ROLLACOASTER MAGAZINE: EMERGING TALENT: FASHION & MUSIC.

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North London’s Pop-timistic Band KAWALA Is ‘Better With You’

Ahead of the March 4th release of their debut album, Better With You, Rollacoaster caught up with Higson and McCarthy to chat about everything from their favourite songs on the album to emulating Drake.

More than ever before, people are searching for a reprieve from the endless onslaught of unprecedented events. KAWALA, the five-piece indie-folk band hailing from North London, is here to help — they’ve been delivering optimism long before it was so desperately sought-after. The group, fronted by Jim Higson and Daniel McCarthy, first gained recognition when their upbeat “Do It Like You Do” blew up in 2018.

What started as a hometown collaboration between Higson and McCarthy eventually grew into something larger than they could have ever imagined, and not just because of the addition of three members (Ben Batten on drums, Reeve Coulson on bass, and Dan Lee on guitar). By focusing on themes of hopefulness and joy (without relying on saccharine clichés) and involving their community in everything from music videos to a lockdown-induced DIY YouTube series, KAWALA has carved themselves a valuable place in London’s indie music scene.
 
Ahead of the March 4th release of their debut album, Better With You, Rollacoaster caught up with Higson and McCarthy to chat about everything from their favourite songs on the album to emulating Drake.
Ahead of the March 4th release of their debut album, Better With You, Rollacoaster caught up with Higson and McCarthy to chat about everything from their favourite songs on the album to emulating Drake.
Your music is so heavily tied to community. Obviously, the past couple years have been filled with moments of isolation. How do you maintain that sense of community, both personally and as a band?
 
Higson: I think we realized that the best way that we could continue to help the community that had helped us was to do what we do best and keep releasing happy, hopeful, and upbeat music so that even when we were all in lockdown there was a bit of an escape for people. That's really all that we could do, try and be there for people by just giving them music.
 
Your EPs over the years have been building to this moment; but unlike a lot of debut albums that follow several EPs, you only had one song from your EPs on the album, “Ticket to Ride”. What was the intention behind that decision?
 
McCarthy: We were um-ing and ah-ing as to whether we wanted to hit people with loads of the classics, or we wanted to adapt from that. But I think when we were moving into this album, we just wanted it to be like a 2.0 version of what we do. “Ticket to Ride” felt like it fit in that category.
 
Higson: And also, [the original track list] didn't feel concurrent with where we were emotionally. “Ticket to Ride” we wrote before lockdown, but it wasn't until lockdown happened that the songs suddenly made so much sense because it's all about daydreaming and escapism. So it was more important for us to put those on the album.
 
How would you say your songwriting style has evolved over the years?
 
Higson: The biggest way it's changed is me and Daniel have always found it difficult singing from each other's perspectives. If Daniel has a breakup, then I have to sing about his ex girlfriend, which we found weird. But during the process of writing the album, we found ourselves in incredibly similar situations. We both came out of really long term relationships, and kind of traversed the world of dating and all of those things. So we felt like for the first time, we could talk about our own experiences. In a lot of our previous music, we used to write from our friends' perspectives.
 
McCarthy: Also finding inspiration from places that you never would normally expect for our style of music. One of our songs on the album, “Good Like This”, we went into writing like, “Let's try to write a song that sounds like Drake, but done by two awkward white dudes from North London.” Something the world probably never needed.
 
We needed it! You both have a very distinct vocal technique. Are there any vocalists that you consider influences?
 
Higson: A lot of the singers I like, Jack Steadman from Bombay Bicycle Club or The Staves; one thing that always maintains with those artists is the uniqueness of their voice. They're not trying to be something else. I think as soon as you do try to do something else, you fall in line with so many other artists. I think our uniqueness comes from not trying to be something; we're just being ourselves when we sing because we love singing.
 
McCarthy: It's funny because I was never a singer. It was only when we realized that a lot of the music we were listening to at the time was harmony based, then it was like, “Oh, we need to try and do this.” And I was like, “Well, don't look at me. That's not going to happen.” But then I started —
 
Higson: I forced him to sing.
 
McCarthy: He forced me to sing. Then my vocals developed, basically because I was learning from listening to him every day. So when we were developing melodies, I was kind of copying his vocals, so the blend of our vocals was basically an accident.
 
Higson: He's developed into a really good singer.
 
McCarthy: No, I disagree. I still don't feel comfortable, I still don't see myself as a singer, even though I technically do it for a living now, which is weird.
 
Do either of you have a favourite song on the album? It's like picking a child, I know.
 
McCarthy: Everyone has one but no one wants to admit it.
 
Exactly.
 
Higson: I love “Marathon”. It's the most classic “us” song, I feel. And then in complete contrast, I'd say my other favorite would be “Hypnotized”, which is probably the furthest we're gonna push ourselves on this album, being fairly different to everything else we've done in the past, but it just feels very right.
 
McCarthy: I think I'd probably go with “Echoes”. I love the story the most. It's our love letter to our fan base. It was the longing to gig and tour and all that stuff that we couldn't do in lockdown, so it feels like the most poignant to me. It's where the name of the album came from. Have you got a favorite song?
 
I really like “Sailor”. It's a little bit darker and more melancholy than some of your other stuff.
 
McCarthy: It's miserable. [laughs]
 
I feel like it gives me the same kind of vibe as “Heavy In The Morning”, which is one of my other favorites of yours. It's really dark but also comforting in a weird way. It’s like, “Oh, this is a universal thing?”
 
McCarthy: I mean, that's the best thing ever to hear, because that's the exact thing we're trying to achieve with that. So yeah, it's meant to be sad and miserable. But also, there's a hopefulness to it.
 
That definitely comes through. Is there anything else you wanted to add about the album?
 
Higson: [We worked] with so many different producers on it. And it took a long time, because we did it through lockdown. It was very piece by piece, like putting a puzzle together. It didn't make sense until we had finished it. It perfectly represents the whole concept of the album, which is giving back to all of the people who helped us to get to this point. So even though it sounds eclectic, in its production and everything else, that's part of the story.
Ahead of the March 4th release of their debut album, Better With You, Rollacoaster caught up with Higson and McCarthy to chat about everything from their favourite songs on the album to emulating Drake.

Photography by Luke Gooden
Styling by Martin Metcalf
Words by Octavia Akoulitchev


Spring/Summer 2020

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