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Interview - Deaf Havana

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It’s fitting that the first track on Norfolk rock band Deaf Havana’s new album is entitled ‘Ashes, Ashes’.

There’s something in this image of death that perfectly mirrors what they’ve achieved with All These Countless Nights – not only a reminder of mortality that seems to ground the group and makes the music a lot more down to earth, but also a meteoric rising.

For many fans, the release of Old Souls back in 2013 looked like it would be the the last release from the group who’ve been plagued by complications and tensions that saw lead guitarist Chris Pennells drop out in 2015. From the ashes of this fire has emerged a bright and burning Deaf Havana with a new lease of life.

Drummer Tom Ogden explained the work that went into the new album, and this new chapter in the band’s obvious future.

“I really really want people to like it”, he tells me as we discuss the new album’s immediate release.

“If they don’t, I’ll be upset I think”, he jokes, his slight laugh not quite masking the obvious anxiety he felt about the reception All These Countless Nights would get.

He needn’t have worried - the album charted immediately at 5 on the UK Album chart. Prior to this, Old Souls had only managed to get to 9 and 2011’s Fools and Worthless Liars, the album that arguably sparked the group into the elite rock channels within the UK, managed a measly 49. 

It’s an anxiety that makes perfect sense when you consider where Deaf Havana are at currently. The group met when they were in college, way back in 2005. Since then, the last twelve years have seen boys turn to men, and the group lost their way over the last few years.

“We didn’t really want to do the band anymore”, Tom says, his tone somber. “We all went our separate ways for a bit”.

For fans, this break seemed inevitable. Old Souls was good, but failed to capture what makes Deaf Havana so unique, the arena rock with heart and genuine emotion at its core. Like the band, the album seemed a bit lost. There’s an irony when listening back now to lyrics such as 'Belief is getting harder to find, cause all I know is I’m wasting my time'.

What changed? How did they find each other again?

“It was kinda like when something is taken away from you you realise how much you miss it.” Tom explains, “we didn’t want to do it [be in the band] anymore, but as soon as we stopped doing it we missed it.”

It was a slow process falling back into the swing of things, it seems. “We wrote a few songs together, James [lead vocals] wrote a few songs, so we just said ‘yeah, let’s give it a go again’.” This rebirth saw the band part ways with old management, and find a new label.

The break has managed to rejuvenate the band in a way it certainly doesn’t seem Tom thought was possible. “For Old Souls we went in with a few songs and finished off in the studio, so it was a bit rushed. We had 12 songs for the album and no more. We just recorded them”.

There’s a definite note of incredulity as he compares this process to that of putting All These Countless Nights together. “We had 30, 35 songs to choose from!”

It feels like this determination is what fuelled them to create All These Countless Things in the first place. Tom links this to the break of the band; “We said if we’re gonna do it again, we’ll do it properly, we won’t do it half arsed like last time.” The boys spent two weeks in a small Kings Cross Studio working out the kinks of the album, carefully choosing songs and putting together the album of their careers so far.

It's allowed them to be incredibly creative. “We actually blended two songs”, Tom confesses.

Listening to ‘Pensacola, 2013’ you definitely can’t tell it's a hybrid. ‘Hamburg 2013’ and ‘Pensacola’ (a Floridian town) seemed like a natural combination for the group. Both places that inspired James, the group put together the former’s chorus with the latter’s verse.

“Lyrically, they were quite similar, a similar story. They’re in the same key and had the same sort of feel and tempo.” It’s a new move for the band, and one that Tom is obviously excited about. “We’ve never done anything like that before, we’ve never had the time to work on it.”

The band have travelled to Mexico in order to film their latest bout of videos, the trilogy for ‘Trigger’, ‘Sing’ and ‘Fever’, a trio of songs detailing similar struggles, “a message of loneliness behind everything”, Tom wisely says – struggles with a relationship, with the band and with alcohol.

“It was unbelievable”, he gushes.

“The best thing I’ve ever done with this band. It was absolutely amazing”. The boys spent a week in Mexico filming the videos, and seem to have received the full star treatment. “It was like a film set, it was mental. The roads were shut, the police where there protecting everything, there were horses, fireworks going off…it was incredible. The best experience I’ve ever had”. The excitement is obvious in his voice and he tells me he hopes that Deaf Havana have a chance to go back and play gigs there.

 

“This is the first album we’ve ever done where we’ve really wanted to put all our effort into it, and really wanted to make something special, to represent us as people, as individuals, as well as a band.”

When listening to the album, there’s a definite change in tone and pace. It seems a lot more levelled and considered than their previous works. Even songs like 'Pretty Low', which previously would have been a lot louder, more in your face, and probably faster, retain an incredible ability – the band’s voice is evident (partly thanks to James’s distinctive vocals, but it’s measured.

It seems that Deaf Havana have learned to control themselves, and this has meant they’ve produced the best music of their career.

“It was the fresh start we needed individually.” Tom’s especially excited about ‘Happiness’, a chilled out song that starts with soft guitar and showcases James’s voice.

It’s a gorgeous song, one of the most reflective ones on an album that feels like a redemption for the band. “It’s easy for young people to relate to”, their drummer figures. It’s an easier song for him to play, and births the album’s name: ‘all these countless nights I spend cowering in bed’.

‘L.O.V.E.’ is at the other end of the spectrum. In many ways, it embodies the feel of the album – a reflection of being the lowest someone can go, and recounting the ways people can be rebuilt from the perspective of a grown, mature and changed man. “I think the groove to it is amazing”, Tom says, “I love playing it.”

‘Seattle’ and ‘Cassiopeia’ are favourites of mine. I think together the two are the perfect embodiment of Deaf Havana – the emotional capacity and varying styles these two show remind listeners of the band’a amazing ability to jump from more ballad-type, slower songs to the arena rock they learned in the shadow of Springsteen. This variation builds the album, but is never unbelievable. “There’s a lot of different dynamics on it”, Tom explains. “We spent a lot of time making the album fluctuate. We wanted to keep it interesting”.

“There’s more a piece of ourselves in this record than there has been in the others”, he admits. Initially this seems absurd – the band are known for their honest lyrics, often chronicling the personal struggles of James, but the time and care taken to craft – there’s no better word for it – All These Countless Nights is obvious to the listener.

Gone are the the explosive and uncontrolled days of their youth, the new Deaf Havana is a group of men who have been to the bottom, rushed through the fires life has thrown at them, and have come through strong. The time, patience, and livelihood that this album embodies makes it the most personal one the band has done.

“We’re in a really good place at the moment. It’s the best place we’ve ever been as a band”, Tom says – and I believe him.

The band’s first tour for All These Countless Nights opens next week to a sold out Manchester show. Catch them on this first run if you can – it’ll be a show you remember for the rest of your life.  

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