Liv: So we are here with KAWALA, or 40 percent of KAWALA, we’re here with Jim and with Daniel
Liv: Hello! Now, I believe you two are the founding members of KAWALA
Daniel: Yeah, there from the beginning
Liv: So I guess we’ll start there, at the beginning, because you were two acoustic gentlemen
Daniel: We were two acoustic gentlemen, that’s fair to say
Jim: In many ways we still are
Daniel: We just have non-acoustic friends
Liv: (laughs) So you started as a two-piece and you were playing bars and churches all over
Jim: A lot of churches
Liv: So what then made you go from your two-piece to ringing up your mates and going ‘We’re done with the acoustic sets, we want to do all of the full band stuff’?
Jim: There was a ceiling to the capacity of the shows that we were doing. Like we mentioned, lot of churches, and we wanted to leave that scene behind. It’s all well and good, and it’s nice to have those intimate shows, but we wanted to play larger shows. We got to a level where we were playing bigger shows but we’re still in this acoustic setting and it just wasn’t translating as well as we would’ve liked it to
Liv: What wasn’t translating?
Jim: Well, when we were playing bigger venues, we started playing with Ben, who plays drums, and he was playing a cajon [box-shaped percussion instrument] and we were just like ‘We need to upscale to a drum kit’ and then when you add a drum kit, you need to add a bass and when you add a bass you need to add all the other elements and it gradually grew into the wonderful arrangement we have now
Daniel: I think also even as we expanded, it was important to have at its core, it still maintained the acoustic-led, two vocals sort of folkiness as we expanded around it. I think
this was always what we were, this was how we started and we’ve built on that rather than changed in any way
Liv: Well, it’s fair to say you can still hear it. There’s a track [‘Sailor’] in the middle of the album that’s just fully acoustic and that’s one of my favourites
Daniel: Yeah, I think that was always the thing that we wanted to make sure we cover with our music, with our songwriting we always wanted to make sure it still existed in that acoustic format for it to really feel like a consistent ‘us’ song and then also when it came to building an album we always wanted to showcase the range of things that we do, so having a song like ‘Sailor’ in the middle of the album was always really important to show our acoustic side
Jim: It’s like an ode to the roots of what KAWALA began from. We kind of treated the album like we would treat a live show, so if you come and see us play live, we do the big band full arrangement stuff but we will have those moments where we strip it back to just me and Daniel for a moment and just sing one of the acoustic songs
Liv: What would you say makes a KAWALA song? Obviously, you guys have got the acoustics, I also read somewhere you guys went by ‘indie meets folk meets afrobeat’
Jim: Well that’s exactly it. We have quite an eclectic sound and I think that derives from- Every time we played with another member of KAWALA who now makes up the band- When it was just me and Dan, Ben came along who plays drums and was mirroring what Dan does on the acoustic and he’s Ghanaian and he’s got this incredible way of playing drums, his parents were percussionists and it just slotted in incredibly well. And then because of- All the members in KAWALA, we all have different tastes in music, and everyone brought their own thing to the band, but it fitted in perfectly (to Daniel) do you know what I mean?
Liv: You said you guys have a lot of different musical influences, what kind of stuff are you listening to? When I’m listening to the album, I’m hearing Bombay Bicycle Club, I’m hearing old Two Door Cinema Club a little bit, what are you listening to?
Daniel: It’s always funny, I don’t think genre-wise, apart from like Bombay, obviously we’re massive superfans of Bombay and that indie scene, I don’t think any of us are massive listeners of that kind of music, we’ve just taken a range of influence from a lot of older music and then quite a lot of pop music as well. In terms of what we’re listening to at the moment… I don’t really know!
Jim: We listen to all sorts of stuff
Daniel: Yeah, the average playlist in the van when we’re driving is just- we’ll be flipping between…
Jim: Inspiration can come from so many different places. First and foremost me and Daniel are songwriters and we love writing music, and on the album there is a range of different styles of songs. If you take ‘Good Like This’, for example, Daniel came with this idea, he was like ‘Look, I’ve been listening to a lot of Drake this week. I’d love to try and channel that sexiness and write a Drake song’ and so we sat down and we really enjoyed it and it ended up making the album because we love that song now.
Daniel: What the world needed, accidentally, we didn’t realise was maybe a Drake inspired song by a load of kids from North London
Liv: I love that, a nice indie Drake tribute. I’ll be waiting on the drill track that you guys release
Jim: (laughs) We’re waiting for that inspiration to hit us but I’m sure it will
Liv: So when you were making the album, it’s mostly new songs but it has a couple of old ones on there. Most notably for me was ‘Ticket To Ride’, which came out in 2020. So when that song first came out, were you then thinking ‘Right, we’re making an album, we’re doing this’. Was that always on the cards?
