‘I’m an old person trapped inside a young person’s body’: An interview with Deaf Havana

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I caught up with rock band Deaf Havana’s frontman, James Veck-Gilodi, who is touring with his six-piece band following the release of their third studio released album Old Souls. We talked over the phone about the tour, Reading and Leeds festivals and – of course – primary school teaching.

So last night was the first night of your tour – how was it?

JamesIt was pretty good! Every first day of a tour is a bit weird and something goes wrong, but it was pretty good.

Are you excited about being back on the road?

Yeah, we haven’t been on a proper rock headline tour in ages! The last proper tour was in April and that was kind of an acoustic one. So, yeah, we haven’t really been properly out on the road since last November, so it’s great.

You’re playing pretty prestigious venues on this tour, like the London Roundhouse and of course Southampton Guildhall, how does it feel knowing you’ve come so far?

It’s an absolute pleasure to be able to do stuff like this really. When we started out we were playing small venues, I never thought it would be like this, so it’s pretty much just – I don’t know – just a massive pleasure to be able to do this.

Your sound has developed quite considerably in the space of only a few years, what do you think has influenced that?

I think the original switch was when Ryan [Mellor] left because we had to get rid of the screaming… That was the initial kick up the ass. More recently, I think that when we did Fools and Worthless Liars we kinda rushed it a bit so I didn’t really think about it or sit back and try and think about what kind of sound I wanted to create. But with this one I had loads of time to write Old Souls so I kinda relaxed and it felt more natural. There wasn’t a particular thing that really made me consciously change it, it just kind of evolved. 

You re-recorded a more acoustic version of Fools and Worthless Liars for your deluxe edition, what was the reason for that?

It was purely because we were doing a re-release of the album, and most people when they do a re-release they stick a couple of demos on the end of the album, but we like people to get their value for money so we completely re-recorded it.

So if you weren’t in the band, what do you think you’d be doing for a living right now?

Honestly, I think I’d be a primary school teacher, because before I properly got involved with the band I like used to be a teaching assisstant at a primary school. It was really fun and it’s all I actually wanted to do, so I’d probably do that.

If you had your time over again, what would you do differently?

I think I would probably think more about what I wanted us to eventually sound like, because we started this band as a joke really to do covers, so we never really thought about what we wanted our sound to be like. So I think I would probably put more thought into the original start of the band.

Could you sum up your sound in a few words?

I would say its pretty much folk-influenced rock music, honestly.

What’s your biggest musical influence?

I don’t know really, there are just so many…  Bruce Springsteen is a big one for me. I don’t know, like a lot of music that doesn’t really translate through our stuff. I love The Smiths, I love Joni Mitchell, just countless amounts of stuff.

You supported Bruce Springsteen at Hard Rock Calling, something my dad was very happy about, how was that for you? Did that bring you a new audiences?

Yeah, that was a completely new audience, because they were all kind of older Bruce Springsteen fans so it was amazing. A challenge, but we definitely gained a few fans out of it.

Obviously he’s quite a big influence, particularly on your new album as many compare ‘Boston Square’ to some of his work…

I mean of course, I’ve always listened to him and I’ve always been influenced by him and the way I write songs is sort of indirectly linked to him. Yeah, definitely.

So ‘Old Souls’ was released back in September, tell us a bit about it?

Well it’s just an album – again – made up of stories, but I switched to tell stories about other people and things other than myself, because Fools and Worthless Liars was pretty self-indulgent, and was pretty much just about me. I kinda switched it around, making it more of an honest record, theres a lot of different genres in there, like a bit of folk music, country music and obviously rock music, and almost like soul music on the last track. I think it’s just the best representation of what we want out there at the moment.

How’s the reception for the album? It reached the Top 10 at one point, didn’t it?

Yeah, it was pretty cool, not sure how that happened [chuckling].

So what inspired the album title?

