INTERVIEW: Deaf Havana | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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I was on a bridge in Singapore, thinking of jumping / Then I looked up at the skyline / And it reminded me of London”

The opening lines of Deaf Havana’s sixth album, The Present Is A Foreign Land, conjures up an immediate image.  A palpable emotion springs from the hushed, melancholic lyric, precariously incorporating disparity and hope in a balancing act which Deaf Havana sustain throughout the album. 

As singer James Veck-Gilodi cites his very real experience on that Singapore bridge as a turning point personally, opening the album signifies a change sonically, thematically and emotionally for the band. 

After the release of their fifth album, Deaf Havana were on the precipice of collapse; a cocktail of chaos, a lack of identity, a self destructive lifestyle and complete exhaustion had left brothers James and Matthew worn dry. Elaborating, James explained: “I hated the whole thing. I hated touring, I hated the circuit, I hated the whole bullshit process of it all. We’d release an album I wasn’t proud of and would play shows I wasn’t proud of. A gig always felt like something we had to get out of the way in order to throw a party, it was the obligation that led to the good bit. Then it was back in the studio doing something else for someone else.”

The personal moment of James’ anagnorisis which is documented in opening track Pocari Sweat caused a wave of change, encouraging the brothers to return once more. During the pandemic, the process snowballed from one song to another. “This was different. Recording felt fun, it felt personal. Everyone thought the band was over, so there was no pressure. There was nobody breathing down our neck, it was organic. We could take time, trial things, discuss things, feel things. The entire experience was less corporate.” 

As the album took shape, the collaboration between the two brothers shaped into something new, something distinct from previous albums. James continues: “This was far more of a team project,  Mike Horner just got it from a production standpoint and I think Matthew might have taken the reins and written more than me on this album. It gave me so much more energy, I could step back and enjoy the project as a fan, soak up the lyrics without overthinking or over complicating my own words. Despite doing five albums together already, this was the first album we did as brothers. It’s the first I’m proud of.” 

Despite doing five albums together already, this was the first album we did as brothers. It’s the first I’m proud of

Interjecting briefly, guitarist Matthew Veck-Gilodi quips: “I think we, as any musician does, have had a tendency to plagiarise, or garner inspiration from music pretty recklessly, I think this is the first album that sounds completely like Deaf Havana. It’s our story, it’s our sound. Avoiding music was a conscious choice to stop anything filtering in, we ended up falling down rabbit holes of shitty audiobooks and podcasts instead!”

As the brothers take turns discussing their newfound passion for the band, everything they touch on resonates. Their candour while discussing the monotony and tiresome lifestyle they’d become absorbed by is all the more tangible when countered by the zeal in which they discuss their future. “The live shows are a completely different experience,” the brothers agree. “We used to hate it, try our hardest to get it over with and move on. Now I’m there, beginning to end, enjoying every second of it. With the band, the direction, the sound and the songs, everything about the tour feels and sounds better.” 

Promoting an album that details your inner demons, substance abuse and your rehabilitation can be no easy feat, yet James has taken it in his stride, finding the process cathartic. “These songs resonate, more than anything we’ve written before. The new album should be the toughest to play live, but in reality it’s the opposite, the crowd really respond to it. Being able to enjoy Matty’s lyrics each night, and see them touch people, it makes the night. I enjoy doing what I do, our gigs are fun, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that before!”

With every anecdote or memory shared, it’s clear that the band have reached a new chapter in their life. As the album perfectly documents, this is a chapter of hope, rehabilitation, ambition and excitement, with each of these themes bubbling to the forefront of the band’s new ethos, there is no better time to see this revitalised era of Deaf Havana.

Deaf Havana play NX Newcastle on Tuesday 15th November.


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