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Deaf Havana

Events

May 18 Sat
Deaf Havana7:30 PM | Doors: 7:00 PM
Knitting Factory - BrooklynBrooklyn, NY
All Ages
Tickets $15.00

Deaf Havana

James Veck-Gilodi is ready for confusion. He’s prepared, even, for outrage. Deaf Havana’s frontman and songwriter understands that some fans will be surprised by his band’s fifth album. On Rituals the hard rock of the beloved Brit-rock five-piece morphs into something more like, well, hard pop.
 
Yes, the robust riffs that characterised Top 5 album All These Countless Nights are still there. But since the release of that record, Deaf Havana are rebooted, rejuvenated and ready for the next stage of their career. Still only 28, Veck-Gilodi has shape-shifted into a songwriter and producer of rare melodic skill, while keeping a firm grasp on the rock’n’roll sensibilities and intense emotional honesty that made Deaf Havana a huge draw on the alternative rock circuit.
 
In the speedy, bold spirit of its writing and recording, he cuts to the chase: “I think these are the best songs I’ve written, lyrically honest and in-depth.”
 
For Veck-Gilodi, Rituals is a departure on multiple levels. The band’s last album was five years in the making – we can blame the old cliché of record company politics for that – and recorded with the whole band, live. Rituals was written and recorded in little over three months and is largely the solo work of the frontman.
 
It’s a band record, for sure,” he clarifies, “but it’s a very personal, solo journey, a laying to rest something for me. I normally write about the same things, which are personal experiences, but this time I knew I wanted to theme the whole thing. So I used religious themes as a metaphor – a metaphor for me being a complete arsehole at times I guess!” he laughs, as down-to-earth as ever and quick to puncture any sense of pretentiousness.
 
He reinforced that thematic framework by firstly coming up with 13 song titles. “That gave me something to aim for. It was a way of me coming up with a chorus or hook, using the word, or themes suggested by that word – so, Wake, Sinner, Ritual, Hell, Holy, Saviour”, he says, detailing Ritual’s first six tracks.
 
I’d never written like that before. In fact, everything about making this album was brand new. Normally I write on an acoustic guitar, but this time I was writing a lot on a computer, and doing a lot of the production myself. I wouldn’t say I felt confident doing that – I didn’t have a clue what I was doing it at first! But, well, we got there…”
 
Deaf Havana finished touring their fourth album in late November 2017. A dozen years after forming at school in Norfolk, the band had had their best year. Asked for highlights, Veck-Gilodi has a few: “Germany really grew for us – the ticket sales pretty much doubled for us from the start of the year to the end.
 

 
 
 
And I know it’s lame and I honestly don’t really care about these things, but the fact that we got a Top Five UK album off the back of no radio play and the backing of no one influential – I was really chuffed with that.”  Last year brought another breakthrough, a Glastonbury appearance, on the Other Stage.  “That felt like an achievement – a band like us doesn't normally get on festivals like that; usually we do all the alternative rock festivals. We also did some arena shows in Europe with Kings Of Leon. They were super-nice. We’ve been on tour with bands that can be really stingy, but they really looked after us – we were really well stocked every night, if you know what I mean”, he grins.
 
Veck-Gilodi duly ended the year on a high, and immediately ready to rock all over again. Well, pretty much. “Because the last album was five years in the making, I was dreading starting this one. That was a niggling thought at the back of my mind: how am I going to write another album? I took all my recording stuff on tour, determined to write and record, and obviously I didn’t, I just got drunk, ’cause I’m a moron. 
 
Back home off the road, at best he had “four demos of budget shit rock music, which weren’t even good enough for b-sides. I didn’t write anything good all year.”  So, in January 2018, he was back home in North London, with a blank sheet of paper. Aside from those four demos there was part of one song that was semi-useable. And that, pretty much, was it.
 
In an attempt to help Veck-Gilodi un-jam his mojo, Deaf Havana’s front-of-house engineer, Phil Gornell invited the singer to his home in Sheffield, where he has a studio, Steel City Studios.  “I went up for what was meant to be three days, just to demo and ended up staying there for three months. It was just me and Phil for the most part, writing and recording. Coming up with really bad ideas, deleting them. Coming up with better ones and keeping them.”
 