A producer we had called Youth described me as an ‘old soul’; I don’t really know what that means. I guess it means that I’m an old person trapped inside a young person’s body. We didn’t have an album title at the time, and to me it just sounded really cool and represented where I was at at that moment in time, so I decided to use it.

What’s your favourite track off the album?

My favourite track… I don’t know, probably ‘Caro Padre’, the last track. It’s more towards the kind of music I listen to. I don’t know, the lyrics are really personal, they’re about something that I’ve never written about before so it was kind of a challenge for me to write that song.

So what kind of progress did you go through to write your lyrics?

It varies really, sometimes I’ll just wake up in the middle of the night with a couple of lines that I need to write down otherwise I’ll forget them. Sometimes I have a song that I need to write lyrics to. I just try and put myself in a mindset when I have to write lyrics because they don’t just come out. Sometimes I just force them out and they’re not very good so I just don’t use them. It’s varied really. 

You played some festivals this summer, any favourites for you? 

My favourite would be Reading, I mean that was ridiculous, I never expected that. It was better than the Main Stage I thought, there was more atmosphere, I don’t know – it just felt right, and it was amazing.

Do you get nervous before you go out on stage anymore?

It depends what it is, before Reading I got nervous, and before last night’s show [Southampton] I got nervous because we haven’t played a show in ages. Also I haven’t been drinking on this tour, which is a good thing for me because that’s not good for a singer, but it also takes away a bit of your nerves so when I go up on stage it’s a bit scary. I think I’ll be nervous every night on this tour.

Any pre-show rituals between you guys?

Not really, we just put R&B music on and sing along and do a shot of whiskey. That’s about it.

What are you guys going to listen to on your tour bus? Any new bands you like at the moment?

Loads of stuff, like obviously The 1975 everyone loves but we’ve known them for quite a while and obviously their album is amazing. We listen to American hip-hop as well, a guy called J-Cole, he’s got an album out called Born Sinner at the start of this year so that’s amazing. Everyone’s into different stuff, everyone has such varying taste in the band.

Most famous person you’ve met?

I don’t know, I haven’t really met any famous people. I met James Hetfield from Metallica, he’s quite famous, that was a bit weird. I can’t think…

Any advice for young student bands, because you were one originally…

Yeah, yeah, a couple things: think carefully about it, do it because you want to do it not because you think it’s cool or because you want to be like other bands. Also keep going, like when people tell you you can’t do it or when you go to play a venue and there’s no one coming through the door, keep going. So many bands break up because they can’t be bothered to keep doing it. The thing for us is that we kept being persistent and kept going and that’s why we have finally gotten somewhere; so that’d be my main one, just keep going.

Best and worst thing about being in a band?

Best thing is travelling around and meeting new people and being able to play music to people and help people with your music. The worst thing for me is that I lose my voice quite a lot and I hate it, it ruins a tour. If I lose my voice that’s a tour ruined, so that’s the worst thing for me. And also, you don’t really get much money when you’re in a band, unless you’re massive, it’s not like it used to be.

There’s quite a lot of debate about Spotify at the moment, do you find it helpful or harmful to you guys as a band?

I’m always in the ‘for’ camp, I think illegal downloads and Spotify and stuff like that are helpful, because even though people are getting music for free, there’s still more people listening to it, they’ll come to a show or show a friend who’ll buy it. I think stuff like that is good.

You released some of your first songs on MySpace, do you think that an online presence for a band is now essential?

Yeah, I think so. It’s helpful because more people hear it and regardless of other stuff, I think that in the long run if you give away some stuff for free, people will still pay for it, in the long run. 

Last question! So you get interviewed on quite a regular basis – what is the most common interview question you get asked? The most annoying?

The most annoying one is ‘what does your band name mean?’, because it doesn’t mean anything [laughs]. That’ll be the most irritating. 

Well, thank you very much! Good luck tonight in Bristol.

Thank you very much!

Deaf Havana’s new album is available online and in store now.

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Head of Events for The Edge magazine. Keen concert goer and angry feminist. Shared recycled oxygen on a 12 hour flight with Foals.

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