There was a noticeable difference to the vibe of the UEA campus to the one I was used to when I arrived. Stretching from, what felt like, one end to the other, a queue for the evening’s entertainment was by far the longest that the venue must have ever seen. My task was to find out a little bit more about the evening’s support act, KAWALA.
Hailing from London, Jim Higson (Lead Vocals) and Daniel McCarthy (Guitar, Vocals) seemed to be relishing in the opportunity to travel the country, playing in new cities and huge venues to thousands of people. This show was the penultimate one of the tour, which had seen the artists play venues across Ireland and the UK.
The discussion quickly led to the location of the show at hand – Norwich. A place that I know, from personal experience, is one the best-kept secrets in the UK, especially for the thriving culture and booming music scene. Despite the ribbing I have seemingly got from people while trying to justify these facts, Dan seemed to agree:
D: I’ve been here before… I have just visited a mate who goes to Uni here, there are loads of great little spots. We went to a club just off the Prince of Wales road… this club was insane, it was like being on a RyanAir flight in a club!
For KAWALA, this tour was a little different to any that had come before. No, I’m not just referring to Dan having the chance to go to a nightclub that has an aeroplane cabin in it, but rather for the band to get the chance to play in venues such as The LCR to so many people:
J: Its a really cool venue, I like the little pit it’s got (note – this comment was said with a little glimmer twinkling in the corner of Jim’s eye as if he, and only he knew, what the band had in store for the evening’s performance).
I was going to come to a gig last time I was up here but we didn’t end up going, but it’s such a cool space. This was meant to be one of the quieter shows… then we found out even it sold out. (Dan gestured towards to window as if to exclaim ‘look at how many of them there are’).
Extending their thoughts on this mind-boggling opportunity, the boys began to look towards the final show of the tour and the reception they might receive. Having the chance to play a venue such as the prestigious Roundhouse in Camden, for a musician from the capital (let alone from the same postcode!) must be a scrapbook-worthy experience.
That is the closest venue to my house… I used to work there… getting the chance to play in front of a full house – nuts.
Dodie, for those of you who are unaware, is not just the headlining artist on this tour but also a bit of a phenomenon. Building her craft on YouTube, the musician has got millions of social media followers so really, I am not too sure why everyone – including myself – was surprised:
These Dodie fans, they never fail to amaze. I don’t think we quite understood. I knew she came from a different background and like we have come from a relatively normal route… it is really all about this, playing to loads of people, no idea who we are, trying to win them over.
We have been turning up to these venues at like 11am but have found out that these Dodie fans have been getting there at like 7am! We are very privileged to [play music to a new audience]. Her fans are amazing – they are so engaged, they are so welcoming, so receptive…
The timing of this comment became funnier as the evening went on. As I watched the band on stage, it became clear that their wit was natural and it transcended into tackling the famously troublesome ‘stage chat’ with ease. From instigating dance contests between Jim and members of the audience, to inviting the crowd to know the secret behind their band name’s creation, (something I will keep under wraps for those of you who haven’t had the chance to catch the band live yet) there was a captivating factor about their performance.
This praise comes before I have even had the chance to discuss the music on offer. For the band, this tour came at an odd time. Their latest EP was released during this run of shows, which provided KAWALA with the opportunity to play some of their brand-spankin’ tunes:
We’ve been playing bits of it… we kind of chop and change. We kind of get a bit excited and play all sorts which is a bit of a nightmare. But its nice that the EP is out, but its almost been a bit anti-climatic. Normally we would be building up to it and have a little celebration to mark its release, but with this one I was kind of like ‘oh boys, the EP is out’.
As well as releasing new music, the band have recently announced their upcoming headline tour (tickets for which you can purchase here) which will see them headline prestigious venues such as The Dome in London and The Great Escape in Brighton.
If anything [the headline tour will be] less [organised]! We have got longer, we have only had half an hour for these shows so it has to be very slick.
It will be much more of a spectacle, we can do what we want with the stage… with the set… we could play for bloody 2 hours if we wanted too…
But we won’t… I don’t think people would want that!
It was interesting to see how the domino effect that this tour with Dodie had impacted the future of KAWALA.
The power of this tour has been nuts in selling out tickets in shows we have never even been for before. I mean we have played micro-acoustic shows around the country before but [this] tour is going to be really good fun. It is weird to think that a 500 cap venue is going to feel like a downsize compared to this… but seeing 500 of our own fans is going to be a really amazing feeling.
The boys then addressed how their sound had changed with the addition of Ben Batten (Drums), Reeve Coulson (Bass), and Dan Lee (Guitar) to the band. Having added a larger ensemble, on a permanent basis, I was curious to find out how this changed up the dynamics of the band –
If I was dancing to our set before, with just us and some sad harmonies…
We have been getting a bit of stick about the dancing on Twitter… there was an ostrich
I prefer a peacock but ok
I have to interject to show you this tweet, that I can now confirm, aptly depicts Jim’s attempts to dance on stage.
I will let you judge the dance moves yourself:
Anyway… The style of the band’s music, for someone who has the musical ability of someone with two left feet (or whatever the relevant saying would be in this scenario), was an interesting topic of conversation.
Our songs, when they were stripped back, were still really busy and rhythmic. But, introducing Ben, Dan and Reeve has properly given [our sound] its life, allowing us to make it busier where it couldn’t be before. Also, there is only so far you can go when you only play acoustic. Like how many churches have we played in…
A lot of churches… at least 20. Although it is nice to be able to strip back our songs when we need to, knowing that our music does still exist in this acoustic form. But yeah, there is so much more life… we are having such a party on stage with these boys.
We are trying to challenge the idea that you can dance to something that is acoustic guitar lead.
I had to ask how it was working…
Oh… it’s going terribly! Why am I playing acoustic, what a terrible idea! (Of course, this was exclaimed in a jovial tone).
But it gives us something, we can be more creative. We can do more interesting things, where it kind of was what it was before. I love that we can go back to that, it means we have never finished a song that isn’t possible in that setting.
As we ended our conversation, I had learnt that there was that there is something rewarding about witnessing a band, who have worked hard to get to this position, get the chance to showcase their music to thousands of people on a nightly basis. KAWALA are hungry, impassioned and humble. This interview showcased this and more; giving budding musicians out there something to look up to. Just two lads from London, living in the moment, KAWALA are destined for big things – this is just the start.
Callum Huthwaite (with photographs by Megan Foxen).
Thank you to KAWALA and Chuff Media for the chance to conduct this interview.
Follow the band on their social media platforms and check out their latest EP, Counting the Miles, too:
Counting the Miles on Spotify –