Starting this weekend, Deaf Havana begin their run of UK Record Store performances in support of their sixth studio album The Present Is A Foreign Land, an album that almost never saw the light of day... Two years ago, following a tumultuous tour and growing tensions within the band, brothers James and Matthew Veck-Gilodi would have told you that there would never be another Deaf Havana album, as they found themselves parting ways just before the world went in to lockdown.
This is not the first time the band have been in a position of uncertainty. A similar cloud loomed over their second album, but where most would expect a band to crumble; Deaf Havana came back stronger, with the music to prove it. Now, after months away from the band and each other, it seems that they have found themselves ready to reconsider what they wanted to do, and time apart seems to have been exactly the remedy they needed to return to their former creative selves.
Speaking to the boys, they have kept the same dry, self-deprecating humour that they have always had, but there is a sense of vulnerability, honesty and contentment with this record that gives a whole new lease on life for Deaf Havana. The album is followed by a long-awaited UK headline tour at the end of the year and it seems as though perhaps the present is becoming less and less foreign by the day.
Take us back to 2020, you almost broke up? What happened there?
James: End of 2019, we had just finished our tour, and basically everyone was just fucking done with each other. Everyone was pissed off with me, really. Nothing was making us happy. So, just before lockdown we decide to quit. We always said the minute it stops making you happy, we need to stop doing it.
Then, basically what happens when you quit a band is that everyone wants to cash in their debts, so Summer 2020 we had shows booked in, but then COVID happened, they obviously got cancelled, and we didn’t have to address it anymore…
Matthew: I did nothing musically for the first part of lockdown. James and I hadn’t spoken for a year… Later, I started writing a bit more seriously and realised that this is what I really wanted to do. I sent James some stuff, we took the song and went into the studio. That turned into “maybe we could do an EP…” A couple of weeks later we had a bunch of songs together, all of a sudden we had a record and it felt like we shouldn’t stop, really.
So, there was a tension between you two as well as the rest of the band?
J: Yeah, quite a lot
M: We were just in super different places at the end of 2019. The other thing is; for the most part our relationship as brothers has been great. When people say “oh, it must be difficult being in a band like that”, it hasn’t been like that at all. And it was just because, throughout that year, I know James was struggling and drinking a lot when we were on tour, and I was struggling as a result trying to sort stuff out, going to therapy and NOT drinking. So, we were quite diametrically opposed.
J: We were just opposite ends of the spectrum.
M: Stuff happens. I think I just need to give all a bit of distance now. Everyone had a bit of distance from everything over lockdown, to gain a slightly different perspective that you’re not always afforded.
I heard that after you wrote the music, you considered putting it out as a different project? What was the name going to be?
J: I was more concerned about the negative feelings that we had attached to Deaf Havana. I didn’t want them to carry over into the new stuff and set ourselves up to fail, really. And I am guilty of that, I do it all the time and I still have to check myself. If we changed our name though, we would have to literally start again. We wouldn’t be able to play any bigger shows… Not that that’s all it’s about, but the negatives really just outweighed the positives to changing it.
M: For me, it’s just how the songs felt as well. Once we got stuck into the writing, it just felt like the best version of what this band should be basically, so it made perfect sense.
How was that whole writing process? You guys have always progressed sonically on each album, what was the intention here?
M: I reckon this was just the first time we didn’t say “let’s try and sound like this”.
M: I didn’t really listen to any guitar-based music for the first year of lockdown.
J: I didn’t listen to really ANY music. While we were recording and writing the album, I wasn’t listening to music AT ALL so there wasn’t really anything for me to copy. Whereas previously, I’m always like “hmm that seems to be doing well, why don’t we make a record that sounds like that” and it never worked because people can sort of see through it. This is the first time we’ve ever written an album that is just music that we wanted to write.
M: Each song for me, was trying to fill a hole of a song that I wanted to hear. It sounds so lame and obvious, but it felt mad being able to go “well what do I want to listen to?” and kinda make that happen. We didn’t really set ourselves any markers as to what we wanted this to sound like - if a song came out that sounded a bit different, we didn’t stop it to try to make it sound like anything else, we just kinda ran with it.
What songs are the defining songs on this record?
J: I think there’s a few. For me, the song Nevermind was a defining moment, where I was like “maybe I do wanna keep writing music”. My favourite song though I reckon is probably Track 7. It’s just fucking weird. It’s a little dance song that Matty wrote and I basically sang a poem over it. It doesn’t really make any conventional sense, but I think it’s probably the best lyrics I’ve ever written to be honest.
Sorry, jog my memory, which track is that?
J: I’m not singing it… The name of the song is Someone/Somewhere, it has feature from the band IDER.
Oh yes, that song has something about it - the lyrics feel like they flow into each other, it didn’t feel like separate sentiments.
M: Exactly, when I had the instrumental, I sent it to James and said “how do you feel about putting some stream-of-conciousness stuff as it comes out over it”.
Well, the album is great lads, lets depart from the deep stuff. This is a game called: THEN & NOW.
THEN: Favourite Tour you’ve ever been on VS NOW: Who you want to go on tour with?
M: It’s gotta be SoundWave 2013. Aw, it was amazing! It was the first time we’d been to Australia, we got there the tail end of the Summer so it was roasting, and it was back when this travelling festival was still a really big thing.
J: It was 5-star hotels, everywhere on flights so we had loads of days off. The second day we got there, Metallica hosted a BBQ for everyone.
M: It was just beserk. The most amazing tour. At one of the festival sites there was a Wombat backstage and snake that you could hang out with. It was just great. And, it was at a time in our lives like, I was 19, you’d have been 22, James. We were in the middle of making Old Souls and we were just on the wave of “Oh my God, this is great”.
J: It was just so much fun, that was by far the best tour.
J: Who would I want to tour with? It’s hard. It depends on the reason… It could be because you want to meet someone because you’re a big fan, or because you think it could further your career, haha…
M: The problem is, we’d have always said Kings of Leon and then we were lucky enough to do a bunch.
J: I would do a whole tour with KoL, that’d be perfect.
THEN: Favourite song you’ve ever written VS NOW: the next song you feel like you need to write.
J: Favourite song I’ve written is, probably Nevermind off this album. The song I need to write? I don’t know… Something that gets us a shit load of streams or radio play so we can actually live off this.
M: Ahaha, nah I don’t know how to quantify it, but I’m getting to a point where I’m about to write bunch of music again (without sounding too mental if you know what I mean). For us, we’ve always been guilty of doing a record, having a big gap and then doing another record. We definitely want to stay a bit busier and keep creatively active, because it’s fun making music.
Finally, here at NP, ND! there’s a segment called ‘Music History 101’, if you have to pick an Icon/Legend/Underated-Hero to write an article about: who would you choose?
M: Trent Reznor
J: John Frusciante from Red Hot Chilli Peppers
The Present Is A Foreign Land is released 15th July. Pre-order here.
15 - Kingston Pryzm w/ Banquet Records 16 - Liverpool Phase One w/ Jacaranda Records 17 - Leeds Key Club w/ Crash records 19 - Sheffield Church w/ Beartree Records 20 - Southampton Joiners w/ Vinilo Records 21 - Brighton Resident Records