The rest of the band – his brother Matthew (guitar), Lee Wilson (bass), Tom Ogden (drums), Max Britton (keyboards) – would join them for recording, “but the backbone of it was me and Phil in a dark room in Sheffield.”
 
Phil thinks about music differently to me,” he explains of their creative chemistry. “He doesn’t care about lyrics, he’s more about melodies. Whereas I’ll get hung up on one lyric for ages. He helped me get over stuff like that.”  James expands: “I don’t think I would have written this if Phil hadn’t helped me – he did unblock something. Ideas that I might have dismissed as crap, he helped me develop into actual songs. And it makes sense: he sees and hears me perform every night on tour. He knows me and my tastes inside out. He was kinda perfect.”
 
Deaf Havana set themselves a goal: finish recording by early April, put the album out by August, “otherwise you’ve lost the year. And we did it.”  The gateway track was that semi-useable snippet. It became Ritual, (almost) the album title track, an electronic-flavoured song where the feeling of colourful uplift belies the darkness at its heart.
 
“I’ve kicked depression,” admits a musician who has previously discussed his issues with anxiety in the pages of various publications. “Not fully, but I’m alright. It has been an ongoing thing, but I’m better with it now. I eat healthily and do some exercise… And to be honest, the whole record is retrospective. That song is me looking back, and it’s a cathartic processing of those darker feelings. As soon as I recorded it I felt a weight lifted.”
 
 
That sense of enthusiasm and moving-forward is also encapsulated in first single Sinner. It’s blessed with the contribution of the London Contemporary Choir, who also appear on four other tracks, Heaven and the album opening “overture” Wake, as well as second single Holy, and Saint.
 
Sinner is really poppy,” Veck-Gilodi cheerfully acknowledges, “and it is far removed from our previous stuff. But not as much as some of the other songs, like Fear, which you might say is almost dance-y.
 
Hell is another departure. “We were just pissing around with drum loops. We were thinking of that Placebo song Pure Morning, which is one note, a drone, and wondered if we could do something like that.”
 
And that again is about treating people like shit. The whole record is a mea culpa, about my entire touring life before the last album. This whole record is an amalgamation of past versions of myself. Some of it is a bit elaborated, so it’s loosely fictional in that sense.”
 
I do think I was having these poppier moments because I felt liberated by being in a better personal place,” he expands. “But really, also, I didn’t plan this – they just came out like that. There was no grand plan – ‘how will our band get big?’” he laughs. “Writing these melodies on the computer was quite accidental.”
 
This summer Deaf Havana will be unveiling their new songs on one of the biggest stages you can get: Reading/Leeds Festivals, where they play their 2018 UK Festival exclusive, second only to Pendulum on the Radio 1 stage.
 
Before that, James Veck-Gilodi is aware that, to tour Rituals, they’re gonna need a bigger kit. “We do already have keyboards, and my brother Matty and I can both play keyboards. But some of those weird drums sounds mean we do need invest in some more gear. I don’t want to just shove it on a computer.”
 
They’re also working up the visual side of things. Each song on Rituals is accompanied by a symbol (“no, they’re not demonic summonings!”), while the album packaging features the work of young artist/photographer Wolf James, specifically her exhibition My Love Is Lethal (“that would have made a great alternative title for the album”).
 
Concept, titles, writing, recording, speed, images, sound, vibe: the whole Rituals package is exactly what James Veck-Gilodi set out to do on Deaf Havana’s fifth album.
 
“I wanted to create something drastic,” he states, thrilled at the outcome, “and not do another middle-of-the-road rock record. I’m up for the hatred from some fans, and I’m up for gaining new fans. But when fans listen to it, after their initial terror, I think they’ll realise that the lyrics are as personal and intense as they’ve always been. And I’ve always written songs with pop structures – I’ve just masked them in other ways.”
 
It’s the first album I’ve made purely for myself,” he concludes. “This is the music I wanted to make, now, and I haven’t compromised at all. These are the songs I wanted to write, and the ones I want people to hear.”
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