Kieran Shudall, lead singer and songwriter of UK indie mainstays Circa Waves, talks about infusing their latest album ‘Never Going Under’ with joy, simplicity, and an unflappable optimism despite the world crumbling around us.
Stream: “Never Going Under” – Circa Waves
If you only focus on the terrible things, you won’t be energized to go out in the world and make it a better place.
Have you looked outside recently?
In many ways, it feels like the end times. Temperatures are rising along with sea levels; fascist reactionary movements threaten to overturn democracy worldwide. And that doesn’t even mention runaway inflation, that’s diminishing everyone’s ability to afford a comfortable life. Gazing ahead thirty, twenty, even ten years feels like a bleak prospect. Is optimism anything but naivety at this point?
Humanity bears responsibility for much destruction, but despite the paths we have taken into the abyss, a glimmer of light always persists. Hope. We push back against the mightiest obstacles and the bleakest odds because we hold on to even the smallest chance that tomorrow will be brighter. The waves but we still shout against the tempest that we are never going under.
There’s a light in a tunnel
There’s hearts in trouble
Two minds in a bubble
There’s a sky that’s burning
There’s a future that needs earning
There’s tables that need turning
Such is the optimism that burns hot at the core of Never Going Under, the fifth album by UK indie rock juggernauts Circa Waves. Last we heard of Kieran Shudall (lead vocals, guitar), Sam Rourke (bass), Collin Jones (drums), and Joe Falconer (lead guitar), they unleashed their contemplative, celebratory, and breathless album Sad Happy on the world literal hours before it shut its doors.
Oddly enough, its conflicted look at the disaffecting grip of modernity became a suiting anthem for our COVID-wrought world. But time inside led to a new kind of conflict, one bolstered by a wavering flame of hope.
“I wanted [the new album] to be an act of resilience,” Shudall says. “All this mad stuff’s going on, but we’re not going to give up and we’re going to try and fight it.”
Now a father, Shudall finds himself thinking a lot about the world his son will be growing up in. While the dark patches are many, he wanted to capture reasons to press on.
That’s how Never Going Under began to take shape.
From the first driving, fuzz-laden chords of the eponymous album opener, that purpose and optimism are on full display. Beginning with a gallop, it leans full-on into a sprint with “Do You Wanna Talk” and “Hell on Earth.” Circa Waves almost doesn’t give the listener a chance to breathe between one marathon leg and the other. It’s fast, breathless pop chronicling the fall of civilization around us, but with an ear-to-ear grin.
Since they burst into ear canals the world-over with their ode to California sunshine “T-Shirt Weather,” the band has always been a reliable source of escapism. While they have dabbled in social consciousness and contemplation before, they’ve never done so with urgency on display in Never Going Under. It’s a brisk 35 minutes with hooks galore and a sparkling fuse to light a fire of resistance. It isn’t a reaction to any specific political movement, social ailment, or modern woe, but to the dying light itself. The future is only bright if we believe in it.
But I’m living in the grey
I’m living in the grey
In short, Never Going Under is the best the band have been in nearly a decade.
From the pop simplicity of “Hell on Earth,” to the celebratory singalong “Carry You Home,” and the crisis of existential faith in “Living in the Grey,” it lays bare the anxieties of 2023 and comes out the other side still cradling the flame.
“Believing that it’s going to get better can make you feel better,” asserts Shudall. And Never Going Under raises that banner high.
Kieran Shudall sat down with Atwood Magazine to discuss the writing process behind the album, where he hopes the band will go from here, and keeping hope alive during “uncertain times.” Check out the full conversation below:
Stream: ‘Never Going Under’ – Circa Waves
A CONVERSATION WITH CIRCA WAVES
Atwood Magazine: Let's start with the obvious. This is the first album you've written after a global trauma that we all lived through. I'm wondering how you think that affected your creative process?
Kieran Shudall: Yeah, I spoke to a lot of people who write songs, and everyone seemed to use that period of time to be fully prolific and write as much as possible. But it was bad in loads of other ways.
So why don't we start talking about Never Going Under? Sonically, lyrically, thematically, what new ground do you think you're breaking on this album?
Kieran Shudall: To me, it’s always led by production. I’m kind of obsessed with drum sounds and stuff. I’m always looking for big, modern, and retro ’80s drum samples. That was the thing that progressed from the last record. That album felt a little bit more indie in its sound. This one still sounds indie, but it leans heavier into modern disco drums. There’s an online app thing called Splice, which has got tons of drums and tons of the samples. I got lost in it quite a bit.
In terms of how we’ve changed or breaking new ground, I don’t really try to do that necessarily, but I certainly try and perfect and refine what Circa Waves is. That comes from writing a lot. I get inspired by the simplicity of pop music and how direct it is. I try to bring that into our music a little bit.
What were some of your musical inspirations this time around? Do you feel like you moved into different territory with your taste and how you wanted to express yourself?
Kieran Shudall: I certainly wanted to strip it back and be a bit simpler. Our first tune we released from the record “Hell on Earth” has two chords. It doesn’t get any more basic really.
I was listening to a lot of The Dandy Warhols and I was watching this documentary called “Dig!,” which is about them and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. I got a bit obsessed with that and wanted to create this California rock, driving in new car sort of feeling.
