After their acoustic gig at Rough Trade in Nottingham to celebrate the release of their debut album ‘Better With You,’ Isabelle Hunter sat down with Daniel McCarthy from KAWALA to discuss their current record store tour, musical inspirations, and favourite tracks from the album.
Buzzing from just finishing their acoustic gig at Rough Trade, McCarthy started by telling me their schedule for the record store tour, explaining they’ve performed at two or three different venues per day. Despite being exhausted from the hours of travelling they’ve embarked on across the week, McCarthy’s energy was electric from the minute we sat down.
“That was super fun!” McCarthy exclaimed, “that was definitely my favourite show so far, real busy, real bustling, it was great!” When asked whether he’s enjoying his short trip to Nottingham, McCarthy replied saying “we’ve always had such a good time here, we’ve done some great shows. I’ve always been a big fan of Nottingham.”
The origins of KAWALA began with McCarthy and Jim Higson making music together in university. “We started playing acoustically together when we were around 19, we spoke for years about trying something together, and while I was playing a lot of guitar, I didn’t really sing. Then we found out we were applying for the same universities, so we just thought ‘if we were both going to the same places, let’s actually get together and do something finally.’”
McCarthy continued explaining how the band got up and running: “Finally we met up, it worked pretty well and we took it full time. Slowly but surely, we got all the other boys involved and pretty quickly realised there’s a limit for what we want to do [with our music]. We want it to get bigger and do bigger stuff, so then we brought on the other boys and never looked back. And here we are!”
When asked about how McCarthy would describe their sound overall, he responded, “It’s a hybrid of different things really. I’ve never really been able to answer that question! At [our music’s] core, it’s quite folk-y, harmony based and acoustic. Then there’s elements of old school indie, quite pop-y. I guess, pop-y, folk-y, indie noise!”
‘Better With You’ comes after a period of reflection for the band
KAWALA’S debut album ‘Better With You’ comes after a period of reflection for the band, as it features a range of well-loved tracks and brand-new singles. The title lyric comes from the song Echoes, resonating on the band’s relationship with their audience. When asked about how they chose this title, McCarthy responded, “ah, it wasn’t easy! We were struggling to come up with an album name, it was tougher than coming up with the songs. You only get one chance at a first album so it’s such a high-risk moment of doing something terrible.”
McCarthy laughed as he recalled the process of creating the album itself. “We were originally going to call it ‘Never Really Here For Long’, which is the last song on the album. Then we thought, ‘that opens up for too much stick’. If they don’t like it, for example: ‘Never Really Here For Long’, ‘I wonder why, they’re terrible!’, we decided we needed something neutral.”
He adds, “we started to gather what we wanted the album to be about, and how we could cover that in a lyric or phrase. We listened back to Echoes, and it just felt the most consistent with the storyline of the album. How did we miss that? We’ve been shouting it in the chorus, it’s right there!”
we wanted it to be a moment where it wasn’t all about us, but something that celebrated everyone around us
On the topic of what the album means to them, McCarthy describes the key themes that run through their tracks. “It’s funny because in the music itself, there are themes that aren’t connected to the overall concept. Whereas the creative and bigger picture stuff was more based around a celebration of community, family, and our team. We wanted it to be a moment where it wasn’t all about us, but something that celebrated everyone around us. It’s so weird to sing about each other’s relationships and hardships.” McCarthy laughed, commenting on his friendship with Higson.
“On the acoustic side, my guitar was inspiration from people like John Martyn, lots of old guitar players like him,” McCarthy answered when asked about KAWALA’s musical inspirations. “I listen to a lot of Neil Young, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the harmonies come from that.” He continued: “Then also people like American and Simon & Garfunkel, and more modern stuff such as Half Moon Run and The Staves. They were always the inspiration for the harmonies.”
masking miserable lyrics with happy music, for me it felt the most true to us
During their gig at Rough Trade, they performed their brand-new single from the album: Marathon, in which McCarthy stated it was his favourite of all the tracks. “The singles are a bit obvious to go for, but there’s something about Marathon that I really enjoy because it feels the most traditional to us. I feel like a lot of our older stuff has that feel, very harmony based and mellow, happy, positive, and summery but the lyrics are really sad. Basically, masking miserable lyrics with happy music, for me it felt the most true to us.”
Jesse C’mon had the audience up and dancing during the show, it was clear the track was a fan favourite. “We wrote the song with our really good friend Joe Rubel, who’s worked with Ed Sheeran and Maisie Peters. When writing, we had this situation with a mate – have you ever had that mate who’s quite a consistent serial liar?” McCarthy laughed, illuminating the atmosphere with every sentence. “We wanted to make it as pop-y as we could. All the hooks were based around nursery rhymes, and then it just happened. We threw it together and the next thing you know we’re in the studio and it all felt very exciting.”
Having seen KAWALA perform at some huge venues (such as the Roundhouse in London) and Reading Festival, this was the first time I’ve seen them in an intimate environment to showcase their music. I wanted to know whether they preferred their bigger live shows, or these more connected acoustic performances. “They offer different things for me,” McCarthy explained, “I love going back to this but I’m always going to choose the big live shows as we put so much effort into creating a spectacle. But we love showing harmonies and the more acoustic, raw parts as they are without all the whistles. But yes, will have to be big shows any day of the week!”
It is clear that McCarthy adores the music he’s making alongside KAWALA, and I can’t wait for the future of their sound. You can catch KAWALA on their headline tour in April 2022 and listen to their debut album ‘Better With You’ out now.
Featured image courtesy of Chuff Media. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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