It’s a new era for Circa Waves. After a turbulent few years, the band return stronger than ever – sharpening their performance and distilling the essence of their music into a new shape. On their new album, Never Going Under, they move further away from their comfort zone than ever before. Sometimes, you have to leave home to find yourself.
‘Every time we try something new, and we expand the boundaries of what Circa Waves could be, it does this really amazing thing where it strengthens the idea of what the actual core identity of the band is,’ says guitarist Joe Falconer.
What is the core identity of their band in 2023? With the chaos of the last couple of years and the complete shut-down of the live music industry that kept them on the road and submerged in the day-to-day work of being a gigging band, Circa Waves have had plenty of time to think about it.
Judging by Never Going Under, what Circa Waves are is defiant. The album draws on the fear of the modern era, capturing the uncertainty of the environmental, political and personal crises that form the fabric of 21st century reality. At the same time, though, the record refuses to bend under this pressure. Never Going Under has an optimistic heart.
Musically euphoric and lyrically introspective, Circa Waves’ fifth studio album ranges from the rousing existential chaos of Hell on Earth to the softer, more vulnerable Living in the Grey and the glitter of Your Ghost. Written and workshopped via correspondence during the first year or so of COVID, Never Going Under is a message of resilience from a band in lockdown.
The time in which the album was conceived can’t be separated from the direction Circa Waves find themselves taking in this era. The enforced distance of the pandemic drove home certain realisations for the band, about who they are, where they’re going, and what they have to offer.
'We’re not a legacy act, people want to hear new material, and that new material is the stuff that’s going to sustain us.’
‘Obviously our biggest song is T-Shirt Weather, which is on the first record. I think for a while we imagined that we needed to hit the heights of the first record again, we leant quite heavily on the first record in live sets,’ says Joe. ‘Then when we went on tour – our tour that was supposed to happen in April 2020, we ended up doing it in the summer of 2021 – the old songs were going down fine but the material from the fourth album was really, really strong. It was really connecting with people.’
Playing material from Sad Happy at those shows, Joe and the rest of the band realised something. ‘You could tell that new people were coming to our music. It wasn’t only the people who have been following us for years, there was a fresh set of faces down the front,’ he says. ‘That kind of emboldened us to follow our instinct about pushing ourselves, and knowing that there’s life in this band. We’re not a legacy act, people want to hear new material, and that new material is the stuff that’s going to sustain us.’
‘It gives the project a new lease of life,’ Joe continues. ‘After doing something for a certain amount of years, and spending two years wondering whether or not you’re going to get back to it again and sort of living a rehearsal for what would happen if the band finishes, it was quite a heartwarming thing.’
‘As a band, we see a new stage as a distillation of the band rather than a rebirth.’
For many acts it was make or break time, and for others still the pandemic gave them the time and space to question if they even wanted to continue. Circa Waves, Joe says, came out of that process with ‘a resounding yes.’
‘I think you can read something of that in the lyrics,’ he says. ‘As a band, we see a new stage as a distillation of the band rather than a rebirth.’
This distillation of Circa Waves comes alongside a new willingness to dig into more personal subjects. Frontman and songwriter Kieran Shuddall became a father around the beginning of the pandemic, and this change coupled with the confidence of a writer now close to a decade into his career allowed the band to express more vulnerability on Never Going Under.
Album closer Living in the Grey, released as a single shortly before Christmas, sees Kieran open up about mental health in a way the band haven’t really dug into before. Anxious, unhappy, Living in the Grey deals with the suspicion that you can’t trust the good times, and the feeling that things should be one way or the other.
‘Sonically it’s amazing, and in terms of the lyrics, it’s so personal. There’s a moment that Kieran references in the lyrics, about being in LA in the Rainbow Bar, and I remember that period. I remember talking to Kieran about it,’ says Joe. ‘I think he’s tried to put that feeling in a few songs before that never made it to the final record. I think something clicked, that changed and pushed that forward.'
Like much of the rest of the album, Living in the Grey considers these difficult experiences through the lens of the expectations of masculinity, but the broad relevance is not lost on Joe. ‘I think for anyone that’s a very relatable way of being – feeling like you should be happy,’ he says.
It’s cathartic for fans, to hear these sentiments reflected back at you. Never Going Under is stacked with these sorts of tracks – the kind that people scream along to in festival fields, letting it all out in the British summer rain. After the last couple of years, Circa Waves know that people deserve it.
‘If we’re talking about releases, now is the time for a record that feels like a release,’ says Joe. ‘It does feel like a coming out party. You know, we’re here, we’re back, but let’s also acknowledge that it hasn’t been the easiest.’