Image Credit: KAWALA, Chuffmedia
I had heard some of KAWALA’s music before, ‘Do it like you do’, ‘Funky’, the main ones. But I won’t lie and pretend I was some kind of super fan or in fact anywhere near that. So, when I found out midday on Tuesday that I’d be speaking to the band that evening I went into hyper-research mode, putting their entire Spotify on repeat for the rest of the day and reading everything I could find written about them online.
What I was not prepared for when I headed into town that evening was how utterly charming those boys would be. Sitting down with KAWALA’s two front men Daniel McCarthy and Jim Higson had me smitten, the nicest lads who were so welcoming and funny that I’m only a little embarrassed to say I’ve been gushing about them all week. Alongside what appeared to be a uniform of oversized office trousers, Dr Martens and one hoop earring the pair were both sporting, Dan was also wearing a neon blue bum bag which he referred to as his ’mobile chemist’. Nursing a cold during a tour doesn’t seem to be unusual with Jim joking ‘is it even a tour if Dan’s not ill?’
Down in The Basement beneath York City Screen, which in could perhaps generously be described as an ‘intimate venue’ but in reality is pushing on the cramped side of things, I started the evening watching KAWALA and their support act SUN SILVA (the capitalised band name thing must be a trend) complete their sound checks. This, to my untrained eyes, looked extremely complicated but I was later informed when talking to the band that in fact that sound check was a relatively easy and short one. Something they credited to their sound engineer Aoife O’Connor who they were keen to plug saying ‘any quote you take from us today, should be how good Aoife our sound engineer is’, ‘she’s the best in the business’.
After sound checks were over, we headed in to The Basement’s cluttered back room and found a space to sit, with Jim and Dan cracking jokes that it looked more like we were sitting down for some kind of drug deal in this cramped back room underground than for an interview, laughing and asking me whether I had ‘brought the money’.
After first confirming for me that yes, it is like ‘koala but spelt wrong’ which was obviously the most pressing question, we went on to discuss how the pair would describe their sound. Trying to pinpoint a description of their music proved to be something the pair found just as challenging as I had, with Dan saying that actually one of things he liked about their work was how hard it was to describe. That it contains so many different elements from the high-life, dance tracks to the more mellow ones and that this contrast between their earlier acoustic sound and the sound they produce now with the backing of their three additional band members if what he enjoys.
In the end, Jim decided ‘acoustic guitar music you can dance to’ was probably the closest we were going to get to any kind of synopsis, something which I think describes their sound pretty accurately. Perhaps because of this acoustic element, KAWALA’s music has a habit of making its way into ‘easy listening’ type playlists. Those ones on Spotify with appalling names like ‘your coffee break or ‘the perfect day’, something I was keen to ask the pair what they felt about. And to my surprise, they were fairly happy with this branding, with Jim saying ‘I like to think that our music is inoffensive’. Dan then added that he felt there were two sides to popular music at the moment, one being the ‘squeaky clean pop’ and the other being the ‘anti-pop’ of the like of slowthai and IDLES. The boys went on to say that they like to think that their music is inoffensive enough to appeal to both parties.
Personally taking influence from bands like Half Moon Run and Bombay Bicycle Club, the pair hope that their music can appeal to more than one type of person and music taste – something I can confirm that (at least in York) it does, as I stood in the crowd later that night surrounded by an audience made up of jumping teens at the front, pint swigging twenty-somethings, to middle aged groups of friends and everything in between.
As well as the classics which I’d heard of even before I’d dedicated my afternoon to stalker level investigation of the band’s history, there were also some new tracks played which are soon to be released on their upcoming self-titled EP. These included ‘Heavy in the Morning’ that despite only having been released as a single a couple of days previously got a great reaction from the crowd.
Sitting and chatting with KAWALA that night and listening to them play reminded me that good music doesn’t have to come from a place of anger or bitterness – two things we’re certainly not short of in society. That listening to chilled acoustic music and having a dance is in fact probably the perfect antidote to this anger and that laid back, small venue gigs that leave you smiling and keep you listening to the band’s songs all week is exactly what we all need every so often.