Just to preface this lil post, I’d like to say thank you to the lovely people over at Redbrick newspaper for giving me the honestly incredible opportunity of meeting Deaf Havana before their headline show at the O2 Institute in Birmingham this last week. Head over to the Redbrick website now for all their amazing content, not just in the music section, but across the whole paper. I love writing for them. When my article is up on the website, I’ll make sure to share it across my social media, because you need to check Redbrick out asap if you haven’t already. So I’ll just get straight into the interview now, because it’s a Sunday eve and I’m currently drowning in uni work for the week ahead, work that I probably need to be cracking on with. Hehe. Enjoy!
It’s an otherwise dull February evening. I’ve braved the slowly emerging violent winds of ironically-named Storm Doris in my pursuit of Birmingham’s O2 Institute. Popping to a local pub, I’ve nursed my nerves with a couple VK’s. Feeling oh-so professional, yet oh-so out of my league, I’m ushered into one of the smaller rooms at the Institute, straight into the hands of Deaf Havana.
Now, these guys are no stranger to turbulence, and by that, I mean the troubles of keeping your head above water in today’s competitive music industry- not the strength of Doris’ blow. The band formed in 2005 and haven’t had the calmest flight to stardom. Hidden financial issues, friendship rifts and a brief hiatus have made Deaf Havana’s journey pretty rocky; their seatbelts have had to be strapped tight. However, after considerable struggle, Deaf Havana have reached their destination: their best album to date, All These Countless Nights, and a highly-anticipated sell-out tour. I managed to snatch a few minutes out of their hectic schedule to chat to Matthew and Max, the band’s lead guitarist and keys player, about why it’s only (smoothly and swiftly) onwards and upwards for Deaf Havana from here.
Deaf Havana on their tour: “Glasgow was great because everyone there is just wild!”
Curly mane swept back into the ever-fashionable, ‘I made no effort whatsoever when in fact I kind of did’ man bun, Matthew Veck-Gilodi sits lounging on a sofa at the back of one of the smaller venue rooms at the Institute. Max Britton sits next to him, prepped for the interview with a bottle of beer in his hand. I like to pretend that he too is nursing his nervous energy with a beverage, just to make myself feel better about my inability to quash the butterflies that have decided to do gymnastics in my stomach.
No strangers to gigging the planet, Deaf Havana have supported the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Muse. Now back on the road for the first time since their hiatus in 2015, it’s clear these guys are back with a bang. Sadly, lead singer James has managed to damage his throat, but Deaf Havana aren’t willing to let that stop them, and it seems each audience won’t allow that to get in the way. Matthew smiles when I ask him what’s been their favourite city of the tour so far. ‘They’ve all been incredible for different reasons. Manchester was amazing because that was the first gig we had back; Glasgow was great because everyone there is just wild. With James hurting his throat, somehow, he can still sing, but he can’t really speak at all. Yet the crowd in Bristol last night were still just so insane.’ A classic case of the further north you go, the wilder the crowds. As for their favourite gig of all-time? Max tells me that it’s got to be Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. ‘The atmosphere in there was electric; one of the loudest gigs I think we’ve ever done.’
Now, Deaf Havana are practically music industry veterans. Having first formed in 2005, these guys have learnt a lot along the way. Intrigued as to whether becoming a professional band was always the intent for these guys, Matthew explains that although it was obviously a childhood dream, it also just kind of happened by accident. ‘We grew up in Norfolk, but way out in the sticks. I’d say it [the band] was something to do outside of school, where you could drink underage and just have a laugh.’ And with regards to releasing some music to the world? ‘By the time we came around to releasing a first single we were all like “oh shit, what’s going on?”’
And it’s this schoolboy naivety that sadly led to the band’s disbanding in 2015. ‘Before, we couldn’t be bothered to know what’s going on with accounts and everything like that, so we found out by getting in a (lot of) debt – £60,000 – that we should have probably been more sensible.’ If £60,000 makes your stomach turn just a little bit, the band did in fact manage to pay off everything before taking a break from music. And to use Matthew’s hilariously sufficient phrase, this time around, the band are careful before ‘tanking a shit ton of money away.’
Deaf Havana on their brief hiatus: “I’d just totally forgotten I was in love with doing this!”
During the break, Deaf Havana decided to begin normal lives. But it was quite clear, to the delight of their dedicated fan base, that the normal life wasn’t exactly for them. It took the break to make Matthew realise his love for music. ‘It sounds so stupid to say in a way, but I’d just totally forgotten that I was in love with doing this.’ As soon as James began writing music again during the break, the music that would later form their comeback album All These Countless Nights, these guys decided to get back on the music. ‘As soon as James sent some new stuff through, I was like “that’s it, let’s do this.”’
Although James is the predominant songwriter for the band, Deaf Havana have decided to do things slightly differently this time around, allowing each member to contribute as equally to the birthing of new material. ‘James will still write the songs, normally on acoustic guitar- and then he’ll demo it on his iPad,’ says Matt. ‘But with the way things were recorded before, we’d just layer each instrument up, which is quite a soulless way of doing it. And as a result of us being stuck for time, James would often play a lot of the tracks.’ All These Countless Nights is the album that is defining these guys, because ‘we’ve really worked and reshaped the songs [on this album]. This time around we’ve recorded the basis of every song as a live band as well, which was amazing. I can hear every single one of us in it.’
When I ask the boys which album has been their favourite, they’re both quick to tell me that their current release, All These Countless Nights, best encapsulates who Deaf Havana are. Matthew tells me that they’re really proud of this release. All These Countless Nights are all stories from the band’s break and Matthew is sure that ‘if we hadn’t have had that, we probably wouldn’t have an album.’
I leave the guys swigging their beers and prepping for the show ahead, which Max says will include a pre-show ritual of listening to their current get-in-the-zone song, ‘24K Magic by Bruno Mars, it’s got to be.’ As to what I should expect from the Birmingham leg of their tour, Matt gives me two poignant words: ‘absolute bangers.’ However, he also smiles when telling me ‘I’m struggling to put into words the feeling of seeing the crowd- every night we’ve been overwhelmed with everyone’s response.’
Deaf Havana on their pre-show ritual: “24K Magic by Bruno Mars, it’s got to be!”
As I stand in the crowd later on that evening, feeling the electric energy of a sea of faces all anticipating the arrival of Deaf Havana on stage, 24K Magic plays from the speakers as the crew set everything up. What then ensues is a pumped show, full of eager fans screaming the lyrics to hits such as Trigger and Fever and a band with as equal a hunger to perform the best gig they can to the people that have patiently waited for their return. And what a return it is. Deaf Havana are a force to be reckoned with. Watch out, Doris.