Circa Waves. This could almost be a stronger statement of what we are as a band.
Today you released the Happy side of your record. Why did you go with the Happy side first?
Kieran: The two songs we wanted out first were on the Happy side. We were like, 'sh--, Happy comes out first and the album is called Sad Happy'. We've tangled ourselves in a bit with the words. Predominantly, it's because we wanted to release Jacqueline and Move to San Francisco first. I think our favourite songs are probably in the second half of the album. We also wanted the balls to be rolling in the world of Sad Happy when these next songs come out. The visual is out and we've kind of laid the foundation of what the album is about and then our favourite songs get to come out.
What are your favourite songs from the Sad part of the album?
Joe: Hope There's a Heaven which is quite a departure for us. That's my favourite on this record.
Sam: That's my favourite as well.
Colin: I love Wake Up Call.
Kieran: Wake Up Call and Sad Happy are my favourites.
Whilst on the topic of heaven. Is there a heaven?
Sam: I was thinking about this last night... When you get there, how old is everyone? If you die when you're three, are you three forever? If you die when you're 85, are you 85 forever? Or is everyone 30?
Joe: I don't think you can be older because if you're like a four-year-old who dies, then what is the 18-year-old version going to be like? Where do those 14 years come from?
Sam: So, then you'll be four forever. Well, that sucks, doesn't it? And if you married someone now, does that marriage carry on in heaven? 60 years in life, great, but then in 100 years, 200 years, 1000 years, what then? How long is it going to go on for?
Kieran: I think heaven is exactly what you want it to be though.
Sam: Yeah, I don't know. I was just thinking about this last night and it doesn't make any sense. I don't know how this works logically
Kieran: Lover of maths. Talking about logic in heaven.
Sam: Also, how many people are going to be there considering the number of people who have lived?
Kieran: Do cats go to heaven?
Sam: The bible is pretty specific on no cats. They have no soul.
Kieran: So they don't get to go?
Sam: No. They just stop existing.
Kieran: So many questions, we need a priest.
Joe: One of us needs to go to priest-school to figure this out.
Kieran: I believe more so now than ever that we might be in a simulation.
You've been following Elon Musk on Twitter?
Kieran: No... I came up with it myself! It's just as valid as believing in heaven.
Joe: I think it's a waste of time thinking about it. You're never going to know, so we might as well do something useful in the meantime.
Kieran: I agree, I think this life is enough to take on board, let alone worry about the afterlife.
Is life a handful?
Joe: Life is two big handfuls.
Continuing on the note of heaven. I understand Birthday Cake is about growing older and kind of getting to grips with your own mortality, so I thought I'll ask a bit of a dark question, are you comfortable with the thought of death?
Kieran: Yeah, relatively. I mean, I go through phases, but I generally don't worry about it too much. I do know people who worry about this quite a lot, but what's the point of worrying? It's going to happen.
Colin: I have the same thing with going through phases, and then there was this one time when I was on a plane - I don't know why - but I was like, 'okay, this is it then'.
Sam: I'd rather go that way though. I want to have a maximum of five seconds to digest what's happening.
Joe: I think on a plane you have a lot more than five seconds because there's the bit when it starts rattling and you look at your neighbour, then it drops and you go down slowly.
Kieran: There's always that thing when we're on a plane with a band that's really big. We always say like, 'guys, if the plane crashes we are just going to be a footnote in the story'.
Sam: If this goes down now, we're not even going to make the article... And that's my main concern, that it won't get publicised enough.
I was listening to Sad Happy and Battered and Bruised and I noticed that both songs make references to the heart: "My heart's made out of concrete" and "My heart is battered and bruised". It sounds like your heart's been through quite a rough patch.
Kieran: I think everyone goes through slight trauma or funerals or your loved ones getting sick. I don't necessarily write specifically about how I'm feeling. It can be that I take on other people's emotions. Generally, I've been very lucky in my life and haven't had too many horrible things happen. But just look out and you'll see the heartache of the world.
What's your writing process like?
Kieran: This album I made all of the tracks first because I wanted to make them interesting before they had any lyrical content. I'm using a lot more Hip Hop samples and Dance Music samples and just weird sounds. Also, I used this Mellotron which is this whole tape-based piano thing. The Beatles used it loads, it's really cool.
It sounds like you're mixing a little bit of the old and a little bit of the new.
Kieran: It's cool because you can have a drum sample that is from 2019 and the Mellotron which is literally tape sounds recorded back in the 60s. You've got piano from the 60s and a snare drum from 2019; that amalgamation of the two is really interesting.
What inspires you?
Kieran: Well, music is a really big jumping-off point. Not like to steal from other musicians, but it's healthy to borrow. Even The Beatles did that. They just did it better than other people. You only need to change a few textures and one chord for a song to feel completely unique. That's the cool thing about music, you're only ever like one move away from ripping off someone else but also one move away from making something really cool and distinctively you.
Growing up, did you always know you wanted to pursue music?
Joe: You pick up a guitar when you're a teenager because you love music and you want to learn the songs that you love. And then as you get older, you start to realise that maybe this is something that you can do. I think it was when I was 15, I realised I wanted to do it as a career, and now here I am.
Sam: I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid.
Joe: Yeah, what happened?
Sam: Still hoping.
Keiran: You're too tall. Apparently 6'2'' is the cut-off. You're 6'3'' so...
The music industry is very fast-paced and part of that is that people don't listen to full albums anymore. How do you feel about that?