I watched the music video for “Do You Wanna Talk” and I really like that concept. Can you talk a little bit about how that idea came to you and Joe?
Kieran Shudall: Well, it was predominantly Joe, to be honest, I didn’t really do much in terms of conceptualizing. He’s just got one of these directors brains where he can make odd videos that sort of make you think while being fun. The phone/hand thing was just a funny idea. He’s probably watched too much “Rick and Morty” or something and his brain’s a little scrambled.
I like the idea that our phones have become extensions of ourselves. It’s often something that gets bemoaned, but there’s something playful about the way that idea is conveyed in the video.
Kieran Shudall: Yeah, it’s almost like a dark sci-fi movie, but it’s dressed up as like a silly indie video.
You said that the album “speaks to that uniquely modern phenomenon of genuinely not knowing what type of world our kids are going to find themselves in in 30 years.” What do you grapple with the most when you meditate on that?
Kieran Shudall: There are so many levels to that question. Rising sea levels are genuinely terrifying. Nuclear war is scary. Those are the top of the top of the list, terrible stuff, but everybody knows that.
In a smaller sense, it’s social media, I think is pretty toxic for young people, and having a kid and wondering what social media could be like in 15 years. That idea terrifies me. Because I’ve only been on it since I was a full adult. So for kids to be going through it from the age of 10, what’s that going to do to their attention spans? I mean, mine has completely gone from using TikTok.
Is there perhaps an optimism in calling it “Never Going Under?”
Kieran Shudall: I wanted it to be an act of resilience. All this mad stuff’s going on, but we’re not going to give up and we’re going to try and fight it. As soon as I wrote the track “Never Going Under,” it felt that was a good motto for the album.
What do you think we can do to help bring that optimistic vision to life?
Kieran Shudall: It’s a lot about mindset. Believing that it’s going to get better can make you feel better. Maybe don’t read the news as much. Try to focus more on the bright spots.
I read recently that the ozone layer is pretty much healed. Years ago, it was a huge crisis and people don’t really talk about that anymore. But it’s on its way to healing. No one talks about the good stuff, the things that are positive. Obviously, we have loads more to do bringing down carbon emissions et cetera, but if you only focus on the terrible things, you won’t be energized to go out in the world and make it a better place. You need to reward people with the good things.
Throw them a bone occasionally.
Kieran Shudall: Exactly. You don’t teach people by telling them what they’ve done wrong all the time. You teach them by congratulating them what they do well.
You don’t teach people by telling them what they’ve done wrong all the time. You teach them by congratulating them what they do well.
So let's not think about 30 years in the future for a second. What about 15? Where do you think Circa Waves will be in that time?
Kieran Shudall: Oh, my goodness. I’ll be an old man. 15 years? I don’t know, mate. I don’t think that far ahead. I can barely imagine what I’m going to do in January, let alone 15 years. I think I’m surprised that we’re we’ve nearly made it to 10 years as a band. Which is mad to me.
When I first got signed, I thought like, “Oh, cool. I’m an indie band. That’s about two, three years of work and then I’ll get a real job and get on with my life.” And now this is still going. 15 years? Who knows. For myself, I love writing songs and making music. I know I’ll still be doing that because it’s my obsession. And I’ll be 50 in 15 years. So, I hope that like every now and again, there’s a little CIrca Waves gig and I can rock along on stage.
What accomplishment are you most proud of as a band since you started ten years ago?
Kieran Shudall: In the UK we we’ve maintained at a high level for quite some time. A lot of the artists we started with have either dropped away or gone smaller. I mean, some of them have gotten quite bigger too, but you know, we’re still selling. When we go on tour in the UK, we’re still selling thousands of tickets everywhere. And that’s great. That means that our music is still connecting with people after all these years, and people haven’t got bored. Being in a band for a long time and people still liking it is the best thing I can imagine. It means that we’re doing something right.
And what haven't you accomplished yet as a band that you want to in the coming years?
Kieran Shudall: I would love to sell some tickets in America. We do okay there, but it’s nothing compared to the UK. I would love to be able to come to America and sell two thousand tickets in every city we go to. That would be a dream for me.
But obviously once you get to that point, you probably want to sell four thousand tickets. There will always be the next thing. We play to a few hundred people right now, but it’s hard to for any UK bands to come and do well over there.
We have loads more to do bringing down carbon emissions etc., but if you only focus on the terrible things, you won’t be energized to go out in the world and make it a better place. You need to reward people with the good things.
What’s up next for Circa Waves? Do you plan to tour on this album?
Kieran Shudall: We’ve got America in March, and the UK in January and February, then your February. It’s quite small one. We’re doing New York and a few places, then LA and a few places. I don’t think we’re going through the middle this time.
For fans of Atwood Magazine’s Tunes & Tumblers podcast, how would you describe this era of Circa Waves as a drink?
Kieran Shudall: Good question. A whiskey sour, I think. That’s probably my favorite cocktail. It’s strong, it’s punchy, and kind of fruity with all the lemon in it. It’s like a smack in the face, but it’s also a hug at the same time.
A smack in the face and a hug. I love that
Watch: “Never Going Under” – Circa Waves
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