Jim: Well, we were having those album discussions at…
Daniel: At the beginning of 2020. And I think we were- we had a rough list of what we wanted to be on the album, and then it was actually- I think it was lockdown that really shook things up, because we were like ‘Okay well we have all this music ready to go but is this as good as it can be?’ and then suddenly, for the first time ever because in the music industry its so fast paced, there’s so much going on, you never really get a minute to think, all of a sudden we had this window where we could just focus on writing and trying to improve our craft and in a matter of not very long we realised that we’d just replaced almost all of that old album list with a new list
Jim: Except for ‘Ticket To Ride’
Daniel: Well, with ‘Ticket’, and ‘Hold Back The Years’ actually, with ‘Ticket’ it was a kind of mixed thing. Because it came out in lockdown, we didn’t feel like it reached the full potential of what it maybe had, we don’t know obviously, but when we released it, it was a bit of a weird time and then obviously it got pushed because it went on FIFA [FIFA 21] and it got love from that so I think…
Jim: We believed in it quite a lot and we love that song so- It didn’t inspire the album but we knew when we’d written that we had written something that we love and that we felt was special so when we did start putting the album together, I think that and ‘Hold Back The Years’ were the only two songs that remained from the original list. ‘Hold Back The Years’ is the oldest song on the album, it’s worth mentioning, and when we wrote that we were like ‘This would be the perfect album intro!’ and it has been
Daniel: I think we’ve always thought about stuff with an album in mind, like even with our early EPs we tried to treat them like mini albums. So I think it was always potentially on the cards but it’s a little bit surreal that’s it’s actually happened now
Liv: Was there a sense of pressure when ‘Ticket To Ride’ started picking up traction, got put on FIFA, do you reckon there was a point where you said ‘Oh sugar, now we’ve got to get something out’. You said you had a lot of material so were you then thinking ‘We can just slowly release it all now’?
Daniel: Honestly no, because at that time we were all stuck indoors. We’re so gig focused, so the loss of that was a real wound. When ‘Ticket’ came out it was more of a relief than anything, getting on FIFA was more of a ‘Oh, that’s exactly what we needed’ rather than a ‘Uh-oh, what do we do now?’. Do you know what I mean? I think it got us back on track a little bit, back to where we wanted to be.
Liv: That must be such a weird e-mail, or just an out of the blue phone call, ‘Yeah, you’re going to be on FIFA’
Daniel: (laughs) Yeah I remember when they told us it was a bit of ‘What? Come on then, yes!’
Jim: Dan always that it’s the first time that our friends took our music career seriously
Liv: (laughs) Because they’re playing the game and then hearing you guys in the background
Daniel: Exactly, I was getting messages from the most random old mates saying ‘Fair play, you’re taking it seriously now’, I was like ‘Yeah, been doing it for years too’
Liv: (laughs) Well clearly you are taking it seriously now, you’ve got the album out, it’s fully formed. Now that you’ve pushed your baby out into the world, what’s the reception been like?
Daniel: It’s been so good!
Jim: Just really nice
Daniel: We entered the charts at 13th which is pretty cool, the reviews have great, and more importantly to us the reviews from friends and family have been super good
Jim: It’s interesting, we’ve been working on this for like a year, and you listen to it religiously every day and you obsess over it and you lose sight of- you wish you could hear it for the first time again. But what’s really reaffirmed our belief in it is hearing the fans’ response to it. We’ve been on this record store tour at the moment and fans just telling us how much they like it has made us realise and fall back and love with it in a way where it’s now something to be proud of
Liv: When you’re looking for a fresh perspective, who’s the one person you might send your music to or be like ‘Hey, can you tell me this isn’t awful?’
Jim: (laughs) That’s a good question
Daniel: I’ve just got a select few mates that I know will get the balance right with being honest and also the biggest hype people
Jim: Yeah it’d be my closest mate too, my mate Stan, he’d give me an honest opinion. He’s told me before when we’ve written a song, ‘That’s terrible’, and I’ll be like ‘Thanks, I appreciate it’
Daniel: And normally when he says that, it means that we’re on to a winner
Jim: (laughs) No, not at all
Liv: That must be good, getting that honest perspective from people you know
Daniel: It’s actually not, I hate it when people are honest (laughs) even if we need it. All I want is a positive response and then I’m like ‘Okay cool, cheers’
Jim: (laughs) He just wants to hear what he wants to hear
Liv: It’s not about what you want, it’s about what you need
Daniel: (laughs) Exactly, yeah
Liv: Now, looking forward, what might be next for KAWALA? I know you guys are going on tour soon
Jim: That’s what we’re most excited for next, we’re just getting ready for the album tour
Liv: You did say you like the live shows, is that where you guys thrive then?
Daniel: That’s what we do it for, really. It’s awesome, with the album out we can give it this…
Jim: It’s where we feel like we shine, it’s like the best showcase of who we are as a band and what our music is like. And we haven’t had a chance to play the album to anyone in full arrangement yet. On this tour we’ve stripped it right back to just acoustic instruments, so we’re excited to jump around on stage, work out the dance moves for each song (laughs)
Liv: Finally, we’re at a point in time where there’s so much music out there, even in the indie scene, so to quote another great interviewer, why should people care about KAWALA?
Daniel: Uh, well, they don’t need to, but we’d like them to. I guess it’s- I don’t know how to
answer that directly. We’re a pretty open group, our gigs are super inclusive, everyone seems to feel pretty safe, it’s…
Jim: We’re incredibly normal as well, so if you’re into bands and you want to go and see them live and you want to meet them, we’re down. Catch us for a pint afterwards, you know? We make nice music for other normal people as well
Liv: I like that. KAWALA: A Normal Band For Normal People. Excellent. I guess we’ll go and get a pint now, then.
‘Better With You’, the debut album by KAWALA, is out now. See them live at the O2 Institute Birmingham on the 11th of April 2022.