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In conversation with KAWALA

Ellie Fernyhough interviews KAWALA frontmen Jim Higson and Daniel McCarthy before their show at Hy-Brasil Music Club

By Ellie Fernyhough, Second Year Psychology

Ellie Fernyhough interviews KAWALA frontmen Jim Higson and Daniel McCarthy before their show at Hy-Brasil Music Club

Camden acoustic-duo-turned-indie-five-piece graced the stage of Hy-Brasil on friday night as the headliners of Radio 1 DJ Jack Saunders’ Hopscotch tour, which showcases young bands who are creating buzz in the indie scene. They possess a vibrant stage presence and bring sunsoaked, upbeat songs to brighten the November evening. I got a chance to chat to- and be serenaded by- frontmen Jim and Dan before their performance, bleary-eyed on the first day of tour.

Hi guys, how are you doing, tired?

Jim- 'We might’ve drank last night, so…'

So you guys met each other at music college in Leeds, right?

Dan- 'We discovered each other at Leeds, we used to party together back in Camden but didn’t realise we both did music until we got to Leeds. Then we kinda dropped out together to do music.'

Why choose to go back to London, to such a saturated market, to try to make it?

Dan- 'All the interest we were really getting was in North London; we did an acoustic set for Mahogany- like an acoustic online session- which we nearly missed because we never checked our official email. We set it up, you know, to bag the address but never expected to get anything.'

Jim- 'Then our mate called saying Mahogany wanted to do a session with us, and they ended up really getting us into the new folk-y stuff we do now.'

Dan- 'Then we deferred a year of uni, but couldn’t face the idea really of going back if we failed pursuing our dream. My grandma thinks I’m gonna go back at some point, but…'

Do you feel that just going out and doing the slog is more important for music?

Dan- 'The thing is, music uni is really important if you’re still not sure what you want to do or what your sound is, but we already had an idea.'

That’s changed now, with you putting a full band together other than just you two, right?

Jim- 'Yeah, we met the rest of the band back in North London.'

What about people who stay in uni to pursue music; do you miss anything about that part of your lives?

Dan- 'What was really cool in Leeds was you could go to a different gig every night and not miss out on anything you wanted to see. It was really vibrant like that.'

Have you ever played in Bristol before?

Dan- 'Yeah, we played dot-to-dot festival! We were in a crazy venue, in the upstairs room of SWX...which kinda looked like a strip club.'

Do you enjoy doing the city-takeover style festivals?

Dan- 'Dot-to-dot was honestly the best one we played, we’ve done all of those kind of things last year, we went to great escape in brighton and everything. For me dot-to-dot stood out, the whole going from city to city thing. Nottingham was crazy, the best gig we’ve played really.'

What’s it like having changed from an acoustic duo to a full band, when did that change happen?

Dan- 'We started as a two-piece with just some drums. Over in Europe we played in cathedrals and like, beautiful venues but we fell into a bit of a rut of playing acoustic nights'

Jim- 'We played in a LOT of churches, and there’s only a certain crowd that like that kind of stuff'

Dan- 'Clog-based audiences, really. Nothing against them! But we wanted to move out from playing acoustic sundays and stuff. It was a really easy transition'

Do you feel like you’re getting attention from different crowds as a result?

Dan- 'Oh, definitely. The thing is though it’s helped our songwriting, we make sure the song can exist as acoustic two-piece or in a full band so we aren’t overly reliant on certain tricks. It’s very grassroots.'

You seem to really be getting traction- all over the Spotify playlists!

Jim- 'Yeah we’ve been backed for a while by Spotify'

Dan- 'If they like you and keep delivering, they’ll support you. It helped so much with our first EP. to be honest, the playlists have transformed our lives in the past year.'

So now you’re working on your second EP?

Dan- 'That’s all done and ready to go! The first one was back in June and for this one there’s a real range of style. The first single Moonlight is very classical folk style but the second one will be very dance-y and fun. The aim was to create almost like a showcase of what we can do.'

What have you been listening to?

Dan- 'Well, personal inspirations for us have always been Half Moon Run and Bombay Bicycle Club. Jack Steadman [of Bombay Bicycle Club] always changed with every album not just hemming himself into one genre and it’s great. They were also from the same part of London as us, like part of the folklore of our area.'

Where is your favourite place to play?

Dan- 'Nottingham like I said was our best gig, but I’d have to say London because we’re always pulling the biggest crowds there and seeing the transition from having to like, beg your mates for tickets to selling out shows is really satisfying.'

Last question, who does your album artwork because it is beautiful?
Dan- 'He’s called Frank Morris illustrations! We’ve been friends for years and it’s been great utilising the people we know and trust rather than outsourcing things like that.'

Jim- 'It’s better to rise with your friends.'

Featured Image: KAWALA/ Mahogony Records

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