James and Matty Veck-Gilodi talk drunken festival gigs, massive Muse crowds and coming back from the brink ahead of Deaf Havana’s major new record and UK tour
Two years ago, Deaf Havana broke up. Playing their last gig in Germany on November 28, 2019, the band made the decision to quit after a rough year following the recording of Rituals – an album that almost became their last. “I mean, it happened,” says James Veck-Gilodi. “We decided it formally, in a meeting, and then COVID came along and we didn’t really have to address it. And then it’s just a very strange, organic turn of events that ended up with us having a new record instead of calling it a day.”
Now consisting of just James and his brother Matty, Deaf Havana are back as a two-piece alt-rock outfit with a whole new direction, drawing from the pain of their lowest point to write an album that hits higher than ever before.
“I was in a pretty desperate place,” says James, addressing the lyrics on album opener ‘Pocari Sweat’, a song that literally puts him on the edge of a bridge. “That song came from exactly what it sounds like. But luckily I did find something that pulled me out of it.”
Returning to writing when he needed it the most, James reconnected with Matty to put out a few final songs (“we had to address things like paying off debts, which happens when you call it a day as a band”) and the pair found themselves slowly drawn back to the band.
“We were just gonna release one more song, but then that became an EP. And then we just kept writing. By the time we recorded the album we we’re like, ‘this is probably the best thing we’ve ever written’. I’m properly proud of it now. I think for the first time ever”.
With The Present Is A Foreign Land set for release on Friday 15 July and the band preparing to play a string of UK dates this November, Deaf Havana walk us back through best their memories of playing live.
James: My first was in a place in Norfolk called Snettisham, which is the weirdest town you’ve ever been to. We played in the backroom of a pub. I was 15 and we literally played two Fall Out Boy songs, a From First To Last song and a load of other sh*t covers of emo bands. It was awful.
Matty: Mine was the 12th of March 2012 at Southampton Take Down. It was us, and then Skindred.
James: That’s a bit better than mine.
Matty: I was just happy to have the weekend off from college!
James: Probably Kentish Town Forum in… I don’t remember the year. It sounds really sad to say but in the 1000s of shows that I’ve played, I can probably count on my hands the ones that I’ve actually enjoyed. But that Kentish Town gig is one that I remember every second of. It felt like I was on autopilot, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I just mean like, I wasn’t in my head.
Matty: Yeah, it was fantastic. Often the hardest thing about playing live is each member having a good show at the same time, and it’s so rare for those circles to overlap. That was one of the times where everyone felt amazing.
James: There’s a lot, to be honest! All the ones that were supposed to be the worst ended up actually being fun, because anything that makes it a bit weird is always fun. But I remember one awful show from when I was really young, just because I got too drunk. I couldn’t remember where the microphone was so I was just singing into thin air. But that didn’t really matter because it was in a town hall in Watford and no one was there.
Matty: Well, we know what mine is don’t we…
James: We do.
Matty: Supporting You Me At Six at Wembley Arena. I got way too hammered and I just can’t remember any of it.
James: Our sound guy turned you off.
Matty: It was genuinely embarrassing.
James: Luckily we had enough guitarists to cover us at that point. If you did that now we might have a bit of an issue… Wait! I know a worse one. Slam Dunk in Leeds, 2017. That’s probably the worst we’ve ever played, because we drank 21 bottles of Prosecco before we went on.
Matty: Where Slam Dunk used to be, the artist area was actually inside a Wetherspoons. We went down for breakfast and never left. Sorry about that, anyone who was there.
James: I think it was the second time we played the Reading and Leeds Main Stage. I don’t know how they count people, but I think they said there was about 57,000 people watching us play.
Matty: One of the German shows we supported Kings Of Leon was massive too. Rüsselsheim? Or somewhere? I remember it was boiling hot. Then there was a huge Muse show in Germany too.
James: I think the further away you are, the weirder it is with a big crowd. In Reading and Leeds the main stages are so far away from the crowd that it doesn’t feel that intimidating. But when you’re playing an arena I always feel way more scared to go on stage.
James: I played a gig on a rail car. It probably had about 40 people in it.
Matty: I reckon I can beat you there. I played a 1200 capacity venue in New Orleans, supporting Ash, and 12 people showed up. We literally stood on stage and counted them.
James: We used to be a bit heavier, and we played a show years ago at a pub in Ipswich. They put us on while everyone was having Sunday lunch, so we were this screamo band playing literally metres away from families trying to eat a quiet roast. I was apologising after every song.
Matty: Remember that time we got booked for that festival in Cambridge though? We turned up and it was an actual village fete. We were on stage and there were all these people doing archery. It doesn’t get weirder than that!
The Present Is A Foreign Land is out on Friday 15 July and Deaf Havana are playing UK dates this November, with tickets available here.