A new era of Deaf Havana has just begun, and James and Matty are here to talk us through it.
Deaf Havana are back, revitalised and ready to take on the world once more.
The band have just announced their new album 'The Present Is A Foreign Land', which will be released on July 15, and dropped a beautifully emotional and candid track 'Going Clear'. But the fact that any of this exists is a miracle in a way because at the start of 2020 they were absolutely done and dusted with all of this. But after some reflection, rehabilitation and reworking of the priorities in their lives, James and Matty Veck-Gilodi decided to march on as a two-piece with a new perspective on their relationship with each other and with the band.
Here, they take us inside of every twist and turn of that journey up until now, and how it has helped to create their finest and most fiercely personal album to date...
It feels like many things have happened for us to reach the place we are now. But how does it feel to be releasing new music in this form?
Matty: "It feels so different to what it was in general. Of course, we will be thinking about how things were the last time we played a show as we look forward to new ones, but at that point, it had gotten so negative. We needed the huge enforced break to understand how negative and then start to find joy from music again. Before, we covered everything with resentment, misery, severe grumpiness, and anger. But now it feels like we are a world away."
James: "To me, it feels almost normal. Not in a bad way, but in a way in which this is how things should feel. I think we both have such different mindsets now. Right now, I’m only trying to think of positive things, despite there being so many negative things about us right now. But more than anything, I'm just excited to see what happens. I’m just happy to be here."
So if we were to go back to that last time you played a show, around 2019, how did things shift to where you thought, "I’ve had enough of this"?
James: "I think we were still alright at that point, especially around the show we did at the Alexandra Palace Theatre. But I wasn’t there mentally at all."
Matty: "I felt separate from everyone else at that point. I was just getting on stage, doing a gig and then getting my head down again."
James: "And it was getting through the gig and getting as fucked up as possible for me. We had an interval during that show. I went backstage, did two bumps and then went back on stage again."
Matty: "I remember the dressing room being full of dickheads I didn’t know again getting on it. Again."
So when did it snap?
James: "Just before COVID, in January 2020, we decided to stop being a band. Had we not done that, we probably would have ended up killing each other, and then there would be no chance of us coming back together. But the only reason we have been able to reach this point now is how much time we had away from the band after that. We have had breaks before, but not a full, “I want to stop this completely’. To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing afterwards. I certainly didn’t think it would be this. So the actual time away from it and other things that happened in our personal lives have allowed us to make a return."
But this time as just the two of you…
James: "I think I was in the worst mindset out of all of us. And because of that, I was able to change and become more positive the most because of where I was coming from. Whereas Tom [Ogden, ex-drums], for example, has always had a good foundation in his life. A very grounded man who had a grounded life to go back to. I had nothing. So in the grand scheme of everything, we all didn’t talk to each other for a very long time."
And when you’re not talking to your brother for that long as well after doing so much together for so long, the only way you could bring things back round would be through music…
Matty: "And to reconnect like that was amazing. I had many songs that I had been writing, and bringing them to the table in the way I did allow me to have a bit more of a songwriting voice that I hadn’t had before. It’s something that I have potentially always needed, as that stops me from just wanting to do the bare minimum. It felt like an equal and collaborative venture for the first time. Properly working together on something felt amazing and natural. It was easier than talking about things if you know what I mean?"
James: "Matty had been writing the whole time we were apart. I had been writing and recording, but it hadn’t been for Deaf Havana because I was certain it was gone."
Matty: "I wasn’t writing songs for Deaf Havana either. It’s just that some of the songs that came out worked with what Deaf Havana was."
James: "Well, I was pretty much writing jokey hip-hop music that I could never release. If I did, people would be like, ‘What is he doing?’ So I hadn’t written anything for this record until Matty showed me ’19 Dreams’. Like every other day, we had a new song written from there. It was like three weeks, and we had an album."
It feels like the result of that is a load of songs that scream, "This is what we want to be, not what people expect us to be”…
Matty: "That’s nailed on for me. It’s the sort of thing we talked about. If we were going to commit to this, we would make sure that everything was the way that we wanted it. No second-guessing, just doing everything correctly and paying attention to every detail. No cutting corners."
James: "Also, whilst we were recording, there was no pressure. We didn’t even know if we would release any of these songs. We didn’t have anything in place. There was no objective at all, finishing the album was the objective."
Matty: "Our goal was to make 12 songs that worked well together, and that was it. And that’s what we enjoyed doing."
How do you feel like it differs from the Deaf Havana of before?
Matty: "To get to this point in a musical sense, we have both done so much in our personal lives to make it a reality. We just wanted to be better people. That’s why I think there is confidence to these songs. That’s not arrogance. We wrote songs for us to love, so we did that. Now I can show that to people and feel proud about it."
James: "This is the first music that I can show people and not feel like I have to explain what each song is about. Or give an apology because of it."
That rings true on ‘Going Clear’ louder than most, and it must feel pretty powerful to be launching this whole era with that track?
James: "Absolutely, and it’s because I believe in it. In the past, I didn’t, and that’s why I always felt like I had to back it up."
Matty: "I feel like that song also has an impact that made it pretty clear that it needed to be the song we lead with. I feel like it gives enough of where we have come from and where we intend to go."
James: "I just hope that people understand it, to be honest. I hope that they don’t misinterpret it as a pro-drugs song because it very much isn’t. It’s me saying, ‘I’ve been there, and I know it’s not good’."
It feels like the permanence of your newfound sobriety and the willingness you had to make a change now exists within these songs. And that’s something that will continue to drive you forwards when you have realised what you are capable of...
James: "That was a big thing for me. I didn’t think that I could do it. I always used it as to excuse that alcohol and drugs were creative fuel. But we wrote and recorded this album 100% sober, and it’s the best, most complete, most mature album we have ever done. I couldn’t be more proud of it because of that. Being sober and doing something like that is something normal people wouldn’t even think of. It comes naturally to them. But to me, it wasn’t. And now it is here forever. But I was still romanticising when I was 18 or 19, and everything felt magic. But that doesn’t exist anymore, and I’ve come to realise that."
Matty: "If you’ve constantly been drinking from the age of 18 through to being 26 with no sort of break in the slightest, you never give yourself the chance to approach things differently. You never have the opportunity to see it as an adult because you’re just chasing the same thing."
James: "There’s a new sense of clarity that I’ve never had before, and it is clarity. My eyes and my brain feel different. They aren’t distorted and blurry anymore. Apart from a few minor slips, I haven't drank since April 03 last year, and the effect that has had on my body is amazing. I wake up in the morning and feel alright. Even if I hadn’t drank for two weeks, I would still wake up feeling like shit."
Matty: "You’re also much less boring to talk to."
With that clarity comes you remembering the truly important things in life. Friends, family, art, love, those things don’t need lubrication. They are special on their own…
James: "Definitely. The little things are the things that matter, but they are also the things that you miss when you’re drunk. It’s all the shit you don’t notice because you’re not paying attention to it."
So, what is the most exciting part of looking towards the rest of 2022, and what is the most exciting part of being able to do it as Deaf Havana?
James: "Everything about it. I have never approached anything to do with this band positively. It’s just a thing I had to do and that I moaned about. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t for the right reasons. So I’m just incredibly excited about doing this because I want to do it. And I’m sure we will get so much further than ever before just because of our mindsets."
Matty: "And to be honest, I don’t care about how far it goes. We have made something that we are so proud of, and everything else good that comes with it is just an extra. I’m just excited to get out into the world and show the world this thing that we love."
James: "I don’t want to use that as an excuse to be complacent, though. We are ready to work."
'The Present Is A Foreign Land' is available to pre-order now from right HERE