Kieran: We all grew up listening to full albums. That's just how I consume music, so it's really hard to wrap your head around the fact that people who listen to our music don't consume it in the way we would.
Joe: I think the way we're doing this record is quite an interesting balance between those two ideas because it is an entire album you can sit and listen to in one go and it's designed that way and it works really well. But, by breaking up the album in two parts, we're almost allowing people to try that new method of consuming music in short bursts.
Kieran: The traditional record length is due to the restrictions of vinyl as you can only fit a certain number of tracks on the record. It was an arbitrary decision in the first place, but the technology has changed and the album should get shorter to match that. Many people are probably going to do more albums, but with fewer tracks on them. And then if you're doing fewer tracks per album, you can move on quickly to the next thing.
But I do think this modern way of consuming music is a bit sad because when I've bought certain albums, I haven't always liked it after the first listen, but since I bought it and I had it, I gave them another go later and they've become some of my favourite records. I think being patient with certain songs or music is important. A lot of the best music is the music that challenges you a little bit. We're drowning in choice at the moment, so if you don't like something immediately, you're just like 'next' but never come back to it.
I remember when I first discovered The Smiths, it took me a while to really get into it because it took me some time to grasp the lyrics and the melody. But then, these songs really began to resonate with me.
Kieran: Yeah, the music infects you over time and you feel the songs stronger after listening to them like 10 times. But a song that is immediately catchy, if you listen to that song 10 times, you're like, 'f-- this. I'm sick of it'.
I think they actually design a lot of new music to be super addictive to the brain. It's sort of the disease of the music industry.
Keiran: I think it's become a game of immediately catching people's ears. If you sort of conform to what the man at the top wants you to do, you'll just make a two-minute song that starts with the chorus and repeats the same word several times. So, we've tried it to see what happens, but then there are other songs on the record that are very much weird and the opposite. There's a bit of both.
You've touched on male depression in previous work, in for instance On My Own. I just wanted to ask you guys, what are your thoughts on masculinity?
Sam: Growing up, I was exposed to a very traditional idea of masculinity; this Northern working-class type of masculinity. I think that's quite an ingrained thing in a lot of places, but more and more now, I think those old boundaries are coming down. I think men are feeling increasingly more comfortable behaving less like that, which is a good thing. Men are being more emotional and open compared to 15-20 years ago. On our last tour, we were on the bus talking about depression and mindfulness and meditation and such, but then 10 years ago, that conversation just wouldn't have happened. It would have been shut down because 'men aren't supposed to talk about feelings, they are supposed to be tough'.
Kieran: Yeah, I think it is changing quite a lot, but I do think there's still stuff out there that is counterproductive, like Love Island for example where every bloke is muscly with a six-pack. It's the most popular show on TV now. I mean, I really do think that they're all losers, but I'm sure there's a 14-year-old boy somewhere going, "Do I need to be like him?". Although society is changing, I do think it must be quite tough for young men today trying to figure out what they're meant to be.
Sam: Men are being bombarded with the same aesthetic things that women have had to be dealing with for so long, like this physical perfection. I think guys are confused as to how to deal with that.
Joe: I think people should feel like they're able to choose how they want to perceive masculinity. That's not to say that the big, strong lad is a bad version of masculinity, as long as people don't feel as if it's being forced on them. You should feel comfortable with whatever you choose, and I think having representation on TV is really good and sort of shows people that, actually, you can be whatever you want. I think we're lucky that we work in an industry where that traditional masculine mould isn't really expected of us. We are very fortunate that we get to test the limits of our masculinity.
Kieran: In music and art, there's always been room for male experimentation as shown with Bowie.
Joe: It's nice to be in a position where we're able to show that it is fine and acceptable.
Kieran: That's why I've got a beer belly, so kids know that it's cool to be a little bit chubby.
Do you think music has the power to move society forward?
Kieran: It must do. Millions of kids look up to Matt Healy - he expresses what he feels about the world and I do think people are inspired and influenced by him. If you've got a voice, you can use it for good, which we try and do as much as possible. And we should - because I think it does make a difference.
You're also going on tour, following the release of the second part of the album. What can we expect from you on this tour?
Kieran: Flame throwers, lasers, gymnastics.
Colin: I was trying to pick the setlist for about three weeks.
Kieran: There are four albums now so the setlist is going to be a pain in the ass. We always like to put on a good show. Probably one of the best shows. We haven't done the light show yet. I suppose by the time this comes out we will have created this incredible light experience. It'll be like Cirque de Soleil for indie bands. Circa de Solero.
Will you be playing a lot of old songs or will it mostly focus on the new album?
Kieran: I don't know. Can we play all new stuff?
Sam: I think we like to play the songs that we know people want to hear. When you come out with new stuff, you want to be indulgent, so obviously, we'd want to play all the new stuff, which is great for us because it's really fun and new.
The last album came out spring 2019 and now Sad Happy is out in January and March 2020. Should we be expecting another album at the end of this year?
Kieran: You know what? Maybe. I've written like 15 tunes, but I don't know if they're any good. I'm always writing so it just depends. I don't think we will release anything unless we think it's really great or we have the time to do it. Because, who knows what's going to happen when this album comes out? We might become massive in Lebanon and have to move there for a year. You just don't know and we can't predict the future. Maybe we'll do two albums.
What message would you like your listeners to take away from the album?
Kieran: That it's important to experience the whole range of human emotions.