Back from the brink, alternative rockers Deaf Havana join the ranks of Victorious Festival headliners
Mired in debt, unable to stand each other's company and dropped by their record label, it's impressive that Deaf Havana are still going, let alone enjoying the most successful period of their 12-year career.
But the five-piece alternative rock band have hauled themselves back from the brink, signed to a new label, sorted out their finances and scored their highest charting album.
Released back in January, fourth album All These Countless Nights entered the charts at number five, beating 2013’s Old Souls placing of number nine.
And at the end of this month they headline the Saturday line-up of the Butserfest stage at the Victorious Festival. After 10 years at Butser, near Petersfield, the rock festival now joins the Victorious stable for the first time.
Talking about the album’s reception, guitarist Matt Veck-Gilodi says: ‘It’s been absolutely amazing, it’s really exceeded all our expectations. We had no idea how it would be received and how the gigs would go down because it had been three-and-a-bit-years since we’d last put out a record and done a major tour, so to be able to sell out some pretty large venues and have the record better received than any of our others, has blown us away. It’s all been a bit mind-blowing.’
When things were at their worst, they had intended to bow out after playing at Reading and Leeds Festival in 2014. But some smaller shows they played around the time, along with a clutch of new songs penned by band frontman and Matt’s brother, James, convinced them that maybe there was merit in carrying on.
‘It was pretty dire at one point,’ says Matt now of the period.
‘It was a mixture of everything really. People we were working with weren’t doing the greatest job, and we weren’t staying on top of them and saying: “Right, why isn’t this happening,” or whatever.
‘We’ve always been of the opinion that we’re writing the music and we go out and play, and you do that side of things, but that’s not how it works, sadly.
‘For one reason or another we ended up in debt – far too much debt, so all of those shows that should have been a celebration, we essentially had to play to pay off this debt, and as a result we ended up resenting playing live and really didn’t like hanging out with each other.
‘We were playing just to get hammered at one point. But then we did a couple of great shows after we paid the debt off, and since then it’s managed to be all right, but it was pretty grim.’
For the band, who originally hail from Norfolk, the turnaround in their fortunes is particularly sweet.
‘We hate to do that sort of self-congratulatory thing because we’re all very self-deprecating and English, but when things started to go well for us, we got together and said: “Look, this is such a justification for not giving up or splitting up”.
‘There’s no better justification for it than when we play a show and we see how many people still care, like really care, that we’re still here and that’s been amazing for us.’
For their second and third albums Deaf Havana were signed to BMG, a less than happy experience for the band.
‘There’s a lot more work to it than you think, but with the major label side of things, because there’s so few of them these days, unless you’re one of the top priority acts you kind of get lost in the system.
‘There’s so many people working for them,we found we got lost by the wayside. Now we’re on an independent label, So Recordings, and it’s amazing.’
For the new album, the reinvigorated band worked with producer Adam Noble, who includes the likes of Paul McCartney, U2, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers among his impressive credits.
‘He had a big hand in how it ended up sounding,’ explains Matt. ‘He worked very closely with us. This is the first time on a record where we’ve done proper preproduction, so we were cooped up for a week in King’s Cross, just working through the songs, 10-12 hours a day until we’d got every single tiny part right.
‘He’s so smart, that guy, he’s got such a good ear for music, without being too concerned about making things sound overly polished.
‘He made a point of trying to get us bored with the parts we were recording so we were focused on the performance rather than getting the notes right. As opposed to it being completely slick, there’s not mistakes, but slight variations that give it more character, and he really cared about getting a feeling of the live band playing, so we recorded the backbone of the record live.’
While the band have dates lined up through to the end of the year, they are already looking at album number five.
‘We’re pushing this one for a bit, and we’ve got some plans to round it off, but we’re starting to write again now for a new record, because we don’t want to leave it anywhere near as long.
‘Ideally, we’d love to have a record out at some point next year. If that doesn’t end working out, if we haven’t got the songs ready, we’re not going to put something out we think is substandard, but we’ll see.’
* Victorious Festival takes place on Southsea seafront from August 25-27. Friday tickets cost £35, Saturday and Sunday are £42.
For more information go to victoriousfestival.co.uk